Fearing the Fed, aching for the ECB

Mon Dec 9, 2013 2:03am EST
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By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Investors are sorely missing clarity on the world economy as the year draws to a close, and neither European finance ministers nor a new U.S. central bank president are likely to provide it.

Inconclusive data in the United States has given few clues as to when the Federal Reserve might bring its policy of easy money to an end, while markets are still waiting for the European Central Bank (ECB) to come to the euro zone's rescue again with more than just another interest rate cut.

Financial markets spent early December hanging on U.S. jobs data to make or break the case for continued U.S. stimulus, but there is still no clear mandate for what economists call the "tapering" of the Fed's bond buying.

"It is virtually impossible to forecast the timing of the taper, except that it is coming," said Rob Carnell, an economist at ING in London.

Around the world, five years after the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, only Britain stands out among major developed economies as posting strong economic growth and falling unemployment, while Japan's reform program may be faltering.

EU finance ministers gather in Brussels on Monday for two days of meetings, but their focus is on avoiding future crises by building a single banking framework for the euro zone, not so much on resolving the one playing out.

China, the world's second-largest economy, is at least showing signs of economic resilience. A host of data this week, from trade to industrial production, should confirm that, auguring well for the country's boldest economic and social reforms in nearly three decades that were unveiled last month.

When it comes to reading Fed policy, economists see a decision coming, but not quite yet. That is likely to prompt central banks to keep rates on hold at a string of policy meetings on Thursday.   Continued...

The euro sculpture is seen outside the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, November 5, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach