South Korea unveils stimulus as markets eye more rate cuts
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - South Korea unveiled an economic stimulus plan on Monday and markets geared for more interest rate cuts in Europe and Australia in a frantic campaign to keep the financial crisis from plunging the world into its worst recession in decades.
Seoul announced $11 billion in new spending and tax cuts and dismal Australian economic data cemented expectations that its central bank will slash rates again on Tuesday. In Europe, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank have both primed investors well for another round of cuts later this week.
The U.S. Federal Reserve and central banks in Japan, China and India all cut borrowing costs last week in an effort to shield their economies from the fallout from the crisis, which started when the U.S. housing boom turned sour. The cuts and a barrage of initiatives to shore up banks and prime-pump sputtering economies, lifted the mood among battered investors, encouraging some to shop for bargains after world stock markets fell 20 percent in October alone, its worst month ever.
Asian stocks rose for the fifth trading day in a row, with the index of Asia-Pacific stocks outside Japan up 4.6 percent..
But economists say that while trillions of dollars in bank bailouts and stimulus packages may have averted a financial meltdown and may spare the world a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression, the economic outlook was grim.
"The focus this week is clearly on some of the major central banks and it is hard not to see the disease that started in the United States spreading to other economies," said Robert Rennie, chief currency strategist at Westpac in Sydney.
Many economists and more and more policymakers say that the world's top economic powers, the United States, much of Europe and Japan are already in recession and prospects for corporate earnings look equally dim.
About 60 percent of Wall Street firms that had so far reported quarterly earnings beat analysts' forecasts, according to Thomson-Reuters data. But the focus is on the outlook for next quarters and the damage inflicted by toxic debt linked to U.S. mortgages and sharply slowing economies worldwide.
This week investors will have results from major European banks such as UBS and BNP Paribas as well as industrial firms such as Cisco Systems to chew on.
In yet another sign that even new economic powerhouses such as India or China were hurt by the financial upheaval, a survey showed China's manufacturing sector weakened sharply in October, prompting officials to call for special efforts to prop up domestic consumption.
Australia, long sheltered from economic headwinds blowing from America thanks to windfall profits from the global commodities boom, on Monday reported retail sales fell in twice as much as expected in September and housing prices fell sharply in the third quarter. The data cemented expectations the central bank will slash rates by further half a percentage point to 5.5 percent, bringing the easing since September to 175 basis points.
In Seoul, the authorities said they would boost next year's budget spending and deliver tax cuts next year to prop up Asia's fourth-largest economy. The steps follow last month's more than $130 billion in aid for the financial industry, hit by fears it may struggle to roll over its substantial short-term foreign debts.
Authorities around the globe have slashed interest rates, pumped public funds into banks, flooded money markets with cash and boosted state spending to prop up their flagging economies.
But several nations ran out of cash and options and turned to the International Monetary Fund and other global lenders for help. The IMF, which had around $200 billion available for loans at the end of August, has so far offered money to Iceland, Ukraine, Hungary and Belarus, but the queue is swelling, threatening to deplete the Washington-based lender's coffers.
Such a risk prompted Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown to call on cash-rich oil-producing Gulf states to contribute to a new IMF facility aimed at helping nations worst hit by the global turmoil