July 7, 2009

Economic Outlook: A holding pattern

Worldwide markets were mixed Tuesday on the eve of a new corporate reporting season and a Group of Eight summit meeting set to begin Wednesday in Italy.

Investors are naturally jittery about the second round of 2009 corporate reports that traditionally kicks off with a report from Alcoa, the U.S. aluminum giant, and winds its way through six weeks of often game-changing revelations on corporate health.

Mired in recession, investors are likely to enter a holding pattern, trying to ferret out which corporations may have turned hard times into hard cash.

In Italy, international trade, currency positions and national debt are likely to dominate discussions at the G8 summit. In China, the vice foreign minister said Sunday the U.S. dollar was likely to maintain its position as the currency of choice in the international reserve system for many years to come, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Emerging countries such as India, China and Russia are pressing, nonetheless, for the world to acknowledge they have officially arrived while U.S. economic influence has diminished.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said this week, The system based on the dollar and euro have shown that they are flawed, and Chinese banks this week began strengthening the renminbi the old fashioned way: By paying bills on imports and exports, the Times said.

International markets could also shift as the Commodities Future Trading Commission contemplates changes to moderate speculative bidding on wheat, oil and other influential market staples.

An announcement expected Tuesday would limit the positions of any single firm in any specific commodity, reducing the chance that just a few investors could manipulate markets, The Washington Post reported.

A year ago, speculators were blamed for manipulating the oil market, while prices of crude oil soared above $147 per barrel and prices at U.S. gas pumps topped $4 per gallon. A Senate report released in June said sizable positions taken by speculators had influenced the wheat market, causing prices to jump for both consumers and farmers.

Markets in Asia were mostly lower Tuesday. The Nikkei average in Japan fell 0.34 percent, while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong slipped 0.65 percent. The Singapore Straits Times index rose 0.27 percent, while the S&P/ASX in Australia fell 0.44 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 in London rose 0.78 percent. The DAX 30 in Frankfurt rose 0.75 percent. In Paris, the CAC 40 rose 0.66 percent, while the broader DJStoxx 600 gained 0.58 percent.