Euphoria on global stock markets might give the impression that the financial crisis is a thing of the past, but for unemployed workers or idling companies the effect of the turmoil is still keenly felt.
On the main equity markets last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit its highest level this year during the week, Tokyo’s main index added 5.8 percent over the week and the London FTSE rose 4.28 percent.
For many, there seems a disconnect between the optimism sweeping financial markets and the hardship felt in industry and the labor market where job losses, pay cuts and factory closures continue.
On Thursday, the Dow Jones gained 2.12 percent on a day when the US Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose to 554,000 the previous week.
“The general rule of thumb is that the equity market leads the economic cycle by six-to-nine months,” said Daragh Maher, an analyst at investment bank Calyon.
In other words, investors are anticipating blue skies ahead and they are adjusting to the first signals of better weather. Companies are much less responsive, meaning most people will continue to live under the thunder clouds of the financial crisis for some time — or at least until the final quarter of this year if equities bottomed in March.
“The initial phase of any downturn is that you fire people, then you stop firing people, then you start hiring again,” Maher said. “Companies are still in the phase where they’re still firing, but not quite as large as they were three months ago.
“I think it’ll be the middle of 2010 before you’ll see businesses being confident enough to begin rehiring in any great scale,” he said.
A survey released on Friday backed up this view.
The poll, a Eurobarometer released by the European Commission, showed that two thirds of Europeans believed that worse job losses were to come and a third of those working said they were “very worried” about their job.
The good news for everyone — not just those who own shares or work in finance — is that there are genuine causes for optimism about the so-called “real economy” that underpinned the swing in the market mood last week.
An avalanche of company reports in the US showed most firms delivering generally better-than-expected results, with a recovering financial sector meaning credit should become easier to get. Other signs of stabilization in the US housing market — the source of the problem via the subprime mortgage sector — also prompted optimism, as did economic indicators and comments in other countries.
Japan’s economy, the second in the world in size, has been showing “signs of recovery,” the government said in an annual report, adding that the slump had been “extremely deep.”
The Asian Development Bank said it saw economies in its region bouncing back next year led by China, which managed to report annual growth of 7.9 percent in the second quarter despite the difficulties elsewhere.
In Europe, surveys showed a brighter mood among eurozone firms, particularly in powerhouse Germany where the closely watched monthly Ifo survey showed sentiment among companies brightening for the fourth month running.
“Firms are not so unhappy with the current business situation as they were the previous month ... It looks as though the economy is gaining traction,” the Ifo research institute said.