Economic recovery remains sluggish

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Ever since the worldwide economic recession drew to a close in 2008, a series of untimely events have repeatedly shaken Asia Pacific’s financial infrastructure. From typhoons and earthquakes, to near record-breaking floods and citizen protests, one unpredictable event after another has threatened to hinder the region’s economic recovery.

Last month was no exception, as an 8.6-magnitude earthquake struck the coast of Indonesia on April 11th, leading to thousands of dollars in damage and hundreds of deaths and injuries. Surprisingly, the storm’s impact was not immediately felt within the region, as some nations’ inflation and unemployment levels decreased last month. Nevertheless, many economists fear the impact of Indonesia’s earthquake finally began to send tremors throughout Asia Pacific’s weakened economy in May, resulting in the following economic indicators.

Just days after the release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ unexpectedly low first quarter inflation data, The Reserve Bank of Australia held its monthly policy board meeting on May 1st. During the meeting, board members decided to lower the country’s target cash rate for the first time since November 2011, from 4.25 to 3.75 percent. A decrease of such proportions has not been documented in years. In fact, from January to November 2011, the Bank retained its rate at 4.25 percent. However, a majority of Australian economists do not believe the rate will be lowered again for at least another six months.

For the second consecutive month, China’s year-to-year Producer Price Index dropped in April. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, national producer prices declined by 0.3 percent from March 2011 to March 2012, the first year-to-year decrease reported in months. As recently as September 2011, prices had actually increased on a year-to-year basis by 6.5 percent. April’s data depicted an entirely different story though, as prices waned considerably, dropping by 0.7 percent, compared to April 2011’s statistics. Even so, many Chinese economists foresee a turnaround in inflation, as they have predicted prices will begin to increase this summer.

New Zealand:
According to Statistics New Zealand, the nation’s unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent during the first quarter of 2012, after falling to 6.3 percent at the end of 2011. In all, 160,000 New Zealanders were unemployed from January to March, an increase of 5,000 residents, in comparison to first quarter 2011 data. Meanwhile, employment also upturned from January to March, leading to a steady increase in the nation’s labor force participation rate, which, at 68.8 percent, was the highest that has been recorded in months. More than 2.23 million New Zealanders were employed last quarter.

South Korea:
Prior to the release of South Korea’s first quarter GDP statistics, most Korean economists projected the nation’s real GDP would upturn from December 2011 to March 2012 by approximately 0.4 percent. After all, the country’s real GDP had only risen by 0.3 percent during the fourth quarter of 2011. However, as a surprise to many economists, the nation’s GDP data actually exceeded their expectations, rising by 0.9 percent from December 2011 to March 2012. According to the Korean Statistical Information Service, the exportation and importation of goods and services also increased on a quarterly basis, by 3.4 and 4.5 percent, respectively, after subsiding by 2.3 and three percent in December.

Vietnam’s General Statistics Office has recently revealed that the nation recorded a substantial trade deficit in April, as exportation and importation growth slowed from April 2011 to April 2012, rising by only 15.6 and 0.8 percent, respectively. Back in March, the nation confirmed its second monthly trade surplus since January, as its trade balance rose by $424 million. In April, the surplus swiftly shifted to the largest deficit that had been documented since November 2011, down to $400 million. Still, export and import totals rose by 22.1 and 4.4 percent on a year-to-year basis, from January to April, respectively, bettering many economists’ projections.