ONLY one business in Spain is booming these days, one wit notes. And that is the teaching of English and German. Unfortunately, Britain has just slid into recession, while the number of people out of work in Germany unexpectedly rose last month.
With signs of weakness emerging in even the bigger and stronger European economies, it doesn't look like the protracted crisis in the eurozone would be anywhere near over for a while. In fact, the latest European manufacturing data were downright dire - the purchasing managers' index (PMI) for the eurozone as a whole dropped 1.8 points to 45.9 in April, the lowest in almost three years. Ominously, prospects across the Asia-Pacific aren't too good either, at least going by the PMI, which in most cases is a fairly reliable barometer of an economy's industrial health. The April PMI for several Asian economies - Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia - show slowing growth. But at least the indices are still in the above-50 (if only just) "growth" zone. Singapore's, released yesterday, has, however, fallen back below 50, after just two months in positive territory. It was only in February that the index pulled out of a seven-month slump. While the electronics sub-index appears to be holding up better, the trend over the past year has also been a bit bumpy - reflecting the sector's mixed fortunes. What the weak Asia PMIs portend, overall, is that the region's industrial recovery may, at best, be losing steam. Fortunately, China and India - with rising PMIs - are bucking the trend. And not least, the economic picture out of America has been bright of late, including its fastest pace of manufacturing growth in April. Still, there are mixed signals there too, like the smallest employment gains in seven months in the private sector last month.
For Singapore - which has already flagged modest 1-3 per cent growth for 2012, though the market is slightly more upbeat - the bigger concern at this stage is arguably not the economy's growth prospects but price pressures. With consumer price inflation averaging well over 5 per cent in the past 12 months, the government signalled its commitment to bring it down with a further tightening of Singapore's monetary policy stance last month. A stronger Singapore dollar not only caps imported inflation, it also moderates the external demand for Singapore's products and services, thereby easing pressures on the labour market and other domestic resources, the Monetary Authority of Singapore says. But while this may ease domestic price pressures over the medium term, it does not quite counter, in the immediate near term, the current key sources of inflation, which are largely homegrown. Wage bills can be expected to rise in the tight labour market - and given the need to close the income gap, starting with a proposed "inflation" increment for low-wage earners. What Singapore would certainly want to watch against is the dire situation of high inflation and low growth.