November 28, 2020

Jobs Data Is Strong, but Not Too Strong, Easing Fed Fears

New jobs data on Friday offered hope for this elusive middle ground in the economy, as the Federal Reserve wrestles with when to ease its stimulus efforts without endangering the recovery and the markets.

The pace of job creation in June was sufficient to please investors and keep the central bank on course to slowly begin pulling back on its major bond-buying program this fall. But the job gains were muted enough to calm worries of an abrupt exit by the Fed, a fear that has weighed on the markets lately.

The employment report, which showed the economy added 195,000 jobs, was the first since the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, said in June that policy makers were ready to begin tapering the stimulus later this year if the labor market continued to improve. The jobless rate was unchanged, at 7.6 percent.

The timing of the Fed action is critical. The central bank’s program of buying $85 billion a month in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed bonds has not only kept long-term interest rates low for borrowers, including big companies as well as individual home buyers, it has also helped prop up Wall Street.

The possibility that the Fed might move more quickly than expected to dial back the program has prompted investors to sell both stocks and bonds in the last six weeks and has raised rates on mortgages and other loans.

Buoyed by the promise of moderate economic growth and a slow but steady tapering on the part of the Fed, traders pushed the stock market higher on Friday, with major indexes gaining about 1 percent.

The 195,000 jobs added in June was significantly above the 165,000 monthly pace analysts had been expecting. And the government sharply revised upward figures for job gains in April and May, increasing the average monthly gain in the first half of 2013 to 202,000 jobs.

But the picture painted by the data hardly reflected a booming economy.

The unemployment rate, which is based on a different survey from the one that tracks job creation, remained stuck at 7.6 percent, far higher than the historical pattern for this stage of a recovery. Other measures of joblessness actually rose, with the broadest one that includes workers forced to accept part-time positions jumping to 14.3 percent, from 13.8 percent.

“Beyond the headline numbers for job growth, it gets a little more mixed,” said Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs. “There is still a lot of slack in the labor market.”

Although the economy has held up better than some analysts expected in the face of tax increases and automatic cuts in federal spending this year, overall growth in economic output has also been tepid. The economy grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the first quarter, short of what’s needed to quickly lower the unemployment rate.

Still, the job figures for June were enough to prompt Mr. Hatzius and other leading economists on Wall Street to predict that the Fed could announce a shift in policy in September, rather than waiting until December.

“This was a solid report and it will be seen by the Fed as fully consistent with tapering in September,” said Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays.

In addition, Mr. Maki noted, average hourly earnings rose 2.2 percent year-over-year, a pace that is near a high for this recovery. Before setting a firm date, Fed policy makers will be closely watching to see if the job market maintains momentum through July and August. “It’s not a done deal in September, just more likely,” Mr. Hatzius said.

That was benign enough for traders on Friday. The Standard Poor’s 500-stock index rose 16.48, or 1.02 percent, to 1,631.89, while the Dow Jones industrial average jumped 147.29, or 0.98 percent, to 15,135.84, and the Nasdaq gained 35.71, or 1.04 percent, to finish the day at 3,479.38.

In the bond market, interest rates moved higher, as investors dumped debt on anticipation of faster growth and quicker Fed action. The 10-year Treasury note fell 1 30/32, to 91 17/32, while its yield jumped to 2.74 percent, from 2.50 percent late Wednesday.

The Fed’s stance has bolstered long-term rates, but the central bank is expected to keep short-term rates low at least until 2015.

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Bucks Blog: Settling Questions About Taxes

In his Wealth Matters column this week, Paul Sullivan writes about the bill passed by Congress that permanently sets the estate and gift tax exemptions at $5 million. The action ends more than a decade of flux for the estate tax and, with it, more than a decade of uncertainty among the wealthy on how best to set up their finances to benefit heirs.

While most of us do not have to worry about either the estate or gift taxes, since our savings fall far short of the limits, the bill did resolve other tax issues, including setting new tax rates and permanently indexing the alternative minimum tax for inflation. While it is true that the changes mean we will probably be paying higher taxes this year, at least the worries about potentially larger increases are over.

Or do you disagree? Tell us your thoughts about the new tax legislation below.

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Bucks Blog: Why Awareness Beats Anxiety

Carl Richards

Gathering information — being in the know — is not the same thing as being mindful, being aware, being present for what’s actually going on behind the news and the chatter and the stuff that just doesn’t matter.

Often when we think about money, it’s in terms of either past mistakes or worries about the future. Both of those types of thoughts take us away from focusing on the present.

Many people have a tendency to beat themselves up when they make a financial mistake. But most of us should spend less time worrying about things we could or should have done differently.

Patricia Wall/The New York Times

Instead, we can use our experiences to help ourselves and others avoid similar mistakes without getting involved in feelings of blame or feelings of shame. We can look at our mistakes, make note of the lesson and move on.

Spending too much time worrying about the future can also undermine our enjoyment of the present. This is a tricky issue for me because my work often involves encouraging people to have more meaningful conversations about the role that money plays in their lives — and normally such talks revolve around plans for the future.

One solution is to draw a line separating the time that you spend focused on planning for the future and the time you spend living for today.

Planning for the future is very important, but it needs to be done in isolation to avoid overshadowing the joy of today.

Think about setting aside time each month to evaluate your recent financial behavior. Try to identify any mistakes you may have made, and note the lessons that you need to learn. Think about your goals and what you should do now to move closer to reaching them.

Once you’ve done that, get on with living your life.

Money decisions are emotional decisions — and making good money decisions requires emotional clarity. So try to pay attention to your emotions around money. This can be as simple as considering how you feel when you get your monthly investment statement or when a medical bill arrives in the mail. Acknowledging those feelings and being aware of their potential impact on your decisions can be important, often in ways that aren’t clear right away.

I’ve found myself asking some really fundamental questions during the last several years. Whom I can trust? What’s really important to me? What do I really value? How much is enough? How should I really be spending my time?

I’ve watched as close friends have lost their businesses, their homes and even friendships over money. I’ve seen friends struggle to find jobs at a time when they had planned on being well into retirement. Other friends have had to move parents into care facilities that fall short of their family’s hopes but are all that they can afford. I’ve seen my own children’s disappointment when I had to tell them that we couldn’t afford something they really wanted.

When we go through these experiences we can feel sorry for ourselves and get angry. Or we can try to understand past mistakes, practice self-awareness and act from our deepest instincts.

Which approach will bring us closer to reaching our most important goals?

Excerpted from “The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money,” published by Portfolio/Penguin. Copyright © Carl Richards, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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Bucks Blog: The Right Investor Behavior for 2012

In this week’s Wealth Matters column, Paul Sullivan checks in with several of his favorite experts to see how they think investors should behave in the new year.

The Nobel-Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman called for prudence, Daniel Egan of Barclays Wealth warned people away from trying to time the markets, and the finance professor Meir Statman is worried about people who may permanently swear off asset classes where they’ve lost a lot of money in the past.

Robert Seaberg of Morgan Stanley, meanwhile, suggested that people not try to hit home runs. Singles and doubles are a better approach, with an emphasis on not losing big from trying too hard. Mr. Statman is particularly worried about older people who are trying to win back the money they’ve lost in recent years and end up trusting crooks who make big promises.

So what about 2012 worries you, and how are you planning accordingly?

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Waiting for a New Blueprint From Bank of America

Will he break up the company and spin off Merrill Lynch? Cut tens of thousands of jobs? Put its subprime mortgage albatross, Countrywide, into bankruptcy? If not such a bold move, how does Mr. Moynihan plan to reverse the company’s painful slide?

The earliest clues could come Thursday, when the top executives of the country’s largest bank gather at its Charlotte, N.C., headquarters to review recommendations of a 44-member internal team that has been preparing restructuring plans since March.

Company officials say a split-up is out of the question for now, as is imminent bankruptcy for Countrywide. But 30,000 jobs, roughly 10 percent of the company’s work force, could be eliminated over the next three years as a result of the restructuring initiative known as Project New BAC.

 There has been plenty of drama already this week, with the abrupt exit Tuesday of two top executives, Sallie Krawcheck and Joe Price, and the splitting of the bank into two basic units, one dealing with individual customers, the other focusing on businesses and institutions.

While company officials say the reorganization would actually make it harder to break up the company, it has not stilled the speculation.

“At some point, it gets too big to manage,” said Brian Wenzinger, a principal at Aronson Johnson Ortiz, a Philadelphia money management firm. “Smaller works better, and the less complicated it is, the better it can work.”

Bank of America shares rallied sharply Wednesday on a broader market jump, rising 7 percent to close at $7.48. They are still off 50 percent since January, weighed down largely by fears that the company could have to pay out tens of billions of dollars more to settle claims stemming from the subprime mortgage meltdown.

Those losses set off worries the company might need to raise fresh capital, but the $8.3 billion sale of its stake in China Construction Bank and a $5 billion investment by Warren Buffett last month have eased those fears for now.

Despite the cold water from executives, some big investors would like to see the Merrill brokerage and investment banking unit spun off.

“As a stockholder in Bank of America, I feel like Merrill Lynch would be worth $7 a share on its own, at least,” said Buzzy Geduld, who sold his brokerage firm — Herzog, Heine, Geduld — to Merrill in 2000, and now owns more than 2.5 million shares in Bank of America. “I think the upside is terrific.”

No one disputes the idea that Bank of America has become too complex. In some ways, the company resembles a crazy quilt assembled through acquisitions pursued by Mr. Moynihan’s predecessor, Kenneth D. Lewis, whose deal-making culminated in 2008 with the purchase of both Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial, the subprime mortgage giant at the root of many of Bank of America’s problems today.

Mr. Moynihan has spent much of his 18 months at the helm undoing Mr. Lewis’s legacy. In fact, company officials say the need to turn what was a sprawling empire into a leaner, more focused enterprise is what is driving both Project New BAC, which takes its name from the company’s ticker symbol, and Tuesday’s reshuffling.

“We’ve simplified the company in the aftermath of the financial crisis and regulatory reform,” said Anne M. Finucane, Bank of America’s top global strategy and marketing officer. “And we’re reducing risk to both the company and the financial system by evaluating businesses that are not core to the strategy or were bolted on.”

She added that the new structure follows the blueprint Mr. Moynihan presented to the board shortly before he was tapped to become chief executive in December 2009.

Looking ahead, executives say the reorganization actually makes it harder to split off Merrill Lynch, because it will be more integrated into the overall company and will not remain under one main leader. Its famous “thundering herd” of 16,000 financial advisers will be under David Darnell, who will also head up Bank of America’s more traditional consumer businesses. The institutional business will still be under Tom Montag, a Goldman Sachs veteran who joined Merrill shortly before Bank of America acquired it in 2008.

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Economic View: Getting the Most Out of Social Security

This description oversimplifies things, of course. Social Security, as it’s currently constituted, is refreshingly straightforward but you do have to make one important choice, and many people could make their lives after retirement better if they chose differently.

As I discussed in a previous column, most economists and financial advisers say that in retirement, Americans would do well to increase the proportion of their wealth that pays a guaranteed income for life, much as Social Security does. The technical word for the financial instrument that accomplishes this feat is an annuity.

Traditional pensions are a form of annuity, and people who have them usually seem to love them. What’s odd is that people with retirement plans like 401(k)’s generally do not buy annuities, even though annuities would simplify and stabilize their financial lives. Economists call this state of affairs the annuity puzzle.

Several readers wrote to explain why they did not own (or recommend) annuities. Three major worries stood out:

¶Most annuities are not inflation protected, so what happens if high inflation returns?

¶How can a buyer be sure that the company selling the annuity will be able to make the payments 20 or 30 years from now?

¶Annuities can be complicated and are sometimes sold with large fees. How can buyers know whether they are getting a good deal?

All of these concerns are legitimate. I wish I had found a simple recipe to solve all of these problems, but they are tough ones. Still, the federal government could help matters. For example, it might create rules to encourage more employers to offer safe and fairly priced annuities within their 401(k) plans. There is interest in Washington in doing this, but the details are tricky. Employers would like a clear-cut rule absolving them from the responsibility of choosing an annuity provider, say, by granting a safe harbor if the insurance company has a satisfactory credit rating, but given the recent track record of rating agencies, this particular rule is unlikely to be adopted.

In light of these difficulties, let’s focus on the one source of annuities that is fully inflation protected, is fairly priced, and, because it is run by the government, is reasonably safe: Social Security benefits. Claiming that Social Security benefits are safe may sound naïve, but my view is actually quite cynical. I believe that as long as the elderly continue to vote in large numbers, no Congress will renege on promised payouts for those already eligible to receive benefits.

Of course, the system has to be tweaked to keep it self-sufficient, but economists of every stripe agree that this is a relatively easy fix, unlike, say, trimming the rising cost of Medicare. The fix might trim benefits in some way, perhaps through a less generous indexing formula, but I believe that anyone already eligible to claim benefits can safely count on getting them.

If you think this premise is preposterous, stop reading here, and complain to your representatives in Congress. (While you’re at it, you might also tell them to get the debt ceiling raised, or better yet, simply eliminate it, so we do not frighten people into thinking we would actually default on our debts, even to ourselves.)

So here is a bit of good news. There is a simple, easy way to convert a portion of your wealth into a fairly priced, inflation-adjusted annuity. Simply delay when you start receiving Social Security benefits.

Participants are first eligible to start claiming benefits at age 62. For those who wait, the monthly payments increase in an actuarially fair manner until age 70. The claiming formula is designed to make the economic value of the stream of benefits the same, regardless of when you start. The longer you wait, the greater your monthly benefits when you start getting checks, because you will not receive them for as long a period. If you wait from 62 to 66 to start, your payments go up by at least a third, and if you wait all the way until 70 to start claiming, your benefits go up by at least 75 percent. (I say “at least” because if you delay claiming and keep working it is possible that you can qualify for an even higher benefit level.)

With these rules, waiting is the cheapest way to buy more annuity coverage. However, few take advantage of this opportunity. Currently, about 46 percent of participants begin claiming at 62, the first year in which they are eligible, the government says. Less than 5 percent of participants delay past age 66. This is unfortunate. If you are in good health and you can afford to wait, my advice is that you should wait as long as possible. The greater is your guaranteed lifetime income, the easier it will be to organize your retirement budget, and the less you will worry about living “too long.”

The Social Security Administration could take some steps to encourage people to delay. First, change some confusing terminology. For historical reasons, Social Security labels an intermediate age between 62 and 70 as the “Full (normal) Retirement Age.” Yes, the parenthetical “normal” is part of the official language. The age had traditionally been 65, but it is slowly being raised to age 67. For anyone born between 1943 and 1954, for example, the age is set at 66.

Let’s get rid of this awkward and misleading term. Benefits at that age are not “full” and retiring at that age is not “normal.” Research shows that the designation of a full retirement age can serve as an anchor that influences people’s choices, and may help explain why so few people delay claiming past age 66.

THERE is a bolder step that could make additional Social Security benefits available for many people. Pamela Perun of the Aspen Institute suggests that participants be able to “top up” their Social Security benefits. Participants could buy up to $100,000 in additional annuity benefits by sending a check to the Social Security Administration. The $100,000 cap is arbitrary, but the idea behind having a cap is to leave the high-end market to the private sector. Payments would just be added to the usual Social Security check, so the administrative costs would be small.

These reforms will not solve everyone’s problems, but they would make household budgeting easier and less worrisome. With baby boomers starting to reach retirement age, now is a great time to take these steps.

Richard H. Thaler is a professor of economics and behavioral science at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. He is also an academic adviser to the Allianz Global Investors Center for Behavioral Finance, a part of Allianz, which sells financial products including annuities. The company was not consulted for this column.

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Room For Debate: Is There Any Hope for Greece?


Greece austerity measuresLouisa Gouliamaki/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images City workers in Athens protesting against austerity plans on May 18.

Global markets slipped on Monday as worries rose about the euro zone’s fiscal stability. Meanwhile, Greece’s cabinet approved another package of spending cuts and asset sales in response to demands from euro zone partners — including Spain and Italy — that it move faster on austerity measures.

Skeptics are saying that Greece, facing loans of more than 150 percent of gross domestic product, will eventually have to restructure its debt — paying back less than face value.

What’s the answer for Greece? If staying in the euro zone means living with austerity plans that could lead to years of high unemployment and recession, would leaving the euro be a sound option?

 Read the Discussion »


Topics: Economy, Europe, Greece


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Profit Rises at Wal-Mart, but U.S. Sales Languish

Sales at stores open at least a year fell by 1.1 percent in the quarter, the company said, continuing one of the worst streaks in Wal-Mart’s history.

Over all, earnings beat analyst expectations, helped by sales strength in international stores and at Sam’s Club. The company said profit was $3.4 billion, or 97 cents a share, up from $3.3 billion, or 87 cents a share, a year earlier. Wal-Mart had forecast a profit of 91 to 96 cents a share for the quarter, and analysts expected a 95-cent-a-share profit on average.

Revenue in the period, which ended April 30 and was the first quarter of Wal-Mart’s fiscal year, rose 4.4 percent, to $104.2 billion from $99.9 billion.

Stock in Wal-Mart, which is based in Bentonville, Ark., fell 33 cents, to $55.73 a share in early trading.

In the United States, visits to stores fell, and that pushed the comparable-store sales lower.

Wal-Mart blamed high gas prices and worries about inflation for the decline in traffic and said its customers were still on tight budgets.

“It’s pretty much what we’ve been saying for the last few quarters — our core customer’s still very concerned about gas prices, the cost of living and unemployment,” the chief financial officer, Charles M. Holley Jr., said in a conference call with reporters.

Low prices on groceries during an inflationary period helped sales, Wal-Mart executives said. Same-store sales in grocery were up in the single digits for the quarter in the United States, and Wal-Mart said food prices rose about 1 percent in the quarter as a result of inflation.

Yet Wal-Mart had some trouble getting shoppers into the rest of the store.

In apparel, for instance, “we’re simply not converting enough of our grocery customers to shop apparel,” said William S. Simon, the president and chief executive of Wal-Mart’s United States division, in a conference call with investors.

After flirting with fashion-forward items, Wal-Mart decided to focus on basic clothes, but Mr. Holley said that was not working well yet, and he guessed that Wal-Mart had lost business to competitors over its clothing.

“It’s something that we’ve stumbled with over the last several quarters and we’re not happy with,” he said. “It does start with basics, and for us to be able to sell anything that’s fashionable at all, we really have to get basics down first.”

While “we had a fairly good quarter” with items like T-shirts and underwear, he said, “where we’re still not executing is in the kids’ and the women’s business.”

In other departments, Wal-Mart is piling merchandise in its aisles to signal value, and is stocking items in smaller packages that someone on a budget can afford, in an effort to take market share from dollar stores.

“You see customers that are running out of money at the end of the month going to the smaller pack sizes — they are not necessarily a better value,” Mr. Holley said, but “we have been continuing to work on that, so we have the smaller pack sizes.”

Still, Wal-Mart gave only one example of success with regard to this strategy on Tuesday, and that was in air-fresheners. As of February, Mr. Simon said, “these modular changes focused on bringing back assortment, ensuring opening price points were available in all categories and increased the holding power on the shelf.” As a result, air-freshener sales rose by 8.8 percent at comparable stores from the fourth quarter through the first quarter, he said.

Categories like entertainment, including electronics; hardlines, which are items like hardware and crafts; apparel; and home, comparable sales were all in negative territory.

Wal-Mart said it would continue with its expansion plans in the United States, particularly with smaller stores.

Its grocery-only stores, which are called Neighborhood Markets and are just over one-third the size of a typical Wal-Mart, performed well in the quarter. There, same-store sales were up 4 percent as visits rose. Wal-Mart said that because of those results, it would open another 30 to 40 Neighborhood Markets this year.

The company will also open 15 to 20 Walmart Express stores by the end of the year in urban and rural areas. At about 15,000 square feet, they will sell groceries “along with key general merchandise categories,” Mr. Simon said. They will also function as a depot of sorts for’s items: customers can order something from the extended online inventory, and pick it up at the store.

Analysts noted that at least Wal-Mart’s same-store sales decreases were lessening.

“Top-line results came in somewhat ahead of expectations, reflecting a more moderate decline in U.S. comps,” said Colin McGranahan, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein Company, in a note to clients.

Wal-Mart said it expected comparable-store sales to range from down 1 percent to up 1 percent in its second quarter.

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Gold Tops $1,500 an Ounce in ‘Flight to Quality’

PARIS — The price of gold rose above $1,500 an ounce on Wednesday for the first time ever, pushed higher by investor concerns about global inflation, government debt and turmoil in the Middle East.

Other precious metals, like silver and platinum, have also experienced a recent surge in prices on what analysts call a flight to quality, when uncertainty about the economic and political outlook pulls investors into assets that are perceived to be safest.

“We’re seeing a perfect storm for gold and silver prices,” said Robin Bhar, a senior metals analyst in London for the French bank Crédit Agricole.

The contract for May delivery of gold in New York rose as high as $1,506 a troy ounce during trading Wednesday before settling at $1,498.50, a gain of $3.90 on the day. It was the first time that gold had breached the $1,500 level.

While that represented the highest level ever in nominal terms, the real price was higher during the early 1980s, when it was well over $2,000 when adjusted for inflation. In March 2008, the nominal price of gold first broke the $1,000 level.

Silver prices also climbed Wednesday. Silver for May delivery climbed 1.2 percent to settle at $44.461 a troy ounce in New York, after rising as high as $45.40, the highest price since 1980. A troy ounce is 31.1 grams, or 1.1 ounces.

The list of factors that have supported the price of precious metals in recent weeks is long. It includes worries about the sustainability of European debt levels and whether countries like Greece will soon default; the weaker dollar; rising inflation in many parts of the world; continued unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, which has also pushed up oil prices; and concern over the U.S. budget, which also sent fear into world stock markets earlier in the week. Stocks recovered somewhat Wednesday after strong earnings reports restored investor confidence, analysts said.

Other factors that are helping precious metals include the buildup to the early autumn wedding season in India, during which families lavish gifts of gold on brides; the longstanding shortage of skilled labor and equipment at certain mines; and the increase in the number of mutual funds investing in gold.

The recent popularity of gold-based exchange traded funds, or E.T.F.’s, has also propelled prices of the underlying metal by making it easier for more investors to trade in gold.

Each share in an E.T.F. represents part of an ounce of bullion, but it comes without the inconvenience of holding the metal or the risk of buying futures and options. Before such funds became popular in the middle of the last decade, individuals who wanted to invest in gold had to buy gold jewelry, coins or bullion — and pay the high security and transaction costs. They could also invest in the shares of gold mining companies, a more arms-length exercise — although they, too, have risen recently.

In addition to benefiting from increased demand for the underlying metal, gold and silver futures contracts are seen as attractive substitutes for paper investments, given that they can be redeemed for a physical commodity.

“Gold is sometimes a currency, sometimes a commodity and sometimes a store of value,” analysts at Merrill Lynch wrote recently.

Although gold prices are likely to remain volatile and are vulnerable to retreat as investors take profits on their gains, few analysts are willing to bet on a major reversal in the near term. “As the purchasing power of workers in emerging markets increases, we see demand for gold as a commodity increasing over the next few years,” the Merrill Lynch report said.

In a research note published Friday, Goldman Sachs forecast a gold futures price of $1,690 an ounce in 12 months’ time, driven primarily by the assumption that the U.S. Federal Reserve’s continued stimulus policy, known as quantitative easing, would keep U.S. real interest rates low, bolstering demand for the metal as an investment.

The market for silver, which Mr. Bhar described as a “poor man’s gold,” is far more illiquid than gold. Mr. Bhar said several hedge funds appeared to have been “bullying” the price higher in recent sessions. Prices of palladium and platinum have also climbed.

Investment and consumer spending in the country have remained robust despite Beijing’s efforts to temper growth through interest rates increases and curbs on bank lending.

Less valuable base metals like copper, tin, aluminum and zinc, which are used in large quantities in construction and heavy industries, have also climbed since last year, having previously plummeted during the financial crisis.

But among these commodities, there have been more divergences, according to Jim Lennon, head of commodity research in London for Macquarie Securities.

Markets for commodities like coking coal, used to make steel, iron ore and copper have been “tight,” he said, driven by inventory accumulation from producers and concerns about output bottlenecks at mines from Chile and Brazil through Africa to China and Australia.

For other base metals like aluminum, zinc and nickel, supply and demand appear better matched, he added.

Overhanging many of these markets remains the question of China, and whether its roaring economy might soon cool down. Many metals’ traders and analysts have had to become China watchers, poring over the economic data issued by that country and studying accumulations of stocks in Chinese warehouses. During the first quarter, China’s economy expanded 9.7 percent from a year earlier.



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