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Prospects Daily: U.S. trade deficit widens more-than-expected, Ghana’s central bank raises lending rate to 18% after imposing foreign exchange controls

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High Income Economies…In the week ended February 1st U.S. first-time jobless claims fell more-than-expected to 331,000, a decrease of 20,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 351,000. The less volatile four-week moving average inched up to 334,000, an increase of 250 from the previous week's revised average of 333,750. Continuing claims, a reading on the number of people receiving ongoing unemployment assistance, also climbed to 2.96 million in the week ended January 25th from the preceding week's revised level of 2.95 million.

At the same time, the U.S. trade deficit widened more-than-expected to $38.7 billion in December from a revised $34.6 billion in November. The widening was partly due to a notable pullback in the value of exports, which dropped 1.8% (m/m) to $191.3 billion in December after climbing 0.8% to a record high of $194.8 billion in November. Meanwhile, the value of imports edged up by 0.3% to $230.0 billion in December after sliding 1.3% to $229.4 billion in November.

In line with expectations, the European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged this month, keeping the main refinancing rate at a record low 0.25% for a third consecutive month. The marginal lending facility rate was kept at 0.75% and the deposit facility rate at zero, where it has remained since July 2012.

Developing Economies…East Asia and Pacific: Vietnam’s HSBC/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to 52.1 in January from 51.8 in December, reaching its highest level since April 2011. This increase also marked the fifth consecutive month the manufacturing PMI has been above the no-change 50 mark, indicating strengthening activity in the sector. Manufacturing output increased for the fourth consecutive month in January, rising at the steepest pace in 33 months. New orders also expanded at a solid pace, supported by strong consumer demand; and, reflecting this expansion, firms increased their staffing levels for the fifth consecutive month but at a slower pace than in December.

At its meeting of February 6th 2014, Philippines’s central bank decided to leave key benchmark policy rates unchanged at record low to help the economy recover from the massive destruction caused by typhoon Haiyan in early November. Citing manageable inflation, the central bank kept the reverse repurchase rate at 3.5% and the repurchase rate at 5.5%. The reserve requirement ratios were also left unchanged.

Sub-Saharan Africa: On February 6th 2014 Ghana’s central bank raised the key lending rate by 2 percentage points to 18%, one of the highest among developing nations, citing heightened inflation expectations. The decision came one day after the central bank introduced a string of exchange controls in a bid to stabilize the national currency, the cedi, notably ordering that all local transactions be conducted in the cedi.