October 14, 2012 / 7:02 PM / 5 years ago

Euro zone inertia puts focus on China data drop

LONDON (Reuters) - Impatience at the slow pace of euro zone crisis action is bubbling over, with the European Central Bank's pledge to save the single currency yet to be backed up by action.

Any hopes that a European Union leaders' summit in the coming week will break the logjam are likely to be forlorn, leaving the focus firmly on a slew of data from China and the onset of the U.S. company earnings season.

The ECB's promise to buy the bonds of struggling euro zone countries has been left hanging by Spain's hesitation over seeking outside help.

If investor frustration translates into upward pressure on Italian and Spanish borrowing costs, that could be the tipping point that pushes Madrid to ask the euro rescue fund for assistance. But so far, ECB chief Mario Draghi has been taken on trust; Spanish bond yields have only nudged up.

"Lower yields have diminished the pressure to act in the short-term. But we suspect that after regional (Spanish) elections on October 21 and the EU summit, Madrid will probably have to clarify its position once and for all," said Juergen Michels, euro zone economist at Citi.

The International Monetary Fund's annual meeting in Tokyo displayed barely concealed irritation. The Fund said the bloc remained under threat from "a downward spiral of capital flight, breakup fears and economic decline" and called for rapid action to deepen financial and fiscal union.

EU paymaster Germany pushed back and the Brussels summit looks too early for dramatic action.

The EU/IMF/ECB troika of inspectors continues to pore over Greece's parlous balance sheet and will not report back until next month and Spanish regional elections next weekend offer a powerful reason for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to defer any request for aid for a while longer.

Although government officials insist the elections are not a factor, neither is there much sense of urgency.

"We will end up there, with ECB action, but the ECB is still designing the instrument in more accurate terms," a source close to the Spanish government told Reuters. "The markets understand that we have the fire extinguisher. We'll see how it evolves in the coming weeks."

IN CHINA'S HANDS

While the world is fixated on Europe, its near-term economic fate rests just as heavily on the scale and speed of China's slowdown. Reports on inflation, industry output, retail sales and a crucial third quarter GDP reading in the coming week will give plenty of grist to that mill.

The consensus forecast in a Reuters poll is for year-on-year Chinese growth to slow slightly to 7.4 percent in Q3 -- undercutting the slowest growth rate in three years in the second quarter. But there may be better times ahead.

"We expect China's GDP growth to surprise the consensus by rebounding to 8.8 percent year-on-year in Q4 2012, led by increasingly aggressive fiscal stimulus," said Rob Subbaraman, chief economist for Asia at Nomura in Hong Kong.

"While headline data remain negative, our list of forward-looking data signaling that China's economy is bottoming out, is lengthening."

News early on Saturday may support that view as data showed China's exports grew at roughly twice the rate expected in September while imports returned to the path of expansion, suggesting government moves to underpin growth are working and additional policy action may not be needed.

In contrast to the euro zone, the U.S. economy has shown signs of life with the unemployment rate dropping to its lowest level since President Barack Obama took power and consumer sentiment hitting a five-year high on Friday.

However, the U.S. company earnings season which gets into full swing in the coming week, is expected to make mixed reading if a clutch of recent profit warnings are anything to go by and the extent of China's slowdown will have profound implications for U.S. exports.

Citigroup (C.N) , Goldman Sachs (GS.N), Bank of America (BAC.N), General Electric (GE.N), Honeywell (HON.N), Google (GOOG.O), Microsoft (MSFT.O), Intel (INTC.O), IBM (IBM.N), Coca-Cola CCE.N and McDonald's (MCD.N) are just some of a raft of U.S. majors reporting.

"We are getting some quite interesting signals from consumer sentiment and employment data ... that there has been some quite significant improvement in the economy," said David Sloan, economist at 4Cast in New York. "We are still getting mixed signals, but there is enough to make people sit up and take notice."

Also due is the second televised debate between President Barack Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney, who came out on top in the first round and has pulled up in the opinion polls since. The strength of economic revival could well prove crucial on election day.

Editing by Keiron Henderson

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