Lexington felt it was a bumpy week for stock markets. Early on, markets in many countries were negatively affected by the outcome of Italian elections. Italy’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, led by comedian Beppe Grillo, won about one-fourth of the votes in both the country’s upper and lower houses. Markets lost value as investors anticipated political gridlock could delay Italian economic reforms. Since Italy is the third largest economy in Eurozone and its public debt is significantly higher than its Gross Domestic Product, political stalemate in Italy could negatively affect the Eurozone.
Lexington saw as the week progressed, events in Italy were eclipsed. Ben Bernanke reiterated the U.S. Federal Reserve’s intention to keep monetary policy loose until unemployment levels drop. This helped stock markets recover some lost ground. Positive economic news, including higher pending home sales and a rise in consumer sentiment helped push the FTSE All-Share and U.S. Standard & Poor’s 500 Indices even higher, and they finished the week in positive territory.
Concerns about Italian election results affected bond markets, too, pushing yields on 10-year Gilts lower during the week. Lower yields were also driven by uncertainty about the potential impact of sequestration – $85 billion in automatic spending cuts – on America’s economic growth. Below is a video of President Obama discussing the cuts from the Guardian.co.uk
Despite great political hullaballoo, no action was taken to prevent or modify the spending cuts and they took effect on Friday, March 1. Over the next decade, sequestration is expected to cut government spending by about $1.5 trillion. The cuts will reduce defense discretionary spending, including weapons purchases, base operations, construction work, and more. Cuts also will shrink mandatory and discretionary domestic spending. Two of the domestic programs affected are the unemployment trust fund and Medicare (specifically, Medicare’s provider payments).