Real economic activity: Updated indicators of economic activity which have become available so far indicate continued moderate growth in the first quarter, and a mixed trend in April. Based on National Accounts data, the GDP growth rate in the first quarter of 2013 was similar to the average growth rate over the previous 4 quarters, about 2.8 percent in annual terms. Growth in goods and services exports and in private consumption expenditure contributed to GDP growth. Investment in the principal industries declined by 19.3 percent, continuing declines of 11.6 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively, in the previous two quarters. Exports of goods and services increased by 5.6 percent—after declines of 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively, in the previous two quarters—bringing the figure back to the level it was at in the first quarter of 2011. In contrast to National Accounts data, the Climate Indices which are derived from the Business Tendency Survey of the Central Bureau of Statistics, and the Composite State of the Economy Index of the Bank of Israel indicate an increased rate of growth compared with the previous quarter. The government’s budget plan, should it be approved by the Knesset, is expected to reduce the deficit target from 4.65 percent of GDP in 2013 to 3 percent of GDP in 2014. This decline, while regaining budgetary control, is expected to moderate the growth rate of demand.
The labor market: Labor force survey data for the first quarter indicate a continued decline in the unemployment rate with a slight increase in the employment rate. In the first quarter, the unemployment rate declined to 6.5 percent (a decline of 0.3 percentage points) and the employment rate increased to 59.5 percent (an increase of 0.1 percentage points). The number of employed persons increased in the first quarter by 0.7 percent compared with the final quarter of 2012. It appears that in the past year the employment rate has stabilized at a high level, after increasing rapidly in the previous two years. The stability in employment in the past two months is reflected as well in the number of employee posts, which remained unchanged in the private sector in February, while the number of posts in the government sector increased by 0.3 percent. Nominal wages declined by 0.1 percent, and real wages declined by 0.4 percent, in January–February compared with the fourth quarter of 2012, based on seasonally adjusted data. Health tax receipts by the National Insurance Institute, which provide an indication of nominal wage payments, were 4.4 percent higher in March–April than in the corresponding period of the previous year, reflecting a slowdown in the growth of wages compared with the preceding 2 month period, when there was an average year over year increase of 5.7 percent.
The foreign exchange market: From the monetary policy discussion on March 24, 2013, through the unscheduled discussion on May 12, 2013, the shekel appreciated by about 2.9 percent against the dollar and by 2.2 percent against the euro. In terms of the nominal effective exchange rate, the shekel appreciated by about 2.8 percent during the period. Since that date, the shekel has weakened by about 3.9 percent against the dollar, by 3.5 percent against the euro, and by 3.2 percent in terms of the nominal effective exchange rate. Since May 12, most currencies weakened against the dollar, though most of them by less than the shekel.
The capital and money markets: From March 24, 2013, through May 24, 2013, the Tel Aviv 25 Index declined by 2percent. Yields on government bonds declined sharply, and the yield differential between 10-year Israeli government bonds and equivalent 10-year US Treasury securities contracted by about 60 basis points, to 150 basis points. Makam yields declined along the entire curve, with declines of up to 20 basis points since the announcement of the interest rate reduction. One-year yields declined to 1.32 percent during the period. Israel's sovereign risk premium as measured by the five-year CDS spread declined during the period from 121 basis points to 100 basis points, but increased again this month to 116 basis points. The Tel-Bond 60 Index increased markedly by about 3.2 percent over the period. Spreads in the corporate bond market narrowed, primarily for debt issued by companies with lower ratings.
The money supply: In the twelve months ending in April, the M1 monetary aggregate (cash held by the public and demand deposits) increased by 8.9 percent, and the M2 aggregate (M1 plus unindexed deposits of up to one year) increased by 6.7 percent.
Developments in the credit markets: The shekel’s appreciation was the main factor in the 0.9 percent decline of business sector debt in March, to NIS 778 billion. Bond issuance by the nonfinancial private sector in March–April averaged NIS 1.7 billion per month, compared with NIS 3.3 billion, on average, in the first two months of the year. Total outstanding credit to households increased in March by 1 percent compared with February, to NIS 389 billion. The balance of credit for housing continued to increase, to NIS 274 billion in March, an increase of 0.8 percent compared with February.
The housing market: The housing component of the CPI (based on housing rents) increased by 0.9 percent in April, continuing an increase of 0.8 percent in March. In the twelve months ending in April, this component increased by 3 percent, compared with an increase of 2.9 percent in the twelve months ending in March. Home prices, which are published in the Central Bureau of Statistics survey of home prices but are not included in the CPI, increased in February–March by 0.5 percent, continuing an increase of 1.4 percent in January–February. The rate of increase in home prices continues to rise. In the twelve months ending in March, home prices increased by 10.5 percent, compared with an increase of 10.1 percent in the twelve months to February.
The global economy: The global economy continued to present a mixed macroeconomic picture in the past two months. Macro data published recently in the US were mostly positive and indicated a moderate improvement. In the eurozone, data indicated deepening recession, while in China, the data pointed toward a more significant than expected slowdown. In April, the IMF revised its 2013 growth forecast downward for most major economies. Projections were lowered by 0.2 percentage points for the global economy, to 3.3 percent, for the US economy, to 1.9 percent, and for the eurozone, to -0.3 percent. The growth forecast for China was reduced by 0.1 percentage points, to 8 percent. According to the IMF, the main risk remains the situation in Europe, with improvement there expected to be slow, as it continues to suffer from restraining budgetary policy and from a low supply of bank credit. The medium term risks include recession in Europe, fiscal crisis in Japan, and slower than expected growth in developing economies. Against the background of the economic picture, many central banks continued accommodative monetary policy—quantitative easing plans continue in the US, the ECB reduced its interest rate to a record low of 0.5 percent as the bank’s president noted that he does not rule out a further interest rate reduction, and the Bank of Japan announced at the beginning of April that it would double the rate of its planned bond purchases (a step which reinforced the weakness of the yen and apparently led other central banks to reduce the interest rate and intervene in foreign exchange markets). Inflation in major economies declined.
The decision to reduce the interest rate for June 2013 by 0.25 percentage points, to 1.25 percent, is consistent with the Bank of Israel's interest rate policy, which is intended to entrench the inflation rate within the price stability target of 1–3 percent a year over the next twelve months, and to support growth while maintaining financial stability. The path of the interest rate in the future depends on developments in the inflation environment, growth in Israel and in the global economy, the monetary policies of major central banks, and developments in the exchange rate of the shekel.
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