Economic Outlook: Let the flinching begin

ANTHONY HALL, United Press International

Headlines the past few days have indicated the European Union is closer to agreeing on an international rescue plan to pull Greece out of a debt crisis.

To date, the planning has been mostly a game of chicken to see who will flinch first as Greece heads toward $31.2 billion in debt payments it needs to make in April and May. On one side of the equation, European leaders are demanding Greece take further action to ensure fiscal sustainability by cutting services or raising taxes. In recent days, Greece has reluctantly been working on a plan that would reduce its budget gap by an additional $5.4 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. At the same time, finance ministers are working out a deal for German and French entities -- banks and other investors -- to purchase about $40 billion in Greece's debt.


But it is more than just adding numbers. Greece has already been beset by national strikes that include clashes with police.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says, "the best way to help is to make it clear that Greece should do its homework," but there is potential that more austerity measures mean more violence in the streets of Athens.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said Sunday, "I have no doubts that Greece will succeed in refinancing itself through ways that we are exploring at the moment," which should reassure some investors that the European Union, which expects Greece to flinch first, will not leave Greece dangling forever.

Before banks opened in New York Monday, American International Group announced it would sell American International Assurance to Prudential of Britain for $35.5 billion.

The deal, announced one business day after AIG said it lost $11 billion last year, would raise $25 billion in cash for the company, AIG said in a statement.

As a result of the deal, British Prudential would greatly expand its presence in Asia, where it already has 11 million policy holders and AIG would be able to chip $16 billion off of its enormous $180 billion bailout debt with the federal government.

In the first week of March, investors will look at mortgage approvals in Britain and unemployment figures in the European Union. Canada's gross domestic product figures are due Monday, as is consumer spending information in the United States.

On Tuesday, investors will look at U.S. vehicle sales and the Federal Reserve's Beige Book report. Retail sales figures in Europe are scheduled for release Wednesday and the European Union's GDP report is due Thursday.

Policy makers at both the Bank of England and the European Central Bank are set to make interest-rate decisions Thursday. On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announces February's final unemployment figures. Economists predict the unemployment rate rose from 9.7 percent to 9.8 percent for the month.

In international market movement Monday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 0.45 percent and the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong added 2.17 percent. The Shanghai composite index in China rose 1.18 percent and the Sensex in India added 1.08 percent.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.05 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 in Britain rose 0.34 percent and the DAX 30 in Germany added 0.95 percent. The CAC 40 in France rose 0.58 percent and the pan-European DJ Stoxx 50 fell 0.1 percent.

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