The look ahead: Economic progress reports expected from Europe, China and the US

China on Monday is expected to offer an economic forecast for 2012 – an outlook that could be affected by the debt crisis in the EU, which is expected to release gross domestic product (GDP) data on Tuesday. On Thursday, the AICPA releases its first-quarter US “Economic Outlook Survey”. On Friday, the US releases unemployment data. Here’s a closer look at the week ahead.

European recession watch

The European debt crisis will remain near the forefront of economic news next week with two key announcements scheduled.

On Tuesday, the second preliminary estimate of the EU’s GDP for the fourth quarter of 2011 will be released. An earlier estimate, released in February, showed the GDP falling by 0.3% from the previous quarter for the 17 member states that use the euro as their currency and for the 27 member states of the EU. The GDP figures are being watched closely because a recession in Europe would negatively affect banks throughout the world.

Interest rates will take centre stage Thursday, when the governing council of the European Central Bank meets in Frankfurt. The fixed rate for main refinancing operations has been at a record low of 1% since December 14th. With the region’s economy ailing, the ECB could decide to cut the rate to spark lending and growth. But the ECB has held rates steady the past two months.

In February, ECB President Mario Draghi (in photo above) said keeping inflation rates anchored is necessary to support economic growth and job creation.

Hints from China

Economists and investors will be on the lookout for economic clues in China on Monday, when the annual National People’s Congress convenes. The Chinese equivalent to the US president’s State of the Union address could offer growth forecasts for China, which is expected to experience slower growth in 2012.

China is undergoing a property slump, and its exports, which have already slowed, could be severely limited if Europe falls into deep recession. The nation has sought to ease the blow of a slowdown through monetary policy, tinkering with taxes and economic regulations.

More hints about the direction of the Chinese economy could come out Thursday, when the National Bureau of Statistics of China is scheduled to release retail sales and industrial production data.

US jobs picture

On Friday, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its monthly Employment Situation Report, which will tell investors and economists whether the private sector continued to create more jobs than it cut to further lower the US unemployment rate, which fell to a three-year low of 8.3% in January.

The report provides a more comprehensive picture of the U.S. employment situation than three other employment reports that are also scheduled to be released next week.

The ADP Employment Report comes out Wednesday. On Thursday, the US Department of Labor issues its weekly update on unemployment claims by first-time filers. On Friday, the US Monster Employment Index will provide a comprehensive analysis of online job recruitment.

On Thursday, the AICPA is scheduled to release its first-quarter US “Economic Outlook Survey”. The results will show whether CPA decision makers continued to show greater optimism in the economy. In the fourth-quarter survey, 40% of respondents said they were somewhat or very pessimistic about the economy, down from 59% in the third quarter.