Five things to know before the market trades this week, Feb 16-22

High rise private condominiums on the Singapore East Coast. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is set to release new home sales figures for January this week. -- PHOTO: ST FILE 
High rise private condominiums on the Singapore East Coast. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is set to release new home sales figures for January this week. -- PHOTO: ST FILE 

1. Eyes on Singapore

Local markets will open for this Chinese New Year holiday-shortened week after news on Sunday that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and will undergo surgery on Monday. He is expected to recover fully after a week's medical leave, his office said.

This is the second bout of cancer for Mr Lee, who turned 63 just last week. But doctors indicated that the latest bout is unrelated to the lymphoma that was diagnosed in 1993.

There are important data releases this week in the run-up to the big Budget reveal next week. On Monday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority will release new home sales figures for January. Analysts expect sales to be marginally up from the dismal 230 new condominium units sold in December, which was also the worst month of sales since January 2009, when 108 apartments were sold.

On Tuesday morning, figures for Singapore's non-oil domestic exports (NODX) in January will be released. Analysts polled by Reuters say January NODX likely grew a tepid 1.9 per cent from a year earlier, after expanding 2.3 per cent year-on-year in December, as exports continue to suffer from a sluggish global economy.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Ministry of Trade and Industry will release the final fourth quarter GDP figures as well as the economic survey of Singapore giving the full-year detailed look at the economy. Last month's advance reading of Q4 GDP showed that economic growth in October to December slowed to 1.5 per cent from a year earlier as the manufacturing sector contracted in the face of erratic global demand.

2. Greece Bailout Saga: Part 2

As the Financial Times put it so well, the first act is over and it is time this week for real talks with Greece.

The FT descibed attempts last week to save Greece from exiting the eurozone as "packed full of the kind of inconclusive late-night meetings and striking of dramatic postures that recall the glory days of the eurozone crisis in years gone by. At the end of it, Greece is barely closer to reaching a deal to keep bailout money flowing from the eurozone and International Monetary Fund and financing coming from the European Central Bank."

Greek officials and the country's creditors extended discussions through the weekend, as they race to make progress ahead of another meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Germany, the biggest country contributor to Greece's 240-billion-euro bailout, has led calls for Greece to stick to the austerity terms of its debt deal while France and Italy have been more sympathetic to Greece's efforts to secure bridge financing while it works out a longer-term plan.

In the face of opposition, the Greek government has already watered down its position, ditching a pre-election pledge for a debt writedown and saying it's willing to keep to about 70 per cent of the bailout conditions.

But by Friday, no agreement had been reached.

The European Central Bank has kept the pressure on and could possibly pull the plug on emergency support for Greek banks, without which they will collapse, if there is no progress towards a deal.

Last week, the ECB made available a further 5 billion euros of emergency lending after announcing it would no longer accept Greek bonds as collateral. That money will only last until Wednesday when the ECB Governing Council meets to review the situation.

The odds are still on some sort of extension to the bailout, even if it is called something else, to allow time for more substantive negotiations, said Reuters. But this is far from guaranteed.

Economists polled by Reuters over the weekend give a one-in-four chance of Greece leaving the 19-nation single currency area this year - the highest reading since the start of the Greek debt crisis in late 2009.

3. FOMC's minutes that always matter

Investors will scour the minutes from the latest meeting in January of the Federal Reserve's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) for clues as to when the US central bank is likely to raise interest rates.

The central bank world has been upended by cheap oil, the threat of deflation and the prospect of the European Central Bank creating more than 1 trillion euros over the next 18 months, says Reuters.

Interest rates have been cut from Australia to India to Canada. Denmark and Sweden now boast negative official rates and the latter has started printing money. The Monetary Authority of Singapore unexpectedly allowed for a weaker Singapore dollar, which could lead to less pressure on local interest rates to rise.

In stark contrast, the Fed is expected to raise rates some time this year. At its last meeting, it said it would remain patient about a first policy tightening but said the US economy was expanding "at a solid pace" with strong job gains, leaving some pundits to predict that rates could be raised around mid-2015.

Others say US inflation remains too low and jobs gains are not translating into higher pay for US workers.

4. Japan out from recession?

Japan's fourth quarter GDP (gross domestic product) comes out on Monday and expectations are the world's fourth-largest economy likely crawled out of recession, helped by rising exports and a sharply weaker yen.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal predict that GDP expanded 3.6 per cent during the October to December.

Japan's economy contracted 6.7 per cent in the second quarter and 1.9 per cent in the third quarter following the government's move to raise the sales tax for the first time in 17 years in April.

The question is how strong and durable any recovery will be.

On Wednesday, the Bank of Japan will deliver its latest policy decision. In April 2013, the BOJ pledged to push inflation up to 2 per cent in "about two years" by printing money at an unprecedented rate to end two decades of deflation.

With inflation running at just 0.5 per cent, more stimulus is expected but not yet. Of 16 analysts polled by Reuters, five each said more BOJ easing would come at either its July or Oct. 30 meeting.

5. PMI week

Flash purchasing managers surveys for February from the eurozone, the United States and China will give the latest snapshot of the health of the world economy and whether cheap oil is starting to give economies a boost.

Purchasing Managers' Indices (PMI) are economic indicators derived from monthly surveys of private sector companies. The two principal producers of PMIs are Markit Group, which conducts PMIs for over 30 countries worldwide, and the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), which conducts PMIs for the US. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: output, new orders, business expectations and employment.