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Taiwan's central bank held its key interest rate unchanged for the fifteenth policy session in a row on Thursday, citing brighter economic outlook amid low inflation and improving labor market conditions.

The Board of the Central Bank of the Republic of China (Taiwan) left its key rate unchanged at 1.875 percent. The decision was in line economists' expectations.

"Domestic economy improves steadily, and inflation is low and stable with a temporary softening in inflation expectations," the bank said in a statement. "Against this backdrop, the Board judges that a policy rate hold will help maintain price and financial stability and foster economic growth."

The previous change in the discount rate was a 12.5 basis points hike in June 2011.

The bank said that positive results from a series of measures it took since June 2010 to rein in banks' real estate-related risks, and the government's policy efforts towards a reasonable property tax levy, have successfully helped restrain activity in the housing market and expectations for rising housing prices.

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After reporting a modest uptick in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the previous week, the Labor Department released a report on Thursday showing that initial jobless claims pulled back by more than expected in the week ended March 21st.

The report said initial jobless claims fell to 282,000, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 291,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to edge down to 290,000. With the drop, jobless claims pulled back further off the nine-month high set in the last week of February and hit their lowest level in over a month.

The Labor Department said the less volatile four-week moving average also fell to a one-month low 297,000, a decrease of 7,750 from the previous week's unrevised average of 304,750.

Continuing claims, an indicator of the number of people receiving ongoing unemployment assistance, also edged down by 6,000 to 2.416 million in the week ended March 14th.

On the other hand, the four-week moving average of continuing claims edged up to 2,422,250, an increase of 3,000 from the previous week's revised average of 2,419,250.

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British retail sales continued to expand in February at a faster-than-expected pace, suggesting strong support from domestic spending to economic growth in the first quarter.

Retail sales increased at a faster pace of 0.7 percent in February from January, when it gained 0.1 percent, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed Thursday.

The monthly growth exceeded a 0.4 percent rise forecast by economists and marked the fifth straight month of growth.

Similarly, sales excluding auto fuel increased 0.7 percent and reversed January's 0.3 percent fall. It was forecast to rise by 0.4 percent.

Food store sales advanced 0.2 percent and non-food store sales rebounded 0.9 percent in February.

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After reporting a modest uptick in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the previous week, the Labor Department released a report on Thursday showing that initial jobless claims pulled back by more than expected in the week ended March 21st.

The report said initial jobless claims fell to 282,000, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 291,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to edge down to 290,000.

by RTT Staff Writer

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Economic News

The Czech central bank held its key interest rate and currency ceiling steady for the nineteenth policy session in a row.

The CNB Bank Board decided to keep the main two-week repo rate unchanged at 0.05 percent, the Czech National Bank said in a statement on Thursday.

The discount rate was maintained at 0.05 percent and the lombard rate was retained at 0.25 percent. The decision was in line with economists' expectations.

The bank also repeated its pledge to intervene on the foreign exchange market if needed to weaken the koruna, so that the exchange rate of the koruna against the euro is kept close to CZK 27/EUR.

The CNB had set the exchange rate floor in November 2013 and had decided to retain it for at least until the start of 2015. Policymakers also repeated that the commitment was one-sided, which meant the bank will only intervene to prevent excessive appreciation of the koruna.

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Sweden's producer price inflation accelerated to its highest level in four months in February, Statistics Sweden showed Thursday.

The producer price index rose 1.9 percent annually following a 0.2 percent gain in the previous month. In December, prices dropped 0.1 percent.

The latest increase was the highest since October last year, when producer prices climbed 1.3 percent.

Domestic market producer prices declined 0.2 percent. Producer prices on the export market rose 4 percent and prices on the import market grew 0.6 percent.

The rise in export prices can be partly explained by the continued strengthening of the US dollar against the Swedish krona, the agency said.

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Sweden's trade surplus in February eased slightly from a year ago, remaining above economists' expectations, figures from Statistics Sweden showed Thursday.

The visible trade surplus was SEK 4.6 billion, which was slightly below the SEK 4.8 billion in the same month last year. Economists had expected a surplus of SEK 4 billion. In January, the surplus was SEK 3.3 billion.

Exports and imports grew 6 percent each from the same month last year. The non-EU trade surplus was SEK 11 billion in February, while the EU trade led to a deficit of SEK 6.4 billion.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the trade surplus was SEK 2.9 billion versus SEK 2.3 billion in the previous month.

by RTT Staff Writer

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The Philippine central bank decided to maintain its key rates unchanged on Thursday as the policy board assessed the current monetary settings as appropriate.

The Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas maintained the overnight borrowing rate at 4.00 percent and the overnight lending at 6.00 percent. The reserve requirement ratios were also left unchanged.

The board said the inflation environment continues to be manageable. The bank expects inflation to settle within the lower half of the target range of 2-4 percent this year and in 2016.

Moreover, the risks to the inflation outlook continue to be broadly balanced. Moreover, domestic demand conditions remain robust and higher spending is expected to support economic activity.

Gareth Leather, an Asia economist at Capital Economics expects rates to remain on hold at 4 percent until the remainder of the year as inflation is likely to be at the bottom of the central bank's target range and the economy to remain healthy.

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Lending to the Eurozone private sector declined modestly in February, suggesting a gradual revival in euro area bank lending, data from the European Central Bank showed Thursday.

Loans to businesses and households fell 0.1 percent annually, following a 0.2 percent drop in January, which was revised from a 0.1 percent drop reported earlier.

After adjusting for sales and securitisation, lending to the private sector grew 0.6 percent after a 0.4 percent gain in the previous month.

The annual growth in M3, a broad measure of money supply, rose to 4 percent from 3.7 percent in January. Initially, the January M3 growth was reported as 4.1 percent, which was the fastest pace since April 2009.

The three-month average of the annual growth rates of M3 during the December to February period increased to 3.8 percent from 3.5 percent in the November to January period.

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The KOF Swiss Economic Institute said the economy will expand only marginally this year and cautioned that the appreciation of the Swiss franc following the removal of the currency ceiling will weigh down heavily on the business cycle.

In the Spring Forecast, the think tank said gross domestic product will grow 0.2 percent in 2015, much slower than the 1.9 percent expansion projected in the Winter Forecast. In January, the think tank said the economy would contract 0.5 percent.

The KOF forecast GDP growth to return to positive in the fourth quarter. For 2016, growth is estimated to be at 1 percent instead of 2.1 percent projected in December.

Exporters in particular are feeling the effects of the strong franc, the institute said. Due to falling prices and consumer tourism, private consumption is initially holding up well. The 2015 growth forecast for exports was halved to 1.2 percent from 5 percent.

Imports are expected to rise 2.4 percent compared to 3.3 percent projected in December.

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Hong Kong's export growth accelerated at a faster-than-expected pace in February, figures from the Census and Statistics Department showed Thursday.

Exports climbed 7.2 percent year-over-year in February, much faster than January's 2.8 percent increase. Economists had expected a 3.0 percent growth for the month.

The value of re-exports increased 4.7 percent , while domestic exports drooped by 2.5 percent.

At the same time, imports fell 0.9 percent annually in February, in contrast to a 4.7 percent increase expected by economists. In January, imports surged by 7.9 percent.

The visible trade deficit decreased to HK$ 35.9 billion in February from HK$37 billion a year ago. Economists had forecast a deficit of HK$ 55 billion.

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German consumer confidence is set to improve further to its highest level in more than 13 years in April, as weak euro and low inflation function as mini stimulus to the economy, survey data from the market research group GfK showed Thursday.

The forward-looking consumer sentiment index rose to 10 in April from 9.7 points in March. This was the highest score since October 2001. The index was expected to rise marginally to 9.8.

German consumers have become real optimists and any worries about the current Greek crisis were clearly outweighed by low inflation and the strong labor market, said Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING-DiBa.

Today's consumer confidence indicator confirms the view that private consumption should be an even more important growth driver this year, he noted.

GfK confirmed its forecast for consumer spending that it estimated at the start of the year. Consumer spending is expected to grow around 1.5 percent this year.

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Norway's unemployment rate rose unexpectedly at the start of the year, figures from Statistics Norway showed Thursday.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.9 percent in January from a revised 3.8 percent in December. Economists had forecast the jobless rate to fall to 3.7 percent.

A year earlier, the jobless rate was 3.5 percent.

The number of unemployed people increased to 109,000 in January from 104,000 in the preceding month.

At the same time, the number of employed people dropped slightly to 2.65 million in January from 2.66 million. Employment rate came in at 68.6 percent in January, down from 68.7 percent in December.

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Commercial vehicle registrations in the European Union increased for the second straight month in February, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, ACEA,said Thursday.

New vehicle sales climbed 8.3 percent year-over-year to 135,778 units., following a 7.6 percent increase in January. It was the second consecutive monthly rise.

New registrations of light commercial vehicles rose 9.5 percent annually in February to 112,593 units. Similarly, new heavy commercial vehicle sales, excluding heavy buses and coaches, surged by 8.1 percent.

Sales in Spain increased the most by 29.5 percent and by 19.4 percent in the UK. Meanwhile, sales declined 4.3 percent in France.

by RTT Staff Writer

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Germany's real wage index increased in 2014 to reach its highest level since the beginning of the time series in 2008, largely influenced by the lower inflation pressure in the country, final figures from Destatis showed Thursday.

In the whole year 2014, real earnings grew 1.7 percent from the previous year, which was revised upwardly from a 1.6 percent increase initially estimated. The latest rate of increase was the highest since the time series began in 2008.

Inflation was much lower at 0.9 percent in 2014. Nominal wages also grew 2.6 percent in 2014 from the previous year.

In the fourth quarter of 2014, the real wage index climbed 2.2 percent compared to the same period of the previous year. It also marked the highest rate of increase since the start of the calculations in 2008.

by RTT Staff Writer

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Thailand's exports declined at a faster-than-expected pace in February, figures from the commerce ministry showed Thursday.

Exports fell sharply by 6.1 percent year-over-year in February, faster than January's 3.5 percent decline. Economists had forecast a 3.2 percent fall for the month.

At the same time, imports grew 1.5 percent annually in February, in contrast to economists' expectations for a 1.8 percent drop. In January imports plunged by 13.3 percent.

The visible trade balance of the country turned to a surplus of $390 million in February from a deficit of $66.4 million a year ago. In January, the trade balance showed a shortfall of $457 million.

by RTT Staff Writer

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Consumer confidence from Germany and retail sales from the U.K. are the major reports due on Thursday.

At 3.00 am ET, Germany's GfK consumer sentiment data is due. The forward-looking consumer confidence index is seen at 9.8 in April versus 9.7 points in March.

At 3.30, Hungary's current account data is due from the central bank. The current account surplus is forecast to fall to EUR 1.05 billion in the fourth quarter from EUR 1.39 billion in the third quarter.

At 3.45 am ET, the French statistical office Insee is scheduled to publish final fourth quarter GDP data. The sequential growth is expected to be confirmed at 0.1 percent.

Switzerland's KOF Institute is scheduled to publish Spring Economic Forecast at 4.00 am ET.

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Singapore's industrial production declined at a faster-than-expected pace in February, after rising in the previous month, preliminary figures from the Economic Development Board showed Thursday.

Industrial production fell 3.6 percent year-over-year in February, in contrast to a 1.3 percent increase in January. Economists had forecast a 2.2 percent fall for the month. Excluding biomedical manufacturing output dropped by 3.9 percent.

The latest rate of decline was the sharpest since June 2013, when it dropped 4.7 percent.

Among components, output of the biomedical manufacturing cluster declined 2.5 percent in February from a year ago. Output of the precision engineering cluster contracted by 5.8 percent with all segments registering output declines.

Output of the electronics cluster decreased 4.5 percent annually in February and transport engineering cluster output plunged by 7.2 percent.

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The leading Index for France, which measures the future economic activity, increased in January, after remaining unchanged in the previous month, survey figures from Conference Board showed Wednesday.

The Conference Board leading economic index rose 0.2 percent in January, after staying flat in December. In November, the index had risen 0.1 percent.

Out of the seven components, four contributed positively to the index in January.

Positive contributions from production expectations, stock prices and the yield spread more than offset negative contributions from building permits and industrial new orders.

In the July to January period, the leading economic index climbed 0.7 percent, up from 0.4 percent over the previous six-month period.

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Hong Kong will on Thursday release February figures for import, exports and trade balance, highlighting a busy day in Asia-Pacific economic activity.

Imports are expected to gain 4.7 percent on year after climbing 7.9 percent in January. Exports are called higher by 3.0 percent after gaining 2.8 percent in the previous month. The trade balance is expected to show a deficit of 55 billion Hong Kong dollars following the 37 billion HKD shortfall a month earlier.

The central bank of Taiwan will wrap up its monetary policy meeting and then announce its decision on interest rates. The central bank is widely expected to keep rates on hold at 1.875.

The central bank in the Philippines also will conclude its monetary policy meeting and give its decision on its benchmark interest rate. The bank is tipped to keep the benchmark unchanged at 4.0 percent.

Thailand will provide February figures for imports, exports and trade balance. Imports are expected to dip 1.8 percent on year after tumbling 13.33 percent in January. Exports are tipped to fall 3.2 percent after losing 3.46 percent in the previous month. The trade balance is expected to show a surplus of $1.576 billion following the $457 million deficit a month earlier.

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