GLOBAL ECONOMY-U.S. looks best of 2013 economic runners

Alan Wheatley, Global Economics Correspondent
Reuters Middle East

* Forecasts show U.S. pulling ahead after bumpy start

* Strong Q3 GDP a trailer for second half of next year

* China also favoured, but debt woes hobble euro zone

LONDON, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Here's a fairly safe bet for

uncertain times: the U.S. economy will once again show the euro

zone and Japan a clean pair of heels next year.

Forecasts for 2013 that are now landing thick and fast show

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is not alone in believing

it could be a very good year for America if politicians can

avoid tumbling off the so-called fiscal cliff.

Updated gross domestic product figures due on Thursday are

likely to show the U.S. economy was already doing quite a bit

better than first thought last quarter.

According to 60 economists polled by Reuters, the initial

estimate of 2.0 percent growth at an annualised rate is likely

to be revised up to 2.8 percent.

That pace will flag. Even assuming a political compromise to

dodge the fiscal cliff's full $600 billion in government

spending cuts and expiring tax breaks, the budget stance is

likely to tighten markedly in early 2013, crimping growth.

Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet Asset Management in

London, is pencilling in U.S. growth of around 1 percent in the

first quarter. After that, though, thing should improve.

"The second quarter should be slightly better and, in the

second part of the year, we'll probably be above trend at around

3 percent or even higher," he said.

Contrast that with Japan, which Paolini said was doing "very

badly", and the euro zone, which contracted in the second and

third quarters. With Greece and other southern members choking

on debt, the single-currency area can expect a return to no more

than minimum growth in the first half of 2013.

Overall, the picture was murky. "Only emerging markets,

especially China, seem to be getting out of this pretty nicely,"

Paolini said. "But it's not enough. It's still a weak


Similarly, Morgan Stanley expects the global economy to

remain stuck in a twilight zone in 2013.

But growth in the United States should begin to expand at a

slightly above-pace trend from mid-year as policy uncertainty

lifts, the bank said in a report.

This was Bernanke's message in a speech last Tuesday.

"I do think there is important potential for the economy to

strengthen significantly if there is a greater level of security

and comfort about where we are going as a country," the central

bank chief said.


Tuesday's survey of U.S. consumer confidence in November

will provide an indication whether fiscal cliff jitters are

dampening spirits, which have improved in recent months on the

back of better job data.

The reviving housing market has also been brightening the

mood. The Case-Shiller home price index on Tuesday will show

whether price gains are still spreading across the country. If

they are, that can bode only well for the economy.

Vincent Reinhart and David Greenlaw at Morgan Stanley said

residential construction was likely to be the economy's standout

sector. "We look for sustained improvement in starts, sales and

prices over the next few years," they wrote.

James Malcolm, a currency strategist with Deutsche Bank in

London, said a multi-year upturn in U.S. housing should have

strong multiplier effects on jobs, tax receipts, personal wealth

and confidence - all bullish for the dollar.

The United States, as well as China, also looks attractive

to Singapore-based Richard Martin, managing director of IMA

Asia, an economic and business research consultancy.

Global risks should be receding by the second quarter. By

then, America ought to have resolved its immediate fiscal crunch

and China's new Communist party leaders will have taken over the

top government posts in March, Martin said.

This should accelerate corporate investment decisions and

turn 2013 into a better year than many expect: "By the third

quarter there should be plenty of evidence of firm upturns in

China and the U.S., which should clear some of the global



The data highlights of the week in Europe are German

unemployment and euro-zone economic sentiment on Thursday

followed a day later by November's inflation rate.

But they pale in importance next to the latest efforts by

euro zone finance ministers to agree among themselves and with

the International Monetary Fund on how to stave off insolvency

in Greece.

Ministers meet on Monday for the third week in a row to try

to agree how to fill Athens's yawning funding gap, knowing the

euro itself could face a life-or-death test if Greece were to

tumble off this particular fiscal cliff.

That in turn would be fatal for Europe's growth prospects

and all bets on an improving trend in the United States and

China would be off.

"There are different alternatives being discussed all the

time. I do believe that next Monday we can reach a sustainable

and credible result," Finnish Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen

told reporters on Friday.

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