Upcoming Data Will Determine Depth Of FOMC's Cut

By John S. McClenahen TX:Beginning with the slated release of February's consumer confidence survey on Feb. 27, a steady stream of U.S. economic data will determine by how much the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) lowers short-term interest rates at its scheduled Mar. 20 meeting. The National Assn. of Purchasing Management's manufacturing index due out Mar. 1 and February's unemployment rate, average hourly earnings, and average work week -- all due for release on Mar. 9 -- will be among the most closely watched numbers. Like many other analysts, UBS Warburg LLC, a Stamford, Conn.-based unit of UBS AG, expects chairman Alan Greenspan and his FOMC colleagues to cut the influential federal funds rate another 50 basis points to 5% at their March meeting. "All in all, the risks on [GDP] growth remain firmly on the downside," says UBS Warburg. "The consumer sector is being restrained by the weakening job market and a fading of wealth effects. Export demand is being hurt by weaker foreign growth as well as several years of [U.S.] dollar appreciation. And the boom in business investment has ended; the only question now is how rapidly spending weakens."

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