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Finance and Coomerce

The Trade Position Statistics relating to trade, although eminently useful, are not always a true index of the position, for they fail of necessity to reflect the actual feelings of traders at any particular moment. Some of the figures from which we are accustomed to judge the commercial outlook are indeed, apt to be misleading at the present time, for while they show in most respects a continuance of the slight improvement which has been noticeable during the past few months in business circles confidence has given place to some degree of hesitancy. The Board of Trade returns for the month of February were encouraging when compared with the January figure, and show a general increase over the corresponding month of the previous year, although they are, of course, affected by the rise in commodity prices during the past twelve months. Commodity prices themselves show a further rise for February, the Board of Trade index number being 66.9 per cent. higher than in 1913, compared with 65.4 per cent. for January and 53.3 per cent. in February, 1923, while last month's official figures of unemployment also showed an improvement. Other statistics, such as bank clearings and advances, which may also be regarded as an index to the activity of trade, continue to show improvement, while the volume of commercial bills in the Money Market has fairly well maintained the increase which has been noticeable recently. There is nevertheless a less confident feeling among those actually engaged in commerce than existed a month or so ago, and this slight change of sentiment is naturally not yet reflected in the available statistics. Caution on the part of traders is only natural in view of the strikes which have actually taken place, the labour unrest which is reported from several quarters, and, above all, by the fear of a stoppage in the coal industry. A further disturbing factor has been the violent fluctuations in several of the European exchanges, and particularly in the value of the French franc. Depreciation in the currency of any country, although an unfavourable factor in the long run from the national point of view, gives a bonus to the exporter for the time being, for the rise in internal prices, which invariably follows, always lags behind the fall in the external value of the currency. Exchange fluctuations in either direction, on the scale to which we have become accustomed during the past few years are, however, a serious deterrent to international trade. The present tendency for the incipient trade expansion to hesitate is also possibly due to a realisation of the fact that the laying down of relief works and the hastening forward of railway renewal programmes for the relief of unemployment can only be a temporary palliative for commercial stagnation. It is obvious that the works to which reference has just been made are being paid for out of the nation's capital, although, as in the case of railway renewals and extensions, that capital may have b