Financial markets get the jitters
A relatively quiet week sparked into life last Thursday afternoon after the release of a slightly higher than expected Consumer Price Index from the US. At 7.5%, the index is at its highest level for over four decades, and worryingly the core figure is also rising steadily. In response, yields on US bonds rose sharply, as did interest rate projections in the derivative markets. James Bullard, from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, reacted by suggesting that the cost of borrowing should rise by 1% between now and July and even suggested that the Federal Reserve could hold an emergency meeting and raise rates. This reaction smelt slightly of panic to the markets, and as would be expected, stock markets started to slide, pushing the dollar higher as investors searched for safer assets. Sterling fared better than the euro as expectations are that the Bank of England will again raise rates in March whilst the European Central Bank council members started to dial back their hawkishness.
With a quiet week ahead, at least for economic data, elsewhere attention will switch to the UK this week. With the next meeting of the Bank of England looming, the release of the UK's inflation indexes this coming Wednesday will be studied with interest. With the increases in energy prices starting to come through into the numbers, expectations are for another jump. Elsewhere geopolitics will continue to unsettle the markets, with President Putin becoming increasingly belligerent over his intentions towards Ukraine whilst President Biden back peddles. Over the weekend tensions escalated with countries, including the UK, advising its citizens to leave Ukraine as fears of a Russian invasion grew. Elsewhere Brexit negotiations still rumble on, as do Boris Johnson's domestic problems; however, a quieter week on that front with parliament on recess may be on the cards.
After last weeks inflation shock in the US, the UK takes centre stage this week with the release of both employment and inflation data. First up is the unemployment data, released tomorrow, which is expected to edge lower again to virtually pre virus levels. With markets now expecting further moves upwards in Base Rate at the Bank of England’s next meeting followed by another one in May Wednesday’s Consumer Price Index will be of some importance.
Most analysts are looking for a slight drop in January’s headline figure but for it to bounce back and peak in April. If there is no apparent easing in the figure sterling could make further gains in particular against the euro. Also scheduled for release, but not quite as important as the CPI figure, are January’s Retail Sales which are published on Friday.
The euro was buffeted by the storms that crossed the Atlantic following the release of the US Consumer Price Index and the responses from the mouthpieces of the Federal Reserve. Christine Lagarde's attempts to soften her hawkish rhetoric of the previous week unsettled the markets, as did the hawkish comments from the new President of the Bundesbank, which highlighted the frictions inherent in the European Central Bank's council. Contradictory speeches were also delivered by Phillip Lane and Isabel Schnabel leaving the ECB in a catch 22 situation.
As well as its internal problems, investors are also nervous about European assets as the temperature continues to rise between NATO and Russia on Europe's Eastern border, keeping a lid on any advances by the euro. The only data of note due this week was out tomorrow when Employment and Gross Domestic Product for the Eurozone published and the ZEW sentiment surveys for the zone and its constituent countries. However, there are some notable speakers who will have a chance to give more clarity to the ECB’s position. The first opportunity falls to Christine Lagarde today and then Isabel Schnabel has a chance to reiterate her hawkish credentials and Phillip Lane his dovish ones on Thursday.
With minimal top tier data release out of the US this week, the dollar's direction is likely to be driven by the continuing fall out from last week's Consumer Price Index. Financial markets are looking for now looking for a rise in rates at the next Federal Reserve meeting on 16th March. The derivative markets are suggesting that there is a better than 50/50 chance of a .5% rise to be followed by at least another four hikes through the rest of the year. However, there is another set of inflation figures released before that meeting and the markets and consequently, the dollar may have got ahead of itself.
On Wednesday Retail Sales will be watched for any further signs of weakness that they have shown recently but with the effects of the Omicron variant still evident, some softness may be expected in them. The only other top tier figures scheduled for release are for Industrial Production, also on Wednesday, and the weekly jobless total on Thursday. Away from data, the market will be studying the minutes from the last FOMC meeting, which are released on Wednesday evening, to see how concerned the Fed really is over inflation.
Despite a somewhat hawkish Riksbank, the market expected even stronger language from Governor Ingves making the Swedish krona weaken further. It reached levels last seen in early 2020 on Thursday. Focus this week will be on the situation in Ukraine as any talk about military action could potentially have a negative impact on beta currencies such as the krona. On Friday, the latest CPI figures are released and will be closely monitored by market participants.
Over in Norway, the country is preparing for ex-Prime Minister and current Head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg to take over the helm at Norges Bank. Given the previous political affiliation of Herr Stoltenberg, some questions have been raised in regards to his fitness for the role. This week the latest GDP figure is released on Wednesday.