Market Info

Stock markets open higher. Key data this week is UK CPI on Tuesday and US CPI on Wednesday as investors seek clues on inflation outlook.

12/02/2018 | OzForex

Monday 12 February

British Pound (GBP)

So far, we’ve only had one of the fifteen trading sessions that we get each week across the three major time-zones, so it’s unwise to draw any firm conclusions from the price action. That said, there is at least a consistent theme which is for a modest rebound in global equities and a somewhat lower US Dollar. Putting any numbers in a commentary risks instantly dating it, but as we go to print this Monday morning, futures markets are signally around a 200 point gain for the DJIA with the USD index a couple of tenths lower. GBP/USD on Friday clawed its way back on to a 1.38 ‘big figure’ after a low in the 1.3770’s and during the Asia session has added around a quarter of a cent.

In economic news, The Times newspaper splashes with the headline, “consumer spending falls to its lowest in five years”. The paper reports household spending fell by 1.2% in January compared with 12 months ago, according to research by Visa, the payments business. It is the first time that there has been a decline at this time of year since 2013. Individuals’ spending has now fallen in eight of the past nine months, with clothing, furniture and household goods bearing the brunt of consumers’ caution, according to figures on spending on Visa cards, which account for more than £1 in every £3 spent in the UK. According to Markit, ““Subdued spending trends coincide with a slowing of the overall UK economy during 2017. Lingering uncertainties around the outcome of the Brexit negotiations are also weighing on consumer confidence, which has stayed well below the levels seen prior to the 2016 Brexit vote.”

The weekend Press in the UK seems to have taken a break from bashing the government, though this is more likely to be a tactical retreat rather than any great change of strategy. Having said nothing of any substance on Brexit since a speech in Florence back in September last year, UK PM Theresa May is set to give her next major set-piece in Berlin in three weeks’ time. Before then, senior ministers are due to set out this week Britain’s “road to Brexit”, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said to be making the case for a “liberal Brexit” designed to reassure Remain voters. In economic news, the big event will be Tuesday’s CPI figures. Inflation last month slowed from 3.1% to 3.0% and consensus looks for another drop to 2.9% in January. With BoE interest rate policy now aligned very closely with current and expected inflation, it should be a straight read-across for the GBP.

US Dollar (USD)

USD/GBP expected range: 1.3785 – 1.3995 After the previous Friday’s spooky 666-point sign of things to come for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, there were two daily 1,000-point declines last week. Friday looked set for another huge drop before the index then bounced sharply off its 200-day moving average to end the day almost 900 points off its midday low. The US Dollar generally does well in times of equity market turmoil and last week was no exception. From its opening level of 88.90 last Monday morning in Sydney, the USD index against a basket of major currencies rose steadily to a high on Thursday of 90.25; its best level since before Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s comments in Davos two weeks’ earlier. Overnight in Asia as the equity market has edged cautiously higher, so the USD has given back around two-tenths of a point to 89.80.

None of the scheduled Fed speakers last week seemed at all concerned by the stock market. Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley said recent declines weren’t that big and don’t yet change his outlook for the U.S. economy. “This wasn’t that big a bump in the equity market… The stock market had a remarkable rise over a very long time with extremely low volatility…. My outlook hasn’t changed just because the stock market’s a little bit lower than it was a few days ago. It’s still up sharply from where it was a year ago. Having a bump up like this has virtually no consequence on my view of the economic outlook”. This view was largely echoed by Kaplan, Harker, Evans and others. Indeed, there are few signs from the front end of the US money market curve that a 25bp rate hike at the March FOMC meeting is in any more doubt. Two weeks ago, with the stock market at a record high, the market-derived probability of a hike was 76%. Today, it has edged down only very marginally to 72%.

To the extent that the 2.9% increase in average hourly earnings was the ‘trigger’ for the stock market sell-off, investors will now be acutely sensitive to any inflation data. On Tuesday we have the NFIB small business survey which contains a question on earnings. Last month’s Press Release breathlessly enthused that, “2017 was the most remarkable year in the 45-year history of the NFIB Optimism Index… With a massive tax cut this year, accompanied by significant regulatory relief, we expect very strong growth, millions more jobs, and higher pay for Americans.” NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg said, “There’s a critical shortage of qualified workers and it’s becoming a real cost driver for small businesses… They are raising compensation for workers in order to attract and keep good employees, but that’s a positive indicator for the overall economy.” It may not be so good for the stock market which will be on edge, also, ahead of Wednesday’s CPI numbers.