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Common woes

One thing after another

Anyone uneasy about Brexit should glance across the Channel and console themself that things are not exactly going swimmingly over there either. Wednesday brought some unpleasant Euroland production numbers and a general strike in Belgium. The euro was not mortally wounded but you can see the bruises.

Because Belgium is not usually at the focus of investors' attention it probably came as a surprise to them yesterday that half the country was out of action. Trains and boats and planes were all affected, as were schools, factories and shops. Taking a leaf out of Italy's book, unions want shorter hours, earlier retirement and higher wages. In economic terms Belgium is a relative minnow, generating 2.8% of the EU's gross domestic product, but this eruption of populism cannot improve attitudes towards the euro.

Similarly with industrial production: the pan-Euroland figure is seldom of much interest to investors because it follows the national readings which are held to be more up-to-date and important. Wednesday's report will have raised eyebrows though, with monthly and annual declines of 0.9% and 4.2%, both of them much bigger than forecast. The euro is a fifth of a cent lower on the day.  

Thin market

A spike of more than half a cent in sterling's value had nothing to do with the anaemic UK inflation data which preceded it. The best guess is that the jump - later corrected - was the result of a large buy order in a thin market. On average the pound is unchanged on the day, and flat against the safe-haven yen and franc.

Headline CPI inflation in Britain was 1.9% in the year to January, down from 2.1% a month earlier. The older and much-criticised retail price index slowed from 2.7% to 2.5%.  

Consumer price index data from the States showed the headline rate of inflation slowing from 1.9% to 1.6% with the core rate unchanged at 2.2%. South African retail sales fell 1.4% in the year to December, exacerbating the rand's existing problems with power cuts and the management of the government pension fund. The rand was ejected from the back of the field and is 1.9% lower on the day.

0.2's company

As far as the data are concerned, today's reasonably busy agenda is headlined by the figures for European gross domestic product, US retail sales and, tonight, Chinese inflation. Of far greater interest to sterling will be what happens in the Commons this evening.

Overnight figures showed Japan's economy expanding by 0.3% in Q4, which looks pretty good alongside Britain's 0.2% growth in the same period and the 0.2% by which Euroland is expected to have grown. Germany's GDP was flat in Q4, narrowly avoiding recession. Chinese trade data were a bit swings-and-roundabouts: the 9.1% increase in exports during 2018 was more heartening than the 1.5% decline in imports.  

Decision made by the Commons today will be crucial to investors' perception of the pound. If MPs do not make it clear that they will prevent a no-deal Brexit the uncertainty will crank up to another level. 

GBP unchanged on average after inflation slows

GBP unchanged on average after inflation slows

EUR bruised by strikes and falling output

EUR bruised by strikes and falling output

ZAR crushed by falling sales and power cuts

ZAR crushed by falling sales and power cuts

CHF and JPY steady against GBP

CHF and JPY steady against GBP

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