Brexit bothers

Heavy pound
At the end of the caucus race in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the politically-correct Dodo insists that "everybody has won and all must have prizes". Investors worry that there could be a similar outcome at the end of Britain's negotiations with the EU.

Politics weighed on sterling again on Friday despite a lack of UK economic data. It lost the thick end of three US cents between six in the morning and half past four, rebounding later to shave its daily loss to cent and a quarter. The pound was equally unsuccessful against the Canadian dollar, clocking a loss of one and three quarter cents. It was the weakest performer in the premier league, falling by an average of -0.6% against the other dozen most actively-traded currencies.

If investors had been focusing on the economic fundamentals they would have taken Cable higher after the US announced annualised gross domestic product expansion of 0.7% in the fourth quarter. At a quarterly 0.2% it was less than half the growth clocked by Britain over the same period. But that didn't matter to bearish investors. They sold sterling because it was going down.

Rates diverge
Two central banks made interest rate adjustments at the end of last week. The South African Reserve Bank raised its repo rate from 6.25% to 6.75% and the Bank of Japan cut its deposit rate from 0.05% to -0.1%. So the rand strengthened and the yen weakened.

The SARB's move did not come as a surprise. Even so, with the rand already recovering from the all-time lows of early January the increase - and the prospect of more to come this year - helped it move ahead. The BoJ cut was a different matter altogether. Although investors had been aware that the bank had easing on its mind they were not ready for a negative interest rate.

The outcome is a rand that has strengthened by 3.2% since Thursday morning and a yen that is down by -2.4%. Neither central bank is likely to be upset about the moves.

Manufacturing PMIs
The traditional first-of-the-month round of purchasing managers' index readings has already kicked off with mostly uninspiring figures from the Far East. There could be more disappointment to come.

Official Chinese data showed continued but slower growth in the services sector while the two manufacturing measures indicated contraction. Japan and Australia reported slower - and decidedly modest - growth. Sweden's 55.5 manufacturing sector PMI could well turn out to be the best of the lot. The forecasts around Europe are between 50.0 (France) and 54.9 (Italy) while the two US measures are pencilled in, somewhat unhelpfully, at 52.7 and 48.5.

The UK manufacturing PMI is pitched at 51.8, a tick lower on the month. For sterling the worst case would be a sub-51.4 number, which would represent a two-and-a-half-year low. It is conceivable that a strong figure would help the pound but only if there is progress on the political front.