Sterling stumbles

Shedding pounds
The campaign against fizzy drinks has moved on. Graham MacGregor, chairman of the anti-sugar pressure group "Action on Sugar", says sugar-free fizzy drinks are just as bad as the full-fat variety because they encourage unhealthy eating. So stay off pop entirely if you don't want to pile on the pounds.

Investors appeared to be doing just that yesterday morning. Indeed they were piling off the pounds after the UK inflation data were released at 09:30. The figures showed headline inflation turning negative, with prices down by -0.1% in the year to September. Falling petrol prices were mainly responsible: the "core" consumer price index, which ignores fuel and food costs, was up by an annual 1.0%.

Had sterling not already been heading lower when the inflation data came out it might have been a different story. But following the pound's upward blip, when the merger of two brewing companies had been announced, a correction was already underway. It did not require much imagination on the part of investors to jump aboard the downward trend when they saw inflation turning negative.

Offing the Aussie
Although sterling spent the morning on the retreat it was a long way from being the day's worst-performing major currency. That dubious honour went to the Australian dollar, which fell by two and a quarter cents, wiping out a third of the gains it had accrued over the previous seven days.

The catalyst for the Aussie's decline was the Chinese trade data, which showed imports falling for a tenth consecutive month. Like the pound, the Australian dollar had already been under downward pressure before the figures came out and investors simply jumped on the bandwagon.

The Chinese data also strengthened demand for the safe-havens. At the front of the pack the Swiss franc added more than a cent; the euro was up by two thirds of a cent and the Japanese currency went up by three quarters of a yen. Overall sterling fell by an average of -0.1% against the other dozen most actively-traded currencies. 

A fresh start?
Sterling will have a second chance to show its worth this morning when the UK employment data are released. If they are as unhelpful as yesterday's inflation figures the pound will take another hit.

Overnight the NZ dollar took a one-cent tumble when the governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand said in so many words that "some further easing in the [benchmark interest rate] seems likely". It was still half a cent firmer on the day though.

This morning's Euroland data include a couple of national inflation measures and the relatively low-status euro zone industrial production figures, which will merely confirm what investors already know about Germany and France. More important will be the US retail sales data this afternoon and the Australian jobs numbers tonight. Sterling will stand or fall on the UK employment statistics: Investors will want to see average earnings continuing to rise and jobseeker numbers falling further.