Ticking over

Keeping calm

As far as exchange rates were concerned, Monday was something of a non-event. Sterling was just about unchanged against the US, Canadian and NZ dollars as well as the Swiss franc. The only currency to make any effort to move was the Norwegian krone, which edged higher for no manifest reason.

Economic statistics were in short supply, global equity prices showed signs of recovery and investors were generally relieved that financial markets had regained some of the poise that so deserted them a week and a half ago. They were not looking for trouble and were content to see exchange rates wandering aimlessly within narrow ranges. For sterling against the euro and the US dollar that meant no more than three quarters of a cent.

Two Monetary Policy Committee worthies used speaking engagements to reinforce the Bank of England governor's guidance towards higher interest rates. Gertjan Vlieghe said the only thing to prevent that happening would be a breakdown in the Brexit transition negotiations and Ian McCafferty's thoughts were much the same: Neither considered such a breakdown likely.

US Budget

Donald Trump revealed his budget wish list covering, among other things, Mexican walls and bigger and better bombs. It has no chance of passing into law - Republicans and Democrats would both have objections - but it does highlight the way Washington no longer seeks a balanced budget. 

Depending which forecast is used, America's national debt could increase by anything up to 50% over the next ten years. That being the case, and with the Federal Reserve now winding down its stock of the Treasury bonds collected during the quantitative easing programmes, investors will be asked to come up with north of a trillion (milliard) new dollars a year, every year, to keep thing on the rails.

The implications are, firstly, that interest rates will have to be high enough to attract that new money and, secondly, that the US sovereign credit rating is likely to come under threat. That second risk is not too important: the US government will always, by definition, be able to repay its dollar borrowings. However, excessive government borrowing tends to weigh on a currency.

How much?

The statistics that will matter to sterling today are the consumer price index readings at half past nine. Mark Carney and his chums have made abundantly clear that they have their eye on inflation so a headline number above or below the forecast 2.9% could be expected to send sterling higher or lower.

During the London day Britain has close to a monopoly of significant ecostats. Switzerland will report on producer prices, South Africa on unemployment and the United States on small business optimism and crude oil stocks. Tonight brings Japan's first stab at fourth quarter growth.

On the non-statistical front the one to watch is South Africa's soon-to-be-replaced president Jacob Zuma. Although his imminent departure is by now fairly well priced into the rand, the actuality should still be rand-positive.