FOMC countdown

Cosi fan tutte
One recent proposal to improve the efficiency of fire brigades is to merge them with police forces. Another is that fire-people should check residents' health when they carry out risk assessments of private homes. Maybe they could do a bit of gardening as well. Or offer investment advice.

Well, everybody else seems to be at it (the advice, that is). And the principal recipient is the Federal Open Market Committee, America's equivalent of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee. It convenes on Wednesday and Thursday to debate whether or not the time is ripe to begin the process of returning US interest rate to whatever equates to "normal".

The rate-hike-now faction argues that the longer the FOMC waits to deliver the first increase the harder will be the decision and the harsher will be the consequences. Those who support the leave-it-be view maintain that an increase cannot be justified by the inflation rate and fear that moving too early will knock the economy into reverse.

Stocki scores
The imminent FOMC rate decision was the main topic of speculation on Friday, not least because there was little else about which to speculate. Sterling and the two North American dollars got the rough end of the stick while the Swedish krona was the day's comfortable winner.

The krona's success was due to the useful Swedish ecostats released on Friday morning. Gross domestic product expanded by 1.1% in the second quarter, putting growth in the year to June at 3.3%, while unemployment ticked down to a post-recession low of 6.4%. The figures sent the krona 1.5% higher on the day.

Investors were less impressed by the provisional University of Michigan index of US consumer sentiment, which came out after lunch. At 85.7 it was down by six points on the month and the lowest reading in more than a year. The figure did no immediate harm but it left the US dollar defenceless when a spurt of buying took the euro higher an hour later. In the end the dollar lost half a cent to the euro while sterling was down by five eighths of a euro cent.

Industrial production
The figures that matter today relate mainly to industrial production, and there aren't many of them. China set the ball rolling on Sunday with an annual increase of 6.1%, which might look alright at first glance but represents less than half the growth seen four years ago. 

Other data released alongside the industrial output number showed Chinese retail sales increasing by an annual 10.8% and urban investment - infrastructure spending - rising by 10.9%. Four years ago retail sales were going up by 17% a year and investment by 25%. The data did more damage to Chinese share prices than they did to the antipodean dollars.

The yen escaped unscathed when Japan announced a -0.8% monthly fall in industrial production and the equivalent figure from Euroland this morning is unlikely to affect the euro.