Surprises all round

Deus ex machina
The Ardbeg distillery sent 20 wee bottles of its whisky to the International Space Station in 2011. They were returned to earth a year ago and, after careful testing, are said to have gained a "dramatically different flavour profile". The real miracle, though, is that they came back at all.

And the miracle yesterday was that sterling broke its duck to become the top-performing major currency for the first time in three weeks. That was no mean feat. The only UK ecostat was the BRC shop price index, which came out overnight and showed prices falling for a fifteenth straight month. Politics didn't help either: as well as the anti-EU opinion poll reported yesterday morning the prime minister was defeated in parliament over his referendum proposals.

Yet sterling plucked victory from the jaws of defeat to strengthen by an average of 0.7% - one Swiss cent - against the other dozen most actively-traded currencies. It added one and a quarter US cents and one Japanese yen. Its smallest gain was quarter of a euro cent.

No bulls in China's shop
The big news this morning came early from the Far East. From Japan it was arguably good, with a slight upgrade in Japanese second quarter contraction. From China it was unequivocally bad: whilst exports only shrank by an annual -5.5% in August, imports were down by a chunky -13.8%.

The upgrade of Japan's gross domestic product, from shrinkage of -0.4% to -0.3%, was not enough to help either the yen or the Tokyo stock market, which fell back to the level at which it had begun the year. Investors were not so much impressed by the near-record Chinese trade surplus as they were worried by a tenth consecutive monthly fall in imports. The Shanghai stock market did not suffer but only because, investors assume, the authorities continue to support it.

Although the South African rand was the day's biggest loser with a -1.5% decline and the Canadian dollar was down by -1.0% the antipodeans fared no worse than the Swissy or the Northern Scandinavian crowns. This is also something of a minor miracle, given the slowdown in China.

Euro zone GDP
It will be another slow day for European and North American data. The only really important statistic will be the revision to Euroland gross domestic product, which is expected to show second quarter growth unchanged at0.3%.

Germany's trade figures are already out. They looked reasonably healthy, with imports rising by 2.2% in July and exports up by 2.4%. Swiss unemployment was steady at 3.3%, almost unchanged from the 3.2% reported two years ago: a weak currency is clearly not the be-all and end-all for employment that some economists claim.

Likewise with the Euroland GDP data. The euro is 15% weaker against sterling and the US dollar than it was two years ago and it has fallen by 7% since the beginning of January. Yet growth in Q2 remained soft.