Good Morning, The pound suffered from an almost perfect storm last week and gave up much of its recently hard-won gains to finish the week at nearly two and a half euro cents lower than it started. The worries over the danger to health from the Astra Zeneca vaccine came to the fore almost simultaneously with Europe showing a more coordinated approach to vaccination.
The growing unrest in Northern Ireland and worries over the Union’s future, coupled with the SNP looking likely to secure a healthy majority in the upcoming elections was also unsettling for the markets. Sterling also had the largest speculative long positions (according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission), which made it most vulnerable to these changes in sentiment.
The week ahead sees the financial markets return to work, creating more liquidity than we have been accustomed to recently. With the next stage on the roadmap reached, with non-essential shops reopening today, the UK is slowly returning to normal. However, investors will continue watching nervously for any upswing in the daily COVID-19 hospitalisation rates for a few weeks to come. There is a shortage of data due for release in the UK; instead, after last week’s reaction to the potential political instability in the Union, overseas investors will be keeping a nervous eye on events not only in London but also in Belfast and Edinburgh.
The pound came under consistent selling pressure last week, for the first time this year as investors revaluated the political risk of the Union breaking up. The move downward against the euro was exaggerated by the previously overbought level of sterling and triggered by doubts over the Astra Zeneca vaccine’s risks. It is still under some pressure this morning and has opened at just above €1.1500. The UK regulator has pointed out that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks, and the UK remains on track to have the majority of the population vaccinated by July. Having reached the technical points that seemed to have been driving a lot of the price action, we expect a bounce-back towards its previous levels in the next few days. On the data front, there is a little to excite, apart from the British Retail Consortium’s take on Retail sales released this evening and February’s GDP and Industrial Production numbers on Tuesday. As the Brexit induced disruptions of January are dissipating, analysts are looking for a modest improvement in the numbers.
The euro had a good week last week, gathering strength against both sterling and the dollar as investors saw that at last, the vaccination programme was starting to work in Germany and France. Also helping the euro was the hint from Robert Holzmann, Governor of Austria’s Central Bank, that the ECB may start to taper their bond purchases sooner rather than later, which would be a significant divergence from the stance the US is taking. However, with the €750bln recovery fund still facing legal challenges, it is hard to see how this could happen. The euro continues to be vulnerable in the week ahead to the increasing tensions on its Eastern borders between Russia and Ukraine and has opened below $1.1900 against the dollar. On the data docket, the EU will publish its February Retail Sales this morning, while Germany will release the April ZEW Economic Sentiment Survey tomorrow. On Wednesday, we have Eurozone February Industrial Production, while Germany will release its March inflation figures, and the week closes with Eurozone Consumer Price Indexes.
With employment looking fair and the economy reopening rapidly, fears of inflation are growing in America. As would be expected, interest rates are starting to rise, and these moves upward could be compounded as the US issues more debt via an auction this afternoon. The importance of rising interest rates is that they will pull the dollar higher as investors seek the best return for their money. So far, the Federal Reserve has stuck firmly to the script of not changing policy till full employment is achieved. The Federal Reserve has another opportunity on Wednesday to reiterate their commitment when several members, including the Chairman, give their last speeches before entering a two-week purdah (a period of silence that politicians have to observe before an official announcement) ahead of the next Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting on April 28th. It is unlikely that they will change the script despite what are expected to be strong economic data releases in the week ahead. Apart from listening to Jerome Powell’s speech, we will be watching March’s Consumer Price Index on Tuesday. A busy Thursday is in prospect with Retail Sales, Industrial Production and Jobless numbers all released.
The Swedish krona had a nice comeback last week, strengthening more than 1.2% against the euro and 3.5% against sterling. On Wednesday this week, we will get the latest CPI (inflation) reading. It is expected to come in at 1.6% on a year-on-year basis, an increase of 0.2% from last year. This is the only set of important macro data to be released this week.
The Norwegian krone had a worse week, weakening against all G10 currencies and is once again trading at parity against its big brother. Prime Minister Solberg was fined NOK20,000 for breaking her COVID-19 restrictions, implying a guilty verdict, with only five months to go until the General Election. The centre-left opposition is heavily tipped to regain power from Solberg, who has run the country since 2013. This week we will get the GDP figure expected to have contracted 0.4% on a Month-on-Month basis.
In Denmark, a study in conjunction with London’s Imperial College last week concluded that the richest 1% benefit most from ultra-low rates. Despite this, economists at Danske Bank said that they expect the Denmark’s National bank to lower the interest rate further to negative 0.6%, from the current negative 0.5% level within the next three months to defend the peg against the EUR and to make sure that the Danish krone does not strengthen too much.