Weekly Update 18th April 2019

GBP: Brexit-free zone
Investors might moan about the Brexit palaver but, take it away, and they have nothing left to play with. With the deadline pushed back to 31 October – or 22 May or whichever other date is currently most important – the urgency evaporated. And, with the Easter parliamentary recess and imminent long weekend condensing whatever steam remained, the pound was suddenly without a mission. It lost an average of 0.2% to the other ten most actively-traded currencies and fell by similar proportions, call it a third of a cent, against the euro and US dollar.

The UK economic data posed no serious obstacle, though they were not wholly positive for the pound. Unemployment held steady at 3.9% while basic wage growth slowed from 3.5% to 3.4% a year. Most of the dozen inflation measures, including headline inflation at 1.9%, came in below forecast.

EUR: Technical games
Technical factors – trend support and resistance lines on the chart – had an influence on more than one of the euro’s peaks and troughs. With volatility otherwise much lower than usual – blame the Easter holidays – investors made what they could of any trading excuse on offer. It did not take them far though. The euro added a third of a cent against sterling and was unchanged against the US dollar.

Economic data from the euro zone received a mostly generous reception. Investors applauded a 0.2% fall in Euroland industrial output because it was smaller than expected. They praised an improvement in economic sentiment and were content that inflation was steady at 1.0%. The only real fly in the ointment was a story that European Central Bank leaders distrust their bank’s own forecast that the Euroland economy will rebound later in the year.

USD: Trade deal tomorrow
It is more than three months since the US president said trade talks with China were going well. At the beginning of the month the administration said there would be a deal within four weeks. Yesterday that was moved out to late May. But never mind, investors are not too fussed about the date as long as something is sorted out, and that prospect has dampened appetite for the safe-haven yen and franc and, to an extent, the dollar. On average it is unchanged against the other major currencies.

The result might have been different, had there been anything of interest among the US economic data. But no: The New York Fed’s manufacturing index rose six points to 10.1; industrial production declined by 0.1% in March; the NAHB housing market index was almost unchanged at 63; the trade deficit narrowed slightly in February; wholesale inventories rose by a monthly 0.2%. Quite.

CAD: Headwinds
The Bank of Canada’s quarterly Business Outlook Survey got in the way of what would otherwise have been a more successful week for the Loonie. In its preamble the central bank noted “a moderation” in demand but some commentators saw it more darkly, one pointing out that the reading was the “lowest since 2016”. The BoC said: “The main headwinds are a more uncertain outlook in the… energy sector, continued weakness in housing-related activity in some regions, and tangible impacts from global trade tensions.”

Two days later the Canadian consumer price index data helped to balance the equation, as core inflation ticked up to 1.6%. More assistance was provided by a narrowing of the trade deficit. An unchanged oil price added nothing to the mix. The net result was that the Loonie itself was unchanged against the US dollar. It strengthened by half a cent against sterling.

AUD: Top dog despite the RBA
The minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s April policy meeting took the wind out of the Aussie’s sails. They cited several obstacles to growth, including weaker-than-expected GDP growth, drought and other “weather-related disruption”, slower growth in household income and consumption and falling house prices. The punch line was the possibility of continued low inflation and a pickup in unemployment, in which case “a decrease in the cash rate would likely be appropriate”.

All of that was forgotten the following day when China, Australia’s biggest export customer, delivered unexpectedly stronger data for retail sales, industrial production and GDP. Thursday’s Australian employment data helped too, with the addition of 25.7k new jobs in March, more than twice as many as expected. So the Aussie found itself in top position for the shortened week. It added two fifths of a US cent and strengthened by a cent and a half against sterling.

NZD: Inflation hit
The Kiwi lost a fifth of a US cent on the week and is fractionally lower against the pound. The result is entirely the result of NZ inflation figures released on Wednesday morning. They showed prices rising by only 0.1% in the first quarter of 2019 instead of the expected 0.3%. That meant a 1.5% inflation rate that undershot the forecast 1.7%, possibly opening the way to a rate cut by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

Where most countries release their important ecostats on a monthly basis, New Zealand wheels them out only every three months. The effect is to store up three months’ worth of piecemeal reaction and deliver it all at once. In January, a higher-than-expected quarterly inflation rate sent the Kiwi higher at a rush. This week’s numbers provoked a similarly-sized move in the opposite direction.

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