It was a bit of a U-turn by UK Prime Minister Theresa May when she signalled readiness to allow Brexit to be delayed a few months beyond the March 29 deadline to ensure Britain doesn’t crash out of the EU without a trade deal. A “meaningful” vote on the arrangement she negotiated with Brussels will be held by March 12 in parliament.
And in another U-turn of sorts: opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has backed holding another referendum – the first time he has endorsed giving voters a chance to change their mind. With no-deal Brexit looking less likely, sterling has posted two straight weeks of one percent-plus gains against the dollar.
So do interest rate rises come back into the equation? Markets seem to think so — 10-year British government bond yields have risen 15 basis points in the past week. UK inflation is at two-year lows, though Bank of England policymakers have noted rising inflation expectations — one survey shows those at 5-year highs. Wage growth too is the fastest in a decade and job creation is strong, possibly as companies cut machinery purchases before Brexit. So money markets now reckon there is a 62 percent chance of a rate rise by the end of 2019, up from 30 percent in mid-February. Another U-turn?
NO WALKING THIS TALK
He’s walked away from a deal with North Korea, yet no one seriously believes U.S. President Donald Trump will walk away from a trade deal with China, given how much is at stake for the world’s two biggest economies and their leaders. Chinese stock markets are celebrating both — the news of a delay in higher U.S. import tariffs and hopes that trade talks will bear fruit. After all, Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow has touted “fantastic” progress on the talks.
For Chinese markets, the calendar for the coming weeks is looking busy. Trade aside — and a possible meeting between Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping — China’s parliament kicks off its annual meeting on March 5. Growth-boosting measures such as tax cuts may be rolled out, alongside laws banning forced technology transfer and government “interference” in foreign business practices — a nod to those accusing Beijing of intellectual property theft. Finally, we will get the latest data slice on the state of China’s exports and imports. That should show how much damage the U.S. onslaught has caused so far.
There’s palpable excitement about the prospect of another round of euro zone stimulus ahead of the ECB’s March 7 meeting. Most expect the bank to at least drop hints that cheap bank loans are imminent; failure to do so could put European bank stocks and Italian government bonds in the firing line.
But it’s shaping up to an interesting meeting for other reasons too. The ECB will release economic projections, a day after the OECD does so. Downward revisions appear likely, given that heavyweight Germany is struggling and Italy is in recession. But with most recent indicators suggesting a growth pick-up later this year, the forecasts may provide a clearer idea of the ECB’s reading on the economy.
The guidance that rates are on hold through the summer is unlikely to change, judging by remarks from future ECB chief economist Philip Lane and Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann, who is a potential candidate as next ECB head. Investors will be looking for any sense of where the succession question stands. In short, there are great expectations and the risk is they may be disappointed.
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
The February employment report, due on Friday March 8, could affirm the Federal Reserve’s significant flexibility to be patient with future interest rate hikes. The U.S. economy continues to add jobs while inflation remains very low. It added 304,000 non-farm payrolls in the first month of 2019, compared to consensus expectations of 165,000. But here’s the rub — average hourly earnings rose just 0.1 percent in January over December – the slowest climb since October 2017. That’s important because hourly earnings are watched as a key inflation gauge.
The Fed’s January policy statement noted “muted” inflation pressures. More recently Fed officials say that while it’s close to meeting its goals of full employment and 2 percent inflation, rising pay shows no sign of translating into price increases.