European markets are trading in the red early in the session on Thursday, with the FTSE 100 the only major index in the green, supported by weakness in the pound after the release of some more disappointing data for the UK.
The UK retail sales data this morning may have dealt another major blow to the Bank of England’s hopes of raising interest rates in August, bringing an end to what has likely been a very frustrating week for policymakers. In recent weeks it has appeared that the Monetary Policy Committee had once again come around to the idea that raising interest rates in August is appropriate after plans in May were derailed by a frustratingly weak first quarter, something policymakers appeared to have correctly assumed would prove to be a temporary lull.
The data this week may have thrown another spanner in the works, with labor market figures showing a tight labor market by uninspiring wage growth, core inflation falling below 2% and now modest retail sales growth in what was expected to be a stellar month. This is clearly not the platform policymakers were hoping for when preparing investors for a rate hike but they may still seize the opportunity before it’s taken away from them for a prolonged period.
There may well be a strong feeling in the MPC that the central bank should have pushed ahead with a hike in May and stood by its belief that weather had a negative but temporary impact on the economy which would have given it the freedom to be patient through the rest of the year. Instead, it now finds itself in a position were the most recent data hasn’t been great and Brexit talks are not progressing as hoped, meaning it would make far more sense to hold off until November, something that would likely result in another backlash against the policy of forward guidance.
While holding off would make sense, there is clearly a view in the markets that this will not happen and the central bank may stick to plans to hike in two weeks. Despite numerous setbacks this week, a hike is still currently 68% priced in and after initial selling, the pound is showing some resilience and holding above 1.30 against the dollar. It seems traders are awaiting any hint from the BoE that plans have been put on hold again, at which point the resilience will likely break and possibly aggressively.
Over in the United States, futures are tracking the majority of Europe lower, with the major indices currently seen an opening around a tenth of one percent lower. This comes after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell once again gave an upbeat assessment of the economy on Wednesday, in his appearance in front of the House Financial Services Committee. With the Fed on a quite clear and consistent course on interest rates, there wasn’t a huge amount learned in either appearance that we already didn’t know.
Today it’s looking a little quiet for the United States. There are a couple of pieces of data that traders will be looking out for ahead of the open – Philly Fed manufacturing index and jobless claims – and we’ll also hear from Powell’s colleague at the Fed, Randal Quarles. With the season now up and running, there’ll also be a big focus on US earnings with 21 companies reporting including Microsoft and BNY Mellon.