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All eyes on US CPI as US markets post three days of gains

Yesterday’s weakness in European equity markets had all the hallmarks of a classic risk-off event. Falling yields on US treasuries, a rising gold price as well as a strong Japanese yen and Swiss franc, which in turn saw the Nikkei 225 miss out completely on the rally seen in both US and European markets when Japanese markets returned from their long weekend.

The Japanese index closed sharply lower, and remained under pressure in Asia trading this morning. This weakness in the Nikkei doesn’t appear to be being reflected in today’s European opens but this inability to gain traction could be a wider concern, for global markets more broadly.

If investors were concerned about the rapid return of inflation yesterday’s market price action certainly didn’t reflect that, as European investors adopted a fairly low risk approach after two day days of gains with some modest profit taking.

US markets also opened on the back foot but gained confidence in the afternoon session on the back of comments from new Fed chair Jerome Powell who stated that the central bank would remain alert to any financial stability risks. This helped US markets finish the day in positive territory for the third day in succession though the gains were fairly modest in comparison to the previous few days.

One thing has been particularly notable in the past few days is how liquidity in the US S&P futures market has fallen back sharply since the beginning of the month. Volatility may well have picked up sharply in the past few days killing off the short volatility trade in the process, but it appears to have been at the expense of liquidity which has fallen to historically low levels, and well below the levels seen in January.

Confidence is an important concept in any activity, and particularly with markets where ease of getting in and out of a trade easily and quickly is crucial. Recent events appear to have knocked confidence in this regard causing a certain reticence in part to dive back in again, as investors reassess the outlook going forward. Volumes did improve slightly yesterday but they still remain well below the levels we saw in January, when markets were rising.

Today’s US CPI inflation report has taken on an importance all of its own in the wake of the recently strong wages numbers, never mind the fact that the Fed doesn’t even use CPI to target inflation.

Nonetheless this renewed focus on inflation, not only in the US but more globally has raised concerns that central banks may well be behind the curve when it comes to assessing the outlook for the next few months.

Yesterday in the UK the latest CPI numbers showed that inflation in January remained steady at 3%, while core prices rose from 2.5% to 2.7%, a significant disappointment to those who were hoping that inflation would start to come back down fairly quickly.

Unfortunately it would appear that while inflation may well be on its way down it is coming down much more slowly than the Bank of England would like, and reinforcing the expectation that we could see another rate rise of 0.25% in May this year. How the Bank of England must now be ruing that November 2016 rate cut, because it has in essence made their overall job of keeping a lid on inflation that much more difficult.

Much importance is being attached to today’s US January CPI report, however it is unlikely to tell us too much more than what we already know about inflationary pressure in the US economy. Various ISM prices paid surveys are telling us that prices are rising at their highest levels since 2011, yet thus far we haven’t seen much evidence of it in the headline numbers.

Even now indications are for CPI to slip back to 1.9% from 2.1%, while retail sales for January are expected to show a rise of 0.2%, a modest slowdown from the 0.4% rise seen in December.   

EURUSD – continues to squeeze higher breaking back above the 1.2330 level, raising the prospect of a return to the 1.2400 area. A move through here retargets the highs above 1.2500. Support now comes in at 1.2320 with a move below retargeting the 1.2160 area.

GBPUSD – yesterday’s rebound took us back to the 1.3920 area, but we need to see a move through 1.3970 to argue for a move back to the 1.4200 area. Support remains at the lows last week at 1.3760 as well as the 1.3660 area.

EURGBP – continues to find resistance just above the 0.8900 area, with a break retargeting the 0.8950 area. We have longer term support between 0.8700 and 0.8730 as well as interim support at the 0.8800 area.

USDJPY – continues to drift lower falling below the 108.00 area and has fallen below its 2017 lows at 107.30, opening up a potential move towards the 105.00 area initially, as well as the 100.00 level. We need to move back above the 109.80 level to stabilise.

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