European stocks enjoyed a fairly decent session yesterday, with the DAX breaking above its September peaks and posting its best levels since February, while the FTSE 100 also enjoyed a decent rebound and the FTSE 250 closed back above the 20,000 level for the first time since 4 December, when it closed at a nine-month high.
The major drivers were optimism over the prospect of a $900bn US stimulus deal, a landing zone for a UK-EU trade deal, and on the margins, some better-than-expected flash PMIs.
There was little in the way of surprises from the US Federal Reserve last night, with the central bank committing to keep buying bonds at the rate of at least $120bn a month until substantial progress had been made in respect of the economic recovery. Given that the recovery appears to be stalling, particularly in relation to the labour market and consumer spending, as retail sales declined for the first time since April, this was welcome news for investors, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq closing the day marginally higher. This pledge has translated into a positive Asia session and looks set to give markets here in Europe a lift as they look to open later this morning.
Despite yesterday's rather gloomy US economic data, the Fed was slightly more upbeat about the longer-term outlook, raising its economic outlook slightly by improving its 2020 GDP forecast to a -2.4% contraction, while upgrading its 2021 forecast to 4.2% from 4%. The FOMC was also more optimistic about the unemployment rate, forecasting it to fall to 5% by the end of next year. These more positive outlooks didn’t exactly chime with the near-term outlook, with Jay Powell once again pointing to the need for further fiscal support from Congress, something the Fed simply cannot help with.
With the Fed kicking off proceedings on a big week for central banks, we also hear from the Swiss National Bank today, along with the Bank of England at midday. The SNB will be particularly interesting given that 24 hours ago Switzerland was called out by the US Treasury for currency manipulation, a charge it swiftly refuted, saying that it doesn’t engage in currency manipulation, but reserves the right to intervene more strongly in the FX market. The timing by the US Treasury is particularly curious given that the US appears to be adopting a policy of benign neglect towards the US dollar, and the Fed is in full attack mode on the stimulus front. No changes in policy are expected by the SNB, with particular attention likely to be on any further reaction to the charges of currency manipulation. In truth the charges are nonsense; central banks are experts in talking about not targeting the exchange rate when setting policy, when that is precisely what monetary policy is designed to do. In an era of globalisation, every decision a central bank makes is designed with one eye on the currency rate and to pretend otherwise is to indulge in semantics.
The Bank of England is also not expected to take any action on monetary policy later today, given that it acted last month by adding an extra £150bn of QE, and EU-UK trade negotiations appear to be reaching some form of denouement. There has been some idle chatter about the prospect of negative rates in the past couple of weeks, however with the latest PMIs looking a little more resilient than expected in the last few weeks, it's unlikely that the Bank will make any serious mention of them on this occasion, given that it seems possible we could see a landing zone for an EU-UK trade deal in the coming days. Furthermore, when the central bank meets for the first time in 2021, the MPC is much more likely to have a better idea of where the UK economy is in relation to further restrictions, as well as having a clearer route map for vaccinations and the extent of the new EU-UK trade relationship.
We also have the latest set of weekly jobless claims out of the US, after last week's big jump to 853,000, from 716,000 the week before. There will be the hope that this jump was a one off and not a sustained rise that could see the recent falls in unemployment start to reverse. Expectations are for an increase of 820,000, a slight fall from last week, but still on the high side after several weeks in the mid-to-low 700,000s.
EUR/USD – making a new two and a half year high of 1.2230 resistance. It still feels like it wants to push up towards 1.2550, however it could take some time to unfold. Needs to stay above support at 1.2060/70 to maintain upward bias towards 1.2550. Only a move below 1.2020 negates the upside scenario
GBP/USD – a new two year high as the pound moves through 1.3550 and still remains well supported, with the key support still down at the 50-day MA and 1.3130 area. The bias remains for a move towards the 1.4000 level while above 1.3100.
EUR/GBP – found support just above the 0.8980 area, and this remains a key support. A break below here argues for further losses towards 0.8880. Resistance remains back at the 0.9150 area, and behind that at 0.9200.
USD/JPY – continues to look soft with support at 103.15 and the November lows. A move below 103.00 targets a move towards 100.00. Resistance sits up near the 104.70 area.