Last week was one of the most volatile weeks in the financial markets in living memory. As the geopolitical news worsened and sanctions increased on Russia, risk sentiment and financial instruments gyrated wildly. Over the week, unsurprisingly, due to it being seen as a safe haven currency, the dollar appreciated against nearly all of its peers and, in particular, against the euro. This morning sterling has opened lower again against the greenback but has climbed against the euro. On Friday, sterling finally breached the top of its trading range against the euro that has held since the Brexit referendum in 2016. The euro has suffered in particular due to its proximity to the conflict and its reliance on Russia for energy. With the war worsening, there looks to be little relief to the choppy intraday movements that we have seen recently in the currency markets.
The week ahead looks sadly familiar on the geopolitical front, and we can only hope for some form of de-escalation in the conflict as soon as possible. Understandably the markets will be driven by headlines and rumour again this week, with economic data taking a back seat. However, there are some notable points on the calendar this week that should catch the currency market’s attention, even if only momentarily. The most significant events scheduled are the meeting of the European Central Bank and the US Consumer Price Index, both scheduled for Thursday. We have a very quiet week on the data docket in the UK until Friday, when Gross Domestic Product is released.
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Sterling unsurprisingly fell against the dollar last week, ending up nearly a cent and a half lower after what was very volatile trading. As we said earlier, with geopolitical headlines dominating traders’ thoughts, the intraday movements were choppy, and this is, of course, will remain the way of things in the foreseeable future. Against the euro, sterling finally appears to have broken upwards through the technical resistance level that, as we said previously, has held for nearly six years. The only data set released this week that is likely to impact the markets is January’s Gross Domestic Product number. After a slight decline in December, a modest uptick is expected, reflecting the return of the consumer in the New Year. Speculation, of course, will continue over the next Bank of England meeting next week with expectations of a further base rate rise helping to underpin sterling.
The euro has endured a torrid time recently, seemingly being hit with bad news from every direction. The European Central Bank meets this coming Thursday, which, politics aside, is the major economic event this side of the Atlantic. Last Thursday’s release of the minutes from their previous meeting revealed a central bank that was more hawkish than had been anticipated. With inflation being pushed higher in the bloc by the war in Ukraine, the pressure is on the ECB to move towards normalising policy. But with a conflict on its doorstep with unknown consequences, the ECB may err on the side of caution. With this in mind, the markets expect the bank to stick broadly to its asset purchase programmes, winding down the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme this month March whilst increasing the Asset Purchase Programme. As important as any tinkering to the policy will be Christine Lagarde’s messages at her press conference following the meeting.
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Jerome Powell and his colleagues have recently reinforced the case for a .25% rate rise at the next Federal Open Market Committee meeting on the 16th of March. After a particularly strong Non-Farm Payroll number, last week’s employment data strengthened the belief that the economy is now running on all cylinders. The concern for the Fed is how to tame inflation without killing the economy. At present, the rate of price increase is at levels last seen when President Reagan was in power some forty years ago when interest rates were raised to an incredible 21.5% to combat it. During his testimony on Capitol Hill last week, Jerome Powell argued that war has brought more uncertainty and that the Fed needed to be “nimble”. Derivative markets continue to price the prospect of six further rate hikes for the year whilst ignoring the threat of an oil-induced recession. Whether the necessity for such an aggressive series of rate hikes is needed will become clearer after the release of the latest inflation data on Thursday. Analysts are forecasting that the annual rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will rise to near 8%, which would be the highest rate of inflation since January 1981. There are no speakers from the Federal Reserve scheduled as they are in blackout now till their next meeting. Apart from Thursday’s CPI print, the only notable data releases are the weekly jobless total on the same day and the University of Michigan consumer sentiment surveys on Friday.
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