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Daily brief -Thursday 23 March 2017

By Daily Market Brief - Thu 23rd Mar 2017

Something will turn up 

Holding pattern

There was little sign of any competition between the premier league currencies on Wednesday. The Canadian dollar strengthened by half a cent against sterling and the euro was a quarter of a cent lower. Only the South African rand really went anywhere: it was up by 1.3%, 20 cents.

Sterling lost seven ticks to the Swiss franc and 11 to the NZ dollar. Both equated to a -0.1% loss. The pound also declined by an average of -0.1% against the other dozen most actively-traded currencies. Had it not been for by the rampant rand that average change would have been zero. Wednesday really was that quiet.

As usual, it is harder to explain why nothing much happened than it is to interpret a big move. The sensation was that after Tuesday's burst of activity investors were sitting back to reassess the outlook and they were struggling to find inspiration. One hoped-for source of that inspiration was the progress of Donald Trump's health care bill through Congress. An easy passage would bode well for the as-yet-unspecified stimulus measures that investors are still hoping for. Rejection of the bill would cast doubt on the president's ability to shape legislation. 

Dull data

It was always going to be difficult to find anything useful among Wednesday's economic statistics. Sure enough, there was little there for investors to get their teeth into. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand's unchanged Official Cash Rate was as anticlimactic as it had been expected to be.

The lack of ecostats from the major economies led to more attention being paid to the data from South Africa, which were not bad. CPI inflation slowed from 6.6% to 6.3% while core inflation, excluding food and energy, was down to 5.2%. The current account deficit shrank to 1.7% of gross domestic product in Q4 and the balance of trade moved into surplus. 

The pace of US existing (second hand) home sales slowed by -3.7% in February and oil stocks were up by nearly 5m barrels in the week to 17 March. Ho hum.

Retail sales

On a global scale the two big events today are a speech by Federal Reserve chairperson Janet Yellen and, much later, the House of Representatives' vote on Mr Trump's health care bill. From a domestic perspective the focus will be on the UK retail sales figures for February.

Analysts expect retail sales to have risen by a monthly 0.4%, counteracting January's -0.3% decline. That would equate to an annual increase of 2.6%, although the CBI's Distributive Trades Survey, which comes out an hour and a half later, could well show a higher figure.

Ms Yellen will not be the only Fed boss speaking today: perma-dove Neel Kashkari will be spreading his no-hurry message this evening and, later on, Dallas's hawkish Robert Kaplan will doubtless be talking of further increases. Tonight New Zealand reports on February's balance of trade and tomorrow brings the ever-exciting US durable goods orders figure.

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