Now that markets have delivered their verdict on inflation – it’s not picking up any time soon – economic data due next week will show whether price pressures are rising meaningfully or falling back in some of the world’s major economies.
A global rout in stock markets, currencies, commodities and bond yields has so far defined 2016. Investors seem to have lost faith in central banks’ abilities to boost inflation, with signs the world economy is stalling.
Five-year inflation-linked swaps in the Eurozone, for example, suggest annual price growth will be just 1.4 per cent even as far out as 2021.
“Most people don’t understand what has spooked markets. It’s up to economic data now to demonstrate that markets have gone overboard in projecting very low inflation,” said Jeavon Lolay, head of economics at Lloyds Banking Group.
“One reason is probably that markets don’t believe the response from policymakers is adequate.”
The Bank of Japan surprised markets late last month by cutting its deposit rate to negative. But the impact seems limited to some knee-jerk weakening in the Japanese yen.
Sweden’s Riksbank also slashed its repo rate to -0.50 per cent on Thursday, partly as insurance against expectations that the European Central Bank would ease policy in March.
Inflation data from Britain, Canada, China and the United States next week may set the tone for the global economy.
Reuters polls suggest at best tepid price rises, but market watchers will still look at the underlying trends in inflation to gauge whether another round of policy easing and stimulus is warranted.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen hinted this week the path to higher interest rates in the United States may be less steep than previously thought, given the broad market selloff.
It’s not that the outlook for inflation in developed economies has changed dramatically in the past three months in polls conducted by Reuters.
But a 75 per cent crash in oil prices CLc1 since mid-2014, and weak global demand, led by China’s slowing economy, have dragged down market inflation gauges like swaps and sovereign bond yields, with vast swathes now showing negative yields.
The yield of Germany’s benchmark bunds has fallen over 40 basis points since January to its lowest in nearly a year. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index and the S&P 500 in the U.S. have fallen over 20 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.
The start of the week will probably set the tone for markets. Trade data out of China, due on Monday, are predicted to show exports slumped at a faster rate in January.
“The trade figures out of China will probably be diced by markets for (their) impact on commodity prices and global growth,” Mr Lolay said.
Inflation data for January due later in the week are likely to show a slight uptick, although producer prices are still expected to have fallen more than 5 per cent from a year ago.
China’s markets will reopen on Monday after a week’s holiday to mark the Lunar New Year. That gave its stock markets a break from the turbulence triggered by Beijing’s currency devaluation.
Policymakers have tried to instil confidence among investors regarding their policy intentions by setting higher trading guidance on the Chinese yuan in the last couple of weeks.
Still, strategists in Reuters polls predict the yuan will fall to a multi-year low in the coming 12 months.
Financial market turmoil, the weakness in China’s economy and risks to growth and inflation were among the concerns highlighted by Fed Chair Janet Yellen earlier this week in her semi-annual testimony to Congress.
While the path of US monetary policy this year is unclear at best, scheduled speeches of various presidents of regional Federal Reserve banks, among them Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Cleveland, over the week could throw some light on the thinking among policymakers.
Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, currently a voting member on US monetary policy, and considered relatively hawkish, may also give some indication of how far off she sees the next interest rate increase.
Inflation data due next Friday are unlikely to make the picture any clearer, although economists predict higher annual price growth in January compared with December.
“It was striking how frequently Yellen used the prepared line ‘monetary policy is not on a preset course’ whenever she was asked whether recent developments had changed the outlook,” said Jim O’Sullivan of High Frequency Economics, the most accurate forecaster in Reuters polls last year.
“The comments further lessen the already very low likelihood that the Fed will be tightening again as soon as the next meeting in March.”
© Thomson Reuters 2016