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Wednesday May 19, 2004 - 20:57:16 GMT -

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Pound Soars As Bank of England Contemplates 50bp Hike

Daily Forex Report 05-19-04

· Pound Soars As Bank of England Contemplates 50bp Hike
· Greece and Netherlands Reprimanded For Breaching Deficit
· Switzerland Signs Landmark Deal With European Union


With the lack of any significant economic data from the US or the Eurozone, it is not surprising to see the euro continue to consolidate. The second release of the first quarter GDP report for France was confirmed at 0.8% Q/Q. This is an acceleration from the fourth quarter and marginally stronger than quarterly growth in Germany. Meanwhile, the European Commission reprimanded Greece and the Netherlands for breaching their 3% deficit limitations. However, given that Germany, France and Italy received nothing more than a slap on the wrist for breaching their deficit limitations as defined under the stability pact, it is unlikely that Greece and the Netherlands will take any aggressive measures to curb spending or raise taxes. The EC also decided to drop the threat of action against Britain, whose deficit increased beyond 3% last year. There are now six countries in the Eurozone who have breached the deficit limitations. With the recent ascension of 10 new countries into the European Union, discussions about establishing new rules for the stability pact will become of utmost importance. Markets in Germany, France and Switzerland are closed for holiday (Ascension) tomorrow.


Federal Reserve President Stern echoed Broaddus’ comments yesterday about interest rate expectations. Stern said that the futures market’s anticipation of a move in interest rates is “appropriate.” The futures market is currently pricing in a 100% probability of a 25bp rate hike in June. Tomorrow’s comments from FOMC member Bernanke and Fed Chairman Greenspan will be particularly important. As we have previously mentioned, the dollar is expected to encounter renewed strength if there are any hints that the Fed’s rate hikes will be less than “measured” or that inflationary pressures are increasing (Bernanke will be speaking at 2:45pm EST; Greenspan will be speaking at 5:45pm EST). Meanwhile Switzerland signed a landmark deal with the European Union that will make it easier for Swiss citizens to travel into the EU and harder for EU citizens to dodge taxes by sending money into Switzerland. There is a potential risk that this deal may hurt the Swiss banking industry, which has primarily relied on attracting funds through their tradition of banking secrecy. According to Deutsche Bank, about 70% of foreign funds in Swiss accounts are not declared to tax authorities.


As we forecasted yesterday, the minutes from the Bank of England’s May 5/6 monetary policy meeting triggered a sharp move in the pound, breaking the consolidation in the GBPUSD. The minutes were surprisingly hawkish. The committee voted 9-0 to raise rates and even discussed the possibility of a delivering a more aggressive 50bp rate hike. According to the minutes, the Bank of England felt that a 50bp increase would be more effective in curbing future inflation and may finally have a noted effect on slowing consumer borrowing and spending. However, with inflation at such low levels, the central bank opted for a more conservative increase. Regardless, this does imply that the BoE is maintaining a more aggressive stance than the market may have previously anticipated.


The 2.4% rally in the Nikkei has sent the yen soaring against the dollar. This is the strongest gain in over a year and suggests that foreigners are once again jumping back into Japanese equities. The yen also received some support from comments out of the US and China. US Treasury Undersecretary John Taylor said that the last time the Japanese government sold yen was on March 16th. China’s central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said that despite the government’s measures to slow growth, it is too soon to assume that the central bank will be raising interest rates. This suggests that the market may be overestimating the negative effects of slowing Chinese growth on Japan’s export sector. The rally in USDJPY thus far has stemmed primarily from the prospect of tighter US monetary policy and slower Chinese growth.


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