UK retail sales bounce back
UK retail sales rebounded in January, with a gain of 1.9% m/m, its highest monthly gain since April 2021. The increase followed a decline of 4.0% in December and beat the consensus of 1.0%. The Omicron variant of corona continues to have a significant impact on consumer spending. The December drop was a result of consumers doing their Christmas shopping in October and November, while the January rise reflected the easing of health restrictions. With Covid regulations set to expire due to falling infection rates, we should see consumer spending continue to accelerate.
The Bank of England remains under strong pressure to raise rates at its meeting in March. The markets have priced in a quarter-point hike in March at 100%, and the BoE will likely follow up with more hikes until inflation, which is at a 30-year high, is brought down. We can expect the BoE to deliver a more gradual pace of rate hikes than what has been priced by the markets.
The Russia/Ukraine border remains extremely tense, although a feared invasion on Wednesday did not materialize. Tensions heightened on Thursday after a skirmish in a border region which the West feared was a pretext for a full-scale invasion. This sent the financial markets tumbling as risk sentiment dissipated. The US has disputed Russia’s claim that it has reduced its forces on the border and says an invasion could occur at any time. Still, there is a ray of light for a diplomatic solution, as the US and Russian foreign ministers will meet next week, so an invasion appears to be on ice, at least for now. It’s a safe bet that market direction next week will be largely set by developments in the Ukraine crisis and market participants should be prepared for volatility.
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