Last week the currency markets were firmly focused on the Euro with the fiscal problems of Greece and also Spain and Portugal taking the headlines. Speculation built throughout the week that the other European Monetary Union states, led by Germany, would come to Greece’s aid. However, markets were clearly disappointed that whilst a rescue package was agreed in principle, European leaders failed to set out a comprehensive package.
The Euro was also pressured following the release of disappointing Eurozone GDP data. Total Eurozone 4th quarter 2009 GDP expanded by a mere 0.1%, the market had been expecting growth of 0.3%. Noticeably, German GDP (the largest European economy) failed to expand at all, whilst Italian GDP slipped back into contraction. Spain, hit by a housing market collapse and official unemployment greater than 20% remained in recession.
As a result, the single currency fell to a low of 1.3531 against the US Dollar, its lowest level since May 2009. The US Dollar, viewed as a safe haven, appreciated across the board as investors took flight from risk as stocks and gold prices tumbled. The Pound fell to 1.5534 against the US Dollar but rose past 1.15 against the Euro.
In the UK the Bank of England released its Quarterly Inflation Report. The report was markedly pessimistic about the UK economy, revising its growth forecasts down. UK Interest rates are expected to stay low for a protracted period of time as growth remains weak and inflation is expected to fall back below the 2% target after initially spiking higher to 3%. Moreover, the Bank of England failed to rule out the possibility of extending its asset purchase scheme know as Quantitative Easing. Consequently, the Pound is expected to stay weak for some time. However, some gains could be made against the Euro, depending on how the Greek bailout develops. Sterling’s 25% depreciation should eventually help the UK economy grow as our exports become more competitive.
Elsewhere, the Australian Dollar rallied following better than expected employment data with GBPAUD falling to 1.76. In China concerns over potential asset bubbles, led officials to order banks to increase their levels of reserves in a bid to cool the amount of lending.