Skip to main content

Markets now appear to be gunning for a big U.S. rate hike in March, so Federal Reserve minutes and policymaker comments in the days ahead will be the key focus.

European and Japanese bond markets may keep testing policymakers’ resolve to contain rising borrowing costs, UK data could shed some light on the Bank of England’s next move, and shuttle diplomacy will endeavour to avert a war in Ukraine.

Here’s your week ahead in markets:

MINUTE BY MINUTES

A screen displays the Fed rate announcement as a specialist trader works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City on Jan. 26.BRENDAN MCDERMID/Reuters

After U.S. inflation posted its biggest annual increase in 40 years in January, markets are pricing in a strong chance the Fed will hike rates by half a percentage point in March.

Minutes from the Fed’s January meeting, due on Wednesday, may already appear outdated. Nonetheless, edgy markets will scour them for signals on how big a move rate-setters are contemplating.

The Fed last month flagged a rates lift off for March and also reaffirmed bond purchases will end then. The minutes may provide a sense of when, and how quickly, the Fed might reduce its balance sheet, which roughly doubled to nearly $9 trillion during the pandemic.

On the corporate front, chipmaker Nvidia and retailer Walmart will be among those reporting earnings.

WHO’S THE BOSS?

A man walks past the headquarters of Bank of Japan on May 22, 2020.KIM KYUNG-HOON/Reuters

If markets needed a reminder about who’s in charge, the Bank of Japan was happy to comply, saying it would buy an unlimited amount of 10-year bonds at 0.25% and underscoring its resolve to prevent borrowing costs rising too high.

Japan’s 10-year bond yield has hit a six-year peak every day for the past week, rising to 0.23%, just 2 bps off the BOJ’s tolerance limit.

As the relentless rise in bond yields worldwide rippled out to Japan, some suspect the global trend towards monetary tightening could spur a shift at the dovish BOJ.

The bond market intervention shows that’s some way off. Governor Haruhiko Kuroda continues to pledge extraordinary support for the economy, the latest reading on which is out Tuesday.

ECB ‘PUT’

The euro sign is photographed in front of the former headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany, April 9, 2019.KAI PFAFFENBACH/Reuters

Just as the BOJ steps in, the European Central Bank, it appears, may allow borrowing costs to rise as it focuses on inflation.

Southern European 10-year bond yield premiums over Germany are at the widest since mid-2020; Italy’s spread is 20 bps wider from levels seen before the hawkish ECB pivot on Feb. 3

Yes, the periphery is in a stronger position to cope, thanks to low debt refinancing costs and the EU recovery fund.

But a potentially faster-than-anticipated unwinding of the stimulus that has long buffered the periphery is a big deal, and the ECB ‘put’ could be put to the test.

The term, normally used to describe the Fed’s backstop for stocks, refers to the ECB’s willingness to tolerate rising yields that could tighten financing conditions and raise fragmentation risks. Markets are right to feel nervous.

BIG DATA

The Bank of England building is reflected in a sign in London on Dec. 16, 2021.TOBY MELVILLE/Reuters

It’s a big data week in Britain with latest employment figures out Tuesday, inflation data on Wednesday and retail sales Friday.

They’re in focus because the Bank of England just delivered back-to-back rate rises for the first time since 2004, trebled wage growth forecasts and predicted inflation to peak above 7%. Markets price another 130 basis points in hikes by year-end.

Data last month showed a 4.1% unemployment rate for the three months to November, the lowest since June 2020; new hirings surged by a record amount in December.

Consumer prices, meanwhile, accelerated in December to near 30-year highs of 5.4% and may only peak in April when households face energy bill hikes of up to 50%.

While December shopping was hit by Omicron-linked curbs, latest retail sales may also show consumers’ mood being soured by inflation, lofty energy bills, higher rates and tax hikes.

TROOPS, TALKS AND TABLES

A service member of the Ukrainian armed forces is seen at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels outside the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine Feb. 11.OLEKSANDR KLYMENKO/Reuters

Shuttle diplomacy is at fever pitch to prevent tensions between Moscow and the West tipping over into a full-blown conflict around Ukraine.

After French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will see Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday, before heading to Moscow to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Poland’s foreign minister is due in Moscow too, and NATO holds a defence ministers summit in Brussels Wednesday.

While Russian troop build-up near Ukraine’s border continues and Western powers send military to Europe’s eastern fringes and ready sanctions on Moscow, markets seem to be focusing on other issues such as central banks and inflation.

The coming days may show whether the flurry of diplomacy improves international ties and keeps Russian energy into Europe.

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.