Week in review: May says goodbye, Johnson says hello
This Wednesday, Boris Johnson officially replaced Theresa May as the UK prime minister, ejecting most of her cabinet and appointing fellow pro-leave supporters to the other Great Offices of State. Brexit, of course, will be the chief issue on his plate, with the new PM adamant that the UK will leave the European Union on the 31 October deadline — with or without an exit deal.
Another general election is a possible avenue politicians can take to avoid a no-deal scenario. Critics are concerned that a no-deal Brexit will tip the UK into recession. Time will tell how scary this Hallowe’en turns out to be. The FTSE 100 Index nudged down 0.3% over the week to Thursday’s close.
Central banks watched by eagles
Hawks are out of sight at the major central banks, as hints of easier policy became a lot less subtle. Mario Draghi, in his dying days as ECB president, announced that the bank would consider a range of options. These include interest rate cuts and quantitative easing, should inflation continue to fall (far) short of its circa 2% target. Recent German business, financial market, and manufacturers’ survey data indicate this stimulus can’t come soon enough. Depressed business sentiment, coupled with low water levels on the river Rhine (which restricts transport from key hubs) are elements that could put Germany into a manufacturing recession. Despite the gloom, the FTSE Europe ex-UK Index rose almost 1% during the week by close of play on Thursday.
On the other side of the Atlantic, investors are eagerly anticipating next week's US Federal Reserve (Fed) meeting, with markets having fully priced in a 0.25 percentage point cut. There were fewer hints this week as a blackout period meant that there was no ‘Fed-speak’. Elsewhere, Governor Kuroda said the Bank of Japan “persistently continue[s] with powerful monetary easing,” to combat weaker global growth and to bring inflation to target. A scheduled consumption tax rise later this year will also do the trick. Japan’s TOPIX index ended up roughly 1% in the week to close on Thursday.
Place your debts
US politicians are in a rare state of tentative harmony on a US budget deal. In a spirit of bipartisanship, Congressional leaders have agreed to increase government spending and remove the debt ceiling, the maximum amount the government may borrow, until 2021 (after the 2020 election). The agreement has yet to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law. While it’s expected to gain approval, it’s not without its critics. The S&P 500 Index rose almost 1% over the week to Thursday’s close.
Shooting STAR in China
On Monday, China launched a Nasdaq-esque tech market in Shanghai. The Science and Technology Innovation Board – which confusingly goes by the acronym of STAR – is aimed at encouraging China’s technology companies to list domestically rather than abroad. Twenty-five companies were listed on the Board.
The programme is described as a pilot, because it’s the first of its kind. It focuses on in-demand industries with growth potential, chiefly in tech. At this time, STAR targets domestic investors and offers little opportunity for foreign-investor participation. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on, as China is the world’s second-largest equity market after the US.
China’s Shanghai 180 Index of shares closed nearly 1% higher over the week to Thursday’s close.
Meanwhile, the US earnings season continues. Beverage giant Coca-Cola announced solid profits, as did pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and global aerospace, defence and security company, Lockheed Martin.
Deutsche Bank, LG Display, and Norsk Hydro disappointed. Deutsche Bank, in particular, has struggled since its restructuring plan was announced. The German bank has greatly reduced its workforce and slashed its investment banking business, and reported a net loss of more than $3.5 million for the quarter.
Elsewhere, Facebook was fined $5 billion by US authorities over privacy violations. Equifax’s data breach only cost it a mere $700 million.
Scientists are creating a memorial to commemorate a former glacier in Iceland. The glacier, called Okjökull, was 50 metres thick and covered 15 square kilometres of an Icelandic mountain just 100 years ago. It now measures one square kilometre and less than 15 metres deep, which means it no longer qualifies as a glacier. The memorial serves as a harrowing reminder of the impacts of climate change. We’re not the only ones feeling the heat wave.
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