Financial Markets – Top 5 Things To Watch This Week

This Tuesday will see Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testify to Congress on the economic stimulus measures put in place so far. A day later the minutes of the Fed’s April meeting are scheduled to be released.


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Investors will be looking at the weekly jobless claims data as the reopening of the economy gathers pace. Retail earnings will shine a light on consumer spending amid the coronavirus pandemic, while Tuesday brings the monthly expiration of U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures contract. Meanwhile, central banks in South Africa and Turkey are expected to cut interest rates again.

Here’s what you need to know to start your week.


Powell testimony, FOMC minutes
The Fed chairman is to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to update government officials on the economic stimulus programs approved so far.

In a speech last week Powell gave a sober assessment of the long-term risks to the U.S. economic outlook and the possible need for elected officials to approve more spending programs to keep the economy afloat.

On Wednesday, the Fed is to publish the minutes of it is April meeting. In its rate statement last month, the Fed said it will keep interest rates at near-zero until officials are “confident that the economy has weathered recent events.”


Economic data
In the U.S., the main datapoint continues to be the weekly report on initial jobless claims. With the reopening of the economy gaining momentum economists are hoping for a reading of below 2.5 million, which would indicate that the rate of layoffs is slowing somewhat.

There is a packed economic calendar in the U.K. this week, with updates on March employment, retail sales and inflation. Given that the lockdown in the U.K. didn’t start until late March it may be too early to see the impact of the pandemic on the employment figures.

The retail sales data for April could show at least a 15% decline in spending, while plunging oil prices are expected to have sent inflation tumbling last month.


Retail earnings
While the U.S. first-quarter earnings season is almost over the retail sector is just getting started. This week will see results from big U.S. retailers including Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Home Depot (NYSE:HD), Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW), Target (NYSE:TGT), Kohl’s (NYSE:KSS) and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY). Their figures will show whether U.S. consumers are still spending money despite the widespread coronavirus lockdowns.

The retailers are reporting in the shadow of online shopping giant Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), which is among the “stay-at-home” stocks benefiting from the lockdown. Its shares have soared some 28% this year.


Repeat performance of oil plunge?
The monthly expiration of U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures contract is coming up on Tuesday and many energy traders are worried about a repeat performance of the oil price slump last month which saw prices drop into negative territory for the first time ever.

Normally uneventful, the expiry turned dramatic in April as brimming storage tanks discouraged traders from taking delivery of oil.

The U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission has warned market participants they should be prepared for volatility and negative pricing again, with oil storage still tight and the demand outlook still severely depressed.

But oil prices have recently rebounded on hopes that the easing of lockdown restrictions will boost the energy demand outlook. In another hopeful sign, U.S. crude inventories fell in the most recent week for the first time since January.

Yet some traders seem to be heeding the CFTC’s warning. Volumes in the July futures contract, which expires in a month’s time, are outpacing the June contract by nearly 50%.


Emerging market rate cuts
Central banks in Turkey and South Africa are both to hold policy meetings on Thursday and both are expected to cut rates again despite heavy losses their currencies’ have recently endured.

Analyst polls predict South Africa will cut its 4.25% main rate by another 50 basis points. Economists stress any policy easing must be sizeable if it is to offer any help to the suffering economy.

Turkey’s meeting will be even more interesting. The lira has plunged to record lows, hard currency reserves are dwindling and inflation is in the double digits, yet all that probably won’t deter the central bank from chopping another 50-100 basis points off its 8.75% repo rate



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