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US retail sales boom as Americans spend stimulus cheques

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18 February 2021

Written by
Matthew Ryan

Senior Market Analyst at Ebury. Providing expert currency analysis so small and mid-sized businesses can effectively navigate international markets.

A strong set of US retail sales figures buoyed the dollar on Wednesday, sending it sharply higher against most major currencies.

ales rose for the first time in four months in January, surging by 5.3% month-on-month, well above the 1.1% that economists had pencilled in and the fastest pace of growth since June. Increases in consumer demand were broad based with every sales category experiencing an increase on the December numbers. The reason for the boom can undoubtedly be attributed to the distribution of the US government’s $600 stimulus handouts, which were given to all Americans following the rollout of the $900 billion Covid relief package passed in December.

Investors reacted favourably to the growing signs of a divergence in economic performance between the US and most major economic areas. They were also encouraged by yesterday evening’s FOMC meeting minutes, which noted that policymakers saw a considerably stronger outlook for 2021 relative to their December forecast. EUR/USD slipped towards the 1.20 level for the first time in over a week as a result, albeit the pair has since recovered some of its losses. Next up for the common currency will be this afternoon’s ECB meeting accounts. We don’t expect too much new information here, with investors probably more focused on Friday’s PMI data. With many countries in Europe still under strict lockdown measures and vaccine progress painfully slow, the near-term outlook for the Euro Area is bleak, with these indices expected to remain deep in contractionary territory.

BoE’s Ramsden talks down need for negative rates

Bank of England deputy governor Ramsden further talked down the likelihood of negative UK interest rates on Wednesday, noting that the bank’s preferred approach would be to increase their QE programme. Investors paid little attention as this merely reinforced what they already knew.

Wednesday’s UK inflation figures were also largely overlooked. The core rate of consumer price growth remained unchanged at 1.4% in January, although there was a modest tick higher in the headline rate to 0.7% from 0.6%. Retail sales figures out tomorrow morning are expected to show sharp contraction and will cover the first full month under the country’s third national lockdown. A 2.5% month-on-month slowdown is priced in, although we think that there is room for a downside surprise, which could weigh on the pound on Friday.