Euro jumps against US dollar
Unsurprisingly, the G20 conference has dominated the news this week. While Barack Obama arrived at Downing Street as President for the first time, protestors attempted to tear down the infrastructure of some of London's largest banks. Nearly as destructive as the protestors were the leaders of France and Germany, who threatened to tear down any chance of agreement with some bullish brinkmanship.
While the headlines this week have been devoted to the anti-everything protesters, there has been some surprisingly positive housing news in the UK, with mortgage approvals for house purchases in Britain rising more than expected in February, according to official figures from the Bank of England. There were 38,000 approvals in the month, up from 32,000 in January - the highest number since May 2008.
Earlier today, a report from the Nationwide said that house prices rose in March for the first time since October 2007. The building society said that property prices increased by 0.9% compared with the February. That reduced the annual rate of house price falls from 17.6% in February to 15.7% in March, with the average UK home costing £150,946.
The Nationwide report, especially, ensured that the pound climbed to a multi-week high against the euro. The pound has also climbed to a 16-day high against the Swiss franc, an 8-day high versus the Japanese yen and a 1-week high against the US dollar. Interbank rates for the GBP-EUR pairing are currently around 1.095, with the GBP-USD pair trading around 1.455.
The European Central Bank has cut interest rates in the eurozone to a record low of 1.25% from 1.5%. While a drop had been anticipated, the cut was smaller than had been expected. ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said the bank would consider making further cuts. However, Trichet stopped short of revealing whether the ECB would follow the central banks of England, Japan and the US in moving towards quantitative easing.
The euro jumped by the largest margin for nearly a fortnight against the US dollar following the announcement of the rate cut, soaring to nearly $1.35.
The majority of data from the eurozone, however, remains bleak. Unemployment across the eurozone rose to its highest level in almost three years in February. The jobless rate across the 16 nations that share the euro rose to 8.5%, or 13.47 million, up from 8.3% in January, official figures show. With unemployment at 15.5%, Spain has the highest level of unemployment in the eurozone.
While investors had flocked to the world's most liquid currency in the early part of the week, reaching 12-day highs against the pound, euro and Swiss franc, the US dollar has since slumped back against all of its major counterparts amid fresh concerns about struggling US carmakers General Motors and Chrysler. The fall followed comments from a rescue task force that said their plans for recovery are "not viable."
Asia continues to lose its previously sturdy image as a safe haven with business confidence among major manufacturers in Japan falling to a record low, according to a wide-ranging survey by the Japanese central bank. The quarterly Tankan survey of more than 10,000 companies is closely watched in Japan as a key indicator of the health of the country's economy. Results released by the Bank of Japan show that business confidence among major manufacturers tumbled dramatically, hitting the lowest level ever recorded.
There was better news regarding business confidence in Poland. With the industrial sector holding up better than expected in March, although it remains in sharply negative territory, as new orders remained near record lows while job shedding continued. A survey of 300 industrial companies prepared by Markit showed Polish manufacturing PMI rose to 42.2 in March, from 40.8 in February - its third straight monthly increase and considerably better than the 40.9 figure that had been forecast.
So, at last, there are signs that things may be turning around - at least in parts of the globe. Although even as things improve in the currency markets, one thing won't change: Formula One's bias towards Ferrari. We'd feel sorry for Lewis Hamilton if he wasn't so rich, young and handsome.
Enjoy your weekend!