News

The Latest: US retail sales add to economy fears in markets

LONDON – The Latest on developments across financial markets (all times local):

12:50 p.m.

On a day when investors are fretting over the global economy, soft U.S. retail sales figures have done little to alleviate the downbeat mood in stock markets.

The Commerce Department has reported that retail sales dipped by 0.1 per cent in February, largely on the back of lower fuel prices at the pump.

Economists had hoped that solid hiring and lower gas prices would entice consumers to spend more, yet Americans seem to be pocketing much of the savings from cheaper gas.

The figures are the last major data point before policymakers at the Federal Reserve begin their two-day policy meeting. The central bank is expected to keep rates unchanged at the meeting’s conclusion on Wednesday.

U.S. stocks are set to track their counterparts in Europe and Asia lower when they open shortly. S&P 500 futures are down 0.6 per cent.

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12:05 p.m.

After a couple of weeks of relative calm, the British pound is under pressure again from fears that the country may vote to leave the European Union in a referendum in June.

The latest jitters were stoked by a survey in The Daily Telegraph that the “leave” campaign has the edge in terms of people’s inclination to vote. In a tight contest, that could matter and swing the outcome.

Kit Juckes, a global strategist at Societe Generale, says the pound will face intense pressure right through to the June 23 referendum given the uncertainty about the credibility of polls. He says he’s “not going to be bullish” on the pound as long as the vote remains a concern.

The pound was down 0.8 per cent of $1.4175. Last month it fell to 7-year lows of $1.3783.

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11:45 a.m.

Oil prices, like stocks, have enjoyed solid gains over the past couple of weeks. And like stocks, they’re in retreat on Tuesday.

Waning expectations of a production freeze from the world’s major oil producers are largely behind the drop, though worries over the global economy, stoked further by the Bank of Japan’s gloomy outlook, are also a factor.

A barrel of benchmark U.S. crude is down 2.4 per cent at $36.29, while the international standard, Brent, is 2.5 per cent lower at $38.56 a barrel.

Despite the recent pullback, Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital, says “at this stage, it seems unlikely that it presages a more meaningful decline in the oil price.”

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11:20 a.m.

A downbeat economic assessment from the Bank of Japan and unease over what the Federal Reserve will decide at its policy meeting on Wednesday are weighing on global stock markets.

Following a dispiriting session in Asia, European markets are recording broad-based declines. The Stoxx 600 index of European shares is down 0.9 per cent at 341.4.

Central banks are the main driver in markets.

Now that Japan’s central bank has opted to keep policy unchanged, investors are turning their attention to the Fed, which begins its two-day meeting Tuesday.

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, says investors “will be looking for signs that Fed officials are worried enough about the recent global slowdown” to have revised down predictions of the future path of interest rate rises, which at the beginning of the year raised the prospect of at least four rate rises this year.