Rally splutters as Europe ploughs on with rate hikes

By Marc Jones, Reuters | Thu, 23 Mar 2023 10:26:55 UTC

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A man watches stock quotations on an electronic board outside a brokerage, in Tokyo

LONDON, March 23 (Reuters) - Europe's post-Credit Suisse rebound spluttered to a halt on Thursday as Switzerland and Norway, and most probably the Bank of England later, showed the year-long cycle of sharp interest rate rises was by no means over.

Stock markets had been relieved when the Federal Reserve hinted at a pause after its latest quarter-point rise on Wednesday, so the sight of Switzerland's SNB jacking its rates up again despite its torrid week was a reminder not to get too carried away.

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The European-wide STOXX 600-share index (.STOXX) fell 0.75% with banks and insurers the main culprits again, suffering 1.6%-2% drops. Norway had also hiked, although MSCI's main world share index (.MIWD00000PUS) was still in positive territory after overnight gains in Asia.

"The measures announced at the weekend ... have put a halt to the crisis," the SNB had said, referring to Credit Suisse's shotgun marriage with UBS, a view also voiced by Germany's powerful Bundesbank chief overnight.

Focus now shifts to the Bank of England, with investors expecting a quarter-percentage-point increase in its main rate after a surprise jump in inflation squashed hopes of it pausing its tightening campaign.

The pound added to its near 5% rally over the last fortnight with a 0.3% rise to $1.2315 while UK government bond yields, which reflect borrowing costs, were outliers globally as they moved fractionally higher too.

The dollar index , which measures the greenback against the world's other six top currencies, was licking its wounds having hit a 7-week low after the Fed. Both the euro and yen were up on the day, as was the Swiss franc after the SNB's half-point hike. /FRX

Elsewhere in the bond markets, although UK yields were up those on German Bunds were down at 2.281%, happy to match the falls seen on 10-year U.S. Treasuries yields that had taken them to 3.440%.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell had said on Wednesday that stresses in the banking sector could dent lending and have a significant impact on the U.S. economy, reducing the need for the central bank to raise rates to tame inflation.

Germany's European Central Bank rate setter Joachim Nagel had even said he now thought the ECB was "approaching restrictive territory" with its rates, referring to a level that curtails growth.

"I do not know when we will more or less be there...but what I know is that when we are there we have to stay there and not come down too early."

Among commodities, U.S. crude fell 1% to $70.19 per barrel and Brent was at $76.04, down 0.85%.

Wall Street futures were up though, having ended sharply lower overnight after the Fed relief was offset by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen telling lawmakers that she had not considered or discussed creating "blanket insurance" for U.S. banking deposits without approval by Congress.

Markets are now pricing in an approximately 65% chance of the Fed pausing at its next meeting, in May, and a 35% chance of a 25-bps-rise then, the CME FedWatch tool showed.

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