Long ago in the days of yore (well, pre-2016), investors looked to the sages of the central banking world to provide wisdom and guidance. Stock markets could plunge on the inscrutable utterances of Ben Bernanke, or soar on the upward movement of an Alan Greenspan eyebrow.
But times have changed. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney this week channelled Andy Warhol, proclaiming that “central bankers’ 15 minutes of fame are coming to an end”. He highlighted the waning significance of monetary policy now that interest rates are rising from record lows and quantitative easing is gradually being phased out. Instead, he pointed to the growing importance of fiscal and trade policies. Such policies are in the domain of politicians, not central bankers.
Carney’s comments accompanied the latest minutes of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, at which the Bank’s growth forecasts were raised to 2% for 2017, up from a forecast of 1.4% in November. Interest rates were left unchanged at 0.25%.
Politicians take centre stage
Events on the other side of the Atlantic highlighted the change in emphasis towards politics. The roll-out of President Trump’s latest policies caused much controversy and unnerved investors at the start of the week. His executive order to ban people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US was met with consternation and confusion. The move sparked public demonstrations and led to criticism from the heads of several global corporations.
The S&P 500 index and the US dollar both fell in the wake of Trump’s actions. The US stock market ended the week down 0.6%, while the dollar tumbled to an 11-week low against a basket of other currencies.
Dollar down, commodities up
What’s bad for the dollar is often good for commodity stocks. Most commodities are priced in dollars, so when the greenback weakens, commodities become more affordable to buyers using other currencies. It was, therefore, another good week for mining companies. Shares in some UK miners are up by almost 20% since the start of the year, benefiting also from hopes that President Trump’s infrastructure spending plans will boost demand for raw materials.
Mining stocks are well represented in the FTSE 100 index and the boost to the sector helped lift the market from a mid-week slump, to close 0.6% lower on Thursday. The FTSE World Europe (ex-UK) index finished down by 1.1%.
The battle of Brexit
Politicians in the UK finally debated the signing of Article 50, which will start the clock running on the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU). There wasn’t much of a battle in the end, with most Labour and Conservative MPs voting to sign the Bill. On Thursday, the government published a White Paper, setting out its negotiating objectives with the EU. The document noted that immigration controls may be phased in over several years and could include varying terms for different regions in the UK.
Ever wondered what’s lurking at the bottom of a blank Excel spreadsheet, or how far down they go? Presumably not, but one Oklahoma man decided to find out the hard way. Youtuber, Hunter Hobbs posted a video on the site showing him manually scrolling all the way down to row 1,048,576, using just the down arrow key and without pausing or using any keyboard shortcuts.
For anyone without 9 hours, 36 minutes and 10 seconds to spare, a sped-up version of the video is available. It’s not immediately clear how Mr Hobbs managed to perform certain essential daily essential activities, but the experience was sufficiently traumatic for him to warn that the process isn’t a formula for success, "I don't recommend it at all," he said. "Please don't do it.” Someone should perhaps have had a Word with Mr Hobbs, but it appears there’s no accounting for taste.