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Week in review: Central banks take center stage

This week: U.S. Federal Reserve hikes interest rates, ECB calls for halt to QE, and UK company sees massive data breach.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) hiked U.S. interest rates from 1.75 % to 2%, citing solid economic expansion and job gains. It’s the seventh time that the U.S. central bank has raised rates since 2015 as it moves towards monetary policy normalization.

James McCann, Global Economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments, said: “The hike will surprise no one, but tweaks to the Fed’s forward guidance have provoked more of a stir in the markets.”

The language included in the latest statement removed the call for “gradual” adjustments to monetary policy, indicating that the pace of rate rises could accelerate. The statement also suggested that most of the members of the Fed’s rate-setting committee expect two more rate rises before the end of 2018, making a total of four over the year. The benchmark rate has not been raised more than three times in a calendar year since 2006. U.S. stocks were marginally ahead in the week to Thursday’s close, with the S&P 500 finishing 0.1% higher.

Markets make merry

In contrast to the hawkish tone emanating from the Fed, the European Central Bank (ECB) said at its meeting on Thursday that it did not expect to raise interest rates before the end of summer 2019. The ECB also announced that it was calling a halt to its quantitative easing program by the end of this year. The three-year stimulus scheme, which involved buying €2.4 trillion ($2.8 trillion) of bonds, has been credited with reviving the Eurozone economy. However, the policy has provoked divisions within the bank, with some officials suggesting that the asset purchases were beginning to do more harm than good. The Eurozone grew 2.3% in 2017, but more recent indicators suggested that expansion is lagging. The Euro fell sharply in the wake of the announcement, down 1% against the U.S. dollar. However, the FTSE World Europe (ex UK) index was ahead 2.1% in the week to Thursday’s close. The UK’s FTSE 100 was 1% higher.

Dixons in the doghouse

Electronics retailer Dixons Carphone revealed that it has been hit by one of the UK’s largest-ever data breaches after hackers accessed personal data from over a million customers, and almost six million credit card records.

U.S. stocks were marginally ahead in the week to Thursday’s close, with the S&P 500 finishing 0.1% higher.

The sheer magnitude of the intrusion has set some serious alarm bells ringing. The company only announced an increase in cyber security spending last month, and had failed to discover this breach until nearly a year after it started, leading some analysts to question whether the company’s actions were effectively “too little, too late.” Chief Executive Alex Baldock, apologizing for the breach, said: “The protection of our data has to be at the heart of our business, and we've fallen short here.” Dixons Carphone appears to have been extremely fortunate that nearly all of the cards were protected by traditional chip-and-pin and the hackers were unable to access sufficient details to authorise transactions. Nevertheless, shares in Dixons Carphone fell 6% on the news.

Bye bye bubbly

Ubiquitous UK pub chain Wetherspoon’s has announced it will stop selling champagne ahead of Brexit, instead replacing it with sparkling wines from the UK from next month. Chairman Tim Martin, an outspoken supporter of Brexit, said the move was part of a transition away from products made in the European Union (EU). Beer drinkers will be similarly affected, as Wetherspoon’s will replace German wheat beer and alcohol-free beer with UK-brewed equivalents. Martin said the move was economically driven. By avoiding tariffs imposed by the EU’s custom union, it would reduce costs for consumers. With Wimbledon just around the corner, Brits had better hold on tight to those French bottles of liquid gold.

And finally…

The Royal Mail has launched a collection of Dad’s Army stamps to celebrate “50 years of comedy genius” on UK television screens. A set of eight special stamps were issued, featuring the main characters from the iconic show and their trademark catchphrases. Some on the Remain side of the Brexit debate have taken to social media to highlight that there appears to be a running theme to the chosen quotes. Examples included:

  • “We’re doomed. Doomed!”
  • “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!”
  • “Do you think that’s wise, sir?”
  • and “You stupid boy!”

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ID: US-150618-67009-1