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Fundamental Analysis 21.11.2017 - Market Outlook

The risk-off tone didn’t last long. Global equity markets were up almost across the board.

The market was calmed by the fact that Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel made it clear that she intends to serve her fourth term and will hold new elections in order to gain a majority rather than trying to run the country with a minority government. While this would be unusual for Germany, and might not solve anything if the voters return the same parties with the same seats, it could result in a stronger government. Or, some of the other parties could get worried about losing support and become more willing to compromise in order to fend off another election.

In any event, the German economy is in good shape and there are no acute domestic crises that need to be taken care of urgently. The same goes for Europe as a whole, where growth is recovering, unemployment is falling and the semi-annual debt or banking crises of the past few years are now just a memory. Thus the uncertainty in Germany is now less of a crisis for the region than it would have been say back in 2011, when it appeared that Greece might go bankrupt and urgent decisions had to be taken.

GBP was the surprise gainer of the day reports that Britain is preparing to double its offer for the financial settlement to €38bn. This is still below EU demands for €60bn though and it remains to be seen whether the EU will be willing to split the difference between their respective initial positions. Moreover, the Press Association reported that no exact figure has yet been set, and Britain would only be willing to pay the additional money – which is still less than what the EU wants – in exchange for further concessions from the EU. So it’s not a done deal yet by any means.

AUD weakened after the minutes from the recent Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) meeting indicated that the RBA may keep rates low for longer than expected.

Today’s market

The European day starts out with the UK government borrowing data. This figure will form the backdrop of Thursday 23rd November 2017’s budget announcement and so will have some political importance. The figures are not seasonally adjusted, while revenues are quite seasonal, so looking at the forecast for the month is not that illuminating. I’ve calculated what the 12-month moving average would be if the figure does come in as forecast – I think that’s a more informative way of looking at it. It would show a small further fall in borrowing – i.e., a further narrowing of the deficit – which would tend to be positive for the pound. The fall in the borrowing from an average of £4.52bn a month in January 2017 to £3.56bn a month now, if the forecast is correct, could give Chancellor Philip Hammond some wiggle room in his budget.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) trends survey isn’t a major market-mover, but I include it here as people are struggling to make sense of the UK economy nowadays. The diffusion index for total orders is expected to shift into the positive, that is, more manufacturers are expected to say that order books are above normal than below normal – a good sign. No forecast available for the “selling prices” DI, which is arguably the more important of the two as an indicator of inflation.

US existing home sales are expected to increase only somewhat. The National Association of Realtors has said that rising prices and a lack of available inventory, especially at the lower end of the housing market, is restraining sales. That’s what rising prices would indicate too – demand outweighing supply. The figure should be supportive for the dollar because it suggests rising mortgage rates are not likely to derail the housing market. 

In contrast, new home sales (due out on 27 November 2017) are forecast to fall sharply, but that comes after a surge in the previous month. 

Fed Chair Janet Yellen will appear in conversation with former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King. Normally this would be the highlight of the day, but people want to hear what Jay Powell, the incoming Fed Chair, has to say, particularly as rumors swirl that some staff members at the Fed are agitating to change the inflation target in order to give the FOMC more leeway to adjust rates if the economy tanks again. Moreover, the one thing I was interested in finding out from her was whether she was planning on staying on after her term as Chair ends in February 2018, and she answered that question yesterday:  no. So I would expect to hear some reflective comments evaluating her time in office, but not that much on the future course of monetary policy.

At some point during the day, the fifth round of NAFTA talks will end in Mexico City. According to press reports, this round of talks largely avoided the most controversial US proposals and has produced no substantial breakthroughs. Mostly, junior negotiators have worked on updating the small details in the agreement.

The graph below shows the 12-month moving sum of the US trade position with the two countries since the NAFTA accord took effect from January 1994. The narrowing of the US trade gap with Canada since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, due largely to a sharp drop in US imports from Canada, suggests that the US is probably focused on trade with Mexico, but the US proposals would hit both countries. 

A particular concern for both countries this time has been US proposals to increase the amount of US content necessary for cars, a large export category for both countries. Autos account for 16% of exports from Canada and an even higher 25% for Mexico, far more than petroleum (5.4%) despite MXN’s status as a petro-currency. Energy makes up an even higher 18% of Canada’s exports, which includes electricity.

Canada and Mexico have refused to make counter-offers to some of the main US proposals, such as the car content rules and dispute settlement. Canada has simply stated publicly that the US proposals are unacceptable and has refused to present any alternatives.

The three countries have extended the deadline for the talks to March 2018. On the one hand, that gives them more time to reach an agreement and more time for US businesses to lobby  US President Donald Trump's administration to relax their demands. On the other hand, by that time the talks may be complicated by a general election to be held in July 2018 in Mexico and the US mid-term elections in November 2018. The elections may make it harder for politicians on both sides to compromise. 

There will be a partial round of talks in December in Washington, and then the next full round of talks is scheduled to take place in Montreal late January 2018.

Overnight, the Westpac-Melbourne Institute leading index will be announced. No forecast is available, but the indicator does occasionally prove market-affecting. As the graph shows, the index has been fairly stable over recent months, so a sharp move in either direction would be significant for the market.

This article comprises the personal view and opinion of the STO Investment Research Desk and at no time should be construed as Investment Advice.

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