Catalan vote tests Europe

LONDON (Reuters) – World markets offered a muted reception on Thursday to the passage of U.S. tax cuts as potential benefits to company bottom lines were already priced in, while bonds were spooked by the blowout in government debt needed to fund the giveaways.

An election in Catalonia, which has become a de facto referendum on its independence movement, was another test for European assets late in the year, though there was only modest stress in Spain’s markets and none on the euro.,

“It (the Catalan election) cannot be ignored going into year-end,” said Orlando Green, European fixed income strategist at Credit Agricole. “But the secession movement has been significantly diminished and would need a decisive move to revive it.”

Madrid’s IBEX .IBEX was down 0.6 percent, compared to falls of between 0.1 and 0.3 percent for the euro zone’s other major bourses <0#.INDEXE> which were showing the effects of subdued sentiment in Asia and Wall Street overnight. [.N][.T][.SS]

In U.S. President Donald Trump’s first major policy win, Republicans steamrollered opposition from Democrats to pass a bill that slashes taxes for corporations and the wealthy while giving mixed, temporary relief to middle-class Americans.

Having spent more than a year anticipating the bill, its actual passage proved something of an anticlimax for Wall Street. The Dow .DJI fell 0.11 percent, while the S&P 500 .SPX lost 0.08 percent and the Nasdaq .IXIC 0.04 percent.

Most of the action was in bond markets where yields on U.S. 10-year notes US10YT=RR jumped to the highest since March at 2.50 percent, in the process making a bearish break of a key chart level at 2.47 percent.

Benchmark German and euro zone yields were camped near one-month highs too and the swing higher in long-term yields for once outpaced the move in the short-end and steepened the yield curve a little. [GVD/EUR]

On the U.S. tax cuts, bond investors are concerned that adding fiscal stimulus at a time of full employment will only reinforce the Federal Reserve’s determination to raise interest rates, thus pushing up short term yields.

At the same time, many assume the unfunded tax cuts will lead to an explosion in government borrowing, increasing the supply of new bonds and pressuring prices across the curve.

The impact is all the greater as the Fed has begun to unwind its massive bond holdings, as have central banks elsewhere.

Sweden’s Riksbank on Wednesday took its first baby steps toward reversing ultra-loose policy by ending net new bond purchases.

FILE PHOTO: People walk past an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

“An appreciation that central banks are going to be buying fewer bonds next year at a time when many governments will be selling more of them, plus profit-taking on the curve-flattening theme that has been a winning trade for large parts of 2017, are playing a part,” said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at NAB.


One institution that has long been committed to aggressive stimulus is the Bank of Japan, and it showed no inclination to re-think the policy at its board meeting on Thursday.

Currency investors are assuming the BOJ will keep Japanese bond yields super-low for a long time to come and have been nudging the yen lower in response.

“Our most important goal is to achieve our 2 percent inflation target at the earliest date possible,” BOJ chief Haruhiko Kuroda told a news conference. “We won’t raise interest rates just because the economy is improving.”

That kept the euro up at its highest since late 2015 at 134.84 EURJPY=. The dollar stood 0.15 percent higher at 113.51 yen JPY=, after also rising 0.4 percent on Wednesday.

The euro outperformed broadly, reaching $1.1877 EUR= per dollar after starting the week down at $1.1752. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was steady at 93.346 .DXY.

But the common currency still faces the Catalonia hurdle. The election is expected to produce no clear majority for either the separatist or unionist parties, leading to weeks of political wrangling.

“It looks likely that it ends up being something of a long-running saga,” said one of rating agency Fitch’s top European sovereign analysts, Tony Stringer. He said the Catalan situation would be a key factor in whether Spain gets a rating upgrade next year.

“It is feasible that it is just a prolonged standoff that doesn’t affect the Spanish economy and public finances.”

In commodity markets, gold XAU= was underpinned by the softer dollar to stand at $1,265 an ounce.

Oil prices steadied after rising on a larger-than-expected drop in U.S. inventories and the continued outage of the North Sea Forties pipeline system. [O/R]

U.S. crude futures CLc1 were off 11 cents at $57.97 a barrel, having rallied 53 cents overnight. Brent crude LCOc1 edged back 30 cents to $64.25 a barrel.

Additional Reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney and Fanny Potkin and Dhara Ranasinghe in London; Editing by Catherine Evans

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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