Debt ceiling battle, gas prices tumble, Didi relieved - what's moving markets

  • Economy News
Debt ceiling battle, gas prices tumble, Didi relieved - what's moving markets
Credit: © Reuters.

By Geoffrey Smith -- House Speaker Kevin McCarthy calls for spending cuts at the start of a week when the U.S. is set to bump against the federal debt ceiling. The World Economic Forum begins at Davos but there are big China- and Russia-shaped holes in the delegate lists. U.S. stocks are closed for the MLKD holiday but China and Europe advance as natural gas prices plummet and regulators cut more slack to China's beleaguered tech sector. Here's what you need to know in financial markets on Monday, 16th January. 

1. U.S. braces for debt ceiling battle 

The U.S. House of Representatives is bracing for a bitter struggle over the federal debt ceiling. While the issue is usually one of political theater that tends to be resolved before the country shoots itself in the foot with a voluntary default, things may turn out a little differently this time.

Toughness on spending plans and debt levels was one of the conditions extracted from new House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, in return for the support of Republican hard-liners.  

The government will hit the Congressionally-approved ceiling on Thursday, Treasury Secretary told both parties in a formal letter last week. After that, it will implement emergency measures to continue operating, but these will be exhausted by June. That timeline suggests nearly five months of effective paralysis on Capitol Hill as the two parties indulge in their usual game of trying to shift the blame.

McCarthy said at the weekend the GOP, which took back control of the House in November’s mid-term elections, will require spending cuts in return for agreeing to raise the ceiling.

2. A depopulated Davos 

The World Economic Forum begins in Davos, with a line-up that reflects the setbacks suffered by globalization in the last couple of years.

The glitzy gabfest for business and political leaders will feature no delegations from either China or Russia, a result of the U.S.’s increasing estrangement from the former and the breaking of most diplomatic bridges with the West by the latter with its invasion of Ukraine.

A resolution to the Ukraine conflict seems as far away as ever after a Russian missile strike on a residential building in Dnipro at the weekend killed 35 civilians.

There were also signs that Ukraine’s western allies were moving closer to sending it main battle tanks, a step that they have so far shied away from for fear of escalating the conflict further. The U.K. announced it will send 12 Challenger 2 tanks, while Germany’s Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht – who has resisted approving the dispatch of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine – resigned.

3. Stocks in Europe and China advance; U.S. shut for MLK day

Global stocks were mixed in the absence of a clear lead from the U.S., something likely to last all day due to the Martin Luther King Day holiday there.

By 06:25 ET (11:25 GMT), the Euro Stoxx 50 index was up less than 0.1% while the broader Stoxx 600 index was up 0.2%.

Hopes that Europe will avoid an economic contraction this year have risen in recent days as natural gas prices have collapsed and the euro and pound have strengthened, two factors that will greatly reduce the pressure from imported inflation and reduce the need for more aggressive interest rate hikes from the Bank of England and European Central Bank .

4. Didi back in Beijing's good graces

Chinese stock indices rose strongly again overnight, with most of the main boards gaining around another 1.5% after ride-hailing business Didi (OTC: DIDIY ) said it had received permission from Beijing to start registering new customers again. The Hang Seng Technology index, which has gained over 60% in the last three months, nonetheless paused for breath, losing 1.1%.

The ban on new customers, imposed by the Cyberspace Administration of China 18 months ago, had been a key moment in China’s clampdown on the wealth and power of China’s Internet moguls, forcing Didi into an ignominious delisting from the New York Stock Exchange only a few months after its IPO there.

The reversal of the ban is the latest evidence of Beijing easing the pressure on the Tech sector in recent weeks, and follows such steps as the granting of permission for financial services Ant Group to proceed with capital raising measures.

5. Oil edges down as European gas prices slump again

Crude oil prices fell on signs that the expected pickup in Chinese demand may take a little longer to materialize than thought, although the trigger related to a slightly different market.

Reports suggested that Chinese gas traders are diverting cargoes of liquefied natural gas to Europe amid high levels of storage that point to subdued industrial demand at home.

The same reports drove benchmark European gas prices sharply lower again. The Dutch TTF contract fell 11.2% to a new 16-month low of €57.61 a megawatt-hour (€1=$1.0827), as German Vice-Chancellor and Energy Minister ruled out a repeat of last year’s spike.

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