Thursday running order: Ocado Q4, UK GDP, ECB and US CPI

US stock markets hit fresh record highs in the early part of the session before paring gains and turning a little softer. European markets remain broadly higher, albeit more modestly than they were in the morning session. It’s a big day tomorrow with UK growth figures, the ECB meeting and some bumper US data all on the slate. In addition, we have earnings from DS Smith and Ocado to look forward to.

Traders are likely to be greeted with some more Brexit headlines – so far no is prepared to take a decisive position and cable continues to chop around the 1.33-34 area. This only shows that traders think both outcomes – deal or no-deal – are still very much in the running. We await signals from the dinner between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen this evening.

Thursday’s running order:

UK GDP: The UK economy grew 15.5% in the third quarter as since stalled reopening of the economy saw spending and activity bounce back between July and September. Nevertheless, the economy remains 9.7% smaller than it was before the pandemic and the November lockdown will smash the Q4 recovery. October’s data due tomorrow at 7am will likely show a modest 0.4% month-on-month gain.

ECB: The European Central Bank is likely to announce fresh stimulus by way of expanding its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) by an additional €500bn and extend it beyond the current Jun 2021 cut-off to the end of next year. This is not likely to produce much volatility in EUR crosses as there was a strong pre-commitment at the October meeting to taking additional easing measures in December. As we said at the time, it’s all but a down deal now that France and Germany have locked down and the economy is heading for another recession. Last time Christine Lagarde said staff were working on recalibrating all instruments, which means even interest rates could be cut further in addition to expanding QE envelopes, however any tweak to rates looks unlikely at this stage.
Recent survey data has been soft and hard data for November when it comes is not going to be pretty. Q4 is shaping up badly, though Lagarde and co may now be willing to jump the shark on vaccines and prep for a rosier 2021 – which would suggest no dovish surprise from the ECB. Inflation remains very weak and has been stable at –0.3% since September.

The stronger euro exchange is another headache for the ECB – traders will be closely watching for any jawboning by Lagarde around the recent euro strength. We should also look for extension of TLTROs and upping the tiering facility to help banks. Lagarde will look to show that the ECB will stay super-loose for as long as necessary but will lean hard on the fiscal side too and not want to do too much. Moreover, the advent of vaccines will keep the ECB from over-doing it now. As ever, the announcement is at 12:45 GMT and presser follows at 13:30.

US CPI and weekly unemployment claims: After a tame reading for October, core and headline CPI are seen ticking up marginally to 0.1% over last month and +1.1% year-on-year for the headline number and +1.8% for the core reading. US inflation expectations have hit 18-month highs, but it’s not thought that we will see a material imprint on last month’s figures – expectations seem to be more about the coming Great Monetary Inflation caused by central bank printing and pro-cyclical fiscal stimulus in 2021 as vaccines allow the economy to bounce back. Nevertheless, the latest PMI surveys for November showed the quickest rise in selling prices yet recorded, with the rate of inflation hitting a record high in the service sector and a 25-month high in manufacturing. Inflation may be coming, but probably not until the pandemic is over. Data on tap at 13:30 GMT with unemployment weekly claims numbers (seen at +723k vs 712k last week) coming at the same time.

Ocado Q4 trading statement: Ocado has been a big winner from the pandemic and shares are +75% YTD, putting in the top three FTSE 100 performers this year (after Scottish Mortgage and Fresnillo). Two key questions are on the lips of investors: how has the M&S tie-up fared and has Ocado been able to ride the November boom in grocery spending? It’s been operating at full capacity every day – any progress on increasing capacity will be another q for investors.

The Marks and Spencer partnership has now had a full quarter to deliver some initial indications of consumer demand. I’d expect the progress to be strong given both the rising demand for online and the increased consumer spend on groceries due to lockdowns.

Last time (Nov 2nd) Ocado raised its full-year EBITDA guidance to £60m from £40m. Given the massive surge in grocery sales in November reported by Kantar, which said sales rose 13.9% year-on-year in the four weeks to Nov 29th. A total of 6m households shopped online in November, with digital platforms accounting for 13.7% of all sales – both are records and may call for another, albeit modest, upgrade to the FY earnings. Kantar notes: Ocado demonstrated the trend, growing by 38.3% in the latest 12 weeks. This period also fully covers the time since Ocado started selling M&S products, during which its share of the chilled ready meals market has tripled to just over 3%. Shares were up over 2% today to 2,319p ahead of the announcement. Look for a push to 2,400p to recapture the Nov highs around 2,580p.