© Reuters.  Top 5 things to watch this week in financial markets© Reuters. Top 5 things to watch this week in financial markets

Investing.com – Global financial markets will focus on minutes of the Federal Reserve’s latest policy meeting in the week ahead, with hopes the central bank will give more hints on the pace of future rate hikes this year.

Staying in the U.S., a report on existing home sales will be the highlight of the holiday-shortened week. Markets stateside will remain closed on Monday for the President’s Day holiday.

In the UK, investors will be looking ahead to a second reading on British growth data for further hints on the health of the economy and the likelihood of the Bank of England raising interest rates this year.

Meanwhile, market players will eye flash survey data on euro zone business activity to assess how fast the European Central Bank will start unwinding its asset purchase program.

Elsewhere, Japan is to publish closely-watched inflation data as investors look for signs on the strength of the economy and hints on when the Bank of Japan will start withdrawing stimulus.

Recent chatter that the world’s leading central banks will step back from easy policies and raise rates at a faster pace than is currently priced into the market due to a pickup in inflation has sparked a global bond market selloff this year, with yields in the U.S., Europe and Asia all spiking higher.

Ahead of the coming week, Investing.com has compiled a list of the five biggest events on the economic calendar that are most likely to affect the markets.

1. Fed FOMC Meeting Minutes

The Federal Reserve will release minutes of its most recent policy meeting on Wednesday at 2:00PM ET (1900GMT).

The U.S. central bank left interest rates unchanged following its meeting on Jan. 31, the last under the leadership of Janet Yellen, and said inflation was likely to rise this year. Those comments signaled that borrowing costs will continue to climb under new central bank chief Jerome Powell.

Besides the FOMC minutes, markets will also be paying close attention to comments from around a dozen Fed speakers this week for their views on the recent uptick in inflation and how that can affect monetary policy.

Topping the agenda will be remarks from influential New York Fed boss William Dudley as well as Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, a known hawk. Both are scheduled to participate in panel discussions at the United States Monetary Policy Forum, taking place in New York on Friday.

The Fed is scheduled to hold its next policy meeting on March. 20-21, with interest rate futures pricing in an 82% chance of a rate hike at that meeting, according to Investing.com’s Fed Rate Monitor Tool.

A recent batch of stronger-than-expected U.S. inflation data has bolstered bets that the Fed could increase interest rates as many as four times this year, more than the three it currently forecasts.

2. U.S. Existing Home Sales

The National Association of Realtors will publish data on January existing home sales at 10:00AM ET (15:00GMT) Wednesday.

The consensus forecast is that the report will show that transactions of second-hand homes rose 0.9% to 5.62M from 5.57M in December.

Besides the housing report, this week’s holiday-shortened calendar also features U.S. data on manufacturing and service sector activity, as well as jobless claims figures.

Meanwhile, on Wall Street, markets will remain closed Monday for President’s Day. Earnings in the week ahead include results from retail heavyweights Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Home Depot (NYSE:HD), both due ahead of Tuesday’s opening bell.

The Dow and S&P 500 rose 4.3% each last week, posting their best weekly performances since 2016 and 2013, respectively. The Nasdaq jumped 5.3%, meanwhile, notching its biggest one-week gain since 2011.

Elsewhere, news out of Washington D.C. is expected to keep investors on their toes, as the investigation into President Donald Trump campaign’s ties to Russia continues to rumble on.

3. U.K. Fourth Quarter GDP – Second Estimate

The Office for National Statistics is to produce a second estimate on U.K. fourth-quarter economic growth at 09:30GMT (4:30AM ET) on Thursday.

The report is forecast to confirm the economy grew 0.5% in the final three months of last year, underlining the view that the British economy remains on a solid footing. On a year-over-year basis, the economy is forecast to grow by 1.5%, also unchanged from an initial estimate.

The second reading will include a breakdown of business investment growth.

Ahead of the GDP report, monthly unemployment data will be eyed on Wednesday for further indications on the continued effect that the Brexit decision is having on the economy.

While Britain’s economy is lagging behind the global recovery, it has held up better than the gloomy forecasts made at the time of the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

The Bank of England kept interest rates steady earlier this month, but signaled it was likely to raise rates sooner and by more than it thought a few months ago as it seeks to keep a grip on inflation.

The BoE will hold its Inflation Hearings on Wednesday, where Governor Mark Carney and his colleagues will discuss recent inflation developments before the Treasury Select Committee.

4. Flash Euro Zone PMIs

The euro zone is to publish preliminary data on manufacturing and service sector activity for February at 0900GMT (4:00AM ET) on Wednesday, amid expectations for a modest decline.

Ahead of the euro zone PMI’s, France and Germany will release their own PMI reports at 0800GMT and 0830GMT respectively.

In addition to the PMI data, there are also a pair of surveys on German business sentiment from both the IFO and ZEW institutes, which if they remain strong could push the European Central Bank another step closer to ending its mass stimulus program.

Minutes from the ECB’s January policy meeting will be published on Thursday. The ECB said it will keep its €2.5 trillion stimulus program in place for as long as needed at that meeting, and stated that there are “very few chances” that it will change interest rates this year.

Despite those remarks, market players remain convinced that easy monetary policy in the region is coming to an end sooner rather than later.

The central bank cut its monthly bond purchases from €60 billion to €30 billion back in October, but extended the program until the end of September 2018, citing muted price pressures.

5. Japan Inflation Data

Japan’s Statistics Bureau will publish January inflation figures at 8:50AM Tokyo time on Friday (2350GMT Thursday).

Market analysts expect the headline figure to remain positive, rising 1.3% year-on-year, which would be the 13th straight month of annual increases.

But the modest year-on-year increase will be well off the Bank of Japan’s 2%-target and keep the central bank under pressure to maintain its massive monetary stimulus.

There have been some indications recently that the BoJ is setting the ground to begin discussions on winding back its quantitative easing program, triggering speculation it will follow the Fed and ECB and start normalizing policy sooner than expected.

Stay up-to-date on all of this week’s economic events by visiting: http://www.investing.com/economic-calendar/

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