Thursday's Bank of England monetary policy meeting could give us a clue as to what the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee will decide at its own meeting next week.
Volatility has returned to the markets lately, as an interest rate hike by the Fed as early as this month was taken into consideration, then dismissed, then considered again.
But while the Fed says it is data-dependent and takes its cue from the U.S. economy, there have been occasions when international issues such as emerging market turmoil or weakness in Europe have weighed heavily on its decision. The vote by the U.K. to leave the European Union is one such important event, which is why investors should watch Thursday's Bank of England meeting with increased attention.
In a nutshell, if the Bank of England keeps interest rates steady, it's likely that the Fed will not hike U.S. interest rates. If U.K. interest rates are slashed again, then it's a sign the Fed might hike. If the central bank cuts interest rates even further, it means it is anticipating a hike in interest rates by the Fed.
The rationale for it is compelling. The post-Brexit challenges that the Bank of England is facing are only slowly beginning to emerge. While there have been lots of optimistic reports about how things are not as bad as thought before the referendum, it is still too early to tell what the consequences will be.
"Any celebration about the rebound in August and conclusion that life has returned to 'business as usual' may prove to be premature or even a mirage," credit rating agency Standards & Poor's said in a report on the U.K. economy released earlier this month.
Its economists pointed out that purchasing managers' surveys for both July and August are consistent with "broadly stagnating" economic activity. Moreover, with one month's data to go to the end of the quarter, the third quarter may turn out to be a very weak one, "although probably not negative."
Another worrying data point is consumer confidence, which, despite rebounding from the depths it fell to after the referendum, is still not back to levels before the vote. The economists noted that it remains near levels last seen at the end of 2013, when households were still squeezed by high inflation while unemployment was still high.
In fact, the situation is pretty similar. What the Bank of England must avoid at all costs is stagflation: rising inflation coupled with rising unemployment. That is a nightmare scenario but it looks possible, if for the moment not very probable.
Consumer price inflation remained at 0.6% in September, unchanged from August; but with producer prices increasing and the weak pound making imports more expensive, it is not sure that it will remain that low in future months.
On the jobs front, the official figures still look good. Unemployment remained at 4.9% in the three months between May and July, but there are some worrying signals elsewhere. For instance, a survey by recruiting consultants Manpower in the weeks after the Brexit vote showed that employers have become more cautious with their hiring plans. In a statement, the workforce experts said the British jobs market "could be in for a rough ride."
The sectors where optimism fell the most were business and finance services, construction and utilities, and manufacturing -- this latest despite the weak pound boosting exports. Public sector hiring sentiment also plunged to its lowest level in more than four years, which does not bode well for the economy as the public sector accounts for 10% of employment nationally.
So the Bank of England will have a delicate situation to balance. Some have accused it of overreacting at its last meeting, when it halved interest rates to 0.25% and restarted quantitative easing, adding corporate bonds to its government bond purchases.
Again, watch Thursday's meeting carefully because, if the central bank cuts interest rates even further, it means it is anticipating a hike in interest rates by the Fed -- in other words, a less accommodative external policy. If the Bank of England leaves rates on hold, it may mean it is thinking the Fed will stand pat as well.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Real Money at 9 a.m. on Sept. 14.