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Five Things We're Watching: March 17, 2011

Nuclear crisis in Japan, more violence in the Middle East and the market on tilt. Here's some of what we’re watching – and therefore you should as well.

The Nuclear Seesaw: US markets whipsawed through the trading day Wednesday, closing down significantly. When the major indices plummet on comments from a guy in Brussels

An official in a full radiation protection suit scans an evacuated elderly woman with a geiger counter to check radiation levels in Koriyama city in Fukushima prefecture.
AFP | Getty Images
An official in a full radiation protection suit scans an evacuated elderly woman with a geiger counter to check radiation levels in Koriyama city in Fukushima prefecture.

speculating about unknown events in Japan... well, let's just say it's a light trigger. Reports surrounding the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant continue to dominate a market seeking answers to the big questions. How much control do emergency teams have on the troubled reactors? Is the reported new power line a silver bullet to get cooling systems online? And just what is actually happening at each of the reactors? Until we get beyond speculation, wild volatility will the name of the game. At writing, the Nikkei gave back two percent in the open alone.

New High for the Yen: The Japanese yen nudged against an all-time high versus the US dollar Wednesday, before the dollar yen index tore through the 79.75 resistance level and went into relative freefall. Why the rising yen? Most analysts expect that the country's disasters will lead to a massive repatriation of funds, particularly from insurance companies facing enormous claims. The Bank of Japan has already jumped into the market to inject liquidity early in the week. The question remains whether they'll intervene nowto create an obstacle to the currency move. With intervention hanging over the forex market and a G7 call scheduled Thursday, traders expect plenty of volatility in the immediate future. Without BoJ actions, there's no telling what will stop the move higher in the yen.

Bahrain Crackdown: Crude prices ticked back up to $98.30 in Wednesday trading at the New York Mercantile Exchange, reacting not only to nuclear news out of Japan, but also the harrowing pictures out of Bahrain. Skirmishes between protesters and the country's defense forces escalated, leaving six reported dead and many more wounded. The news from Bahrain coupled with continued advances by Gaddafi-led forces in Libya remind that violence throughout the region poses continued risk for global markets.

The Cost of Inflation: After the big pop in Wednesday's PPI data, we get the consumer index

Thursday morning, with an expected 0.1% tick up in core CPI and a 0.5% jump when factoring in food and energy. In its statement Tuesday, the FOMC noted that inflation remains stable… and yes, Bill Dudley, we are wholly aware of the price-tag on an iPad 2. As a New Yorker, perhaps you're not constantly reminded of the sky-high price at the pump. But, the concern over rising costs for manufacturers and consumers alike is very real and the impact when it comes to economic sentiment could be significant.

Let the Madness Begin: After the first few play-in games, the Madness begins in earnest Thursday… so make sure your bracket is set and keep your eyes peeled for updates on Kyrie Irving'stoe. What we're looking forward to tomorrow afternoon is the release of Nike's quarterly earnings after the market closes Thursday. The company's global revenues have grown in recent quarters, though its domestic business has lagged. Input costs will be a big story for Nike, and it will surely update investors on its exposure to the disaster in Japan.