The Fed was just trying to keep a low profile

Last Wednesday’s FOMC statement was a classic of the genre, but it won't stop the New Year’s renewed debate over government funding and the debt ceiling from hovering into view.

If nothing else, I think we’d all agree that drafting the post-FOMC statement must surely be a huge lexicographical challenge, with tens of thousands of teenage scribblers, traders, investors and politicians crawling over every word to try and discover significance where, in many cases, none may exist. In this sense, last Wednesday’s statement was a little classic of the genre.

Some were surprised to see the pace of expansion of economic activity still described as "moderate" rather than "modest". True, the housing sector had now "slowed somewhat", whereas last time it had "been strengthening", there was even debate over whether the inclusion of the word "some" in the FOMC’s assessment of the labour market as having "shown some further improvement" was a downgrade.

The truth is, this was just a holding statement, and we should watch their lips - any change in policy will be data dependent. They dropped the previous comment which suggested that tighter financial conditions could damage the recovery-hardly surprising since 10-year yields had virtually doubled from the Spring's low of 1.6 per cent to 3.0 per cent just before the September meeting, but they have since dropped to 2.5 per cent and the stock market has resumed its climb.

It’s also possible that the FOMC was keen to sound tough in advance of the Senate confirmation hearings on Janet Yellen’s candidacy as Fed Chairman. Not all FOMC members may like her dovish stance, but she’s one of theirs, and they certainly don’t want to encourage the sort of uncomfortable scrutiny of the Fed advocated by Senator Rand Paul and his father. Hence their assiduous and conspicuous failure to suggest tapering would be further delayed.

The week of 4th November will be key, recent data having been somewhat contradictory, with weak consumer confidence, but a rather robust Manufacturing ISM Survey; the former may portend a weak non-Manufacturing ISM report - much the larger part of the economy, and then of course, the most important data of the week, October's employment report, due on the 8th. We may see some asymmetry in market reaction here again, with a strong report being dismissed as distorted by the shutdown, whereas weak data would support a further delay in tapering.

It is also certainly the case that by the time of the next FOMC meeting in December the Fed will have little, if any, further clarity on the economy’s health and the New Year’s renewed debate over government funding and the debt ceiling will be hovering into view.

Traders react to the Federal Open Market Committee report, 18 September 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.