Five things to know before the market trades this week, Jan 19-25

1. The biggest question this week - QE or no QE?

Thursday is D-Day for the European Central Bank (ECB). After weeks of feverish anticipaton and gut-churning volatility on the financial markets from plunging oil, commodity prices and euro - thanks a lot Swiss Central Bank! - it all comes down to this:

Will the ECB's governing council announce a government bond-buying programme - quantitative easing or QE - to stimulate the moribund euro zone economy at its Jan. 22 meeting as everyone expects?

The ECB won crucial backing last week for its pledge to do whatever it takes to support the euro when a top European Union court official said there was no legal impediment to buying government bonds to bolster a listless euro zone economy. But politics and German concerns about risk-sharing may trump the law, Reuters reported. Sources have told Reuters the ECB may adopt a hybrid approach - buying debt and sharing some of the risk across the euro zone while national central banks make separate purchases of their own. The programme may also be limited in size to 500 billion euros.

It's safe to say that if the ECB holds back, get ready for more wild rides on the markets.

2. Swiss franc bombshell fallout to continue

As more funds and foreign exchange traders worldwide fall victim to the Swiss National Bank's surprise move to abandon its currency's peg to the euro, the unapologetic Swiss said over the weekend it may step on the exchange markets to limit the franc's rise.

The unpegging last week caused panic on global markets, bankrupted forex traders ad hedge funds and threatens Switzerland's export-dependant economy.

3. D-Day for Greece too

Greece's snap election will take place on Sunday. The radical leftist Syriza party has held a consistent lead in the polls and is intent on ending austerity and seeking debt renegotiation with its European partners, though it insists it wants to stay in the euro zone.

If Syriza's Alexis Tsipras becomes prime minister, as looks most likely now, a showdown between him and Greece's partners int e European Union could result in Greece leaving the euro. Experts are betting though that Mr Tsipras will be the one who blinks, even if that means confronting the ideologues in his own party, given that Greece's banks are being kept afloat by the European Central Bank.

Whatever the case, get ready more Greek drama to entertain markets.

4. More gloomy economic figures and forecasts ahead

Last week, the World Bank lowered its global growth forecast for this year and next because of poor economic prospects in the euro zone, Japan and major emerging economies. On Tuesday, it is the turn of the International Monetary Fund. IMF chief Christine Lagarde sounded downbeat last week, saying cheap oil and solid US growth were not a cure for "deep-seated weaknesses" elsewhere.

Also on Tuesday, China, the world's second largest economy, will be releasing its fourth quarter gross domestic product figures, aling with a string of monthly indicators. Economic growth is likely to have slowed to 7.2 per cent in October-December from the year-ago period, according to a Reuters poll, which would be the slowest reading since the first quarter of 2009 when the growth rate slumped to 6.6 per cent amid the depths of the global financial crisis.

Flash purchasing manager surveys for the United States, China and the euro zone on Thursday will likely also undeline how the US economy is pulling away from the other two.

Against this backdrop, 40 world leaders and over 1,500 CEOs or business heads will be attending the four-day World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which starts on Wednesday. The WEF said last week the risk of international conflict was now the biggest threat facing countries and businesses, trumping economic concerns. But the latter is likely to be front and centre too.

5. Smaller is better for Singapore

From Monday, the Singapore Exchange will cut the standard lot size from 1000 shares to 100, to entice more younger investors who will now be able to invest in stocks with a smaller capital outlay. Local investors have indeed been complaining about lot sizes for many years. Most shares trade in lots of 1,000, making some blue chips too expensive for retail investors.

Friday will see the consumer price index for December. Singapore experienced deflation for the first time in five years when the CPI for November fell to -0.3 per cent year-on-year. Economists have forecast that Singapore could see deflation again in December in view of plunging oil prices, and that if deflation persists, it could hurt economic outlook.

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