Turning To Fearing

The deadline for Brexit is nearing
And hoping is turning to fearing
No deal’s yet in sight
But both sides delight
In claiming that they’re persevering

This morning, the two stories that have captured the FX market’s attention are Brexit and its impact on the pound and Chinese policy changes and their impact on the yuan.

Starting in the UK, the pound is under pressure this morning, down 0.55%, as comments from International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, have rattled traders. According to Fox, the odds that there is no Brexit deal have now risen to 60%, certainly enough to qualify as “uncomfortably high”, Governor Carney’s description last week in his comments following the BOE meeting. It appears that both sides remain committed to their positions and there has been very little movement from either London or Brussels of late. Meanwhile, in the UK, the politics of the situation has resulted in the new favorite pastime of guessing who will replace PM May when she finally loses a no-confidence vote. And while March 31 is the technical deadline, the reality is that if there is no agreement in place by October, it is likely to be too late. Remember that once an agreement is reached, it needs to be enacted into law by all the nations in the EU as well as the UK, with any one of them able to derail the process. Last year I posited that the odds of reaching a deal were extremely low. I believe this is exactly what is playing out now.

The consequences for the pound are unlikely to be pretty. I expect that we will see pressure continue to increase as it becomes clear that there is no deal forthcoming. So unlike the market action right after the initial Brexit vote in June 2016, where the pound fell more than 10% overnight, and shed another 10% in the ensuing four months, I expect that this will be steady downward pressure, although the net 20% decline cannot be ruled out. After all, there will be no announcement that talks have ended, merely a lack of progress to be seen. Consider that a further 20% decline from here will put the historic low level of 1.06, set back in 1985, on the radar. And while that may well be too pessimistic, it remains extremely difficult to make a bullish pound case at this time. Unless we see a negotiating breakthrough in the next month or so, hedgers need to be prepared for a much lower pound over time.

Turning to China, late Friday night the PBOC imposed a new restriction on FX trading by reinstituting a 20% reserve requirement against short yuan forward positions. The idea here is that Chinese banks will not be willing to allocate the funds necessary to maintain those positions, and therefore will not allow clients to sell CNY forward. In 2015, during the last CNY devaluation, when capital outflows really gathered pace, this was one of the tools that the PBOC employed to stem the yuan’s weakness. What this tells me is that despite the rhetoric from the government about the trade situation and their willingness to tough it out, there is growing concern that if USDCNY reaches 7.00, citizens will start to become much more aggressive in their efforts to reduce their exposure to the yuan, and flee to other, safer currencies. Ironically, given what has started this process, this includes the dollar as well as the yen and Swiss franc. As is typical of the Chinese, they announced this change late Friday night when markets were closed. And while the initial market reaction to the news in China’s morning was for the yuan to strengthen a bit, that strength has reversed and USDCNY is now higher by 0.25%. If 7.00 is truly the pain point, I fear we are going to see some fireworks before the end of the summer.

Beyond those two stories, the dollar is firmer overall, but there is less specificity than it simply being a strong dollar day. The euro is lower by 0.25% after German Factory Orders fell a much worse than expected -4.0%, taking the Y/Y level negative for the first time in two years. But given the breadth of the dollar’s strength this morning, I would argue the euro would have declined no matter the number. As the trade rhetoric continues apace, I expect the dollar to remain well bid against all comers.

Turning to the data this week, it is far less interesting than last week’s onslaught, but we do end the week with CPI.

Tuesday JOLT’s Job Openings 6.646M
  Consumer Credit $16.0B
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  PPI 0.2% (3.4% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.8% Y/Y)
Friday CPI 0.2% (3.0% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)

Beyond the inflation data, we have only two Fed Speakers, and given the continued strong run of data, it remains hard to believe that we will hear any new dovishness by anyone. I am hard-pressed to derive a scenario that leads to significant dollar weakness in the short run. Until the US data turns, I believe that the Fed will continue to tighten policy and that the dollar will benefit. And that seems likely to last through at least the end of the year.

Good luck
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