Their Canard

At last both the Germans and Brits
Realized, nations both, would take hits
If Brexit was hard
So now their canard
Is claiming, details, they’ll omit

The tone of the market changed early yesterday afternoon when a story hit the tape about Brexit indicating that both sides had moved closer to finding an agreement. While some might say this is simply a muddle-through effort (and I would be one of those) the facts seem to be that both sides are willing to move forward with far less specificity than had previously been demanded. In a nutshell, the prior stance had called for a Brexit agreement that was explicit as to the solutions for things like the Irish border issue when the UK leaves the EU. In essence, while both sides agree a transition period is necessary, the EU especially, was demanding to know the details of how things would eventually fall out. Of course, the UK couldn’t discuss those given the amount of internal dissention amongst the May government on the issue. But now, the Germans have said that those details could wait until after the March 2019 exit, and that the future trade agreement can be negotiated in more detail then. This opens the door for a more wishy-washy Brexit agreement, which is likely the only type that can be approved by both the UK Parliament and the EU’s 28 other members.

The market impact was immediate with the pound gapping higher by 1% when the story was released, and although it has given back a portion of those gains, it remains higher overall today. The euro, too, jumped at the same time, albeit not quite as far, with an immediate bump of 0.5%, most of which it has retained. The real question, though, seems to be; is this a temporary situation, or has there been a fundamental change in the FX market?

Certainly there is a valid argument that a positive turn in the Brexit negotiations should lead to further pound strength. After all, while the dollar has appreciated a solid 6% against a basket of currencies since April, the pound has fallen more than 10% over that time. It is not unreasonable to assume that the difference is attributable to the steadily deteriorating views on a positive Brexit outcome. If the Brexit situation becomes less fraught, then a rebound in the pound would be a natural outcome. While one day does not make a trend, we will watch this closely going forward.

But aside from the news on Brexit, the main theme in the markets continues to be the ongoing meltdown in EMG currency and equity markets. Yesterday saw some of the worst behavior we have witnessed in this move, and the term contagion was bandied about in many analyses. This morning, things have settled down a bit, and actually we are seeing several of the worst hit currencies claw back a small portion of recent losses. For example, ZAR, which had fallen nearly 6.0% yesterday, is higher by 0.75% this morning. MXN, which lost 2.5% yesterday at its worst, has since regained about half of that with 0.5% coming this morning. Meanwhile, both TRY and ARS, the leaders of the pack when it comes to collapsing currencies, are both higher by a bit over 1% this morning. Of course, relative to their 20+% declines in the past month, this is small beer. However, the point is that the market feels far more stable this morning than yesterday’s situation.

Despite this morning’s stability, though, the broader issues remain. I assure you that neither Turkey nor Argentina have solved their macroeconomic problems. Inflation remains rampant in both nations and will continue to do so for a while. India, Brazil and Indonesia still have large C/A deficits and the Fed has not yet changed its tune. They will raise rates by 25bps later this month, and the odds are still quite high they will do so again in December. This tells me that today’s price action is a breather as traders and investors prepare themselves for tomorrow’s payroll report. Remember, one of the things we learned from Powell’s Jackson Hole speech was that the Fed is closely watching the data and has concerns about an overheating economy. If tomorrow’s data shows higher than expected hourly earnings, or a dip to 3.7% Unemployment, those could well be the signals that add urgency to their tightening process.

Meanwhile, looking ahead to the rest of the US session, we get quite a bit of data as follows:

ADP Employment 190K
Initial Claims 214K
Nonfarm Productivity 3.0%
Unit Labor Costs -0.9%
Factory Orders -0.6%
ISM Non-Manufacturing 56.8

This week’s ISM data was very strong, and the Trade Deficit has blown out as US growth outpaces that of pretty much every other developed nation. So as far as the data story goes, there is no reason to believe that the Fed is going to pause in the near term, despite concerns over the shape of the yield curve. And given that stance, I remain a firm believer in the dollar’s potential. Until the Fed changes its tune, I see no reason to change mine.

Good luck