Realistic

As far as the market’s concerned
The mood out of Brussels has turned
They’re quite optimistic
A deal is “realistic”
By early November, we’ve learned

Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator for Brexit has lately changed his tune. Last month, ostensibly at the direction of his political masters, he was playing hardball, shooting down every UK proposal as inadequate and saying there was no negotiating room on the EU’s positions. Not surprisingly, the pound came under pressure during this period, trading to its lowest level in more than a year and approaching the post-vote lows. But a funny thing happened during the past week, Europe suddenly figured out they didn’t really want a no-deal Brexit. The first inkling came from comments by German officials who indicated that compromises were available. That changed the tone of the negotiations and suddenly, as I mentioned last week, it seemed that a deal was more likely. Those comments last week helped the pound rally more than 1%. Then yesterday morning Barnier explained that a deal is both “realistic” and “possible” within 6-8 weeks. It should be no surprise that the pound rallied yet again on the news, jumping another 1% during the US session and maintaining those gains ever since.

Regular readers will know that I have been quite bearish on the pound for two reasons; first is the fact that I continue to see the dollar strengthening over the medium term as the Fed’s tighter monetary policy leads all developed nations and will continue to do so. But the other reason was that I have been quite skeptical that a Brexit deal would be agreed and that the initial concern over damage to the UK economy would undermine the currency. However, this change in tone by the EU over Brexit is almost certainly going to have a significant positive impact on the pound’s value vs. both the euro and the dollar. And even though any deal is likely to be short on details, I expect that we will see the pound outperform the euro for the next several months at least. So any dollar strength will be less reflected vs. the pound than the euro, while any dollar weakness should see the pound as the top performer. The thing is, the details of the deal still matter a great deal, and at some point in the future, the UK and the EU are going to need to figure out how they are going to deal with the Irish border situation, even if they have kicked that particular can further down the road for now.

While on the topic of the UK, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the employment situation there remains robust. Unemployment data was released this morning showing the Unemployment Rate remained at 4.0%, the lowest level since 1975, while wage growth accelerated to 2.9%. The latter potentially presages further inflation, as measured productivity in the UK remains quite soft at 1.5% per annum. If this continues, higher wages amid low productivity, the BOE may find itself forced to raise rates regardless of the Brexit situation. Yet another positive for the beleaguered pound. Perhaps the bottom is in after all.

However, away from yesterday’s news on the pound, the FX markets have been quite uninteresting in the past twenty-four hours. Arguably, the dollar is a touch stronger, but the movement has been minute. Even the emerging market bloc has been less active with perhaps the most notable feature the fact that INR continues to trade to new historic lows (dollar highs) every day. As to the group of currencies that has led the turmoil, TRY, ARS and ZAR, all of them are slightly firmer this morning as they continue to consolidate their losses over the past month. In addition, we hear from the central banks of both Argentina (today) and Turkey (tomorrow), with more attention focused on the latter than the former. Recall that Argentine interest rates are already the world’s highest at 60% and no move is anticipated. However, Turkey’s meeting is anxiously awaited as the market is looking for a 300bp rate hike to help stem rising inflation and the currency’s weakness. The problem is that Turkish President Erdogan has been quite adamant that he is strongly against higher interest rates and given his apparent control over the central bank, it is by no means assured that they will act according to the market’s expectations. Be prepared for another leg lower in the lira if the Bank of Turkey disappoints.

As to today’s session, the NFIB Small Business Index was released at 108.8, stronger than expected and a new record high for the release. Despite the trade concerns and the political circus in Washington, small businesses have never been more confident in their future. I will admit that this almost seems like whistling past the graveyard, but for now everything is great. Later this morning we see the JOLTs Job report (exp 6.68M), which should simply reconfirm that the employment situation in the US remains robust.

And that’s really it for today. Equity futures are flat although the 10-year Treasury is continuing its recent trend lower (higher yields), albeit at a slow rate. There is certainly no evidence that the Fed is going to change its path, but for today, it seems unlikely that we will see much movement in either direction beyond what has already occurred. Barring, of course, any surprising new comments.

Good luck
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