Brexit Doomsday

In London, Prime Minister May
Has started revealing, some say
Details of the deal
Which optimists feel
Could postpone the Brexit doomsday

With the elections now past, market participants are looking for the next potential catalysts for movement and Brexit regularly leads the list. According to the British government, the deal is 95% complete, although the Irish border issue remains unsolved. The essence of this issue is as follows: ever since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Northern Ireland has been part of the UK, but has had no hard border between itself and the Republic of Ireland. As both Ireland and the UK were members of the EU, there were no issues regarding tariffs or trade, and so the process worked effectively. However, now that the UK is leaving the EU, as well as the customs union, suddenly there are likely to be tariffs on goods that cross that border. The problem stems from the fact that neither side wants a ‘hard’ border between the two nations, meaning no customs checking there. Therein lies the problem. How can Northern Ireland remain in the customs union but not England, Wales and Scotland? It would mean a border of some type between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Of course, that doesn’t go over very well either. Hence the stalemate. The EU is willing to allow Northern Ireland to maintain its current stance with Ireland, but not the rest of the UK. The UK doesn’t want Northern Ireland to have a different status than itself with the EU. Those are exactly opposite positions and there is no obvious middle ground.

The risk becomes that PM May negotiates a deal, which will by definition be imperfect, and that said deal gets defeated in a Parliamentary vote, thus leaving nothing completed. Given the shrinking timeline available to come up with a deal, less than five months at this point, it seems pretty clear that this is the last opportunity to get something done. The market, at least based on the recent performance of the pound, has become increasingly optimistic that a solution will be found. While the pound has edged slightly lower overnight, it is up by more than 3% since Halloween with the entire movement based on the idea that a deal will be done. In addition, this morning there have been several comments by investors that a Brexit deal will result in a powerful rally in the pound, up to 1.50 or beyond. While I disagree with that assessment, it is important that everyone understands the different viewpoints in the market. The idea is that a Brexit deal will end uncertainty, spur investment and allow the BOE to become more aggressive raising interest rates. And while some of that is certainly true, for the pound to reach 1.50, the dollar will need to be much lower against all its counterparties, and I just don’t see that outcome.

The other key story today is the FOMC meeting, where no change in policy is anticipated, although there are some analysts looking for a tweak to the policy statement. At this point, it seems abundantly clear that the Fed is unconcerned with the level of the stock market, and that last month’s decline will have no bearing on their policy decision. There is talk of a tweak to IOER, where the Fed may reduce that rate relative to the current Fed Funds corridor of 2.00% – 2.25%, but I agree with the analysts who say that it makes limited sense for the Fed to do something this month, and they will be better off waiting until December when they raise rates again.

Beyond that, the data overnight showed a modest slowdown in Chinese exports with a reduction in their trade surplus, both globally and with the US. We also saw that German exports decline 0.8%, a surprisingly weak outcome attributed to ongoing issues with the German diesel auto sales. While yesterday morning saw the dollar under significant pressure across the board, the reality is that it reversed many of those losses during the session. This morning the dollar is marginally higher across the board, but the movements have not been significant. For example, the euro is lower by 0.15% and the pound by 0.3%. We have seen similar magnitude moves by the commodity bloc, and the yen has softened by 0.2%. As you can see, it has been a dull market.

In the EMG space, the dollar is generally, though not universally, stronger but here, too, the magnitude of movement has been modest, on the order of 0.2%-0.4% overall.

The only piece of data aside from the FOMC meeting is Initial Claims (exp 214K) this morning, and aside from the fact that this data continues to show a robust labor market, it has not been a market catalyst for a long time. After a big equity rally yesterday, futures are pointing slightly softer to open, and Treasury yields, after rallying sharply at the beginning of the month, remain near their multiyear highs with this morning’s level at 3.23%.

In sum, it is hard to get excited about large upcoming movement in the market today, and so a modest further dollar rally seems about right. Removing some more of the recent excesses would make sense in the context of the still uncertain outcomes from key issues like Brexit and the Italian budget quesoins.

Good luck
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