Said Europe, “there is no Plan B”
This deal is the best that you’ll see
Opponents keep saying
The deal is dismaying
Because it cedes full sovereignty
It turns out last week was quite a difficult one in markets, with equity prices around the world under significant pressure as concerns continue to grow regarding growth prospects everywhere. In fact, for the first time we heard Fed Chair Jay Powell moderate his description of the US economy’s growth trajectory. It seems that the clear slowing in the housing sector combined with less positive IP and Durable Goods data has been enough to alert the Fed to the possibility that all may not be right with the world. While there is no indication that the Fed will delay its December rate hike, questions about 2019’s rate path have certainly been debated more aggressively with the consensus now believing that we can see a pause before just two more rate hikes next year. With the Powell Fed indicating that they are truly data dependent (as opposed to the Yellen Fed which liked the term, but not the reality), if we continue to see slowing US growth, then it is quite reasonable to expect a shallower trajectory of rate hikes in the US.
But that was last week’s news and as the new week begins, the biggest story is that the EU has agreed the terms of the Brexit negotiations that were just completed two weeks ago. The entire process now moves on to the next stage, where all 28 parliaments need to approve the deal. Given the terms of the deal, which has the opportunity to lock the UK into the EU’s customs union with no say in its evolution, it would be surprising if any of the other 27 members reject the deal. However, it remains unclear that the deal will be accepted by the UK parliament, where PM May does not hold a majority and rules because of a deal with the Northern Irish DUP. Of course the irony here is that Northern Ireland is the area of greatest contention in the deal, given the competing desires of, on the one hand, no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and on the other hand, the desire to be able to separate the two entities for tariff and immigration purposes.
At this stage, it seems there is at best a fifty-fifty chance that the deal makes it through the UK parliament, as the opposition Labour Party has lambasted the deal (albeit for different reasons) in the same manner as the hard-line Brexiteers. But political outcomes rarely follow sound logic, and so at this point, all we can do is wait until the vote, which is expected to be on December 12. What we do know is that the FX market is not sold on the deal’s prospects as despite the announcement by the EU, the pound has managed to rally just 0.25% today and remains, at 1.2850, much closer to the bottom of its recent trading range than the top. I continue to believe that a no vote will be tantamount to a hard Brexit and that the pound will suffer further from here in that event. However, if parliament accepts the deal, I would expect the pound to rally to around1.35 initially, although its future beyond that move is likely to be lower anyway.
Last week’s risk-off behavior led to broad-based dollar strength, with the greenback rallying on the order of 1.0% against both its G10 and major EMG counterparts. While that movement pales in comparison to the rout in equity markets seen last week, it was a consistent one nonetheless. This morning, though, the dollar is under a modicum of pressure as the fear evident last week has abated.
For example, despite softer than expected German IFO data (102.0 vs. exp 102.3), the euro has rallied 0.25% alongside the pound. A big part of this story seems to be that the Italians have made several comments about a willingness to work with a slightly smaller budget deficit in 2019 than the 2.4% first estimated. While the euro has clearly benefitted from this sentiment, the real winner has been Italian debt (where 10-year BTP’s are 17bps lower) and Italian stocks, where the MIB is higher by 2.7%. In fact, that equity sentiment has spread throughout the continent as virtually every European market is higher by 1% or more. We also saw strength in APAC equity markets (Nikkei +0.75%, Hang Seng +1.75%) although Shanghai didn’t join in the fun, slipping a modest 0.15%. The point is that market sentiment this morning is clearly far better than what was seen last week.
Looking ahead to the data this week, the latest PCE data is due as well as the FOMC Minutes, and we have a number of Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Wednesday.
|Tuesday||Case-Shiller Home Prices||5.3%|
|New Home Sales||578K|
|PCE||0.2% (2.1% Y/Y)|
|Core PCE||0.2% (1.9% Y/Y)|
In addition to Powell, we hear from NY Fed President Williams as well as Vice-Chairman Richard Clarida, both of whom will be closely watched. Given the recent change in tone to both the US data (slightly softer) and the comments from Fed speakers (slightly less hawkish), I think the key this week will be the Minutes and the speeches. Investors will be extremely focused on how the evolution in the Fed’s thinking is progressing. But it is not just the Fed. Remember, the ECB has promised to end QE come December despite the fact that recent data has shown slowing growth in the Eurozone.
The greatest fear central bankers currently have is that their economy rolls into a recession while interest rates are already at “emergency” levels and monetary policy remains extremely loose. After all, if rates are negative, what can they do to stimulate growth? This has been one of the forces driving central bankers to hew to a more hawkish line lately as they are all keen to get ahead of the curve. The problem they face collectively is that the data is already beginning to show the first indications of slowing down more broadly despite the continuation of ultra easy monetary policy. In the event that the global economy slows more rapidly than currently forecast, there is likely to be a significant increase in market volatility across equities, bonds and currencies. In this case, I am not using the term volatility as a euphemism for declines, rather I mean look for much more intraday movement and much more uncertainty in expectations. It is this scenario that fosters the need for hedgers to maintain their hedge programs at all times. Having been in the markets for quite a long time, I assure you things can get much worse before they get better.
But for today, there is no reason to believe that will be the case, rather the dollar seems likely to drift slightly lower as traders position for the important stuff later this week.