While PM May fought off defeat
The Brexit debate’s incomplete
There’s still great disorder
O’er the Irish border
And angst for the man in the street
Was it much ado about nothing? In the end, PM May won the no-confidence vote, but in a singularly unimpressive manner with more than one-third of the Conservative MP’s voting against her. The upshot is that while she cannot be challenged again for another year, it clarified the strength of the opposition to her handling of the Brexit negotiations. At the same time, the EU has reiterated that the deal, as negotiated, represents all they are willing to offer. May’s strategy now seems to be to delay any vote until such time that the choice is clearly binary; accept the deal or exit with no deal. Despite the increasingly dire warnings that have come from the BOE and some private forecasters, I have lost my faith in the idea that a deal would be agreed. If this is the case, the impact on the pound is going to be quite negative for some time. Over the past two days, the pound has rallied 1.3% although it remains quite close to its post vote lows. However, in the event of a hard Brexit, look for the pound to test its historic lows from 1985, when it traded at approximately 1.05.
As to the rest of the market, it is central bank day in Europe with the Norgebank leaving rates on hold but promising to raise them in Q1; the Swiss National Bank leaving rates on hold and describing the necessity of maintaining a negative interest rate spread vs. the euro as the Swiss economy slows and inflation along with it; and, finally, the market awaits the ECB decision, where Signor Draghi is universally expected to confirm the end of QE this month. One of the interesting things about Draghi’s actions is that he is set to end QE despite his own internal forecasts, which, according to ‘sources’ are going to be reduced for both growth and inflation in 2019. How, you may ask, can a central banker remove policy accommodation despite weakening data? Arguably the answer is that the ECB fears the consequences of going back on its word more than the consequences of implementing the wrong policy. In any event, look for Draghi to speak of transient and temporary causes to the reduced forecasts, but express optimism that going forward, Eurozone growth is strong and will be maintained as inflation edges toward their target of just below 2.0%.
Of greater consequence for the euro this morning, which has rallied a modest 0.1%, is the news from Italy that they have adjusted their budget forecasts to expect a very precise 2.04% deficit in 2019, down from the previous budget deficit forecast of 2.4%. Personally I question the changes other than the actual decimal place on the forecast, but the market has accepted them at face value and we have seen Italian assets rally, notably 10-year BTP’s where yields have fallen 10bps and the spread with German bunds has fallen a similar amount. While the situation in France does not seem to have improved very much, the market is clearly of the view that things in Europe are better than they were last week. However, caution is required in accepting that all the issues have been adequately addressed. They have not.
In the end, though, despite these important issues, risk sentiment continues to be broadly driven by the trade situation between the US and China. Helping that sentiment this morning has been the news that China just purchased several million tons of US soybeans for the first time since the trade tussle began. That has encouraged investors to believe that a truce is coming, and with it, a resumption of the previous regime of steadily increasing global growth. Caution is required here, as well, given the still nascent level of discussions and the fact that the US negotiators, LIghthizer and Navarro, are known trade hawks. While it would certainly be better for all involved if an agreement is reached, it is far from certain that will be the case.
Recapping, the dollar has been under pressure this morning on the basis of a broad view of a better risk environment across markets. These include PM May’s retaining her seat, movement on the Italian budget issue and positive signs from the US-China trade conflict. And yet the dollar is only softer by some 0.1% or so, on average. Nothing has changed my view that the underlying fundamentals continue to favor the greenback.
Pivoting to the emerging markets, INR has performed well again, rallying 0.3% overnight which makes more than 1% this week while nearly erasing the losses over the past month. It appears that investors have taken a new view on the necessity of an independent central bank. Recall that the RBI governor stepped down on Monday as he was at odds with the government about the path of future policy, with ex-governor Patel seeking to maintain tighter money and address excess leverage and non-performing loans, while the government wanted easy money and fast growth in order to be reelected. The replacement is a government hack that will clearly do PM Modi’s bidding and likely cut rates next. Yet, market participants are rewarding this action as evidenced not only by the rupee’s rally, but also by the performance of the Indian stock market, which has led APAC markets higher lately. To this observer, it appears that this short term gain will be overwhelmed by longer term losses in both equities and the currency, if monetary policy falls under the government’s thumb. But right now, that is not the case, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see movement in this direction elsewhere as governments try to maintain economic growth at all costs. This is a dangerous precedent, but one that is ongoing nonetheless.
Yesterday’s CPI data was right in line with expectations at 2.2% for both headline and core, and the market had limited response. This morning brings only Initial Claims (exp 225K) and then the monthly Budget Figures are released this afternoon (exp -$188B). In other words, there is limited new information due once we hear from Signor Draghi. As long as there is a broad risk-on consensus, which appears to be the case, look for the dollar to remain under pressure. But I continue to see this as a short-term phenomenon. At some point, the market will recognize that the rest of the world is going to halt any efforts at tightening policy as global growth slows, and that will help support the dollar.