Brexit’s Impact

From England and Scotland and Wales
The data is telling us tales
That Brexit’s impact
Is set to subtract
From growth and reduce Retail Sales

With less than seven weeks left before the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, the impact of two years of uncertainty is becoming clearer. This morning’s GDP data showed that growth declined -0.4% in December, dragging the Q4 number down to a below expected 0.2% and a full year number of just 1.4%, its weakest since 2009. As is always the case, uncertainty is the bane of economic activity. While the politics of brinksmanship may make sense in the long run, it is difficult to see the near-term benefits. And brinksmanship appears to be PM May’s last hope at putting in place the agreed deal by the UK Parliament. Despite her renewed efforts at getting the EU to offer some adjustments to the negotiated deal, there has been little willingness evident on the EU side to do so. However, the EU mandarins are not so ignorant as to believe that a hard Brexit will have no impact on their own nations’ economies, it is just that they believe that by holding firm the UK will blink first and Parliament will ratify the deal. I think PM May is of the same opinion. And perhaps they are correct, that is exactly what will happen. However, politics is not an exact science, and it appears there is still a very real probability that a hard Brexit is what we will get.

In the meantime, the market took no succor in this morning’s data, with the pound falling a further 0.35% on the day, increasing its month-to-date decline to 1.7% with the trend still firmly lower. While BOE Governor Carney has claimed repeatedly that he may need to raise rates in the event of a hard Brexit due to a price shock, I continue to believe there is virtually no probability that will occur. The initial negative impact on the economy will overwhelm any inflationary impulse, certainly from a political perspective, if not actually from an economic one. Despite the fact that the Fed appears to be on hold at this time, I would still bet on further policy ease rather than tightness from the BOE.

But the pound is not the only currency suffering this morning, in fact every G10 currency is weaker vs. the dollar as it becomes clearer with each passing day that the ability of central banks to remove policy accommodation from a weakening global economy is becoming more and more restricted. A good example is Norway, where growth has held up reasonably well (1.7% in Q4) but inflation has failed to meet expectations. This morning’s CPI data showed the headline rate fall a more than expected 0.4% to 3.1%. While that is clearly above their target, it is a product of the recent rise in oil prices. On a core basis, inflation is quickly falling back to its 2.0% target, and while the market is still pricing a rate hike for March, it is with less conviction. Another weak reading before the next Norgesbank meeting in March is likely to ice that expectation completely. Tightening into an environment of slowing global growth is extremely difficult for any country, let alone a peripheral oil exporter, to accomplish successfully. As it happens, NOK is lower by 0.55% as I type.

But it is not just G10 currencies under pressure this morning, it is the entire complex of dollar counterparts. EMG has seen broad based, albeit not extreme, weakness. The leading decliner is ZAR, with the rand falling 1.1% after the main electric utility, Eskom, disclosed further power cuts leading to concerns over slowdowns in production and mining. The utility is struggling under a massive debt burden and has been on the edge of bankruptcy for some time. But away from that country specific outcome, the dollar’s gains have averaged on the order of 0.2%-0.3% throughout all three EMG blocs.

Looking ahead to data this week we will see January inflation data as well as the delayed Retail Sales numbers amongst a full slate.

Tuesday NFIB Small Business 103.2
  JOLT’s Job Openings 6.9M
Wednesday CPI 0.1% (1.5% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.1% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
  PPI 0.1% (2.1% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.5% Y/Y)
  Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.1%
Friday Empire Manufacturing 7.0
  IP 0.1%
  Capacity Utilization 78.7%
  Michigan Sentiment 94.5

We also have nine Fed speeches from six different FOMC members including Chairman Powell tomorrow afternoon. However, the Fed has lately been very consistent with the market clearly understanding that they are on hold for the time being. In fact, the market is beginning to price rate cuts into the curve by the end of this year, although the Fed itself has not indicated anything of the sort. One last Fed note; SF Fed President Mary Daly, in an interview on Friday, indicated that the FOMC was actively discussing the merits of using the balance sheet as part of the ‘regular’ toolkit, not simply keeping it for emergencies when interest rates were at the zero bound. That is a bit ironic given that prior to the financial crisis, the balance sheet was the main feature of how the Fed managed interest rates, increasing or reducing reserves in order to guide interest rates to their desired levels. But in this case, it sounds more like the first oblique embrasure of MMT, the idea that debt monetization is not only fine, but that it is immoral not to manage policy in that manner if there are still unemployed people out there. After all, the only risk is inflation, and they have that under control!!!

I am the first to admit that the dollar’s recent strength has surprised me. While I have maintained that it would eventually strengthen, I did not foresee the market embracing the idea that every other central bank would reverse the tightening bias so quickly. But it has. So for now, the US remains the tightest monetary policy out there, and the dollar is likely to continue to benefit accordingly.

Good luck
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