It seems like Prime Minister May
Is quickly approaching the day
When some other soul
Will try to control
The mess Brexit’s caused the UK
Once again, the pound is the lead story as the slow motion train wreck, also known as the Brexit process, continues to unfold. Yesterday, you may recall, PM May was promising to present her much reviled Brexit deal to Parliament for a fourth time, with new promises that if it was passed, the UK would hold a second referendum on the subject. However, not only did the opposition Labour party trash the idea, so did most of her own Conservative party, as well as the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, which is the group that has helped her maintain control for the past two years. At this point, her previous idea of having one more vote the first week of June and then stepping down seems to be dead. The latest news is the pressure from her own cabinet is mounting quickly enough to force her to step down as soon as this week. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, who was a key cheerleader for Brexit in the run-up to the initial vote and spent time as Foreign Minister in PM May’s government, is the favorite to move into Number 10 Downing Street. He has made it clear that he is quite willing to simply walk away from the EU with no deal.
With that as the political backdrop, it should be no surprise that the pound continues to suffer. This morning it is lower by 0.3% and is now trading less than a penny from its 2019 lows, which were established back on January 2nd. It is very difficult to create a scenario where the pound rebounds in the short term. Unless there is a massive shift in thinking in Parliament, or the EU decides that they will concede to UK demands regarding the Irish backstop (remember that?), the market is going to continue to price in the probability of a hard Brexit ever so slowly. The post-Brexit vote low of 1.1906, back in October 2016 is on the radar in my view. That said, it will take a while to reach it unless Boris becomes PM and summarily exits the EU. At that point, the pound will fall much faster.
Ironically, the economic data from the UK continues to show an economy that, while having some difficulty, is outperforming many other areas. This morning’s CPI data showed inflation at 2.1%, a tick below expectations and essentially right at the BOE’s target. I am constantly amused by Governor Carney’s comments that he will need to raise rates due to a potential inflation shock. At this point, that seems like an extremely low risk. Granted, given the openness of the UK economy, if the pound were to collapse in the wake of a hard Brexit, inflation would almost certainly rise initially. The question, I think, is whether that would be seen as a temporary shock, or the beginning of a trend. Arguably, the former would be more likely.
Away from the UK, the FX market has been reevaluating its views on EMG currencies and thus far, the verdict is…they suck! While I have highlighted the weakness seen in the Chinese yuan while the trade war brews, I have been less focused on other currencies which have been collateral damage to that war. But there has been significant damage in all three EMG areas. For example, even excluding the Argentine peso, which has all kind of domestic issues unrelated to trade and has fallen nearly 6% this month and more than 26% this year, LATAM currencies have suffered significantly this month. For example, USDBRL is trading back above 4.00 for the first time since last October and is down by 3.0% in May. We have seen similar weakness in both the Colombian and Chilean pesos, down 5% and 4% respectively. In fact, the Mexican peso is the region’s top performer, down just 0.5% this month although it had been weaker earlier in May. It seems that the trade war is acting as a benefit on the assumption that supply chains are going to find their way from China to Mexico in order to supply the US.
It ought not be surprising that many APAC currencies have also performed quite poorly this month led by KRW’s 4% decline and IDR’s 3.2% fall. Even the Taiwan dollar, historically one of the least volatile currencies is feeling the pressure, especially since the Huawei sanctions, and has fallen more than 1.2% in the past week, and for the month overall. Granted, these moves may not seem as large as the LATAM currencies, but historically, APAC currencies are more tightly controlled and thus less volatile. And there is one exception to this, the Indian rupee, which is basically unchanged on the month. This relative strength has a twofold explanation; first India is poised to benefit as a supplier to the US in the wake of the trade war, and second, the surprisingly strong showing of PM Narendra Modi in the recent election was taken as a positive given his pro-business platform.
Finally, a look at EEMEA shows weakness across the board here as well, albeit not quite as drastically. For example, TRY has fallen 4.5% this month, although the cause seems self-inflicted rather than from outside events. The ongoing political turmoil and inability of the central bank to tighten policy given President Erdogan’s clear opposition to that has encouraged foreign investors to flee. But we have also seen HUF fall 2.5%, and weakness in the Scandies with both NOK and SEK down more than 2.0% this month.
All in all, you can see that the dollar has been ascendant this month as a combination of slowing global growth, trade concerns and the relative outperformance of the US economy continues to draw inflows.
Looking at the data picture, the only US release is the FOMC Minutes at 2:00 this afternoon. Analysts are going to be parsing the comments to see if they can determine if there is building sentiment regarding an ‘insurance’ rate cut. Certainly, some members are willing to go down that road as we heard from St Louis Fed President Bullard yesterday saying just that. There are a number of other speakers today, and in truth, it does seem as though there is an evolution in the FOMC’s thinking. Remember, the market is pricing a cut before the end of the year, and if we continue to see mixed economic data and inflation’s dip proves more than ‘transitory’, I think we will see a consensus build in that direction. While in the very short run, a decision like that could be a dollar negative, my sense is that if the Fed starts to cut, we will see the rest of the world’s central banks ease further thus offsetting the negative impact.