The die has now finally been cast
Prime Minister May’s time has past
A new race begins
With fears that who wins
Will push for a hard Brexit fast
June 7, 2019 is the day on which Theresa May will step down from her role as leader of the Conservative Party in the UK, and consequently Prime Minister. While she will remain in the chair as caretaker, she will no longer drive policy. Instead, we will get to hear about the ensuing political machinations of each of the MP’s who want to replace her. At this time, the leading candidate is Boris Johnson, who was Foreign Minister until he resigned about a year ago under protest of how May was conducting the Brexit negotiations. He is seen as quite committed to having the UK exit and is not afraid of a no-deal outcome. Also in the running is ex-Brexit Minister, Dominic Raab, who while clearly pushing for finality is not seen quite as hardline as Johnson.
The mechanics of the process are a bit arcane, especially for Americans unfamiliar with the Parliamentary process. Briefly, the PM is the leader of the party that wins the most seats in Parliament. The Conservative Party, while without a current majority, leads the government through a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. There are 120,000 members of the Conservative Party (active party members) who will vote to determine the new leader of the party. The current MP’s will have a series of polls to whittle potential successors down to just two candidates for that vote. The key to remember is that these 120K are the activist wing and are substantially more pro-Brexit than the party at large. As such, it is quite possible, if not likely, that the next PM makes an exit, deal or not, a requirement by the new deadline of October 31.
But politics is a funny thing, and as we have all learned over the past few years, what polls say and how people vote are not necessarily the same thing. At this time, the market has clearly been pricing in an increasing probability of a hard Brexit, although it is by no means fully priced. Last week I proffered a table showing my estimates of probabilities for each of three scenarios and will update it here:
|May 16, 2019||May 17, 2019||May 24, 2019|
|Vote to Remain||30%||35%||40%|
It strikes me that the idea of a deal is going away. Given the EU’s position that they will not renegotiate, the choices have come down to stay or leave with no deal. Simply based on the fact that the pound has been falling for the past three weeks, my assumption is that preparations for a hard Brexit are moving apace. As it happens, this morning the pound has rallied slightly, +0.25%, but the trend remains quite clear and this was likely short-term profit taking into the long holiday weekend. The path of least resistance for the pound remains lower.
And actually, short-term profit taking seems to be the story of the day in the FX markets. The dollar is very modestly softer across the board after a week of steady strength. For instance, the euro, after a 0.4% jump on the back of weaker than expected New Home Sales yesterday morning has maintained that gain but been unable to rally further. We see AUD and NZD both having bounced (0.1% and 0.35% respectively) and CAD is firmer by 0.2%. Meanwhile, the yen, which has rallied 1% on its haven status during the past week, has edged down 0.1%.
Speaking of havens, after a pretty awful week in the equity markets, this morning Europe is bouncing, and US futures are pointing higher. At the same time, Treasury yields, which traded as low as 2.29% yesterday (their lowest since October 2017) have rebounded slightly to 2.32%. Bunds also dipped to their lowest level (-0.117%) since October 2016 yesterday. In other words, risk appetite has clearly been under pressure lately.
However, this morning, there is a little relief, at least on the trading front, and that can be seen in the EMG bloc as well. The CE4, most of APAC and LATAM’s opening are all showing very modest strength. The only currency moving more aggressively has been INR, where PM Modi’s surprisingly strong showing in the election, where he clearly won a strong mandate to continue his policies, has been seen as a huge boon for the Indian economy and helped the rupee gain 1.4% this week.
Turning to the data today, we get Durable Goods (exp -2.0%, +0.2% ex-Transport) as the final piece of the puzzle before the holiday weekend. After a spate of Fed speakers, there is nothing scheduled on that front either. On this subject, Dallas Fed President Kaplan yesterday reiterated the party line of patience, explaining that there was no compelling evidence right now to drive his decision on the next policy move. There are currently 15 members of the FOMC (two governor roles remain empty), and my tally is there are 3-4 who would be quick to cut rates with the remaining group firmly in the do-nothing camp. If upcoming data next week starts to point to a weakening trend, I would expect to see that ratio swing more dovish, but for now, there is no reason to believe that anything here is going to change. In other words, there are still more reasons for the dollar to rally than fall.
Good luck and have a great holiday weekend