Could Not Be Severer

For two years the EU played rough
On Brexit and called every bluff
They forced the UK
To see it their way
And every pushback they’d rebuff

But now that the date’s drawing nearer
And Johnson can’t be any clearer
He’ll walk with no deal
It’s now become real
That Brexit could not be severer

So Barnier finally blinked
Agreeing the Irish were linked
And in a surprise
He talked compromise
Though as yet, no new deal’s been inked

The pound is higher this morning as news that the EU is willing to discuss a compromise for the Irish border has clearly changed the discussion. If you recall, the EU has been adamant that the only deal available is the one that erstwhile PM May negotiated, which includes a section on the Irish border that could easily keep the UK beholden to the EU in perpetuity. Naturally, the Brexiteers were not happy with that outcome and it eventually led to May’s resignation.

The problem for the EU is that Boris Johnson, who is the most likely candidate to become the new PM when results are announced next week, has been abundantly clear that if the EU doesn’t fix the parts of the deal that are controversial, he will take the UK out on October 31 without a deal. And there is no indication he is bluffing. So suddenly the EU has figured out that a no-deal Brexit is a real possibility and that they may no longer have the upper hand. Consider that the UK has already suffered economically during the run-up to the actual exit, while the EU’s suffering has been self-inflicted and not related to Brexit at all. Given the EU’s economy is broadly slowing already, the last thing they need is something like Brexit, which would likely tip the EU into recession if there is no deal. And voila, the EU has finally figured out that they have much to lose in this negotiation.

It should be no surprise that the pound has rallied on the news, although the 0.5% rally is not that impressive. But it’s a start, and if the two sides can come to an agreement on the Irish situation, then there is a real opportunity for the pound to rebound sharply. After all, a smooth Brexit has always been likely to drive the pound back toward 1.40. While it is still way too early to assume that outcome, at least it is back on the table.

The other theme of the overnight session has been central bank rate cuts, with South Korea surprising analysts with a 25bp cut to 1.50% while they lowered forecasts for both growth and inflation for 2019 and 2020. The ongoing trade situation between the US and China is a major headache for the Koreans, and don’t forget they have their own direct trade issue with Japan regarding the Japanese export of key materials for Korean manufacturing. We also saw Indonesia cut rates 25bps, beginning the reversal of the 175bps of rate hikes they implemented in 2018. While growth there remains solid, with inflation falling and forecasts for slowing growth in its key export markets, this was not a great surprise. Analysts are looking for two more cuts this year as well. Interestingly, neither the won nor rupiah weakened on the news, with both currencies firmer by 0.15% when the market closed in Asia time.

And perhaps that is the theme for today, mild dollar weakness despite other nation’s activities. But the operative word is mild. In fact, the pound’s rally, which was also helped by surprisingly robust Retail Sales data, is by far the largest move of the session. Otherwise, in both G10 and EMG spaces, we are seeing some back and forth on the order of 0.10%-0.20%, hardly enough to get excited about.

Clearly, there is much more market discussion on the earnings season as it unfolds in the US. Yesterday’s big news was Netflix, which missed estimates on subscriber growth in Q2 and has seen its stock fall sharply in the aftermarket. But Eurozone equities are under pressure as well after weak results from SAP and Nordea Bank presage further struggles on the continent.

Now here’s something to consider. Right now, the market is fully priced for a Fed cut at the end of the month, and there is a strong expectation that the ECB meeting next week is going to outline its future policy ease. Those have been key drivers in the broad equity market rally we have seen since June, and if either Powell or Draghi disappoints, equity markets are certainly going to suffer. But what if earnings data comes in broadly worse than expected, a la Netflix last night, and equity prices fall regardless of the rate story. After all, by almost every measure, valuations in the US equity space are quite high so a decline may well be due on its own, rate cuts or not. The question is how those same central banks will respond. Will they ease more aggressively to prevent a further decline, or will they ignore the outcome? In the past, this wasn’t really a consideration as central banks were focused only on inflation and employment or growth. But these days I’m not so sure that is the case. Just beware if earnings data start to stumble.

Turning to this morning’s session, there are only two US data points, Initial Claims (exp 216K) and Leading Indicators (0.1%). We also hear from two Fed speakers, Bostic and Williams, although both have already explained their views earlier this week. On that subject, we heard from FOMC voter Esther George yesterday and she has been the first Fed speaker to be clear that there is no reason for a rate cut anytime soon. Now she has always been one of the more hawkish Fed members and it would not shock me if she dissented at the next vote assuming a rate cut is the outcome. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the first dissent under Powell’s tenure was looking for a cut and the second, in the following meeting, was looking to stay on hold? It certainly indicates there is a diversity of opinion at the Fed, at least with regard to the proper policy implementation if not with regard to Keynesianism.

And that’s all there is for today. Earnings data are likely to be the main drivers as neither data point is seen as a market mover. With the dollar on its back foot this morning, I see no reason for it to turn around at this time. Look for a further slow decline.

Good luck