The British pound Sterling is tumbling
As traders think Boris is fumbling
His chance to succeed
By forcing, at speed
Hard Brexit with some Tories grumbling
It’s official, the only story of note in the FX markets today is Brexit. Despite central bank meetings and key data, the number one discussion is about how far the pound will fall in the event of a hard Brexit and how high the likelihood of a hard Brexit has become. Since Friday morning, the pound is down by 2.5% and there doesn’t appear to be a floor in the near term. It seems that traders have finally decided that BoJo was being serious when he said the UK would leave the EU with or without a deal come October 31. As such, today’s favorite analyst pastime is to guess how low the pound can fall with a hard Brexit. So far, there has been one estimate of parity with the dollar, although most estimates talk about 1.10 or so. The thing is, while Brexit will clearly be economically disruptive, it seems to me that the warnings of economic activity halting are vastly overstated for political reasons. After all, if you voted Remain, and you are in the media (which was largely the case) then painting as ugly a picture as possible suits your cause, whether or not it is based on factual analysis or fantasy.
But let’s discuss something else regarding the potential effects of a hard Brexit; the fears of a weaker currency and higher inflation. Are these really problems? Is not every developed country (and plenty of emerging ones) in the world seeking to weaken their currency through easier monetary policy in order to gain a competitive advantage in trade? Is not every developed country in the world complaining that inflation is too low and that lowered inflation expectations will hinder central bank capabilities? Obviously, the answer to both these questions is a resounding ‘YES’. And yet, the prospects of a weaker pound and higher inflation are seen as devastatingly bad for the UK.
Is that just jealousy? Or is that a demonstration of central bank concern when things happen beyond their control. After all, for the past decade, central banks have basically controlled the global economy. Methinks they have gotten a bit too comfortable with all that power. At any rate, apocalyptic scenarios rarely come to pass, and in fact, my sense is that while the pound can certainly fall further in the short run, we are far more likely to see the EU figure out that they don’t want a hard Brexit after all, and come back to the table. While a final agreement will never be finished in time, there will be real movement and Brexit in name only as the final details are hashed out over the ensuing months. And the pound will rebound sharply. But that move is still a few months away.
Away from Brexit, there has been other news. For example, the BOJ met last night and left policy rates on hold, as universally expected, but lowered their inflation forecast for 2019 to 1.0%, which is a stretch given it’s currently running at 0.5%. And their 2.0% target is increasingly distant as even through 2022 they see inflation only at 1.6%. At the same time, they indicated they will move quickly to ease further if necessary. The problem is they really don’t have much left to do. After all, they already own half the JGB market, and have bought both corporate bonds and equities. Certainly, they could cut rates further, but as we have learned over the past ten years, ZIRP and NIRP have not been all that effective. With all that said, the yen’s response was to rise modestly, 0.15%, but basically, the yen has traded between 107-109 for the past two months and shows no signs of breaking out.
We also saw some Eurozone data with French GDP disappointing in Q2, down to 0.2% vs. 0.3% expected, and Eurozone Confidence indicators were all weaker than expected, noticeably Business Confidence which fell to -0.12 from last month’s +0.17 and well below the +0.08 expected. This was the weakest reading in six years and simply highlights the spreading weakness on the continent. Once again I ask, do you really think the EU is willing to accept a hard Brexit with all the disruption that will entail? As to the euro, it is essentially unchanged on the day. Longer term, however, the euro remains in a very clear downtrend and I see nothing that will stop that in the near term. If anything, if Draghi and friends manage to be uber-uber dovish in September, it could accelerate the weakness.
Away from the big three, we are seeing weakness in the Scandies, down about 0.5%, as well as Aussie and Kiwi, both lower by about 0.25%. Interestingly, the EMG bloc has been much less active with almost no significant movement anywhere. It appears that traders are unwilling to do anything ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC statement and Powell’s press conference.
On the data front this morning we see Personal Income (exp 0.4%), Personal Spending (0.3%), Core PCE (0.2%, 1.7% Y/Y), Case-Shiller Home Prices (2.4%) and Consumer Confidence (125.0). Arguably, the PCE data is most important as that is what the Fed watches. Also, given that recent CPI data came in a tick higher than expected, if the same thing happens here, what will that do to the insurance cut narrative? The point is that the data of late has not warranted talk of a rate cut, at least not the US data. But will that stop Powell and company? The controlling narrative has become the Fed must cut to help the rest of the world. But that narrative will not depreciate the dollar very much. As such, I remain generally bullish the dollar for the foreseeable future.