In England, the Court of Supremes
Will soon rule on Boris’s dreams
He thought it a breeze
To prorogue MP’s
But they think he’s gone to extremes
Meanwhile oil markets are stressed
With traders, quite rightly, obsessed
‘bout all of the facts
From last week’s attacks
And if a response will be pressed
As New York walks in this morning, markets are still on edge regarding the unprecedented attack on Saudi oil infrastructure over the weekend. Yesterday’s price action saw oil close higher by more than 13%, although this morning WTI has backed off by $1.00/bbl or 1.5%. The short-term issue is how long it will take the Saudis to restore production. Initial estimates seemed a bit optimistic, and the latest seem to be pointing to at least several months before things are back. The long-term issue is more focused on supply disruption risk, something which the market had essentially removed from prices prior to yesterday. It seems that the ongoing problems in Venezuela and Libya, where production gets shuttered regularly, had inured the market to the idea that a short-term disruption would impact prices. After all, oil prices are still well below levels seen a year ago. Now all the talk is how the oil market will need to permanently price in a risk assessment, meaning that prices will default higher. I challenge that view, though, as history shows traders and investors have very short memories, and I would estimate that once the Saudi production is back up and running, it will only be a matter of months before any risk premium is removed. This is especially true if the global growth story continues to deteriorate meaning oil demand will diminish.
The other story of note comes from the UK, where two separate lawsuits against PM Johnson’s act to prorogue (suspend) parliament for five weeks leading up to the Brexit deadline are to be heard by the UK Supreme Court. The government’s argument is that this is not a legal matter, but a political one, and therefore is fine. Of course, Brexit opponents are doing everything they can to prevent Boris from his stated intentions of leaving on October 31 ‘come hell or high water.’ The thing is, unlike the US, where we have a written constitution, there is no such document in the UK. The upshot is twelve unelected officials will be making what may be the most momentous decision in UK history based solely on their personal views of the law, and no doubt, Brexit. And while I am in no way trying to disparage this group, who I am certain are all well-deserved of their roles, the fact that there is neither a guiding document nor precedence results in the opportunity for whichever side loses the argument to scream quite loudly, and I’m sure they will!
A funny thing about this situation is that if the Supremes declare the prorogation illegal, I think the market will see that as a sign that a no-deal Brexit is now off the table completely. And you know what that means for the pound, a significant rally. So for all of you Sterling hedgers out there, the next several days are going to be critical. Hearings are scheduled to take place through Thursday with a decision possible as early as Friday, although more likely next week. So gaming out possible scenarios consider the following choices: 1) Supreme Court (SC) rules against the government and parliament reconvenes => pound rallies sharply, probably back toward 1.30 as markets assume Brexit is dead; 2) SC rules government is within its rights to prorogue parliament for an extended time => pound sells off back to 1.20 as chance of no-deal Brexit grows. Remember, however, that the law in the UK is now that the PM must ask for an extension if there is no deal by the October 18 EU summit. The question, of course, is whether Boris will do so despite the political consequences of not asking, and whether the EU will grant said extension. The latter is not a given either.
With all of that ongoing, the FOMC begins their two-day meeting this morning with the market convinced that they will be cutting rates by 25 bps tomorrow afternoon. Changes to the narrative of late have shown a reduced expectation for a December rate cut, now 53% from more than 90% earlier in the month. Doves will certainly point to the rise in geopolitical risks from the attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure this weekend while hawks will continue to point to solid US data. However, that is a discussion for tomorrow morning.
Turning to market activity overnight, risk is definitely under pressure this morning as most haven type bonds (Treasuries, Bunds, Gilts, etc.) have rallied while Italy, Spain and Portugal have all seen yields rise. Equity markets are somewhat softer, although by no means collapsing, and the dollar is generally, though not universally, stronger. In the G10 space, the Skandies are under the most pressure, with both SEK and NOK falling about 0.4%, as the former is suffering after a terrible employment report which saw the Unemployment Rate rise to 7.4%, rather than decline to 6.8%. NOK, meanwhile, seems to be tracking the price of oil. In the EMG space, KRW was the big loser, still suffering over the much weaker than expected Chinese data and concerns over slowing growth in the economy there.
Data early this morning showed the German ZEW falling more than expected to -19.9, simply highlighting the problems in Germany and increasing the likelihood that the nation enters a technical recession this quarter. Yesterday’s Empire Manufacturing data was a touch weaker than expected, but hardly disastrous. This morning we see IP (exp 0.2%) and Capacity Utilization (77.6%), neither of which is likely to move markets. At this point, it is difficult to make the case for significant movement today as market participants will be waiting for tomorrow’s FOMC decision. Look for a dull one, but with a chance of fireworks on the horizon.