While yesterday Brexit seemed real
As both sides looked close to a deal
This morning we hear
A deal’s not so near
As Ireland’s North lost their zeal
Meanwhile from the Far East, the news
Is that China just might refuse
To buy pork and grain
Unless we refrain
From publicly airing our views
While the same two stories remain atop the leaderboard, the score has clearly changed. This morning, much of yesterday’s Brexit optimism has dissipated as the DUP, Boris Johnson’s key Northern Irish ally in Parliament, explained they could not support the deal that Johnson has been furiously negotiating over the past few days. Remember, DUP stands for Democratic Unionist Party, and the Union of which they speak is that of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. As such, they cannot countenance the idea of a soft border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. They want to be treated exactly the same. At the same time, they don’t want a hard border between themselves and the Republic of Ireland, so it seems that they are the ones that need to make up their collective mind. As time is very clearly running out, the conversation has reached a very delicate phase. Remember, the Benn Act requires PM Johnson to request an extension by this Saturday if there is no deal agreed, and of course, Boris has said he “would rather be dead in a ditch” than request such an extension.
From what I have read, it appears that the soft border would be time limited, and so in the end, I think the pressure on the DUP will be too great to bear and they will cave in. After all, they also don’t want to be the ones responsible for the failure of reaching a deal. The pound, after having traded as high as 1.2800 yesterday, has been extremely volatile this morning, trading in a more than 1.0% range and having touched both the highs at 1.2790 and the lows near 1.2660 twice each. As I write, the pound is lower by 0.3% on the day, but at this point, it is entirely headline driven. The one thing that is clear is that many of the short positions that had been built up over the past year have been reduced or eliminated completely.
Turning to China, the story is about Beijing’s anger over two bills passed by the House of Representatives in support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Chinese are adamant that anything that happens in Hong Kong is a domestic affair and that everybody else, especially the US, should keep their noses out of the discussion. In fairness, it is a Chinese territory legally, unlike the situation in Taiwan where they claim ‘ownership’ with less of a legal claim. Nonetheless, they are quite serious and are threatening retaliation if any law addressing Hong Kong is passed by the US. Now a bill passing the House is a far cry from enacting a law, but this does seem to be something where there is bipartisan support. Remember, too, that the standoff with China is one of the few things where the Democrats and President Trump see eye to eye.
At the same time, somewhat behind the scenes, the PBOC injected CNY 200 billion into its money markets last night, surprising everyone, as a measure of further policy ease. Thursday night the Chinese will release their Q2 GDP data and while the median forecast is for a 6.1% annualized outcome, there are a number of forecasts with a 5 handle. That would be the slowest GDP growth since at least 1992 when records started to be kept there. At any rate, the cash injection helped weaken the renminbi with CNY falling 0.3% in the overnight session. One thing to remember here is that part of the ostensible trade deal is the currency pact, but if that deal falls apart because of the Hong Kong issue, it opens the door for CNY to weaken a bit more.
It ought not be surprising that the change in tone on those two stories has dampened overall market enthusiasm and this morning can clearly be described as a risk-off session. In the G10, the dollar is stronger against everything except the yen and Swiss franc (both higher by 0.1%). In fact, both NOK (-0.9%) and NZD (-0.7%) lead the way lower with the former responding to oil’s ongoing weakness as well as the potential negative impact of a hard Brexit. Meanwhile, the kiwi has suffered after the RBNZ reiterated that lower rates were likely still in store despite CPI printing a tick higher than expected last night at 1.5%.
In the EMG space, things have been less dramatic with ZAR today’s weakest component, falling 0.5% after news that the troubled utility, Eskom, will be forced to create rolling blackouts, further highlighting its tenuous financial position and putting more pressure on the government to do something (read spend money they don’t have) to fix things. Without a solution to this issue, which has been hanging over the economy for several years, look for the rand to continue its broad move lower. While at 14.97, it is well off the lows seen in August, the trend remains for the rand to continue falling. Otherwise, this space has been far less interesting with KRW dipping just 0.25% overnight after the BOK cut rates by 25bps. The thing is, comments from BOK members indicated a reluctance to cut rates much further, thus limiting the downward movement.
This morning brings us Retail Sales (exp 0.3%; -ex autos 0.2%) and Business Inventories (0.2%). Then, at 2:00 the Fed’s Beige Book is released with analysts set to look for clues about economic activity to drive the Fed’s next activity. We also hear from three Fed speakers, Evans, Kaplan and Brainard, who all lean to the dovish side of the spectrum. With European equities under pressure and US futures pointing lower, it seems that risk will remain out of favor, unless there is a change of heart in the UK. But for now, think risk-off as a guide to today’s activity.