Today it’s the story of Boris
A man who commands a thesaurus
When speaking of foes
To prove that he knows
More things than the Press’s Greek chorus
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before…a politician makes a bold promise to achieve something by a specific date. As the date approaches, and it is clear that promise will not be fulfilled, he changes his tune blaming others for the problems.
I’m certain you recognize this situation, and of course, today it is the story of Boris. Back on September 7, Johnson was adamant that if a deal was not completed by October 15, the day an EU summit was scheduled to begin, that there would be no deal at all. It appears that he believed he had the upper hand in the negotiations and wanted to get things done. As well, the EU had indicated that if a deal was not agreed by the middle of October, it would be nearly impossible for all of the 27 member nations to approve the deal in their respective parliaments.
Alas for Boris, things have not worked out as well as he might have hoped. Instead, two major issues remain; EU access to fishing in UK waters and the limits on UK state aid for companies, and neither one seems on the verge of a breakthrough. Yet the calendar pages keep turning and here we are, one day before the ‘deadline’ and nothing has been agreed. In fact, as the EU prepares for its summit starting tomorrow, this is the statement that has been released, “progress on the key issues of interest to the union is still not sufficient for an agreement to be reached.”
Though Boris’s deadline grows near
It seems that he might not adhere
As now the UK
Will not walk away
From Brexit discussions this year
With this as a backdrop, one would not be surprised to see the pound start to lose some of its recent luster. Clearly, that was a major part of yesterday’s price action, where the pound declined 1.0% and the rest of the G10 saw an average decline of only 0.4%. In other words, while the dollar was strong against virtually all comers yesterday, the pound was at the bottom of the barrel. Apparently, some investors are beginning to get cold feet with respect to their view that despite all the bluster, a Brexit deal will be reached. It is also not surprising that comments from Number 10 Downing Street this morning indicate the UK will not walk away from Brexit talks immediately. So, the EU effectively called Johnson’s bluff, and Boris backed down. It is also important to note that while the EU would like to get a deal agreed as soon as possible, they see no hard deadline with respect to when things need to be completed before the end of the year.
The overnight session saw a follow on from yesterday, with the pound falling another 0.55% before the comments about continuing the discussions hit the tape. The ensuing rebound now has the pound higher by 0.25% on the session, and actually the best performer in the G10 today. The bigger point is that the Brexit saga is not nearly done, and there is still plenty of opportunity for more volatility in the pound. I read one bank claimed the probability of a no-deal Brexit has fallen to 20%. Whether that is accurate or not, a no-deal Brexit is likely to see the pound fall sharply, with a move to 1.20 entirely realistic. Hedgers take note.
As to the rest of the market/world, yesterday’s risk reducing session seems to have ended, although risk is not being readily embraced either. Overnight saw equity markets either little changed (Nikkei and Hang Seng +0.1%) or lower (Shanghai -0.55%). Chinese Money Supply and lending data showed that the PBOC continues to push funds into the economy to support things, and the renminbi’s price action shows that there continue to be inflows to the country. CNY (+0.2%) has consistently been a strong performer, even after the PBOC relaxed short selling restrictions at the beginning of the week.
European markets have also proven to be mixed, with the CAC, DAX and FTSE 100 all lower by -0.2%, but Spain and Italy both higher by 0.3%. Earlier in the session, all markets were higher, so perhaps some concerns are growing, although there have been no comments on the tape of note. US futures have also given up earlier gains and currently sit essentially unchanged.
Bond markets had a strong performance yesterday, with 10-year Treasury yields declining 5 basis points and a further 1.5 basis points this morning. We have seen the same type of price action across European government bond markets, with virtually all of them rallying and yields declining by 2-3 bps.
Finally, as we turn to the dollar, yesterday’s broad strength is largely continuing in the EMG bloc, save CNY’s performance, but against its G10 counterparts, it is, arguably, consolidating. Aside from the pound, the rest of the G10 is +/- 0.15%, with only slightly weaker than expected Eurozone IP data as a guide. As to the EMG bloc, there is weakness in RUB (-0.6%), HUF (-0.5%) as well as the two highest beta currencies, MXN and SAR (-0.3%). Russia has the dubious distinction of the highest number of new cases of Covid today, more than 14K, (wait a minute, don’t they have a vaccine?) and Hungary, with nearly 1000 is also feeling the crunch based on population size. It appears that investors are concerned over economic prospects as both nations see the impending second wave and are considering lockdowns to help stem the outbreak. As to MXN and SAR, they are simply the most popular vehicles for investors to play emerging markets generally, and as risk seems to be falling out of favor, their decline is no surprise.
On the data front, PPI (exp 0.2%, core 0.2%) is today’s event, but given yesterday’s CPI release was spot on, this will largely be ignored. The inflation/deflation discussion continues but will need to wait another month for the next installment as yesterday taught us little.
One of the positives of the virtual society is that things like the World Bank / IMF meetings, which had been such big to-dos in Washington in past years, are now held virtually. As such, they don’t generate nearly the buzz as in the past. However, it should be no surprise that there is a single thesis that is making the rounds in this virtual event; governments need to spend more money on fiscal stimulus and not worry about increased debt. Now, while this has been the central bank mantra for the past six months, ever since central banks realized they had run out of ammunition, it is still remarkable coming from two organizations that had made their names hectoring countries about having too much debt. Yet that is THE approved message of the day, governments should borrow more ‘free’ money and spend it. And it should be no surprise that is the message from the chorus of Fed speakers as well. Alas, in the US, at least, the politics of the situation is far more important to the players than the potential benefits of passing a bill. Don’t look for anything until after the election in my view.
As to the session, I see no reason for the dollar to do much at all. The dollar bears have been chastened and lightened their positions, while the dollar bulls no longer like the entry point. It feels like a choppy day with no direction is on the cards.
Good luck and stay safe