For Boris, and all Brexiteers
They can’t wait for this, Eve, New Year’s
Alas, as of yet
There is still a threat
That no deal might bring both sides tears
Investors, however, seem sure
The UK, a deal, will secure
That’s why Britain’s pound
Is robustly sound
Let’s hope that view’s not premature
EU official sees UK trade deal “imminent” barring last-minute glitch
This Reuters News headline from this morning, aside from being inane, is a perfect example of the market narrative in action. The broad view is that a deal will be reached, despite the fact that deadline after deadline has been missed during these negotiations. The pound has rallied nearly 10% since the only deadline of consequence on June 30. That was the date on which both sides would have been able to extend the current negotiations. However, no extension was sought by the UK and none granted, so we are heading into the last four weeks of the year with nothing concrete completed. And yet, markets on the whole continue to trade under the assumption a deal will be reached and there will be no meaningful disruption to either the UK or EU economy on January 1st.
And that is the point of the headline. It is essentially telling us a deal is a given, and both sides are now just playing to their domestic constituencies to show how hard they are working to achieve a ‘good’ deal. In fact, once again today, the French held out the possibility that they would veto a deal as French European Affairs Minister, Clement Beaune, told us, “If there is a deal which is not good, then we would oppose it. We always said so.” This comment appears to be just another part of the ongoing theater. A senior UK official, meanwhile, claimed talks had regressed because of a change in the EU’s position regarding the fishing issue.
But let’s go back to the pound. A 10% rally in five months is a pretty impressive outcome. Can this movement be entirely attributed to Brexit beliefs? At this stage, I think not. Consider, that during that same period, both SEK and NOK have rallied nearly 11%. And even the laggard of the G10, JPY, has rallied 3.5% in the second half of the year. The point is that perhaps the market has not priced in as high a probability of a successful outcome as many, including me, had thought likely. After all, if the other nine G10 currencies have rallied an average of 8.0% in a given time frame, at the margin, the additional 1.6% that cable has rallied does not seem that impressive after all.
What are the potential ramifications of this line of thinking? Well, assuming that a deal is actually reached on time, and I believe that is the most likely outcome, it seems possible that the pound has considerably more upside than the rest of the G10. Looking back to the original referendum in the summer of 2016, the pound touched 1.50 the night of the vote, before it became clear that Brexit was going to be the outcome. Since then, in Q1 2018, the pound traded above 1.40, but that too, was simply a reflection of the times as the euro was trading above 1.25. In other words, the Brexit impact on the pound, other than in the immediate aftermath of the vote, seems to have been remarkably modest. Certainly, month-to-month movement has been in lockstep with all the other G10 currencies, and it is only the level of the pound, which adjusted back in June 2016, which is different. The implication is that the announcement of a successful deal is likely to see the pound outperform higher. This is opposite my previous views but appears to account for the historical price action more effectively. Remember, within two days of the Brexit vote, the pound fell 11%. While a deal seems unlikely to recoup that entire amount, perhaps half of that is available, which from current levels means that a move above 1.40 is viable without a corresponding rise in the euro. At that point, the pound will revert to being just another G10 currency, with price movement locked into the dollar narrative, not the Brexit narrative. Food for thought.
As to today’s session, it is payrolls day with the following expectations according to Bloomberg:
|Average Hourly Earnings||0.1% (4.2% Y/Y)|
|Average Weekly Hours||34.8|
The question, of course, is has this data yet returned to its prior place of importance in investors’ minds. And arguably, the answer is no. There continues to be a strong market narrative that the current data is unimportant because everyone knows that the ongoing lockdowns are going to make things look worse. This is true all over the world (except, perhaps, China). But given the near universal central bank promises of low rates
forever for the foreseeable future, investors continue to add risk to their portfolios with abandon. In order to change that mindset, I believe we would need to see a number so shocking, something like -1000K, that it could indicate the impact of Covid might not be temporary. But barring that, my sense is the payroll number has lost its luster.
It will be interesting to see if that luster returns in the post-Covid environment, or perhaps some other statistic will embody the zeitgeist in the future. Remember, NFP has not always been that important. When Paul Volcker was Fed Chair, M2 money supply was the only number that mattered. Once Alan Greenspan took over, it was the trade data that drove markets. Perhaps inflation will be deemed “THE” number going forward, especially in the event that MMT becomes the norm.
Ahead of the data, a tour of markets shows that risk appetite is positive, if modest. European equity markets are generally firmer (CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.8%) although the DAX just gave up its earlier gains and is now lower by 0.2%. Overnight, things were also fairly dull as the Nikkei (-0.2%) slipped modestly while both the Hang Seng (+0.4%) and Shanghai (+0.1%) edged higher. In fact, the best performer overnight was South Korea with the KOSPI (+1.3%) rallying on continued strong data and KRW (+1.35%) rallying on the back of inflows to the KOSPI as well as market technicals. Meanwhile, US futures are higher by roughly 0.3% at this hour.
The bond market has slipped a bit with yields rising by 2bps in Treasuries, but European govvies, which had been softer (higher yields) earlier in the session, have found support with yields now edging lower by about 0.5bps. It seems a Bloomberg story released a short time ago indicated that the ECB is likely to extend their PEPP by a full year, not the 6 months mooted by most analysts.
As to the dollar, it is actually mixed in the G10, but movement has been modest in both directions. So, CHF (+0.25%) and GBP (+0.2%) are leading the way, but realistically don’t tell us much given how insignificant the moves have been. On the downside, NZD (-0.4%) and AUD (-0.2%) are lagging, but neither has released data of note. Essentially, this all seems like position adjustments.
Emerging markets, however, have seen a bit more demand with the commodity bloc supported after OPEC+ reached a compromise and helped oil prices back above $46/bbl. This is the highest they have been since before the Covid panic, so it is quite important from a market technical perspective. In the meantime, RUB (+0.55%) and MXN (+0.5%) are leading the way (after KRW of course) with most others in this space higher by much lesser amounts.
And that’s where we stand heading into payrolls and then the weekend. Nothing has changed the dollar weakening narrative, and the pound remains the true wildcard. Despite my change of heart regarding the pound’s upside, that does not change my view that if the negotiations fall apart and no Brexit deal is reached, the pound can decline 5%-7%. Arguably, we are looking at some symmetry there. In any event, a case for a larger move in the pound is very viable, one way or the other.
Good luck, good weekend and stay safe