Like Elvis said, it’s now or never
For Boris’s Brexit endeavor
The Irish are chuffed
As Coveney huffed
He’s not, but he thinks he’s so clever
Around 7:00 this morning, PM Boris Johnson will be addressing the Tory party at their annual convention and the key focus will be on his plan to ensure a smooth Brexit. The early details call for customs checks several miles away from the border on both sides with a time limit of about four years to allow for technology to do the job more effectively. However, he maintains that the whole of the UK will be out of the EU and that there will be no special deal for Northern Ireland. His supporters in Northern Ireland, the DUP, appear to have his back. In addition, he is reportedly going to demand that an agreement be reached by October 11 so that it can be agreed in Parliament as well as throughout the EU.
Interestingly, the Irish are still playing tough, at least according to Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who said that the leaked details formed “no basis for an agreement.” Of course, as in everything to do with this process, there are other views in Ireland with Irish PM Varadkar seemingly far more willing to use this as a basis for discussion. His problem is the Fianna Fail party, a key coalition member, is unhappy with the terms. I say this is interesting because in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Ireland’s economy will be the one most severely impacted, with estimates of 4%-5% declines in GDP in 2020.
With respect to the market, it is difficult to untangle the effect of the latest Brexit news from the dreadful economic data that continues to be released. This morning’s UK Construction PMI fell to 43.3, within ticks of the lows seen during the financial crisis in 2009. The pound has suffered, down 0.4% as I type, although it was even softer earlier in the session. The FTSE 100 is also weak, -1.8%, although that is very much in line with the rest of the European equity markets (CAC -1.6%, DAX -1.3%) and is in synch with the sharp declines seen yesterday in the US and overnight in Asia.
Speaking of yesterday’s price action, it was pretty clear what drove activity; the remarkably weak ISM Manufacturing print at 47.8. This was far worse than forecast and the lowest print since June 2009. It seems pretty clear at this point that there is a global manufacturing recession ongoing and the question that remains is, will it be isolated to manufacturing, or will it spill over into the broader economy. Remember, manufacturing in the US represents only about 11.6% of GDP, so if unemployment remains contained and services can hold up, there is no need for the US economy to slip into recession. But it certainly doesn’t help the situation. However, elsewhere in the world, manufacturing represents a much larger piece of the pie (e.g. Germany 21%, China 40%, UK 18%) and so the impact of weak manufacturing is much larger on those economies as a whole.
It is this ongoing uncertainty that keeps weighing on sentiment, if not actually driving investors to sell their holdings. And perhaps of most interest is that despite the sharp equity market declines yesterday, it was not, by any means, a classic risk-off session. I say this because the yen barely budged, the dollar actually fell and Treasuries, while responding to the ISM print at 10:00am by rallying more than half a point (yields -7bps), could find no further support and have not moved overnight. If I had to describe market consensus right now, it would be that everyone is unsure of what is coming next. Will there be positive or negative trade news? Will the impeachment process truly move forward and will it be seen as a threat to the Administration’s plans? Will Brexit be soft, hard or non-existent? As you well know, it is extremely difficult to plan with so many potential pitfalls and so little clarity on how both consumers and markets will react to any of this news. I would contend that in situations like this, owning options make a great deal of sense as a hedge. This is especially so given the relatively low implied volatilities that continue to trade in the market.
Turning to the rest of the session, a big surprise has been the weakness in the Swiss franc, which has fallen 0.6% this morning despite risk concerns. However, the Swiss released CPI data and it was softer than expected at -0.1% (+0.1% Y/Y) which has encouraged traders to look for further policy ease by the SNB, or at least intervention to weaken the currency. But just as the dollar was broadly weaker yesterday, it has largely recouped those losses today vs. its G10 counterparts. Only the yen, which is up a scant 0.15%, has managed to show strength vs. the greenback. In the EMG space, KRW has been the biggest mover, falling 0.55% overnight after North Korea fired another missile into the sea last night, heightening tensions on the peninsula there. Of course, given the negative data (negative CPI and sharply declining exports) there is also a strong case being made for the BOK to ease policy further, thus weakening the won. Beyond that, however, the EMG currency movement has been mixed and modest, with no other currency moving more than 25bps.
This morning after Boris’s speech, all eyes will turn to the ADP employment data (exp 140K) and then we have three more Fed speakers this morning, Barkin, Harker and Williams. Yesterday, we heard from Chicago Fed president Charles Evans, who explained that he felt the economy was still growing nicely and that the two rate cuts so far this year were appropriate. He did not, however, give much of a hint as to whether he thought the Fed needed to do more. Reading what I could of the text, it did not really seem to be the case. My impression is that his ‘dot’ was one of the five looking for one more cut before the September meeting.
And that’s what we have for today. Barring something remarkable from Boris, it appears that if ADP is in line with expectations, the dollar is likely to consolidate this morning’s gains. A strong print will help boost the buck, while a weak print, something on the order of 50K, could well see the dollar cede everything it has gained today and then some.