There once was a great city state
That introduced rules and debate
However its heirs
Lead muddled affairs
Thus Roman woes proliferate
Meanwhile from the UK, the news
Gave Johnson’s opponents the blues
In confidence thwarted
The Sterling bears, turning the screws
Italian politics has once again risen to the top of the list of concerns in the Eurozone. This morning, 5-Star leader, Luigi Di Maio, is on the cusp of resigning from the government, thus forcing yet another election later this year. The overriding concern from the rest of Europe is that the man leading the polls, Silvio Matteo, is a right-wing populist and will be quick to clash with the rest of the EU on issues ranging from fiscal spending to immigration policy. In other words, he will not be welcome by the current leading lights as his views, and by extension the views of the millions who vote for him, do not align with the rest of the EU leadership. Of course, there has been steady dissent from that leadership for many months, albeit barely reported on this side of the Atlantic. For example, the gilets jaunes continue to protest every week around the country, as they voice their disagreement with French President Macron’s attempts to change the rules on issues ranging from pensions to taxes to labor regulations. And they have been protesting for more than a year now, although the destructive impact has been greatly reduced from the early days. As well, there are ongoing protests in the Catalonia region of Spain with separatists continuing to try to make their case. The point is that things in Europe are not quite as hunky-dory as the leadership would have you believe.
However, for today, it is Italy and the potential for more dissent regarding how Europe should be managed going forward. The result has been the euro reversing its early 0.25% gains completely, actually trading slightly lower on the day right now. While there is no doubt the recent Eurozone data has been better than expected, it remains pretty awful on an absolute basis. But markets respond to movements at the margin, so absent non-market events, like Italian political ructions, it is fair to expect the euro to benefit on this data. In fact, there is an ongoing evolution in the analyst community as a number of them have begun to change their ECB views, with several implying that the ECB’s next move will be policy tightening, and some major Investment Banks now forecasting 10-year German bunds to trade back up to 0.0% or even higher by the end of the year. We shall see. Certainly, if Madame Lagarde hints at tighter policy tomorrow, the euro will benefit. But remember, the ECB is still all-in on QE, purchasing €20 billion per month, so trying to combine the need to continue QE alongside a discussion of tighter policy seems a pretty big ask. At this point, the euro remains under a great deal of pressure overall, but I do expect this pressure to ebb as the year progresses and see the dollar decline eventually.
As to the UK, the hits there just keep on coming. This morning, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which is essentially the British Chamber of Commerce, reported that both orders and price data improved modestly more than expected, but more importantly their Optimism Index jumped to +23 from last month’s -44, which is actually its highest level since April 2014, well before Brexit was even a gleam in then-PM David Cameron’s eye. Not surprisingly, the pound has rallied further on this positive jolt, jumping 0.5% this morning and is the leading performer against the dollar overall today. It should also be no surprise that the futures market has reduced its pricing for a BOE rate cut next week to a 47% probability, down from 62% yesterday and 70% on Friday. Ultimately, I think that Carney and company would rather not cut if at all possible, given how little room they have with the base rate at 0.75% currently. If we see solid PMI flash data on Friday, I would virtually rule out any chance for a cut next week, and expect to see the pound rally accordingly.
Away from those two stories though, market activity has been far less interesting. The rest of the G10, beyond the pound, is generally within 10bps of yesterday’s closing levels. As to the Emerging markets, the big winner has been ZAR, which has rallied 0.65% after CPI rose to 4.0%, although that remains well below the midpoint of the SARB’s target range of 3.0% – 6.0%. Expectations are for continued policy ease and continue investment inflows to help support the currency. But other than the rand, it has been far less interesting in the FX market.
The ongoing fears over the spread of the coronavirus seem to be abating as China has been aggressively working to arrest the situation, canceling flights out of Wuhan and being remarkably transparent with respect to every new case reported. In fact, equity markets around the world have collectively decided that this issue was a false alarm and we have seen stocks rally pretty much everywhere (Italy excepted) with US futures pointing higher as well.
And that really sums up the day. The ongoing impeachment remains outside of the framework of the market as nobody believes that President Trump will be removed from office. The WEF participants continue to demonstrate their collective ability to pontificate about everything, but do nothing. And so, we need to look ahead to today’s data, and probably more importantly to equity market performance for potential catalysts for movement. Alas, the only US data of note is Existing Home Sales (exp 5.43M), something that rarely moves markets. This leaves us reliant on equity market sentiment to drive the FX market, and with risk definitively on this morning, I expect to see EMG currencies benefit while the dollar suffers mildly.