Sans Reason or Rhyme

In England, the Minister Prime
Is serving, now, on borrowed time
No confidence reigns
As Brexit remains
The issue sans reason or rhyme

The biggest headline early this morning was the collection of a sufficient number of letters of no-confidence in PM May to force a vote in Parliament on the issue. Thus, later today, that vote will be held as the UK holds its breath. If she wins, it will likely strengthen her standing there, and potentially help her push through the Brexit deal that is currently on the table, despite its many flaws. If she loses, a leadership contest will begin and though she will remain PM, it will be only in an acting capacity without any power to move the agenda forward. One potential consequence of the latter outcome is that the probability of the UK leaving the EU with no deal will grow substantially.

With that in mind, the two best indicators of the likely outcome of the vote are the bookie market in the UK and the price of the pound. According to Ladbrokes, one of the largest betting shops in the UK, she is a 2:7 favorite to win the vote after starring at even money. In the FX market, the pound, after having fallen below 1.25 yesterday afternoon has rebounded by 0.4% thus far this morning. In other words, market sentiment is in her favor. Of course, if you recall, market sentiment was clearly of the opinion that Brexit would never occur, or that President Trump would never be president, so these measures are hardly perfect. At any rate, the vote is due to be completed by 3:00pm in NY, and results released shortly thereafter, so we won’t have long to wait. If she wins, look for the pound to continue this morning’s rally, with another 1% well within reason. However, a May victory in no way guaranties that the Brexit deal gets through Parliament. If she loses the vote, however, I expect that the pound will sell off pretty sharply, and that 1.20 could well be in the cards before the end of the year. It will be seen as a decided negative.

Away from the UK, the other big market news is the renewed enthusiasm over prospects for a US-China trade deal being achieved. Equity markets continue to rally on the back of a single phone call between the two nations that ostensibly discussed China purchasing more US soybeans and cutting tariffs on US made cars from 40% to 15%. While both of those are obviously good outcomes, neither addresses the issues of IP theft and Chinese subsidies to SOE’s. It feels a little premature to be celebrating an end to the trade conflict after the first phone call, but nobody ever claimed markets were rational. (Or perhaps they did, Professor Fama, and were just mistaken!) At any rate, after a volatile session yesterday, equities in Asia and Europe have all rallied on the trade news and US futures are pointing higher as well.

Meanwhile, the litany of other global concerns continues to exist. For example, there has been no resolution of the Italian budget issue, which has become even more fraught now that French President Macron has decided to expand the deficit in France in order to try to buy off the gilets jaunes protesters. This begs the question as to why it is acceptable for the French to break the budget guidelines, but not for the Italians to do so. Methinks there is plenty more drama left in this particular issue, and likely not to the euro’s benefit. However, the broad risk-on sentiment generated by the trade discussion has lifted the euro by 0.2% this morning, although it remains much closer to recent lows than highs. It would be hard to describe the market as having enthusiasm over the euro’s near-term prospects. And don’t forget that tomorrow the ECB will meet and ostensibly end QE. There is much discussion about how this will play out and what they will do going forward, but we will cover that tomorrow.

In India, the new RBI governor is a long-time Treasury bureaucrat, Shaktikanta Das, which calls into question the independence of that institution going forward. After all, the reason that the former head, Urjit Patel, quit was because he was coming under significant government pressure to act in a manner he thought unwise for the nation, but beneficial to the government’s electoral prospects. It is hardly comforting that a long time government minister is now in the seat. That said, the rupee continued yesterday’s modest rally and is higher by a further 0.4% this morning.

And those are really the big FX market stories for the day. Overall, the dollar’s performance today could be characterized as mixed. While modestly weaker vs. the euro and pound, it is stronger vs. NZD and SEK, with the latter down by 0.7%. As to the rest of the G10, they are little changed. In the EMG space, the dollar is modestly softer vs. LATAM names, but vs. APAC, aside from INR, it has shown modest strength. In other words, there is little uniform direction evident today as I believe traders are awaiting the big news events. So the UK vote and the ECB tomorrow are set to have more significant impacts.

On the data front, this morning brings CPI (exp 2.2% for headline and core), where a miss in either direction could have a market impact. At this time, Fed funds futures are pricing a ~78% chance that the Fed raises rates 25bps next week, but there is less than one rate hike priced in for 2019. My take continues to be that the market is overestimating the amount of tightening we will see from the ECB going forward, and as that becomes clearer, the euro will start its next leg lower. But for the rest of the day, I expect limited movement at least until the UK vote results are announced this afternoon.

Good luck
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Toadies Galore

There once was a time in the past
When jobs like PM were a blast
With toadies galore
And laws you’d ignore
While scheming, all foes, to outlast

But these days when leading a nation
The role has outgrown bloviation
Consider Ms. May
Who just yesterday
Was subject to near ruination

Well, Brexit managed to not be the headline story for the several days between the time the current deal was tentatively agreed with the rest of the EU and the scheduled vote by the House of Commons to approve said deal. During that period, PM May made the rounds to try to sell her deal to the people of the UK. Alas, apparently she’s not a very good saleswoman. Under extreme duress, yesterday she indefinitely delayed the vote that was originally to be held this evening. Amid jeering from the floor of the House of Commons, she tried to make her case, but was singularly unable to do so. As has been the problem all along, the Irish border issue remains intractable with the opposing goals of separating the two nations legally and, more importantly, for customs purposes, while not installing a border between the two. As it currently stands, I will argue there is no compromise solution that is viable. One side is going to have to accept the other side’s demands and frankly, that doesn’t seem very likely. The upshot is that the market has once again begun to assume a no-deal Brexit with all the hyperbolic consequences that entails. And the pound? It was not a happy day if you were long as it fell 2% at its worst point, although only closed down by about 1.5%. This morning, it has regained a further 0.4%, but remains near its weakest levels since April 2017. Unless you believe in miracles (and in fairness there is no better time to do so than this time of year), my strong belief is the UK is going to exit the EU with nothing in place. The pound has further to fall, so hedgers beware.

Let’s pivot to the euro for a moment and discuss all the benefits of the single currency. First, there is the prospect of its third largest trading partner, the UK, leaving the fold and suddenly imposing tariffs on those exports. Next we have France literally on fire, as the gilets jaunes continue to run riot throughout the country while protesting President Macron’s mooted fuel tax increase. In the end, that seems to have been pulled and now he is offering tax cuts! Fiscal probity has been tossed aside in the name of political expediency. Thirdly, we have the ongoing Italian opera over the budget. The antiestablishment coalition government remains adamant that it is going to inject fiscal stimulus to the country, which is slipping into recession as we speak, but the EU powers-that-be are chuffed by the fact that the Italian budget doesn’t meet their criteria. In fact, those same powers continue down the road of seeking to impose fines on Italy for the audacity of trying to manage their own country. (Will someone please explain to me why when the French make outlandish promises that will expand their budget deficit, the EU remains mum, but when the Italians do so, it is an international crisis?)

At the same time as all of this is ongoing, the ECB is bound and determined to end QE this month and keeps talking about starting to normalize interest rates next autumn. Whistling past the graveyard anyone? When three of the four biggest nations in the EU are under significant duress, it seems impossible to consider that owning the euro is the best position. While it is clear that the situation in the US is not nearly as robust as had been believed just a month ago, and the Fed seems to be responding to that by softening their tone; at some point, the ECB is going to recognize that things in the Eurozone are also much worse, and that talk of tightening policy is going to fade from the scene. Rather, the discussion will be how large to make the new TLTRO loan program and what else can the ECB do to help support the economy since cutting rates seems out of the question given the starting point. None of that is priced into the market right now, and so as that unfolds, the euro will fall. However, in today’s session, the euro has recouped about half its losses from yesterday, rebounding by 0.4% after a more than 0.8% decline Monday. As much as there is a building discussion over the impending collapse of the dollar, it continues to seem to me that there are much bigger problems elsewhere in the world, which will help the dollar retain its haven status.

Away from those two stories, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Reserve Bank of India’s widely respected governor, Urjit Patel, resigned suddenly Monday evening leading to a 1.5% decline in the rupee and a sharp fall in Indian equity markets Tuesday. But then, results from recent local elections seemed to shift toward the ruling BJP, instilling a bit more confidence that PM Modi will be able to be reelected next year. Given the perception of his market/business friendliness, that change precipitated a sharp reversal in markets with the rupee actually rallying 0.9% and Indian equity markets closing higher by 0.6%.

In fact, despite my warnings above, the dollar is under pressure across the board this morning while global equity markets are looking up. It seems there was a call between the US and China restarting the trade negotiation process, which was taken by investors as a sign that all would be well going forward. And while that is certainly encouraging, it seems a leap to believe a solution is at hand. However, there is no question the market is responding to that news as equity markets in Europe are all higher by between 1.0% and 2.0%, US equity futures are pointing to a 1% gain on the open, government bonds are softer across the board and the dollar is down. Even commodities are playing nice today with most rallying between 0.5%-1.0%. So everyone, RISK IS ON!!

Turning to the data story, first let me say that the euro has been helped by a better than expected German ZEW Index (-17.5 vs. exp -25), while the pound has benefitted from a modestly better than expected employment report, with Average earnings rising 3.3% and the Employment Change jumping 79K. At the same time, the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index was just released at a worse than expected 104.8, indicating that the peak may well be behind us in the US economy. At 8:30 we see PPI data (exp 2.5%, 2.6% core) however, that tends not to be a significant market mover. Rather, today is shaping up as a risk-on day and unless there is a change in the tone of the trade talks, there is no reason to believe that will change. Accordingly, for hedgers, take advantage of the pop in currencies as the big picture continues to point toward eventual further dollar strength.

Good luck
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