As PM May turns to ‘Plan B’
The choices are not one, but three
Will Brexit be hard?
Or will she discard
The vote so Bremainers feel glee
The third choice is seek a delay
From Europe so that the UK
Can head to the polls
To sort out their goals
And maybe this time choose to stay
Once again Brexit remains the topic du jour as the ongoing political maelstrom in the UK is both riveting and agonizing at the same time. The latest news is that PM May survived the no-confidence vote. Her next step was to reach out to all opposition parties to try to determine what they wanted to see in Brexit as a prelude to going back to the EU with more
demands requests. But the market has dismissed that idea as a non-starter (which I think is correct) and instead is clearly expecting that the decision will be for the UK to seek an extension of several months so that the UK can organize a second referendum on the question. At that point, the result would be binary, either stay in the EU or accept a hard Brexit. At least, that seems to be the current thinking amongst market participants and pundits. The pound has continued its slow recovery from the December lows as investors and traders start to assume that there will be no Brexit after all, and that the only reason the pound trades at its current levels is because of the prospect of leaving the EU. I cannot handicap how a second referendum would turn out, but it does appear that any result would be extremely close in either direction. Like many of you, I am ready for this saga to end, but I fear we will be hearing about it for another six months. In the meantime, the pound will remain hostage to the latest thoughts on the outcome, with Brexit still resulting in a significant decline, while confidence in Bremain will result in sterling strength.
As an indication of just how remarkable the Brexit story has become, Fed activity has faded from the front pages. We continue to hear from Fed speakers and the consistent message is that the Fed is now in ‘wait-and-see’ mode, with no rate hikes likely in the near future unless economic data indicates that prices are rising sharply. It appears that the Fed is losing faith in its Phillips Curve models, and although there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what should replace them, concerns over runaway inflation based on continued low Unemployment rates are diminishing.
Economic data from around the world continues to moderate, if not outright slow, and while recession remains in the future, it is arguably closer. The upshot is that no central banks are going to consider tightening policy further for quite a while, and the odds favor more policy ease from the big banks instead. As I have consistently written, the FX market remains entirely focused on the Fed without considering the fact that the ECB is in no position to think about raising interest rates later this year and is, in fact, more likely to have to reintroduce QE as the Eurozone economy slows. If the market is beginning to price in rate cuts by the Fed, which it is, then rate cuts by the ECB (or at least QE2) is a given. It is very difficult to see a path where the Fed eases and the ECB doesn’t follow suit, if not lead. This is not a positive outlook for the single currency.
Speaking of easing policy, the PBOC has been at it consistently as growth in China ebbs with no indication they will be reducing these efforts soon. While policy rates remain unchanged, the PBOC has continued to inject excess liquidity into the market there (so far this week they have injected CNY 1.169 Billion) in an effort to bring down short term financing costs for banks. The objective is to help the banks maintain their loan books, especially for those loans that are underperforming. As long as the renminbi remains relatively firm (and although weakening 0.3% overnight remains more than 3.0% from the 7.00 level that is seen as critical in preventing capital outflows), they will be able to continue this easing policy. However, at the point in time that the renminbi begins to weaken (and it will at some point), the PBOC will find its toolkit somewhat more restricted. Remember, despite the fact that so much has occurred in markets and policy circles recently, we are less than three weeks into 2019. There is plenty of time for trader and investor views to change if forecasted activities don’t materialize.
Once again, beyond those three stories, FX remains generally dull. Overall, the dollar is little changed this morning, rising against some currencies (CNY, NZD, RUB, MXN) and falling against others (JPY, EUR, GBP, BRL). The data releases were uninspiring with Eurozone inflation the most noteworthy release but coming in exactly as expected at 1.6% headline and 1.0% core. Those are not inflation rates that quicken the pulse. Yesterday’s Beige Book indicated an increase in uncertainty by a number of businesses but described ongoing decent economic activity. This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 220K) and Philly Fed (10.0), with the latter more likely to be interesting than the former. But for now, FX market attention continues to focus on Brexit first and then the Fed. And today that is not a recipe for excitement! I see little reason, at this point, for the dollar to do much of anything today.