Brexit: More questions than answers

The UK, the world and financial markets have now had five days to digest the British electorate’s vote to leave the EU and its impact on UK and global asset prices.

So far Sterling and Japanese and European equity markets have borne the brunt of the initial shock, while the FTSE is down only 3.3% since Thursday and most major and emerging market currencies have been reasonably well behaved (see Figure 1).

But there are still far many more questions than answers and the situation remains extremely fluid.

For starters there is no precedent for a country leaving the EU and thus no clear-cut rulebook to rely on. The government has limited institutional capacity to start negotiations with the UK’s 27 EU partners until Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered and no timeline has been provided for when this will happen (assuming it is triggered at all).

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the mammoth task ahead, the Leave campaign leaders have been very short on specifics regarding the mechanics and timing of the UK’s exit from the EU, the likely shape of future trade treaties and national policies such as immigration. Prime Minister Cameron’s de-facto resignation and wholesale changes in personnel in the opposition Labour Party are adding to the head-scratching.

Moreover, it is not one country seeking to leave the EU, but a union of four countries – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – which further complicates matters as both Scotland and Northern Ireland seem intent on remaining part of the EU and potentially breaking free from the UK.

At this point in time, all we can do is take stock of what we know (or at least we think we know) and what we don’t know (but can tentatively try to forecast).

I would conclude, as I did in Europe – the Final Countdown (21 June 2016), that the many layers of political, legal, economic and financial uncertainty are likely to keep UK investment, consumption and employment, as well as Sterling on the back-foot for months to come. Financial market volatility is also likely to remain elevated in coming weeks.

In this context the US Federal Reserve is likely to keep rates on hold in coming months and the European Central Bank can probably afford to do little for the time being. The Bank of England is likely to seriously contemplate cutting its policy rate while the Bank of Japan will be under renewed pressure to curb soaring Yen strength.

Of course, British policy-makers and business associations have come out and said the right things in order to limit the carnage and contagion. But they have far more limited room to reflate the economy and fade gyrations in financial markets than they did during the 2008-2009 great financial crisis. They are not in control at this juncture and it is not obvious who is.

Read my full article where I look at the potential consequences of Brexit.