Asymmetric data and event risk

With the August lull behind us, developed central bank monetary policy has taken centre stage, with the focus in particular on the Fed and Bank of England. Both have signalled that they could deliver a 25bp hike before end-year.

Rates markets have adjusted accordingly and the focus as we enter the last leg of 2017 will be on whether macro data and events support this hawkish turn. Accordingly, I have compiled a comprehensive data and event release calendar for major economies (Figure 1).

Markets now have 17bp of Fed hikes priced in for the remainder of the year versus 7-8bp in early September – in line with my view that pricing was probably too skinny for the liking of a Fed keen to keep its options open while minimising any market fall-out.

Markets are pricing an 80% probability of the BoE hiking its policy rate 25bp to 0.5% at its 2nd November meeting and a further 30bp of hikes for 2018 – a very slow and gradual rate hiking cycle which would mimic the Fed’s tightening in 2015-2016.

The Fed and BoE have cried wolf in the past only to then keep rates on hold. Precedent suggests that a combination of very weak domestic and global macro data and significant Brexit-related setbacks (for the UK) could derail these central banks’ aspirations.

But my twin forecasts of the Fed hiking only twice this year and the BoE only starting to hike in 2018 are clearly at risk. Both central banks have, in my view, set the bar pretty low for a Q4 hike or put differently set the bar quite high to keep rates on hold.

The corollary is that financial markets’ reaction function to forthcoming macro data and events could be asymmetric, with bond yields rising and the Dollar and Sterling strengthening further on the back of good data and/or positive event risk but not reacting as much to weak data and/or negative event shocks.

The Fed confirmed at its policy meeting that it would start as of October reducing its $4.5trn balance sheet. The timeline and timescale, which had been flagged at its June policy meeting, is clearly designed to be slow and gradual in a bid not to spook markets and avoid a repeat of the 2013 tapper-tantrum.

I argued in Paradox of acute uncertainty and strong consensus views (3 January 2017) that “German general elections scheduled for September may well lead to a more divided parliament, making it harder to form a majority coalition government. But it is difficult at this stage to see who will realistically challenge Chancellor Merkel who is striving for a fourth consecutive election victory”. Nine months on and with German federal elections scheduled for Sunday my view has not changed materially.

Read the full article on my website.

UK: Land of Hope & Glory…but mostly Confusion

The lyrics of Genesis’ 1986 hit “Land of Confusion” were penned over 30 years ago, with the English rock band satirising Ronald Reagan’s US presidency (see Figure 1). Specifically, they allude to the confusion fuelled by opportunist politicians in a fast-changing world beset by acute challenges. But, in my view, they portray with uncanny accuracy the UK in 2017 as Prime Minister Theresa May and her government, Parliament and the Bank of England feel their way towards Brexit.

Read the full article on my website.

H2 2017: Something old, something new, something revisited

As we head towards the second half of 2017 and the one-year anniversary of the UK referendum on EU membership, many themes which have pre-occupied financial markets in the past 12 months are likely to continue dominating headlines.

These include Donald Trump’s US presidency and its longevity, merits and scope for tax reforms and infrastructural spending, Brexit negotiations which officially started on 19th June and the resilience of the ongoing recovery in global GDP growth.

Global GDP growth rose modestly in Q1 2017 to around 3.12% year-on-year from 3.06% in Q4 2016 and a multi-year low of 2.8% yoy in Q2 2016, according to my estimates.

But the global manufacturing PMI averaged 52.7 in April-May, down slightly from 52.9 in Q1 2017, suggesting global GDP growth may not have accelerated further in Q2. This could in turn, at the margin, delay or temper policy rate hikes and/or unwinding of QE programs.

Non-Japan Asian currencies have in the past month been even more stable than in the preceding month, in line with my expectations, but a more pronounced policy change – particularly in China – remains a possibility.

Other themes, such as the timing and magnitude of higher policy rates in developed economies and falling international oil prices, have recently come into clearer focus and will likely be of central importance in H2.

For the UK, I am sticking to my view that a 25bp policy rate hike this year is still a low probability event and I see little chance of an August hike.

The uncertainty over the MPC’s interest rate path and the government’s stance on Brexit complicate any forecast of Sterling near and medium-term but I continue to see the risks biased towards further depreciation.

In France, the hype surrounding Emmanuel Macron’s presidential and legislative election victories is already giving way to whether, when and how smoothly the LREM-MoDem rainbow government can push through its reformist agenda.

Finally, while most European elections are now thankfully behind us, European financial markets are likely to attach great importance to the outcome of Germany’s general election on 24th September.

Conversely, the burning topic of rising European nationalism and future of the eurozone/EU has lost traction following recent presidential and/or legislative elections in France, the UK, Netherlands and Austria.

Read my revisit of H2 of 2017 on my website.

UK Election: Clutching defeat from the jaws of victory

With the votes having been counted for 649 of the 650-seats in the House of Commons, the ruling Conservatives have 318 seats, a net loss of 12 seats. Labour, the main opposition party, won 261 (+32).

Even if the Conservatives win the 650th seat, they will at best be 7 seats short of an absolute majority and 5 seats short of a working majority – a hung parliament.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the Conservatives would form an informal alliance with the Northern Irish DUP which won 10 seats. The DUP would support the Conservatives in key votes, likely in exchange for some say on government policy.

Theresa May’s future seems secure for now but medium-term I would expect her position to come under close scrutiny and a party-leadership battle remains a distinct possibility.

Sterling has weakened about 1.5% post election, in line with my and market expectations. The Conservatives’ loss of seats raises serious questions about Theresa May’s leadership, her decision to trigger early elections and the risk of a party leadership battle to oust her.

Moreover, markets will likely remain concerned about the shelf-life of a Conservative-DUP alliance and its ability to push legislation through parliament.

However, I also see scope for Sterling’s downturn to fade and even reverse in due course. To be clear, a V-shaped Sterling recovery would likely remain elusive.

Two key questions pertain to the likelihood of this new Conservative-DUP formal alliance 1) securing an advantageous EU deal and 2) opting for a “hard” or “soft” version of Brexit.

If anything, the past two months have reinforced my view that the government is ill-equipped, ill-prepared and lacking in institutional capacity to negotiate complex deals with the EU and non-EU partners.

The composition of parliament and its take on Brexit leave Theresa May in somewhat of a bind. The government may therefore have little choice but to seek support from some of the 322 opposition MPs who on the whole favour the UK remaining in the EU or at the very least a “soft” version of Brexit.

So while I do not expect a second referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, I do see a possibility of the government toning down its rhetoric and potentially opting for a softer version of Brexit – a development which UK financial markets would welcome in my view.

At the very least, this election has further weakened the idea that nationalist parties in Europe are gaining the upper hand.

Read UK Election: Clutching defeat from the jaws of victory in full.

UK General Election Scenario Analysis – Impact on Policy, Theresa May and Sterling

In less than 24 hours the British electorate will start voting in the election for the 650-seat House of Commons with the result expected early in the morning of Friday 9th June.

While the last general election was only held two years ago, there is arguably as much if not more at stake this time round than in May 2015.

Opinion polls still point to the ruling Conservatives winning a record-high 44% of the national vote ahead of the opposition Labour Party, but polling agencies which in the past have misestimated true voting intentions still display great inconsistency.

Ultimately it is the number of seats which British parties command which matters and the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system makes it difficult to predict.

You Gov’s constituency-specific model forecasts the Conservatives winning only 304 seats as a result of a record number of “wasted” votes, a 26-seat loss and well short of both a working and absolute majority. Labour would increase its seat numbers from 229 to 266.

This would result in a hung parliament and either a coalition or minority government.

My own model points to the Conservatives winning around 360 seats (55.4% of total) and Labour 212 seats. Admittedly, this prediction is based on a number of assumptions, namely the net share of votes which Conservatives gain from other parties as well as voter turnout.

Whether the Conservatives significantly improve on their current 330 seats or fail to secure a parliamentary majority remains a tough call and there is an almost infinite number of possible outcomes.

However, I have narrowed down in Figure 10 the number of seats the Conservatives could win to eight possible scenarios, in each case assessing i) Their probability; ii) Their numerical impact on the Conservatives’ majority (or lack thereof); and iii) The risk of opposition parties and/or Conservative backbenchers high-jacking the policy agenda.

Figure 11 assesses for each of the eight scenarios their likely impact on iv) Theresa May’s standing within the Conservative Party and v) Sterling and currency volatility.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, two events beyond British shores also scheduled for 8th June – the ECB’s policy meeting and Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee – will conceivably exacerbate Sterling volatility.

Read ‘UK General Election Scenario Analysis – Impact on Policy, Theresa May and Sterling‘ on my website.

UK Election Special – When Two Tribes Go To War

British voters will on Thursday 8th June vote on the composition of the 650-seat House of Commons – the third major popular vote in two years – after Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision back in April to trigger early general elections.

Theresa May’s motivations were arguably four-fold: (1) Win a popular rather than party mandate, (2) Capitalise on the massive lead in the polls the ruling Conservatives enjoyed over the opposition Labour Party and thus allow her to push through her own agenda, including a possibly softer form of Brexit, (3) Allow the government more time to secure a new EU trade deal, and (4) Strengthen the government’s stance in negotiations with the EU.

Objectives (1) and (3) will likely be met but objectives (2) and (4) may prove more elusive.

Opinion polls point to a trend-fall in popular support for the Conservatives to around 44% and sharp rise for Labour to 35%, with the gap between the two main parties halving to about 9pp from 20pp six weeks ago. Aggregate support for the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, SNP and Green Party is flat-lining around 18%.

However, there is still great discrepancy amongst polling agencies which in the past have misestimated true voting intentions. Moreover the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system makes it difficult to translate share of votes into seats numbers. Whether the Conservatives significantly improve on their current 330 seats or fail to secure a parliamentary majority, as You Gov currently predicts, is a tough call.

Nevertheless, a number of important themes have emerged in recent months.

First, the slingshot campaign has exposed the frailty and flaws of the Conservative machine, including of its leader and manifesto, and reinforced my view, first set out in December, that the government is ill-equipped, ill-prepared and lacking in institutional capacity to negotiate complex deals with the EU and non-EU partners.

Second, it is a two-horse race between the ruling Conservatives and Labour, with the other parties on course to secure only a modest number of seats – a break with recent elections.

Finally, the political centre of gravity has shifted to the left, with in particular tax rates likely to rise regardless of which party wins next week’s election.

My core scenario is a hollow victory for the Conservatives: 360-370 seats with a low voter turnout. This would reduce the risk of opposition parties and rebel Conservative MPs torpedoing government legislation but would fall short of the landslide victory which Conservatives thought possible back in April.

Finally, a modest (or even significant) increase in the Conservative’s parliamentary majority is unlikely to materially improve the government’s hand when negotiating with the EU.

Read UK Election Special – When Two Tribes Go To War in full on my website.

Asian currencies keeping their head in a world losing its own

Financial markets have had much to digest in recent weeks and the calendar for the remainder of May and June is anything but light, with the Fed and ECB holding key policy meetings and legislative elections in both the UK and France.

Nevertheless, most major currencies have either been flat or appreciated against a slowly weakening Dollar in the past month, with only the high yielding Brazilian Real, Russian Rouble and Indian Rupee (INR) and Australian Dollar weakening by 0.5% or more.

Conversely, European currencies have outperformed, with in particular the Euro Nominal Effective Exchange Rate (NEER) up about 3.4% since mid-April – in line with my constructive near-term euro outlook.

Non-Japan Asian (NJA) NEERs have seen only very modest moves in the past month. Bar the Malaysian Ringgit NEER which is up about 1.1% and the INR NEER which is down about 1.7%, NJA NEERs have appreciated or depreciated by less than 1%.

The question is whether this relative calm in NJA currency markets is likely to become more entrenched or whether FX flows and/or central bank policy are likely to fuel greater volatility or see some currencies adopting a clearer direction.

As a starting point, I would again note that the pace of depreciation and appreciation in most NJA currencies tends to be confined to reasonably narrow ranges.

While this is partly a by-product of seasonal patterns in current account balances and the ebbs and flows in capital migrations, it also arguably reflects central banks’ desire and scope to control their currencies.

At this juncture I would conclude that few central banks – including the MAS and PBoC – face overwhelming economic reasons to markedly alter the paths of their currencies via the bias of FX intervention and/or interest rate policy.

There is however perhaps a case for Bank Negara Malaysia to favour a weaker or at least stable Ringgit NEER which has appreciated about 2.7% since mid-April.

2017 French elections – They think it’s all over…it isn’t

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist founder of the En Marche! movement beat National Front candidate Marine Le Pen by two votes to one in the second and final round of the French presidential elections on 7th May, in line with my core scenario.

But for President-elect Macron (and arguably the other main party leaders), the hard work starts now. Macron is expected to appoint next week his Prime Minister and there has been much speculation.

I would expect Macron to pick a head of government and approve cabinet ministers who will not polarise political opinion. The appointment of a “rainbow government” would likely help his party – recently renamed “La République En Marche” – secure the largest number of deputies at the forthcoming legislative elections on 11th and 18th June.

If his party succeeds as opinion polls suggest – no mean feat for a party which is only a year old and currently has no parliamentary deputies – this would in turn help reinforce Macron’s position and his choice of Prime Minister.

However, polls suggest that La République En Marche may fail to secure a majority of the 577 seats in the National Assembly.

If the party falls well short of that number, it would likely seek a loose coalition with either the Republican Party or less likely with the beleaguered Socialist Party, in my view.

The National Front is likely to cement its position in French politics but it will need to reform itself and I would expect personnel changes and policy tweaks.

Marine Le Pen fell well short of securing the presidency and this should have come as no great surprise as nationalist parties in other EU member states have also come up short.

This is in line with my view that while nationalist/populist parties may have greater influence on the political landscape they will in most cases fail to exercise true power, let alone dismantle the eurozone and/or EU.

Finally, opinion polls which predicted with great accuracy the second and in particular first round of the presidential elections, are back in favour – at least in France.

Read 2017 French elections – They think it’s all over…it isn’t in full on my website.

7 reasons why Macron will become President and market implications

The outcome of the first round of the presidential elections which see Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen through to the second round – as per opinion polls –  and the positive market reaction are in line with my core scenario and expectations.

I am also sticking to my forecast that Macron, who is leading Le Pen by 22 percentage points in the polls, will win the 7thMay run-off to become President, which would in turn likely lead to a further albeit modest rally in the euro.

French opinion polls, which have historically been accurate in “predicting” the outcome of the first and second round of presidential elections, have Macron comfortably winning the second round.

Macron has broad cross-party political support, Le Pen does not.

Presidential candidates with a small number of elected-official sponsors, such as Le Pen, have never become president.

Macron has a reasonably high “positive ranking” in popular polls, Le Pen does not.

Le Pen seemingly does not yet enjoy broad political appeal even if she will likely perform better than her father did in the 2002 presidential elections.

The National Front won 27.4% of the popular vote in the second round of the 2015 French regional elections but only 18.7% of the seats as a result of mainstream parties coalescing against the National Front.

Elections in the Netherlands and Austria suggest that voters are not yet ready to elect far-right parties to the highest echelons of power.

Read the full article on my website.

French politics, UK macro data and possible GBP/EUR downside

The GBP/EUR cross is at year-highs but continues to struggle to breach the 1.20 mark, as it did on a number of occasions in the second half of 2016. Sterling has been buoyed by British Prime Minister Theresa May’s call for early general elections on 8th June while the euro remains in reasonably narrow trading ranges as we head into Sunday’s French presidential election first round.

With four presidential candidates polling between 18.5% and 23.5%, it is still a close call (see Figure 1). But I am sticking to my core scenario that independent centre-left candidate Emmanuel Macron will fill one of the top two spots to make it to the 7th May run-off, which I my view would be welcomed by French financial markets and the euro even if markets remain jittery over the next fortnight (see The Ultimate Guide to the 2017 French Elections, Part IV, 13 April 2017).

At the same time, the ever-changing political scene in the UK can do little near-term to avert the headwinds to GDP growth stemming from falling real wages and retail sales. With this in mind, I see the risk to GBP/EUR biased to the downside in coming weeks, particularly if both Macron and Republican candidate François Fillon earn their place in the second round.

Read the full article here.