The US Government Shutdown is Over, Now What?
Late last week, US President Donald Trump announced from the White House that he would back a stopgap funding bill that would reopen the federal government in full. This would mark the end of a record-breaking (35-day) partial shutdown of the US government. Normally, that would be reason for a swell in market enthusiasm. An onerous pressure on the US economy – a 0.13 percentage point reduction in GDP – suddenly lifted would typically manifest in a sense of significant relief in both fundamental concern and speculative recovery. However, the markets were not set deep in discount when this news crossed the wires. The Dow and S&P 500 were already four weeks deep into a recovery effort that has already crossed the mid-point of the painful October-December tumble. In other words, there was no deep discount for speculators to readily take advantage of for a quick speculative rebound. And so, we are left to evaluate the outlook from a more-or-less ‘neutral’ backdrop.
Removing the burden of an open-ended and tangibly detrimental threat, is not in itself a positive development. It simply removes an active affliction. When such a shift charges markets, it is a sign more of the general conditions whereby speculators are looking for any reason to reach further. Given that US indices – a proxy for risk trends – are still on pace for the best month’s performance in years, we may still see a delayed response to the breakthrough next week. However, if we do not, the lack of enthusiasm will start to draw a certain level of concern. From the shutdown itself, we are only earning a temporary break. According to Trump’s statement, the agreement is to temporary funding for the next three weeks. He has said that if there is not funding for a border wall by that time, the shutdown will return and/or he will use emergency powers afforded to the executive branch to secure funding. That alone is a delay of concerns, not an resolution. Furthermore, there will be permanent hold over from five weeks of partial closure for the US federal government in the form of sentiment. In the period since the closure began, we have seen a marked drop in sentiment surveys from businesses to consumers to investors.
That is not just a reflection of this particular situation, but an environment souring doesn’t exactly improve circumstances moving forward. According to the calculations from the White House’s own economic council, this period has resulted in nearly two-third a percentage point loss in GDP. That is significant. Even more significant is the carryover effect of a market that is concerned that similar self-destructive policy breakdowns will happen again in the future. What if external risks touch off an economic slump, how will this inability to act quickly with accommodation impact the system? As the US debt load continues to rise to record levels, how will the threat to growth and tax revenue impact the United States’ credit rating? Even if this US government rift has been permanently closed – it hasn’t – be careful of reverting to a state of comfort that markets really can’t continue to live up to?
A Rising Pound and Another Critical Brexit Vote
We are heading into another important event in the ever-winding road towards the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. A little over a week ago, Prime Minister Theresa May put her Brexit proposal up for vote in Parliament only to meet the worst rejection for a PM in British history. It is unlikely that she pushed forward without knowing that should would at least be met with defeat – and it is likely that she knew it would be a remarkable one. That suggests there was a plan involved – perhaps using the outcome to pressure her EU counterparts to offer further accommodation to appease a divided Parliament and finally find a way to create an amicable break. However, after three Commons’ sessions, the Plan B May was forced to submit for review seemed to draw the same general skepticism. The debate period will end Tuesday with a vote and the sentiment surrounding the scheme seems as if it is heading for another explicit defeat. Such an outcome would leave the UK in the same economic and financial straits it has traversed over the past months – yet this time, the sense that time is quickly depleting will be unmistakable.
If there is no agreement to be found on Tuesday, it will be 59 days until the Article 50 period closes and the country leaves the Union. It is possible that May request an extension on the deal period – and a number of European officials have voiced willingness to grant additional time out to July – but May has repeatedly rejected the notion. If Parliament continues to maneuver in line with its previous efforts, the red lines may start to shift next week. Parliament may attempt to take greater control over the course this ship is sailing, but their inability to come to consensus has thus far been the most difficult roadblock. In the meantime, May and her colleagues have no doubt scrambled to secure some rung that can finally lift the situation out of its mire. Knowing that there is an active strategy being executed, it would be risky to speculate on a hard, binary outcome from this situation.
Nevertheless, the Pound has climbed remarkably over the past few weeks. For GBPUSD, the climb carried the benchmark pair above an eight-month trendline resistance and then the 200-day moving average. That is genuine progress, not the course of measured oscillations in normal markets. It is remarkable to see such explicit risk taking with a key event risk ahead (and leaning more readily towards disappointment). Is this perhaps a reflection of growing confidence in either a soft Brexit or second referendum or perhaps just a drop in probability for a ‘no deal’. The Sterling has certainly found itself at a discount over the past few years, and the chances that a bid for more time or a warnings towards more flexible conditions is a higher probability. Yet, that should not prompt traders to grow cavalier over their risk taking.
The Three Top Standard Events This Week: FOMC Decision; Eurozone GDP; NFPs
If you were tired of abstract systemic issues and looking for more targeted market volatility events, the coming week should pique your attention. There are high profile, discrete (date and time determined) events due throughout the week. Though, before we dig into them, it is important to realize that the capacity of these data or speeches to prompt greater volatility and/or extend a run is founded in their connection to deeper, unresolved issues. It is therefore our present circumstance – with a market that teeters between a seemingly unrelenting sense of complacency and unmistakable slump in speculative assets across the world – that will dictate the amplitude that these events meet. For sheer number of events on tap, the US docket carries the greatest weight. Top event in my book is the FOMC rate decision. This is not one of the ‘quarterly’ events for which the central bank has consistently held off for in order to hike rates. However, we no longer seem to be moving at that steady clip.
With external and internal risks rising, market’s expectations for hikes through 2019 have tumbled since October. What makes this meeting more interesting is an expected press conference from Fed Chair Powell. Given the sharp increase in debate over the next move (one or two hikes or whether we have a hike at all), this event could charge a more aggressive speculative environment. If it were not for the US government shutdown, the 4Q US GDP update could serve as a crucial update to growing dispute over the course of the world’s largest economy. It is not completely clear, but it is very unlikely that the BEA will have enough time to release this week on schedule. To perhaps compensate for that more comprehensive report, the Conference Board’s consumer sentiment survey and Friday’s NFPs will touch upon some of the crucial aspect of the US economy – employment, wages, consumer spending intent, etc. Over the past few weeks, it has also grown more apparent that the Greenback has been less responsible for its own speculative bearing. That puts responsibility for key pairs like EURUSD in the hands of active and liquid counterparts.
The Euro will hit upon a number of its own key updates. ECB President Draghi will testify before the EU Parliament which may give us more insight into the central bank’s intent than what they officially announced at the recent rate decision. Top data will be a smattering of GDP releases, the most important of which are the Eurozone (the aggregate) and the Italian (the current firebrand) 4Q figures. Beyond that, we have a range of important data that can course correct rate expectations and growth like inflation, employment and sentiment data. For the next two liquid currencies amongst the majors, the Pound’s data will be overridden by Brexit while the Japanese Yen’s attention will be redirected to risk trends. Australian 4Q CPI, Canadian monthly GDP and Mexico’s 4Q GDP are a few other volatility-potential notables.