Jump to content


DFX Market Analyst
  • Content Count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

Community Reputation

23 Excellent

1 Follower

About JohnDFX

  • Rank
    Occasional Contributor

Recent Profile Visitors

The recent visitors block is disabled and is not being shown to other users.

  1. Don’t Forget Trade Wars Aren’t Isolated to US-China Trade wars remain my greatest concern for the health of the global markets and economy. There have been threats in the past where a localized fundamental virus has turned contagious to the rest of the world by unforeseen circumstances – such as the Great Financial Crisis whereby a US subprime housing derivative implosion infected the wider financial markets by destabilized a foundation built on excess leverage throughout the system. When it comes to trade wars though, there is no need to connect the dots. The systemic implications are apparent. The world’s two largest economies (and markets) are engaged in an escalating ****-for-tat economic conflict. There is little chance that the fallout from such a profound distress would be contained to these two contestants. The United States is the world’s largest consumer of finished goods and China is the principal buyer of the commodities. Whether appetite is trimmed owing to trade policy or stunted economic growth, its smaller trade partners would feel the pain. Yet another organization that is warning over the risks these two are charging was the United Nations whose trade group said further planned escalations could severely impact GDP (it estimated ease Asian economies could drop by $160 billion), trigger currency wars and generally promote contagion. That said, the headlines this past week should raise serious concern among traders. Reports (and remarks) signal the White House does not expect a deal to be struck between the two countries by the end of the 90-day pause on the planned tariff hike. What’s more, sources say President Trump is not going to extend that date and intends to increase the tariff rate on the $200 billion in Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent on March 2nd. That is a severe escalation and one that Chinese officials will not likely take in stride. As tensions rise, there is movement in Congress to curb the White House’s powers to pursue this economic war through its utilization of Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 – this at the same time Trump is attempting to leverage more control. As this effort progresses, it is important to remember that this is not playing out on a single front. Where it seemed that the United States’ pressure on Mexico and Canada via the NAFTA agreement was resolved by the creation of the USMCA, Congress is now signaling that it may reject the effort if material changes are not made. What’s more, we may see the pressure expand yet further. The loose threats by Trump to place tariffs on auto imports have been made multiple times over the past year. A deadline is finally in sight of this threat to potentially gain serious traction. Next Sunday, the Commerce Department is due to give its recommendations following its evaluation of auto imports. Given Secretary Ross’s disposition, it is likely to be a charged report. If the US were to implement tariffs on imported automobiles, the economic and diplomatic impact would be far more significant than what we have seen between the United States and China thus far. Global economic stagnation would follow soon in such a development’s wake. Paying More Attention to Rates as Outlook Weakens Monetary policy as a financial theme never truly lost any of its influence over the global markets these past years. However, investors’ attention has waned on this critical pillar of speculative reach as appetite for yield has solidified complacency. Yet, conditions are beginning to change with economic activity slowing and volatility in the capital markets picking up. That in turn draws attention back to the backstop that so many have based their convictions – whether they realized it or not. To some, fear that markets are at risk of retrenchment bolsters expectations that the largest central banks are going to step in to temper volatility and lift risk assets by flooding the system with cheap funding once again. For those whose confidence remains, they still consider the likes of the Federal Reserve (Fed), European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of Japan (BOJ) forces of nature. Closer examination of these groups’ current policies and the available tools still at their disposal, however, should raise serious concern. While the Great Financial Crisis is a decade behind us with growth having stabilized and markets surged in the period since, collective monetary policy has changed little. While the Fed may have raised its benchmark rate range over 200 basis points, none of its largest counterparts have moved significantly off of their own zero bound. Furthermore, there remains an enormous amount of stimulus awash in the system with central banks’ balance sheets bloated with government bonds, asset backed securities and even more traditional investor assets. If push comes to shove and markets started to avalanche lower despite the present mix of support still in place, what would these authorities be able to do muster in order to counterbalance? There is no meaningful capacity to lower global rates and QE has gotten to the point where its effectiveness draws as much cynicism as assurance. Adding more support against a persistently incredulous market would only solidify the realization that central banks are no longer the effective backstop for speculators they once were. And then where do we expect to turn for help? A coordinated effort from global governments when they cannot even maintain existing trade deals? As our markets remain volatile and economic forecasts soften, expect scrutiny over monetary policy and its effectiveness to increase. We have seen that already take place with the market’s response to the Fed’s dovish shift and even the RBA’s and BOE’s growing concerns this past week. Rate decisions, speeches and even data close to policy mandates will leverage greater focus – and likely market reaction – moving forward. Dollar Can Compensate for Issues By Advancing on Euro, Pound Pain The Dollar is in a complicated fundamental position. There are numerous domestic issues that represent a serious fundamental weight on the benchmark currency but global troubles will consistently work to counteract the loss of altitude. Of course, the likelihood of a perfect equalization is highly improbable. One development or the other will prove more severe than was expected or the market will decide a particular issue is of far greater consequence to the financial system. It is not clear which node will trigger a tidal wave of capital market flows, so we need to keep tabs on those themes that will exert greater influence on the benchmark as the dominant force will likely arise from these known quantities. On the economic front, the US economy has shown signs of economic slowdown and a sharp drop in sentiment readings from consumers to businesses to investors. This was only accelerated by the US partial government shutdown and the risk that it closes once again is worryingly too high. The stopgap funding runs out on Friday. The delayed economic readings with the status check before the shutdown impact was full felt are starting to trickle out and the GDP reading seems to be due next week. An ineffectual government looks to like it will increasingly be a core issue for the world’s largest economy moving forward with promising programs like infrastructure spending increasingly relegated to the dustbin of unrealized campaign promises. And of course, with the promise of economic wealth fading and sentiment withering, the Federal Reserve’s intention to further raise rates to establish a higher rate of return on US investments will naturally recede. Yet, all of these shortcomings will have powerful relative corrections. While the Fed may very well halt its monetary policy ambitious of the past three years, to stabilize at a 2.25-2.50 percent benchmark range while major peers like the ECB, BOJ and BOE shift to a dovish course from zero rates and expansive stimulus will maintain relative advantage to the Greenback. Should risk aversion build globally, the Dollar has more investment interest premium built up over the past years that could leach away, but a tip into severe risk aversion (which would be difficult to avoid in a committed downturn) would leverage the currency’s absolute haven appeal. What’s more, where the political infighting in the US is more localized, it is not a unique trouble to the United States. Further, it is persistently applying greater pressure on trade counterpart around the world through the trade war. Perhaps one of the truly untested and underpriced risks to the Greenback however is the intentions of the US President. Over the past year, Trump has voiced his consternation over the level of the currency as an impediment to his strategy for course correct trade and perceived inequities to trade partners. In the event of universal risk aversion which puts serious pressure on the global economy, we are unlikely to see an effective collaboration across the world’s largest countries as the game theory in their competitive efforts will more likely intensity under the weight. With demand or Treasuries resulting in a rise for the Dollar, it would not be out of the question to imagine the White House responds with unorthodox policy aimed at driving the currency lower. The real trouble would only begin if the world’s largest player touched off a currency war.
  2. With the Fed’s Language, Global Central Banks Signal Softening Policy Global monetary policy has shifted more noticeably to the dovish extreme of the scale over the past months, but investors were overlooking this questionable support because the markets were under serious duress. Yet, after the three-month tumble leveled out into a meaningful recovery into January, market participants began to look for fundamental reasoning to justify their growing confidence for their exposure. With the Fed’s unmistakably dovish transition between the December and January policy meetings, conviction in central bank support started to return to levels that mirrored the zombie-like reach for yield that defined the low-volatility, steady climb assets between 2011 and 2015. The terms of ‘plunge protection team’ and ‘QE infinity’ as applied to the world’s largest central banks are frequently voiced as skepticism by those that think extreme accommodation is ineffective and far more costly than central banks and the average investor appreciates. However, those phrases are just as significant to the bulls who have grown to depend on group’s like the Fed to keep an artificial calm over the financial system. There is good reason to believe the US central bank has taken a meaningful turn in its policy regime. The December Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) lowered the 2019 forecast for rate hikes, but last week’s rhetoric made clear that the water mark for even a single hike this year is likely beyond the reasonable threshold. The US central bank is only signaling a curb to future plans of rate hikes following 225 basis points of tightening, but that is arguably one of the biggest alterations of course that we’ve actually seen. There is little mistaking that the course is such that the comfort in slowly normalizing extreme policy easing has all but vanished amid slower growth, breaks in global trade and threats to financial stability. That will incur more concern amongst those in the markets than speculative opportunism. Benchmark risk assets are not trading at a value-based discount and our proximity to the extremes of traditional as well as unorthodox policy will curb hopes for the recharge for milestones like the S&P 500 to make it back to record highs – much less surpass them. Of far greater concern in monetary policy in my book is the consensus recognition among investors that central banks have no recourse to fend off a genuine crisis should the need arise. And, if we follow this path, the need will come. Only the US central bank has any leeway to purposefully lower rates, and that is only 2 percentage points to return to zero where the economy would once again find itself stuck in a financial hole. Returning to active stimulus expansion will only lead down the same path that the Bank of Japan has already found itself lost upon. The BOJ is stuck tying bond purchases to its 10-year Japanese Government Bond yield with no sign of reliably faster growth or sustained pressure for inflation to return to its target. The lack of traction for Japan’s central bank already draws enough unwanted attention to the state of monetary policy. If similar acknowledgement of a permanently disabled tool spreads to global monetary policy, we will find no other probable means to stabilize a market crash or economic slump by officials’ means alone. With Sentiment on the Upswing, Expectation Rise for Trade Wars We have seen a few of the more pressing fundamental threats to the global order abate over the past few weeks. It comes as little surprise in turn that sentiment in the market has improved in tandem. A slow normalization of monetary policy was seen as a slow strangulation of stubbornly nascent growth. With the Fed, ECB and others signaling their submission to the rise of external risks and stalling economic measures; the leash on speculative excess has been let out a little. Another point of perceived improvement comes from the end of the US partial government shutdown the week before last. After a record-breaking, 35-day closure that cost the economy an estimated $11 billion – a hefty portion that will prove permanent – this large component of economic activity is once again contributing to expansion. Of course, there are a number of caveats associated to this situation that should leave traders uneasy such as: the threat that the shutdown could be reinstituted by the middle of this month; that the tangible impact on the economy may have pushed a tepid expansion into a stalled or contracting economy; as well as fostering a collapse in sentiment around a government incapable of finding critical progress when it may be most necessary (such as in the emergency of a crisis). More generally, these improvements are notable the lifting of a fundamental burden imprudently applied to the system rather than a genuine upgrade to the outlook. How much growth and opportunity can we expect from the correction of errors? Well, at the moment; the answer to that question is: at least a little bit more. With these and a few lesser issues throttling back the burden, the markets will be monitoring for what other temporary boosters can earn a little further stretch. One of the most extensive threats to arise this past year with an explicit price tag attached to it has been the trade war. While there are multiple fronts to this effort to grow at the expense of trade, there is no skirmish more costly than the standoff between the United States and China. With tariffs on over $350 billion in products, we have seen sentiment and growth measures on both sides deteriorate. However, rhetoric surrounding the discussions between these two powerhouses has recently elicited more enthusiasm from officials and the market. This past week’s discussions between the Chinese Vice Premier and a delegation of key people from the US (Trade Representative, Treasury Secretary, Commerce Secretary) was said to have gone well and that the conversations would continue in China shortly. Never mind that there were no tangible policies suggested nor that President Trump said he would likely keep to a tariffs hike at the end of the 90-day pause as of March 1st. With speculative assets on the rise and market participants believing that officials are doing what is necessary to foster buoyancy in benchmarks like the S&P 500 (speculation the Fed capitulated in the market slump while Congress and the President surrendered in order to avoid the negative weight), it stands to reason that the White House would divert its trade course to afford further gains. In the end, though, these will still be temporary gains. How Important is this Week’s Bank of England Rate Decision? When it comes to the British Pound the principal fundamental concern remains the uncertainty that Brexit poses to the UK economy and financial system. This is more troubling for investors – foreign and domestic – than something more targeted and acute like a stalled GDP reading. There is no doubt that a halt to growth is a problem, but the issue would be a known quantity. From the details provided with the general update, we would know where policy and support would need to be targeted to course correct into the future and investors could still identify opportunities from those areas of the economy which are still progressing or are likely to do so from a temporary discount. When we are dealing with a complex and unwieldy situation like the UK’s divorce from the EU with a distinct countdown (to March 29th) and the sides obstinately at odds with each other, it can be extremely difficult to confidently assess the risks of your exposure. This same contrast will exist with the upcoming Bank of England (BOE) rate decision on Thursday. The central bank is very unlikely to change its key lending rate at this gathering and rates markets reflect that belief. However, this is one of the more nuanced gatherings with the inclusion of the Quarterly Inflation Report. The update includes pertinent information to assess the outlook for the economy and financial system – which Brits and investors are desperate for at the moment. Their growth assessment will no doubt reflect some of the troubled figures that we’ve seen via various timely sector updates. Further, acknowledgement of external risks and ongoing Brexit fallout (such as surveys showing businesses are actively looking to relocate or considering it) will be a central element to the update. Yet, will it be market moving? Governor Carney and his crew have warned of the risks to a ‘no deal’ split for some time now, and we have seen the market’s reaction to their concerns drop steadily over time. It is the case that the Pound’s recent climb these past weeks poses as certain degree of premium that could be cut down by otherwise routine concerns. However, if I were to see a headline suggesting a breakthrough or overt block in the dialogue between Prime Minister May and her EU counterparts, I would expect it exert far greater influence over the Pound than what the BOE could reasonable do.
  3. 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.
  4. Trade War Rumors are Generating as Much Reaction as Official Announcements The trade war remains one of the most far-reaching and economically-threatening themes currently assailing the global markets. After more than a year of escalation whereby the market has acclimated to a steady flow of stories detailing the malaise this conflict has sown, it should come as little surprise that the market has grown somewhat deadened to hints that conditions may grow marginally worse. Yet, in contrast, any budding suggestions that a demonstrable improvement in the relationship may be around the corner are being met with far more speculative enthusiasm. This past week, two such reports dotted the headlines and played no small role in helping push US equities beyond levels that technical traders would consider weighty (2,645 for the S&P 500 and 24,325 for the Dow). To follow up Friday, Bloomberg issued a new report that China had offered the United States a plan whereby it would dramatically increase its purchases of US-made good (to the tune of $1 trillion) in a bid to close the countries’ trade gap in six years. First, on Thursday, it was reported by WSJ that President Trump was debating with officials whether to lift tariffs on China. That would be a complete 180 on their negotiation tactic thus far, but it wouldn’t be exactly far-fetched given the President’s penchant to change course when his priorities change and to offer help to a struggling market since the Fed has shown little willingness to comply with his demands. Equities responded to the headlines with a smart rally to the midpoint of the October to December tumble. However, before traction could be fully secured; the US Treasury’s spokesperson rejected the news, saying neither the Treasury Secretary nor US Trade Representative had advised such a tack. While the market slipped on the official correction, the hope of an eventual breakthrough was appealing enough that Friday’s trading session opened to an official ‘breakout’ beyond the aforementioned barrier. To follow up Friday, Bloomberg issued a new report that China had offered the United States a plan whereby it would dramatically increase its purchases of US-made good (to the tune of $1 trillion) in a bid to close the countries’ trade gap in six years. This plan was not clearly and quickly rejected – perhaps because China is not as concerned with the favorable impact it can have in cooling financial markets. And, with that additional fundamental push, the indices closed out its fourth consecutive week advance strong. It is inevitable that we face another round of trade war updates in the week and weeks ahead; and whether they signal deeper divide or possible mending, they will likely be market-moving. That is because we are in a limbo where the general health of the global economy is crumbling, and this remains one of the more consistent drains. Further, the market sense of urgency over this state will increase as more reliable sides of economic health continue to degrade. We’ve seen a host of signals these past weeks – US consumer sentiment, Chinese liquidity conditions, etc – but this week’s 4Q Chinese GDP update will serve as a direct status update. The World’s Top Concerns, Monetary Policy and Recession Fears The economic docket has a few high-profile listings (China 4Q GDP and ECB rate decision among them) over the coming week, but the traditional fare doesn’t give the proper scale of the broad fundamental themes that we are dealing with moving forward. There are far more systemic issues under consideration by the world’s market participants, and a few items give perspective of the themes better than others. It is important in fundamentals to first and foremost assess what carries the greatest weight with the largest faction in the markets. With our laundry list of unfolding issues, no one would begrudge you uncertainty over that question. This week, we will have the rare opportunity to gain some insight into what most concerns the leaders of the world’s largest economies at a summit in Switzerland. The Davos World Economic Forum will cover topics that are no doubt top of our mind, and perhaps some that are under the market’s radar, but from the discussion, time dedicated and sideline comments, we will be better able to ascertain what issues are considered the most troubling. Politics in the meantime will be another great timekeeper for traders looking for the next jolt of volatility. And, while social troubles are of great importance, leaders are disproportionately fearful of economic troubles. No confidence votes, failed re-elections and general discontent more often follow economic troubles. Politics in the meantime will be another great timekeeper for traders looking for the next jolt of volatility. There is upheaval across the world from the US government shutdown to Brexit running out of maneuvering room to the Yellow Vest protests in France extending to a tenth week. Monetary policy will likely earn little for directly-linked currencies, but the sense of the underlying current can materially affect confidence in active support for growth and financial stability. On tap are two of the developed world’s most dovish major central banks. The Bank of Japan (BOJ) sees little chance of altering its active effort to keep QE pumping into the system, but the recognition of its inability to influence change in inflation or economic condition grows clearer with each week. In contrast, the European Central Bank (ECB) took the significant move to end its stimulus program last month – in a first step to normalize from an extraordinary dovish policy-setting. Yet, those intentions may not be fulfilled in the foreseeable future if concerns of economic struggle deeper. Beyond the warning on growth for China with trade wars, US via the shutdown (now cutting off 0.5 ppt), Germany drawing out recession concerns in data like factory activity, Italy risking it far more readily with the local central bank’s own forecasts, we are seeing the world bow under the maturation of a decade-long cycle and the eruption of numerous cuts in fundamental efficiency. If a slowdown becomes an overt reality, will we find relief from the world’s central banks (already at the extreme of their policy setting) or governments (struggling to function and certainly not cooperating well with each other). Where to From Here on the Brexit? As of Monday, the countdown will drop to 67 days until the UK is due to leave the European Union according to the two-year timeline dictated by Article 50. As of Monday, the countdown will drop to 67 days until the UK is due to leave the European Union according to the two-year timeline dictated by Article 50. And, despite our dangerous proximity to the official divorce, we seem to be no closer to a plan on how this separation will play out than we did six months ago. That is troubling. This past week, Prime Minister May offered up a proposal in the Commons on how the country may severe ties with the Union. The defeat Parliament delivered May was the worst seen in British history. On the back of that popular discontent, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a no-confidence debate that took place shortly after. This time, the majority sided with the PM – though the margin was far smaller than the one she lost by with her plan. Due to votes pushed through in previous weeks, May now needs to issue a Plan B on Monday the 21st. It had also been previously discussed that should the no way forward be found by the PM’s efforts by this date, that Parliament could take greater control over the process to avoid a ‘no deal’ outcome. This will help delay that pressure. Though it is always possible that the EU will take the mandate of the crushing defeat dealt the UK’s leader to offer more concessions, it is more likely that the program she ends up with will still not pass the approval of Parliament. Nonetheless, with debate still to be had, the vote on it will take us out to January 29 (Tuesday). It is worth noting that May’s threats to choose ‘her Brexit, no deal Brexit or no Brexit at all’ have been trumpeted far less frequently as of late. It is not clear whether that is because she is genuinely softening her position and ‘red lines’ or perhaps just because there is a little less urgency with a few more days. The days are steadily ticking down and polls of Brits’ stance on whether to leave or not or what kind of approach to pursue (no deal, May’s deal or more concession) remains markedly mixed. With so much confusion throughout the country on how to proceed, it comes as little surprise that the state of the negotiations are as opaque as they are. Continue to monitor for Pound volatility.
  5. Ending a Trade War is a Windfall for Growth? US and Chinese trade officials met this past week to lay the groundwork for another attempt to push for a breakthrough in the superpowers’ ongoing trade war. These are lower level meetings aimed at finding concessions and terms for which Trump and Xi would eventually sign off on. With over $350 billion in goods from both countries saddled with import taxes, the economic toll the engagement is exacting is starting to show through in data. In the US, trade figures have shown a rise in the deficit and sharp drop in exports to China, costs have risen for a range of goods normally curbed by cheaper foreign production, and confidence metrics have reversed course. The NFIB small business sentiment survey for example has fallen back to the level it stood at during the Presidential election. China’s economic updates have also marked multi-year lows in GDP, industrial production and more. While they are generally all firmly in positive territory, there is likely a ‘premium’ China attributes to its data. A growing number of institutions and economists are warning that the world’s second largest economy may be on the path for a stall and/or the collapse of its excessive low-quality debt market. A growing number of institutions and economists are warning that the world’s second largest economy may be on the path for a stall and/or the collapse of its excessive low-quality debt market. The Trump Administration seems to have gotten whiff of at least one of those analyses as they have made repeated remarks about the strained position of their counterpart’s health when justifying their steadfastness. Officials jawbone (or talk a market or asset to a higher or lower level) for a number of reasons. Some central banks have attempted to talk down their currencies (BOJ, RBA, RBNZ), the Fed turned it into a tool (forward guidance) and economic leaders are constant cheerleaders for their own economies and markets. Yet, it is highly unorthodox, to say the least, for leadership in one of the largest economies in the world to stoke fear in a global peer. And yet, that is what President Trump, Chief Economic Adviser Kudlow and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have done over these previous months. If neither of these countries were to blink, it would inevitably tip a financial or economic crisis for at least one of them. And, if one slips into the abyss, it will pull the other in with it. Perhaps this recognition is starting to sink in, or the ‘game of chicken’ is simply too dangerous now with the US equity markets sliding with the President starting to take some of the blame. It has been reported that Trump has told his team that he wants a deal to be struck to help stabilize the markets. It wouldn’t strain belief at all to imagine this was a serious demand from the President. There were some boilerplate remarks of optimism this past week which were largely overlooked, but the Chinese Vice Premier’s planned visit on January 30-31 may indicate they may be close to resolving their issues. It is worth evaluating a future where a resolution is struck. Yet, putting the scenario to the test, would pulling out of a destructive economic policy in turn translate into a windfall of growth and investment opportunities? No. It would remove a manufactured threat that has already inflicted permanent damage and would allow the focus to shift to a host of other unresolved issues. Preventing further damage is the best the two sides can hope for in this situation. The Lasting Effects of a Record Breaking US Government Shutdown We have broken a record over the weekend. As of Saturday, the partial shutdown of the United States government surpassed 21 days to count for the longest closure on record (surpassing the 1995-1996 stretch during the Clinton era). This is not a record to be proud of as it will translate into weaker economic growth, a drop in sentiment and the complicated progression of lower sovereign credit quality. The general economic implications are perhaps the easiest to envision. Government supported industries (such as airlines) will see their costs and revenues suffer while the 800,000 federal employees that are furloughed will not be paid. It is estimated that every week, the US economy will lose between 0.05 and 0.1 percentage points of growth owing to the situation. We have broken a record over the weekend. As of Saturday, the partial shutdown of the United States government surpassed 21 days to count for the longest closure on record. Even three weeks of that is significant given the state of economic conditions when this factor is excluded. Perhaps a (small) silver lining was the strong bi-partisan vote by Congress to provide backpay for those same federal employees – though that doesn’t offset the ultimate pain. Sentiment is another victim of this situation. We have seen consumer, business and investor sentiment sink the past months for a few reasons, but this shutdown is no doubt a contributing factor. If the country can’t come to an agreement on a basic stop-gap funding, what is the probability that they will be able to fulfill the infrastructure investment plan touted ever few months for years? My greatest concern for this situation is the damage it does to the United States credit quality. All of the three majors have issued some sort of warning on pursuing this path, but the most recent official statement came from Fitch this past week. There are those that don’t believe a downgrade is possible for the US sovereign rating, to whom I say it already happened when Standard & Poor’s cut the country one step to AA+ back in 2011. There are far more that believe it wouldn’t matter if another cut was made – and they would use the 2011 example as their evidence. When S&P cut the US rating, there was a distinct and severe move in credit and risk assets. Eventually, the market’s did stabilize and push the concern to the background because exceptions were made for the event. Even though many covenants only allow for top credit rated assets as ‘risk-free’, most agreed to make accommodations so as not to completely upset a financial system that relies heavily on the haven status of T-notes. Add a second, third or more cuts, and it looks less and less like a one-off. It registers as an absolute need to diversify. It may be hard to appreciate how systemically important this is, but the tipping point could fundamentally change the financial system and US standing in the world. Breakthrough or Not, A Brexit Vote that Can Charge the Pound We are just over 75 days away from the official date that the United Kingdom is due to separate from the European Union. If all that was necessary was to come to terms with an agreement between the two parties on their relationship post-split, this would perhaps not be so frightening. Instead, there is considerable preparation that needs to be done before that date even comes around. Most would agree, that the time table for an accord and steady transition was some months ago. Now, with each passing week that infighting persists, the consideration and appreciation of painful scenarios increases. We have the opportunity to finally find agreement from the UK’s side this week. On Tuesday, Parliament is set to vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit proposal. You may recall that a vote was called on a previous plan, but May called it off at the last minute when it became clear that it would be handily defeated. We are just over 75 days away from the official date that the United Kingdom is due to separate from the European Union. It is nowhere near as clear time around that the MPs will deal the PM another rejection, but that is the leading consensus. If the proposal is accepted and the UK can return to the table with the EU, it would certainly be construed as lifting a significant weight off the Sterling’s shoulders. There are still a host of unknowns including cross boarder investment, financing and banking liquidity; but at least there will be a viable path the markets can follow. If however, she is rejected, the markets will grow increasingly agitated, fearful that an accident will happen. Following recent votes, Parliament passed law that if the proposal was rejected, the government would have to produce a ‘Plan B’ within three sessions (Monday as Friday is closed) rather than the standard 15. They had also previously ruled that if the country were heading for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, that Parliament would have more say over the ultimate path. As it stands, there seems less risk of a crash out; but the hurdle for an agreement between the government and parliament remains very high. Uncertainty is a bearish pressure on the Sterling. An agreement would remove a considerable amount of that fear and perhaps help stoke a recovery. Looking at the CME’s Pound Volatility Index, fear remains troublingly high relative to other currencies and even other assets. Outcome or no, be prepared for Pound volatility.
  6. Happy New Year everyone! Coming to Terms with a Bear Market We have experienced a remarkable level of volatility recently, which is particularly incredible from the past few weeks considering markets were distorted by holiday trading conditions. When volatility meets thin liquidity, the results can prove explosive. That said, the intensifying fluctuation in the global financial system is not just a phenomenon that could be attributed to shallow markets as we have seen both the price-based results and the explicit sensitivity to fundamental triggers increase through the months preceding the official holiday season. Through the past three months, we have seen a number of specific instruments that have stood as baseline for general asset classes tip into official ‘bear market’ territory – which is defined by a 20 percent correction from a recent peak. Appreciation for the changing tide really didn’t start to peak the sense of panic however until equities started to hit the critical, technical milestones. When key US indices started to trip 20 percent – first the Russell 2000 in mid-December and then the S&P 500 Christmas Eve – the few that may have been oblivious were put on alert and diehard bulls started to feel a true sense of dread creep up their spines. Sentiment has notably shifted from unshakable confidence that the markets will bottom and return to their decade-long bull trend to a sense of desperation that buoyancy will hold out long enough to erase some of the losses late-comers had incurred since October or keep the window open long enough to simply exit. The bounce this past week with the S&P 500 moving back above 2,520 does play to the sense of hope. It is possible that we have found a low for the time being having only just technically hit the bear market milestone for a single day, but that seems improbable. Even with the retreat in this market – not to mention the rest of the world’s speculatively-inflated assets – we are still far from previous cycle peaks. Prominent fundamental themes from slowing growth to failing monetary policy effectiveness to deteriorating international relationships are not going to simply reverse course anytime soon. Further, rising volatility is looking more and more a permanent feature of our landscape. Market’s struggle to calmly inflate already-expensive assets amid tense periods of possible instability. It is possible that we have seen the low, but it would not be wise to assume that is the case. Instead, the better approach for market participants would be acclimatize to a world where we are in a bear market or on the cusp of one. Just as bull markets have periods of correction before they reassert themselves, the bear markets can have interludes of recovery. That does not mean we should commit to the about face just because it is desired. Though some people prefer longer duration, systemic positioning; I still favor taking trades with shorter duration and closer targets until it is clear that momentum has returned to the bears. Fed Fund Futures are Now Pricing in Rate Cuts Through 2018, the Fed’s steady tightening (also fairly described as normalization) efforts accelerated. The fact that the US central bank was tightening at a regular clip while the rest of the developed world’s policy authorities were still contemplating when to make their first move, or at best attempting to take bites when conditions were ideal, became almost mundane. If we were to evaluate the benefit to the Dollar from the contrast in the textbook fashion, we would assume that the Greenback should continue to climb against its major counterparts for as long as it enjoys a yield premium – especially as the spread continues to grow. Yet, we know in speculative markets that investors will move to price in the advantage as soon as it seems feasible – and they did. While they couldn’t full price in the benefit to the USD of a Fed hike regime against such a cold backdrop, it could price in a considerable advantage. After that high water market was set, it would be increasingly difficult to confer greater benefit – perhaps if other central banks were forced to revert to ever more extreme easing techniques while the Fed kept course – but it would be far easier to disappoint. This is what is referred to more generally as discounting the outlook. It also goes a long way to explain 2017 where the Dollar dropped steadily versus the Euro despite the fact that the Fed hiked three times and the ECB had yet to nail down a time for its first move higher. Fast forward to today. We have seen markets slump and economic forecasts drop significantly. As would be expected, the forward guidance from the central bank has cooled materially. The shift is clearly apparent to the broader market as Fed Fund futures and overnight swaps have completely reversed course on the hawkish outlook for 2019 – that at one point was fueling debate on whether they would hike three or four times through the year – with no further tightening expected. In fact, the next move priced into the markets is a cut with the greatest weight afforded to 2020, though 2019 was clearly being assessed as a possibility given contracts through December. NFPs and the rebound in US indices through this Friday have cooled the dovish build up, but the shift has been dramatic. It will be difficult to lift speculative enthusiasm so high again especially after key Fed officials have suggested the need for forward guidance has waned significantly. What Flash Crashes Say About Market Conditions Rather than the Afflicted Asset One of the more remarkable episodes from this past week’s extremely unorthodox opening play at a new trading year was the flash crash that struck certain currencies (and even a few capital assets). Much of the focus was on the Japanese Yen, but it was not the only currency to exhibit extreme price fluctuation. The Australian Dollar exhibited even more extreme fluctuation in historical and percentage terms (its intraday reversal was the largest I found on record) while the ripples readily expanded out to the British Pound which didn’t even seem to connect to the purported spark to the move. Afterhours to Wednesday’s New York session saw headlines light up on news that Apple (one of the principal firms in equity investors’ portfolios) was lowering its revenue guidance owing to the US-China trade war. Paired with the downgrade in Chinese activity readings earlier in the day and the ongoing US government shutdown, and it was no surprise that fear would hit. With the Tokyo markets offline for a holiday, the thin-liquidity-high-volatility conditions were once again triggered with a subsequent tsunami. This time however, the market response would not play out over days and weeks with a pervasive trend but instead struck all at once with extreme intraday volatility. The catalyst did matter as any lit match would, connections to risk trends are important and certainly automated trading influences (stops, limits, algorithms) no doubt contributed. However, boiling what happened down to these elements is a misleading – but common – psychology effort to regain a sense of comfort. If this unforeseen disaster can be attributed to these elements, then we can feel more comfortable that it is unlikely to happen again and we can keep an eye out for the same environmental triggers. This is not an unusual development in the global markets, even for the most liquid. The Japanese Yen saw rapid rallies followed by abrupt reversals (Yen cross tumbles followed by rebound) multiple times between 2009 and 2011 brought on by risk aversion, then monetary policy distortion and the intervention efforts of authorities (BOJ and the Ministry of Finance). The point is that conditions facilitated multiple such ‘fat tail’ events through that period, and they could continue to do so for us moving forward. It is the confluence of deteriorating investor sentiment, recognition of excessive exposure, fear that authorities cannot fend off any future financial crises and the abundance of threats to the collective complacency that currently colors our markets. While we may not see another 3.5 percent-plus swing from the Yen specifically in the near future, expect to see more developments that were considered unthinkable over the past 10 years.
  7. Another Week, Another Set of Brexit Scenarios It seems the weather patterns behind the Brexit seem to changing at a more rapid clip – always ending up back ‘in irons’ (pardon the nautical terminology) as the clock steadily winds down to the March 29 separation. This past week, was particularly momentous with the Prime Minister’s proposal supposedly going to vote in Parliament; but May decided to pull the vote before the allotted session as it was clear it would be voted down handily. And, considering the MPs had voted the week before to give themselves more power in the event the PM’s effort was rejected, she wanted to avoid losing any further control over the already stumbling process. The week wasn’t uneventful however as frustrated conservatives called a no confidence vote in May’s leadership. Ultimately, she survived the challenge and cannot be contested again for a year – though that doesn’t prevent further political pressure nor does it make navigating negotiations on the separation from the EU any easier. We have long ago passed the event horizon for a balanced deal to be struck such that the technical work would be ready by the actual separation date. It could have been the case that Juncker, Tusk and their European colleagues were waiting to see the outcome of the UK no-confidence vote to prepare further concessions that would warm May’s government; but that did not prove to be the case. After enduring the challenge, May attended to two-day European Community summit where Brexit and a no-deal outcome in particular were to be discussed. She received a clear rebuff on any further compromises from the EU and in fact had some features of the previous offer revoked. We have long ago passed the event horizon for a balanced deal to be struck such that the technical work would be ready by the actual separation date. It is unlikely that this is holdout from both or either side to earn further concession as the brinkmanship only adds to the economic and financial trouble down the line. That means this situation is more likely to continue unresolved until UK leadership makes the call. If May can wrangle the conservatives to accept a temporary backstop, it may be the closest middle ground to be found. Alternatively, we will end up in either one of two extremes: a no-deal break or the call for a second referendum. If we end up with the former, it is more likely to be pushed all the way to the predetermined end date. A second referendum however would likely be called weeks – perhaps even months – before the March 29 deadline. All the while as uncertainty prevails, external capital will continue to drain from the UK. Already with a default backdrop of uncertainty, global investors will want to avoid an overt threat like the Brexit. Further, domestic capital will increasingly be moved to safe guard rather than applied to more productive, growth-oriented means (such as business spending, property development, wage growth, etc). As has remained the case for some time now, trade Sterling cautiously and with a clear intent – if at all. A Critical Fed Decision to Set the Course of 2019 Top event risk over the coming week is the FOMC rate decision in my book. This final policy update of the year from the world’s largest central bank is one of the comprehensive events we expect on the quarters. Along with the routine update on rates and the monetary policy statement, this event will include the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) and Chairman Jerome Powell’s press conference. First and foremost, the central bank is expected to hike rates 25 basis points for the fourth time this year to bring the range up to 2.25 to 2.50 percent. While Fed Fund futures project this outcome at a 77 percent probability – I would set the chances even higher. The Fed has established forward guidance as the primary tool for monetary policy even though it has raised rates at a steady pace and started to reduce its balance over the past year. ...if risk trends are already unsettled, a market that is seeking out threats could fixate on this disturbance readily enough. The utility of guidance is that it can acclimate the market to tangible policy changes before they are implemented to defuse the detrimental financial market volatility it could trigger otherwise. That is extremely important given the transitional phase global monetary policy is in following nearly a decade of emergency-level accommodation. Markets have grown more than accustomed to the support, the have grown somewhat dependent. Normalizing its essential to promote a healthy financial system, healthy risk taking and restore the buffer necessary to fight future downturns. Yet, if this fraught course is piloted poorly, a policy authority can inadvertently trigger the next crisis. Of course, if risk trends are already unsettled, a market that is seeking out threats could fixate on this disturbance readily enough. That said, the Fed may already be picking up on some strain in the economy and markets, looking to trim its pace so as not to run aground. Preparing the market for that deceleration is just as important as setting expectations for its unrivaled hawkish drive over the past few years. Powell seemed to do start the adjustment a few weeks ago when the language in his speech on bonds seemed to denote greater caution and recognition of tension in the market. We have seen markets respond by pulling rate forecasts via Fed Funds futures and overnight swaps down to only fully pricing in one 25 basis point hike – whereas previously the market had afforded three with debate of a fourth. We are due a definitive view for rate forecasts from the group in the SEP. The update for December showed a majority – by a single person – projecting three moves in 2019. Given how finally balanced that forecast was and the language from some key members, it is very likely to be downgraded. The question is whether a downgrade to just 2 hikes will then be construed as better-than-expected and if the tempo change will trigger concern amongst market participants about financial market health. Was Italy Capitulation, Trade Concessions, A Brexit Vote Save Enough to Revert to ‘December Conditions’ What we have seen instead is a continuation of the previous two months were high volatility has leveraged incredible swings in popular benchmarks like the S&P 500 and Dow while the VIX holds precariously high. Thus far, we have witnessed a remarkable December. Historically, this tends to be one of the most reserved months of the calendar year for volatility and volume which in turn translates to steady gains for traditionally risk-leaning assets. What we have seen instead is a continuation of the previous two months were high volatility has leveraged incredible swings in popular benchmarks like the S&P 500 and Dow while the VIX holds precariously high. It is inevitable that liquidity will hit holes over the coming weeks owing to market closures, but that doesn’t mean that the markets have to drift calmly into holiday conditions. Shallow market depth and high volatility can converge to produce extreme moves. It is always wise to head into market closures or known liquidity contractions defensively, but that would be especially true of our current conditions. The question now is whether some relief on a number of ominous fundamental themes is enough to soothe the beast until markets fill back out in earnest when 2019 rolls in. Some points of progress optimistic bulls can point to include the agreement by China and the United States to a 90-day freeze fire on further escalation of tariffs, Italy softening its aggressive budget position and UK Prime Minister May surviving a no-confidence challenge. None of these developments are a long-term solution to the threats they represent, but it is breathing room at a time when the markets seem to need it most. Market biases can shift the response to events and themes – from exacerbating seemingly harmless issues into the foundation for true panic or quieting fear over a looming catastrophe. Ultimately, in conditions like these, hedges are worth it.
  8. Make or Break for Brexit? There have already been so many twists and turns in the UK’s efforts to negotiate its separation from the European Union that that investors are getting dizzy. It is troublingly difficult to gain a reliable bead on a probable outcome for this stalemate, but the lack of time and dwindling hope of an outcome that will satisfy the majority of those involved raises the threat of a ‘bad’ outcome and even worse market response. This is not one of those events where ignoring the risks can prompt complacent gains. Once again, we are coming up to a key milestone in this saga where conditions can continue with a narrow course forward where the best case scenario still reflects considerable uncertainty and no small measure of market fallout. Or, it can be pitched into disarray. If you are monitoring the march forward of this fraught Brexit divorce – and you should whether you have direct Pound or UK investment exposure or not – highlight on your calendar Parliament’s vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal Tuesday. The draft was made in concert with EU negotiators which produced a result that theoretically both sides could sign off on. That would seem a viable course forward if not for the level of discord in UK politics. Rhetoric surrounding the Prime Minister deal is distinctly harsh from both the conservatives who found vindication in the referendum outcome as a sign of a clean break as well as Labour and other groups who are attempting to keep economically supportive elements of EU access or do not support the withdrawal altogether. It is likely that Parliament votes the plan down which will open up a range of scenarios – very few of which are will avoid deeper trouble. After a rejection, the government has three weeks to work another deal, but the EU will be far less interested in an agreement that asks for more and the rapidly diminishing time frame will leave little opportunity to warm counterparts to their side. Parliament voted this past week – after finding the Prime Minister in contempt for refusing to release official legal advice on Brexit – to give itself greater say over the proceedings should her plan be rejected. This is likely to empower the MPs to demand more favorable – but perhaps ultimately unworkable – terms. It may also raise the pressure for a second referendum. Previously May has rejected the option outright, but recently she has floated the idea. It comes off more as a threat for conservatives to get in line, but she has said there is a choice of “my deal, no deal or no Brexit at all”. Two of those three options are considered assured crisis to all the relevant parties involved; and unfortunately, that third lesser evil is different for all of them. Beware Pound volatility and the risk of fast moving local capital markets which can be exacerbated by the waning liquidity in these final weeks of the year. This December is Already Bucking Seasonality Expectations As we have discussed more and more as of late, there are seasonal norms in capital markets. These unlikely cycles arise through a few different practical market occurrences. Mid-day direction changes in individual trading sessions, summer doldrums, quarterly earnings runs and more draw on reliable conditional developments that can shape conditions – though specifics like direction are still up to the unique circumstances that play out in the given period. In the final weeks of the calendar year, we have one of the most reliable norms in trading. For those that want the scene described in a short phrase, ‘Santa Claus Rally’ usually suffices as they can fill in the circumstances with their imagination. A reduction in liquidity for western holidays and/or a general sentiment is seen as the foundation for a market’s performance. The liquidity aspect is at least correct and conditions earned through collective habit can often fill in the rest. However, when we follow this theme to the assumed bullish-backed trend, there are certain environmental criteria that need to support the outcome. Normally, the pending risks column needs to either be small or populated with issues that can readily be deferred until more convenient market conditions return. That is not the case now with growth forecasts slowing, warnings of financial risks growing more numerous (from the likes of central banks and IMF), trade war consequences kicking in and political risks splashing the headlines. These are not issues that can readily be shelved and they are receiving media attention on a regular basis. With this backdrop, there are frequent sparks that can provoke panic which makes the backdrop all the more threatening. If an otherwise contained crisis arises somewhere in the world, the thin market conditions can amplify the ill-effects of panic to spread well beyond its normal reach. And, while it may not be capable of a lengthy collapse of the financial system through such diluted conditions, it can lay the groundwork for a vicious cycle that begins the process only to catalyze fully when markets fill out – much like a nuclear reaction. In portfolio and statistical theory, it is not advisable to position for collapse against these seasonal norms as the probabilities are still skewed in favor of the norms. However, it doesn’t mean that we need to be utterly complacent with the risks that we hold. Reducing size, diversifying away from ‘risk’ markets or buying hedges reduces your beta exposure, but it isn’t like we are missing out on opportunities through a period that will be ‘dead’ in the base case scenario. The volatility we have experienced this past week, the past two months and in two distinct periods over the year (Feb-March and Oct-Nov) are a reminder that we should be more proactive with our reducing our exposure to the capricious unknown. Who Faces the Greater (Probable) Systemic Threat: Dollar or Euro? Everything in investing is a probability – that is a mantra I repeat to myself to avoid the delusion of certainty in a view or position. To put belief into action, I try to always lay out the probable scenarios for a particular market, asset, event, etc. Even if I consider a certain outcome more likely, considering the alternatives can help to identify earlier when the theory isn’t panning out and to even help stage an actionable strategy for a lower probability path. Most of the time in trading, the focus is to identify best case (the most productive bullish) scenarios, but there is just as much value in projecting worst case outcomes and their probabilities. This can help us avoid markets with a severe probability/potential imbalance or even identify better trading opportunities – I would rather pursue a short in a productive bear trend than suffer a long exposure in a choppy bull market. In evaluating the majors for their practical ‘worst case scenarios’ (those outcomes that are severe but not wholly unlikely – or qualifiers for a true ‘black swan’ designation) I think the Dollar and Euro deserve closer observation. For the Pound, the market is well aware of the possibility of a bad fallout from the Brexit which puts investors on guard and making moves that help to hedge risk. The Japanese Yen is so inextricably tied to risk trends and the Bank of Japan’s policy so open-ended that other issues struggle to compete for anxiety. For the Euro, a return to existential rumination on the currency union with the Italy-EU budget standoff is a still-underappreciated issue. The bulls in the market likely look back to the situation with Greece and assume a routine path for any future confrontations to be resolved in the same way. That is presumptuous to be negligent. The fact that this is occurring after Greece and during the UK’s bid for a withdrawal (admittedly from the EU and not Eurozone) should raise the level of concern significantly. It hasn’t. Perhaps the lingering premium afforded the currency for the eventual turn from extreme accommodation by the ECB will be the first dashed enthusiasm to awaken market participants of more unfavorable outcomes. If a country were to leave the currency union (EMU or Eurozone), it would fundamentally change the appeal of the currency as a global unit by significantly reducing the size of its collateral (GDP and capital) which would in turn significantly increase its perceived volatility. And, those are critical properties of a currency. The situation is unusually similar for the US Dollar. The pursuit of trade wars inherently encourages the world to redirect funds away from the US Dollar to avoid the policy conflicts that it brings (in trading terms, the volatility). Meanwhile, the rising deficit becomes increasingly problematic as the cost to service the massive debt rises and outside demand dries up. This can lead to a general shift away from the Greenback’s use permanently which the market won’t fully appreciate until much deeper into the situation. Similarly here, the market may more readily recognize something is wrong via monetary policy as the Fed adjusts to some form of the systemic risks by slowing its pace of policy normalization. So, which currency faces the longer-term – but still reasonable – risk? The Dollar. The ubiquity of the currency globally (nearly two-thirds of all FX transactions) means that it has far far more to lose should its use diminish. And that is very likely as the threat of further credit quality downgrades occur owing to its appetite for debt and its withdrawal from the global markets.
  9. Weeks Left of Liquidity, A Laundry List of Unresolved Fundamental Threats We have officially closed out November Friday and we are now heading into the final month of the trading year. Historically, December is one of the most reserved months of the calendar year with strong positive returns for benchmark risk assets like the S&P 500 along with a sharp drop in volume and significant drop in traditional volatility measures (like the VIX index). There is a natural, structural reason for this moderation. The abundance of market holidays, tax strategies and open windows for various funds all contribute to this norm. That said, there is another element that plays as significant a role in the seasonal pattern as any practical influence – if not more – and that is habit. Mere anticipation of quiet during this period does as much to ensure a self-fulfilling prophecy as the practical developments of the period. Yet, assumptions of quiet when the market as a whole – and most traders individually – have so much exposure to surprise financial squalls would be particularly poor risk management. Through the final full week of the year, the markets will be severely drained by market closures and limited time and market depth to meet the tax and portfolio redistribution windows. Looking ahead, it is first important to assess the practical time lines of full liquidity. The next two weeks (the first half of December) are only sheltered from unforeseen storms by expectations alone. It would be prudent to at least be engaged and dynamic in the markets through this period. The third week of the month will see position squaring take its toll on speculative positioning and liquidity. This is a useful time as we can establish where investors believe the most aggressive risk exposure is held (‘risk on’ or ‘risk off’) as they unwind anything with a shorter-duration holding period. Through the final full week of the year, the markets will be severely drained by market closures and limited time and market depth to meet the tax and portfolio redistribution windows. To general a strong market move – trend or even a severe drive – would take an exceptionally disruptive event for the financial system. I am concerned over the complacency in the market, but not so apprehensive as to believe we will tip the beginning of a lasting financial crisis through the final week of the year – and yes, it would be a bearish run if anything as there is virtually no chance of a sudden wave of greed that will bring investors back to such a fragmented and thin market. That said, there is still plenty of potential/risk that conditions could deteriorate exponentially through the first half of the month owing to the convergence of structural and seasonal circumstances. In general, a near-decade of uninterrupted speculative advance has started to lose traction as market participants have recognized their dependence on extreme but limited monetary policy, the growth of securitized leverage and sheer self-enforcing momentum. In 2018, we have seen conviction built on that unreliable mix start to falter with severe bouts of momentum in February and October with sizable aftershocks in March and November. This speaks to the underlying conditions in the market that could fuel a sweeping fire if properly ignited by any of a number of systemic threats that we are tracking across the global markets. Trade wars, Fed policy, convergence of global monetary policy, lowered growth forecasts, breaks in trade relationship (Brexit, Italy, US,etc) and other issues are systemic threats that have gained some measure of purchase these past months. If there were a sudden panic spurred by recession fears for example, then the drain on liquidity naturally associated with this time of year could in turn amplify fear into a full-blown panic with systemic deleveraging into 2019. Now Everything Fed-Related Carries More Consequence There has been a notable shift in Fed policy intent, and the markets will be engrossed with interrupting exactly what this course correction will mean for the capital markets. Though there has been subtle evidence of a waning conviction in pace for some weeks, FOMC Chair Jerome Powell made it explicit (well, as explicit as their careful control of forward guidance would allow) in his prepared speech on the bond markets in which he remarked that the group was perhaps closer to its neutral rate than previously expected. Now, some would say that is merely practical observation that after three rate hikes in 2018, they have closed in on their projected ‘neutral rate’ range of 2.50 to 3.50 percent. We could still keep pace and extend the most hawkish forecasts and hit the top end of that scale. That is true, but we have to remember what the central bank’s primary monetary policy tool has been over the past half-decade. There has been a notable shift in Fed policy intent, and the markets will be engrossed with interrupting exactly what this course correction will mean for the capital markets. It hasn’t been changes to the benchmark rate or adjustments to the balance sheet but rather forward guidance. They have gone to exceptional lengths to signal their policy intent without making promises for the course so that they could back away from extreme easing without triggering a speculative panic based on exposure leveraged by years of excess backed by the vaunted ‘central bank put’. If so much effort is being put into this tool, then changes should be taken seriously rather than downplayed for convenience of a comfortable trading assumption. If there was intent behind the subtle change in rhetoric, it is an effort to acclimate the markets in advance of an event whereby the forecast will be delivered in black-and-white without the ability to establish nuance before the market’s respond with speculative shock (an event like the December 19 rate decision whereby the Summary of Economic Projections will make explicit the rate forecasts). If indeed this is the objective to temper the market before the frank forecast is offered, then each speaking engagement and key data update between now and then will carry greater consequence. In the week ahead, we have Powell testifying before the Joint Economic Committee, which is a perfect opportunity to slightly extend the effort to make its intentions known. Recognition of this undertaking is the first step. Establishing what it means for the Dollar with rate premium and risk trends that have found confidence in the central bank’s reassurances will be critical. G20 Aftermath Produces an Official Communique and US-China Trade War Pause Pop the corks. The G20 has agreed to an official communique while the US and Chinese Presidents made a breakthrough on the escalation of their escalating trade war. Yet, before we over-indulge in risk exposure build up, we should perhaps look further ahead to the hangover that confidence in which this development is likely to lead us. Typically, an official press briefing that all the leaders agree to (dubbed the ‘communique’) is routine. However, with the rise of populism in the global rank and subsequent deterioration of relationships, simply signing off a commitment to shared goals of growth and stability has become an exceptional milestone. The leading consensus heading into this gathering in Argentina was that no official briefing would be released as the United States would not approve anything that would set its America-first agenda into a negative light. Further, China would not sign off on a statement that cast its own policies as unfair trade. In years past, such a development may have spurred the next leg of a yield chase; but recognition of the risk/reward imbalance is far too prominent nowadays. Perhaps recognizing the deteriorating sentiment amongst businesses, investors and consumers globally; the other parties would not demand these inclusions as protest for making so little traction with their constant protests. The indirect references to US and Chinese policies were left out. That is not genuine progress but simply self-preservation. As for the more remarkable ‘breakthrough’ in US and Chinese relations, the countries’ leaders found enough common ground to compromise a pause in the rapid escalation of their trade war. For discussing key economic issues between the two countries, the US agreed to delay the increase in its tariff rate on $200 billion in Chinese imports from 10 to 25 percent due previously to take effect on January 1st. The threat made by President in the weeks preceding this gathering of adding another $267 billion in Chinese goods to the tax list didn’t seem to warrant specific reference – perhaps as a backdoor strategy or because it would assumed to be included. This is a pause in the escalation of activities rather than a genuine path back to a state of normalcy where collective growth is the foundation for the global economy. This is the bare minimum for registering an ‘improvement’ in relations, and it will be this thin veneer of progress that will truly test the market’s appetite to source anything of ancillary value to build up speculative exposure. I doubt this will inspire a true effort to significantly build up exposure in these unsteady times. In years past, such a development may have spurred the next leg of a yield chase; but recognition of the risk/reward imbalance is far too prominent nowadays. The question is how long this pause in an explicit outlet of fear lasts? Long enough to carry us through the end of the year? We’ll find out soon enough.
  10. A G20 Meeting of Extreme Consequence As far as summits for leaders of the world’s largest economies go – in other words, an already very important affair – the gathering in Argentina this coming Friday and Saturday is crucial. There are a host of global conflicts that will inevitably be addressed at this gathering, but certain aspects will preoccupy the market’s immediate focus. It will be important to recognize what will carry the weight of speculative interest. On the one hand, there are discussion points of great consequence socially and culturally, but those issues will not show their economic consequences much latter and therefore will be largely ignored but for niche corners of the market. An example of this type of discussion point is climate change which has taken on greater importance with countries pleading with the US following its withdrawal from the Paris Accord and the strong of recent, dire scientific reports. In contrast, trade wars, is an ongoing threat to global economic and financial health inevitably drawing an inordinate amount of attention from market participants. There are a host of global conflicts that will inevitably be addressed at this gathering, but certain aspects will preoccupy the market’s immediate focus. Of course, the elephant in the room will be US President Donald Trump who has pushed ahead with the most consequential conflicts on international trade. There will inevitably be numerous pleas made to the leader of the free world to rethink his aggressive approach towards peers. That said, he likely has little interest to hear out there concerns. The mid-term election results will likely redouble his commitment to his current course. To be fair, nearly any outcome would have rendered such a result. Had the GOP swept the polls, it would have been taken as America showing its support. Yet with the outcome that was realized, there is a greater interest in pursuing those courses of action for which he can affect change without the of a divided Congress. And trade is just one such outlet. Alternatively, finding a course out of a discounted crisis could be registered as a political win – though what it would earn for the US markets is another matter. Avoiding a crisis (some would argue one self-manufactured) is not the same as inspiring genuine enthusiasm and speculative run. In particular, this summit should be watched for official and sideline commentary from the US-China discussions. Leaders of the two countries (Trump and Xi) are scheduled to discuss trade at the summit providing an ideal high-level opportunity to afford each an opportunity to claim a political victory. If they change decide to reverse course, it could offer considerable speculative relief and perhaps no small amount of recovery. This could very well be the strategy as Trump has voiced increasingly confident views of the relationship these past weeks that have been walked back by his administration – perhaps to build pressure. If we do see these two countries make nice and start the path towards recovery, yet markets do not translate the news into recovery, I would be concerned about what it reflects for sentiment. Alternatively, no encouraging course correction would be a ‘status quo’ outcome and keep our troubled outlook on its wary course. If the politicians involved want, they can render this event an obfuscated non-mover even without an official communique. Yet, subtly seems less and less standard a virtue of late. Liquidity Restored, Seasonality Conditions and Key Events The liquidity tide will roll back in over the coming week. As expected, the drain of US speculative interest this past week due to the Thanksgiving holiday played an effective role in sidelining a concerted effort to mount a system-wide advance or retreat in risk trends. However, the period didn’t end without its troubling signals for the future. The S&P 500 closed a thin Friday trade session with one of the least encouraging candles possible – a gap lower, larger ‘upper wick’, no ‘body’ between open and close and anchored to a noteworthy trendline support. The losses leading up to the US holiday reiterate a troubling frequency of painful losses for the benchmark US indices this year. What’s more, it serves to remind us of the fact that many other corners of the financial system – both in terms of region and asset type – have already trekked much lower. A retreat in US equities would be a general convergence towards significantly weaker global if that were the course that we took. ...if there were ever a time to worry about a passive climb in speculative positioning, it would be amid a wealth of overlapping and systemic financial risks. Yet, there is still the natural hold out for seasonal mood disorder – otherwise assumed to be a holiday rally. There is good statistical data to give weight to such expectations but of course there are exceptions to this norm. And, if there were ever a time to worry about a passive climb in speculative positioning, it would be amid a wealth of overlapping and systemic financial risks. From trade wars to the collapse of ineffective monetary policy regimes to growing evidence of excessive leverage (loans, debt, investor exposure), we are dealing with a potentially-toxic environment. As more factions in the global markets recognize the precarious environment for which we are exposed, there is greater threat to fragile stability in key event risk. There is a range of key global events and data due over the coming week. In the US, the Fed’s favorite inflation reading (the PCE deflator) will work with the FOMC minutes and Fed speak to set expectations for rate hikes in December and the pace in 2019 which have already suffered in recent weeks. In Europe, the Euro-area sentiment surveys and BoE’s financial stability report will anchor the focus on the region’s quickly fading sense of stability. Chinese and Japanese PMIs will give good proxy for recent GDP in Asia while actual quarterly updates are due from Brazil and India. Now is not a good time to embrace the comfortable warmth of complacency. As the Clock Winds Down for a Brexit Deal, Events Look More Ominous There have been a number of notable reversals in fortune for UK Prime Minister Theresa May and the course of the Brexit deal over the past month. And, with each successive ‘breakthrough’ the market has hardened its skepticism over the authenticity of a favorable path for the country’s divorce. We will see just how cynical the speculative rank and general public are at the start of this new active trading week. Over the weekend, May attended the EU27’s summit to discuss the Brexit proposal backed by the Prime Minister. European Council President Donald Tusk announced on twitter that the collective supported the bill, but enthusiasm was held in check with both lawmakers and observers alike. Top EU negotiators reportedly met May on common ground the week before, and the effort was ultimately doomed owing to PM’s own cabinet failing to offer up necessary support to move the effort forward. After the shakeup forced by the resignations of multiple cabinet members, there is little to suggest that she will have any easier a time of navigating the straights. There are also a variety of possible courses that end with May be ousted: from her offering up resignation, being pushed out by backbenchers, Labour mustering enough weight to force an election... In a few weeks, Parliament will put the deal to a vote; and confidence amongst its members has been shaky at best. Some – even key members to the Prime Minister’s support network – have suggested the current proposal would be not make it through. Should the deal be voted down, the clock will look beyond dangerous to the safe and stable withdrawal for the UK. At that point, May could stick it out and attempt to return with small tweaks latter which may not sway her government or will be too substantial and knock out the EU’s support. That would leave little-to-no time to earn agreement from all parties and scramble to get the passage approval with all governments along with the technical groundwork to set the dissolved relationship up for the March 29th cutoff. Either this course or an explicit refusal to back down on key items can push forward a ‘no deal’ outcome which Parliament has said it will rule against on – though it is not clear what the course will be from that point with so very little time left. There are also a variety of possible courses that end with May be ousted: from her offering up resignation, being pushed out by backbenchers, Labour mustering enough weight to force an election or the PM calling a general election herself in an attempt to gain support. All of these would burn precious time that they negotiations do not have. And, then there is the outlier chance that Theresa May finally entertains the idea of a second referendum which she has adamantly rejected so many times before. That would stop the clock if it were to end with a vote against Brexit or perhaps be used to strategically reset the clock. Whatever course we take, the clock has dwindled and all developments that are genuine progress register as a step to serious pain.
  11. Another ‘Brexit Breakthrough’ Falls Apart Yet another potential breakthrough in the Brexit stalemate seemed to be hashed out at the beginning of this past week following hours of legal negotiation and closed doors discussions. Supposedly, a draft bill was worked out that both the Prime Minister and top European Union negotiators were comfortable moving forward with. If there were only two parties which needed to be satisfied in this divorce, that would be that. However, there are multiple parties whose needs in this debate are collectively at opposite ends of the spectrum. And, that inability to satisfy all these necessary groups once again torpedoed hope of progress. After hours of one-on-one meetings with her cabinet, the PM announced that she had received the support of her council only to see the foundation crumble again when a number of her senior cabinet members suddenly resign. And so, the confusion remains and time to work out a viable solution winds closer and closer to zero. It is important to remember the complexity involved in withdrawing from the EU – a move that has never happened in the collective’s history. Approval of the deal is only the first stage. Consent needs to be offered by all member governments and the technical steps need to be implemented in preparation for the first day of the actual split (March 29, 2019). So, even though politicians continue to voice optimism and time, the reality is that their initial assessment was the deal was necessary months ago in order to facilitate a reasonable transition. Moving forward, each week that passes without agreement is going to be met with exponentially greater concern by global investors and businesses. Inevitably, to make the critical breakthrough, one of the major vested parties will need to capitulate on a key point of their position. Remaining in the customs union for the indefinite future for work around on the Irish border is one primary sticking point. It remains an outcome of a hard break or soft withdrawal that keeps the United Kingdom one foot in the Union against the wishes of the Brexit supporters with a black-and-white interpretation of the referendum back in 2016. In my view, there are two general outcomes for this standoff: a compromise or no deal. There are many different possible variants for how the separation can look – with their pros and cons, virtues and vices. Yet, each would represent a plan. Alternatively, a failure to find common ground will disadvantage the United Kingdom and the European Union (more the former than the latter if you really want to keep score). An agreement – any agreement – is needed to prevent a European crisis from developing. And, a crash out would almost certainly start a crisis for the region. Global economic and financial conditions are already tenuous as it is with numerous other threats prodding our over-inflated, speculative balloon including trade wars, Italy threatening EU fiscal stability and recognition of the limits of effectiveness for global monetary policy. A recession-inducing and short-term credit crisis arising from a messy break in this event is certainly one of catalysts broad and acute enough to start the wheels turning on a global scale. Remembering the Volatility and Volume Relationship for Thanksgiving We are heading into a known draw in global liquidity this week. The Thanksgiving holiday is distinctly a US market closure, but the break in liquidity from a major financial hub is so well-known – and inconvenient – that the world tends to accommodate the drop in market depth. There is an important measure of habit that fulfills seasonal expectations in performance and activity level year in and year out. If you believe a speculative run that is starting to form will hit a road block because the subsequent session will drain half of the world’s liquidity, would you take the outsized risk exposure in hopes that the drive is so remarkable that it will overcome the disruption? There is one particular scenario for which I believe that an exception to establish an explicit trend despite a thinned market would actually occur: a panic-induced risk aversion. Greed is difficult to gain foothold as opportunities are not often seen as so fleeting as to require such a quick reaction as to override a contented sideline exposure. That said, a sudden crash in the market that puts in jeopardy a fund manager’s or individual’s capital can certainly override confidence in a quick burn. Ultimately, there is a distinct relationship between volatility and volume – or, in more universal abstracts activity level and participation. In a bit of a ‘chicken and the egg’ parable, it is somewhat self-evident that volatility and volume move hand in hand; but not which leads the other. So long as there isn’t an overwhelming threat to the global financial system for which European, Asia and North and South Americans (who are not the US) are driven to flee regardless of America’s participation; the low volume will inspire low volatility. And, for those that have not kept tabs on the VIX or other implied volatility measures, this aspect of the market is considered a ‘risk’ measure with an inverse correlation to benchmark capital market exposure like a long equities index position. If, on the other hand, there is a sharp increase in volatility, it will either draw more volume in to facilitate the development of a trend or cause an extreme response in the market similar to a tsunami gaining height as the water’s depth decreases heading into shore. Normally, I would be little concerned about conditions ahead, but given the list of systemic threats that circle just outside of the market’s comfort zone, it would be risky to assume quiet. A Trade Deal – No Trade Deal – No Credibility It is getting difficult to believe updates on the United States’ position in the global financial system and the prospects of the country’s growth moving forward. It has been a feature of the landscape for years (well into the past administration) to see the promise of an economic improvement crushed by political gridlock. However, the defusing of confidence is happening more rapidly, arising from within a single party and the stakes have grown so much larger through subsequent years of speculative build up. A good example is the infrastructure program that has been touted since the 2016 Presidential campaign for which both Republican and Democratic front-runners vowed to pursue to accelerate growth. Now passed the mid-terms, we have not seen progress made on the fiscal stimulus (though the tax reform and regulatory rollback did earn some points for the buoyancy). President Trump referenced his willingness to return to the effort this past month, but Senate leader Mitch McConnell threw cold water on market hopes when he said the program would not be considered unless it paid for itself – very difficult to do after a tax cut. An infrastructure bill would be an ‘addition to the economic outlook’, while an end to the trade war would reflect the ‘removal of a threat’. Said removal has been something the market has harbored some measure of hope would occur and likely one of the key reasons risk assets like US equities have not imploded. Trump seemed to give traction to that confidence earlier this month when he said that progress was being made in negotiations with China and a deal was on the way after a phone call with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi. The rally that followed those remarks however were quickly stifled when his chief economic advisor outright contradicted the President’s assessment and instead said he was even more concerned about the future than he was previously. One false dawn is enough to undermine the market’s confidence in taking such remarks in the future at face value, but a second time within a few weeks will almost ensure it. This past week, Trump again said a deal would be done with a short list of items left to work out and the need to apply the last tranche of tariffs against the country perhaps not necessary. Before those remarks could take any serious traction, White House officials followed up by saying the market should not read into his remarks. They seemed self-explanatory with no interpretation necessary, so the check reads as outright contraction – a move that will certainly curb the use of forward guidance into the future. If you want to see the fallout from losing the ability to direct market’s to views for the future, look to Japan or Switzerland.
  12. Will Holiday Conditions Save Us from Fundamentals and Speculation? Normally, there is not a strong appetite for holiday trading conditions because it can materially slow markets – and most traders seek out volatility, even if it is as much a risk as a basis for potential. However, this year, there will be a strong appetite for the typical conditions associated with the time of year. In 2018, we have seen an extraordinary bout of volatility with dramatic bear waves in benchmark risk assets like the US indices through February and October while the progress of the previous years of this decade long bull run has grown increasingly uncertain. We have yet to see a commitment to a bear trend by the S&P 500 and its ilk, but it is a far greater probability in these conditions – systemic shifts more readily occur after periods of consolidation rather than sudden ‘V’ tops or bottoms. It is against this backdrop that the promise of November and December seasonal performance expectations can raise hopes. The ‘holiday’ markets and ‘Santa Clause Rally’ are popular reference to the same general market conditions. Through the closing 8 weeks of the year, holidays break up the momentum that can build behind systemic trends, losses are booked for accounting purposes and open period for funds encourage portfolio changes. There is a reason that such seasonality expectations exist, there is statistical relevance behind the views. Yet, as the saying goes: ‘this time may be different’. Historically, the S&P 500 has accumulated an oversized portion of its annual gains through the final two months and the VIX volatility index has in turned dropped through the same period denoting a reduction in the variability of returns (in other words, risk). That said, conditions and context matter. If the markets are unstable and there is outsized exposure, sparks can turn into flames that raze a financial system. There are plenty of catalysts to track as potential catalysts of crisis, from trade wars to political instability to monetary policy normalization. Yet, it is the general state of the financial system that truly represents the threat. The excessive leverage taken on by investors (notional and thematic), businesses (buy back shares with proceeds of bond issuance), consumers (revolving credit and housing) and governments (growing debt burdens) makes the growth we have enjoyed these past years look borrowed and far more threatening than reassuring. That excess is already showing through in certain corners of the financial system. The steady dive in emerging markets, high yield fixed income and global shares relative to the unrealistic buoyancy of US stocks signal some sign of recognition. Nevertheless, it is clear that such appreciation hasn’t translated into capitulation. Deleveraging is essential and it will occur via intent or force with timing dependent on the method. Pushing Brexit to the Breaking Point An emergency November summit between European Union and United Kingdom leaders to secure a deal on Brexit will only occur should the latter party make significant progress on its position involving critical points of impasse at the previous meeting. And, recent reports don’t offer much to be enthusiastic about. Multiple times over the past month, we have seen enthusiasm trumpeted on breakthroughs among UK government and between the UK and EU; but each time, that confidence was quickly snuffed out. It seems virtually impossible to satisfy all relevant parties in this stalemate. The Prime Minister’s cabinet has a concentration of hardliners that demands no alternative to an absolute Brexit is acceptable. In contrast, Parliament is more flexible in its interest to maintain some connection to the shared markets and is willing to bend on some points of contention – though the number of its rank open to a second referendum creates some inherent difficulty. And, then there is the EU itself. The collective wants to maintain strong economic ties with the large economy, but it is not willing to make exceptions to its requirements for access for fear of other countries demanding the same benefits as they file their own Article 50 withdrawal intentions. This past week, the UK’s transportation minister resigned from the cabinet owing to his belief that the deal they can reach with the EU would not be the Brexit that the country had voted for, and a second referendum on the new terms would be necessary. Ultimately, this will not materially change the general complication of the process; but it does speak to the frayed nerves and quickly winding down clock. PM May has stated repeatedly that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and that they fully intend to push forward when the two-year time frame for Brexit negotiations expires at the end of March. Adding the countdown to this situation only raises the risk that difficult negotiations will ultimately prove a push over a financial and economic cliff. If there is ultimately a breakthrough immediately at hand, there still are significant difficulties brought on by the short time left to work up technical requirements and to push through approval for all the member countries. That said, should the situation continue to shamble forward, the risks grow exponentially as businesses and investors move operations to avoid the unknowns that they march towards – already the 3Q GDP figures reported a further reduction in business spending. The flight in capital will in turn slow growth and undermine confidence figures which slowly graduate into more systemic economic factors. A financial crisis may not come to pass until later, however, as liquidity can hold up to hesitation – though not capital flight. It is growing clear that there is no ‘best case scenario’ with this situation whereby there will not be additional political, economic and/or financial stress for some participant in the divorce. Investors should be concerned with the subsequent issues, but they may not have the luxury given the threats so prominent in the immediate risks. Is an Italian-EU Debt Crisis Inevitable? Financial and political fractures in the European Union will continue to erode confidence for an entire trading session. In the week ahead, Italy’s standoff with the European Community over its plans to defy austerity measures the previous government had agreed to will hit another important deadline. After the EC rejected Italy’s budget proposal a few weeks ago for setting spending targets and GDP estimates too high, the country was told to go back to the drawing board to significantly reduce the projected 2.4 percent spending to GDP ratio it had planned. In the lead up that second effort due on Tuesday, Prime Minister Conte and Deputy PM Salvini made clear they had no intention of making significant changes to appease Brussels. If that is true, there is almost no chance that this situation will not devolve into some measure of an existential crisis for the Union. The middle ground is extraordinarily far for both parties with Italy operating on a voter mandate to rebuke austerity and Europe seeing little chance of avoiding an avalanche of anger amongst members should it make another exception to its budgetary rules to a country that has such an extraordinary debt in a general period of global economic strength and while so many of its peers are holding true to significant austerity. If the standoff between this country and collective does not turn off its current course, it could cause irreparable damage to the Euro’s standing in the currency market. The world’s second most liquid currency depends on the stability of its unions. If a member of this smaller subset were to leave – especially the third largest – it would carve out a significant portion of GDP and financial liquidity not to mention raise the risks of other countries following suit from ‘virtually zero’ to ‘probable’. Holding ‘European’ exposure against those risks would be a non-starter, especially if the situation were to unfold alongside global risk concerns (more likely). Specific interest in individual countries can continue to hold up, but identifying what portion of a country’s market will be unaffected by the financial ripples would be difficult and a bridge too far if risk aversion is undermines patience and nuance. Should this threat balloon, the lessons of the European sovereign debt crisis between 2009 and 2012 will be revisited. Yet, this time, populism is far more pervasive, the region is still recovering from the previous austerity and the central bank has no capacity to ramp up ramp up support beyond LTROs which will find its effectiveness as diminished as the QE program that replaced it.
  13. Remove the Political Bias, Focus on the Volatility There has been plenty of political risk keeping the markets at a steady simmer these past months. Some situations like Italy’s budget stand-off with the European Union and the Brexit negotiations are more overt concerns. However, the general rise of populism and the erosion of cross border diplomacy (trade wars, sanctions, failed trade deals, etc) represents a more systemic risk. Yet, despite the ubiquity of this fundamental influence, there is an explicit focus on this theme through the coming week in the form of the United States’ mid-term election. The discourse in the country has become toxic, which will leverage the domestic market’s attention and ensure a broad evaluation of influence to encompass the factors that can steer the economy. Further, given the pressure the United States has exerted on the rest of the world via tariffs and sanctions largely via the Trump Administration’s executive powers, the election takes on global significance. While there is little doubt that the world is watching, there is considerable ambiguity over exactly how it will impact the markets. With tariffs or another break down in Brexit negotiations, it is easy to draw the lines to market influence. In the US election, there is far more social stake and clash of personalities than direct financial implication. That is not to say the ultimate effect on the economy and market are not significant – they are. However, it can be difficult to separate these elements. Nevertheless, it is crucial that we do so. The foundation of successful investing is removing emotion from the equation as much as possible. Besides religion, there is probably nothing more likely to elicit emotion than politics. When we put aside the anger and mania that radiates out from this event, we are left with few possible scenarios that can translate into key domestic and global policies that can impact the markets (see Christopher Vecchio’s article on this for more detail). This election will only translate to the legislative branch when we account for federal reach on key positions. If the Republican party retains both the Senate and the House, that would be seen as the ‘status quo’ as it presents continuity to the situation we’ve had this past two years. It is far from a happy and functional government, but it would still be possible to generate short-term growth via a planned second tax cut plan and perhaps reviving the discussion of an infrastructure spending program. Yet, the growing debt load over the long-term paired against the risk of a slowing economy will loom. If the one or both of the houses of Congress flip to a Democrat majority, pressure will increase significantly. That will lead to difficult progress on programs and likely lead the President to fall back on executive powers to approximate his desires. Overall, that will punctuate the uncertainty and volatility in the markets moving forward – perhaps securing and hastening a more systemic risk aversion for which the market has been threatening since February. The Asymmetric Potential in the Fed, RBA and RBNZ Rate Decisions When there is an event like the US mid-term elections on the docket, it is easy to overlook event risk that is scheduled for release after – and even before – the systemic distraction. Exploiting a very different theme of speculative interest and source of growing concern over the coming week are three major central banks’ rate decisions. Each is expected to end in no actual change to their benchmark rate or other unorthodox policies, but the market is effectively tuned to the nuance for which they were reference in their accompanying reports. Before we consider the potential of each, it is important to consider the wholesale influence that they have on financial system. Whether individual market participants appreciate it or not, the stability and reach of their markets are heavily dependent on the extremely accommodative policies the major central banks have committed to over the years. The abundance of cheap funds has lowered the assumption of risk while also deflating the rate of return – necessitating riskier and leveraged exposure in order to make a competitive rate of return. That translates into considerable risk taking. Should the spectrum continue to slowly shift away from easing to early tightening – following the lead of the Fed – the more readily the masses will recognize the risk in their exposure. That will raise the sensitivity to risk trends and encourage de-risking that can accelerate into a crisis. As for the individual events themselves, the Federal Reserve’s decision will garner the greatest global attention. Despite – or perhaps exactly because of – the Fed’s tempo of tightening, the market’s do not expect a hike at this meeting. The fourth hike the majority of the FOMC forecasted in the September SEP was given a December timetable by the market’s. No change, but language that confirms a fourth hike would leave the Fed untouchable as the most hawkish central bank for carry purposes, but the market will treat it as status quo. The most feasible surprise would come in more restrained language that would curb established rate expectations which would in turn sink the Dollar (and likely risk trends). In contrast, the Australian (RBA) and New Zealand (RBNZ) policy events are expected to end with no change and language that reflects the same ‘neutral with a modest dovishness’ that they have maintained for the past few years. Both the Australian and New Zealand Dollars have deflated for months to the point where they have significantly reduced their responsiveness to their detrimental yield bearing. Even if the groups raised the stakes on their dovish views, it would likely translate into a small market response. Alternatively, should they offer any improvement in their view and possible intentions, there would be a disproportionate rally from their currencies. He Said, He Said: US-China Trade War, Brexit, Italy Though we do not have the benefit of specific events and time frames on updates for some of the other more systemic concerns lurking in the financial system, that doesn’t make them any less potent a threat. Though the coming week, there are three general themes of ongoing concern that will remain on my radar. The First is the US-China trade wars. This situation has managed to avoid a clear path much less a genuine resolution to the point that markets are starting to grow wary of any remarks that could be considered signs of an improved path. This past week, we were reminded of the importance of this cold economic war when conflicting views were espoused – this time on the same side of the negotiation table. The US President voiced his optimism that a corner was turned in the negotiations after a call with his Chinese counterpart with reports that he had called on his cabinet to draft a proposal to find a solution. That helped extend the capital markets’ rebound. Yet, that optimism was quickly muted when Trump’s chief economic adviser said he was not given direction to come up with a plan and that he was less confident about the future of the relationship than he was in previous months. And, just to ensure we were fully confused on the point, the President made further remarks soon after the adviser reiterating his initial statement. Look for any mentions of production discussions before the G20 summit over the coming week first as campaign rhetoric and after the election as planning. Across the pond, the Brexit situation seems to find itself steeped back into despair after brief interludes of optimism charged by supposed progress. At this point, the holdup is finding agreement on the UK’s side. Last week, the earlier reports that the Prime Minister was willing to make concessions on an important point of disagreement to make a breakthrough, progress yet again stalled as her cabinet revolted. There is a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Theresa May will need to get an agreement from her own government under the new parameters whittled down with the last EU Summit rejection. In the background, there are rumors that a solution is being honed in on, but their rhetoric in public certainly isn’t doing them any favors in market and business sentiment terms. Then there is the clear contrast in perspective between the Italian government and other European Union leaders. There is no ambiguity in this contentious disagreement. Italian leaders have repeatedly committed to increase spending well beyond what the EU considers acceptable. European leaders and central bank members have shown little interest in making an exception to the austerity rules for the region (and a backstop should market’s punish Italy in the latter’s case) for fear of losing stability internal and confidence externally. If capitulation is not found from one side, there is really no alternative solution as they head towards an existential crisis for another member finding its way out of the Union. And, unlike the UK, Italy is more deeply integrated as a member of the monetary agreement that shares the same central bank and currency.
  14. Risk Trends – Monitor Liquidity Closely Sentiment is turning increasingly septic across the financial markets. This past week certainly wasn’t the first week that signs of trouble were starting to show. However, a clear capitulation by one of the favorite benchmarks of hold-out bulls – US indices – has undermined one of the few reliable backstops left. The S&P 500 and Dow have been in retreat through much of October after hitting their respective record highs. Up until this past week, the slip still fit the mold of a measured retreat for which the ‘buyers of the dip’ have flourished. Yet, the past five-day stretch added a troubling gut punch to the opportunists’ gut. The major American indices, paced by the S&P 500, crashed through their respective multi-year bull market trendlines. While Wednesday’s 3.0 percent tumble was particularly acute, it was Friday’s more restrained drop that was perhaps more remarkable technically and a record setter. The gap lower on the open was the biggest in almost exactly 10 years (2 days off during the height of the Great Financial Crisis) and the largest on record. Furthermore, it the move that would treat a former critical level of support as new resistance. With this symbolic risk leader removing its support, we may find one of the most critical contributors to keeping the peace allowing progress as we slide into deeper retreat. Attempting to unload exposure but finding no market forcing a rapid drop in price to satisfy the offload is something completely different. As we keep track of this small sliver of the financial system, comparison to deeper and more productive retreat for global equities (VEU), emerging markets (EEM), junk bonds (HYG) and so many other important assets will act as a sort of speculative gravity. One of my favorite measures of genuine sentiment is to gauge correlation for these various risk assets as they commit to a clear and consistent trend. Yet, where that may indicate that sentiment is in control with a viable direction, the measures of intensity are different. Two crucial elements of a market that is tipping from controlled descent into relentless deleveraging are market positioning and liquidity. For market positioning, exposure can be assessed through open interest via derivatives like futures and ETFs. The net speculative futures position monitored by the CFTC (COT) is a significant medium-term evaluation – in contrast to the short-term readings from the DailyFX-IG sentiment data. That said, there are longer duration measures that we can utilize for trends. Total open interest in futures (for speculation and hedging signals), capital moving into and out of ETFs and leverage readings for different economic participants (investor, consumer, corporate and government) can all register the state of the financial system. As these readings start to reverse course and funds begin to prioritize safety over return, we begin to solidify a self-sustaining course. However, tipping the market into a true panic with all its important implications, we must monitor the liquidity behind the market. An abundance of selling overwhelming bullish interests is one thing. Attempting to unload exposure but finding no market forcing a rapid drop in price to satisfy the offload is something completely different. There are many ways to measure the strain on the system, but not all are made the same. I find many of the government (Cleveland Fed) and bank (BofAML, Goldman) measures are lagging. Spreads between market and sovereign (TED spread) or risk premium (high yield fixed income over blue chip) is more timely. Given how exposed investors are up the risk curve, the natural rolling out of the tide from higher risk and thinner markets can trigger a cascading problem in the opposite direction towards the core of the market. It is worth noting that late this past week, Japan’s central bank, Finance Ministry and financial authority (FSA) held an unscheduled meeting to discuss the tumble in equity markets (15 percent down in October). We should keep a close eye on whether more such concerns are confirmed on other points across the globe. Themes Versus Event Risk for Euro and Pound There are already significant fundamental winds blowing for the European currencies, but the storm will start to foster confusing cross winds in in the coming week. In particular, traders will have to untangle the influence between scheduled event risk and more systemic themes. We have seen this many times before in different asset types and different regions. How many times have we seen a high profile event draw the market’s attention in its approach only to find its ultimately impact waylaid by an unresolved and overriding theme? For this week, least severely conflicted currencies (hardly an inspiring designation) is the Euro. On the docket, we have a range of economic releases including inflation to region-wide sentient surveys. As important as those figures are, there is far more fundamental charge from the likes of the Euro-area 3Q GDP figures and Italy’s specific data. Italy will report its own GDP update, its monthly budget and other various indicators. We care about this specific country for its systemic, thematic influence. The standoff between the European Union and one of its most indebted members has hit a critical stage. The ongoing drumbeat for the Sterling is the unresolved Brexit, and we are fast approaching a critical deadline which looms like a cliff. Italy has made clear it has no intention of backing off of commitments to increase public spending to help spur growth through pensions, support for the poor and more. Yet the Union and other member countries’ leaders have demanded change to meet the previous government’s commitments and not run afoul of the Union’s restrictions. We were here before with Greece approximately 9 years ago. If this moves forward, the situation could prove far more severe as Italy is a core member rather than a small, fringe component to the healthy system. From the Pound, the fundamental conflict will be far more substantial. The ongoing drumbeat for the Sterling is the unresolved Brexit. This has been the general state of the market backdrop for over a year and a half. However, we are fast approaching a critical deadline which looms like a cliff. They have to start decelerating now to ensure they do not pitch over the ledge. Where it seemed last weekend a breakthrough was reached when it was suggested Prime Minister May was ready to compromise on the boarder, we saw late in the subsequent week that talks within her government had stalled over strong infighting yet again. We have few definitive dates to monitor for progress through the immediate future, so we have to rely on erratic headlines instead. In the meantime, the Bank of England (BOE) rate decision on Thursday carries more weight than normal. While speculation of another hike by the MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) before the end of the year has dropped off sharply, focus on policy standings has ramped up considerably thanks to the Bank of Canada’s rate hike. What’s more, this is one of the nuanced meetings for the BOE as we are also expected the Quarterly Inflation Report and Governor Carney’s press conference – which is collectively referred to as Super Thursday. Expect volatility but question trend. The Unique Signal on Risk from the Dollar, USDJPY and Aussie Dollar As we attempt to untangle the commitment in risk trends – a worthwhile pursuit given how much potential lays underneath this evaluation – there are a few measures in the FX market that deserve closer attention for their unique readings. First in that is the US Dollar. The most liquid currency in the world, this asset is often considered a binary safe haven. It is true that the currency represents a good harbor to stormy financial markets, but there are shades of grey to sentiment and to this indicator’s signaling. In the event that we see a full-tilt deleveraging of risky exposure, there is no question that the Greenback will climb. This has less to do with the depth of the currency’s own market, and relies far more on the international appetite for US Treasuries and money markets when the walls are falling down around us. When capital is fleeing to such safety, it first must cross the exchange rate barrier. However, short of the extreme measures capital shift, the Dollar’s status comes with significant caveats. This is a currency that has also drawn significant interest as a carry currency over the past few years owing to the Fed’s unmatched path of policy normalization. That hasn’t always afforded the USD lift, but it has factored in nonetheless. I would look instead for short-term opportunities. One such opportunity may come with the Australian Dollar and/or New Zealand Dollar. If we are in risk aversion that sees the Dollar drop, it is less likely to be the type that is systemic and associated to ‘panic’; while a USD surge would indicate something very different. This ambiguous picture of the Dollar can be extended to a specific currency pair as well: USDJPY. Both the Dollar and Japanese Yen respond to market sentiment as safe havens. The Yen is more appropriately ‘safe haven adjacent’ however as it is a funding currency that facilitates carry trade appetite. As confidence gives way to fear, a deleveraging of carry nevertheless sees the Yen appreciate and signals a change in course. Yet, what if the intensity picks up? The Dollar’s carry status would facilitate a drop in the exchange rate, but an extreme tempo would likely designate a more appropriate harbor from extreme fear. If it is difficult to evaluate confidence from the USD alone or via the correlation between assets, use the USDJPY as a barometer. We have done a lot of ‘preparing for the worst’. What if sentiment stabilizes and there is a rebound in risk appetite? First, it is important for me to qualify that I would not consider a bounce in risk appetite to signal a lasting trend. There are still deep, unresolved inequities between risk assets prices and their values. I would look instead for short-term opportunities. One such opportunity may come with the Australian Dollar and/or New Zealand Dollar. Both are carry currencies that have lost all appeal for their carry. They further have exposure to China which is troubling and host their own domestic issues (such as housing tension). Yet, if risk trends stabilize, there is deeper discount here than more confused outlets such as the Dollar or the Yen crosses. Further, these currencies have not dropped in recent weeks’ sentiment slump, which denotes a bias that can reduce risk and leverage potential under favorable conditions. There is still key event risk to monitor ahead such as Australia’s 3Q GDP and CPI, but we shouldn’t underestimate the opportunity should the course be set.
  15. The United States and China Jostling for Economic Supremacy The world’s largest economies are starting to update on the status of their health. And, though it may not seem to be the case in these speculatively charged markets, financial performance relies heavily on a healthy global expansion. This past Friday, China reported its third quarter GDP reading. The 6.5 percent clip would be an enviable pace for most of the developed world, but for this debt laden country, this is slowing to a pace that is more likely approaching ‘stall speed’. In historical context, the reading represented the slowest clip of expansion for the country in 9 years – a period that was plagued by a global recession that had in turn prompted the government to plow funding towards infrastructure spending to buy it more time. Time is crucial for the world’s second largest economy. It needs to be balance its relatively rapid pace of growth with financial stability long enough that it can solidify its position as one of the dominant economic superpowers. The United States’ effort to bring trade pressure against its largest economic peer will come with an economic cost to the instigator For decades, the country has relied on the rapid growth that is borne from trade, financing, speculative appetite and practices that emerging market countries often utilize that are considered unacceptable among their developed counterparts. That said, it is odd that the second largest economy is still classified as an ‘emerging’ market and one of the roots of contention from the United States and others. Over the past three to four years, China’s intent and timeline have become more clear. Having avoided a the Great Recession, they had seen their standing in the global economy move up to a more stable plateau. To ensure they secured their position, the government has attempted to turn towards a more accepted growth plan and to reduce capital borders in order to become a full-fledged member of the globalized community. Without interruption, that initiative would have succeeded. Unfortunately for the Politburo, the Trump Administration has exerted enormous pressure on the country and threatens to undermine growth and/or tip the financial stability balance to create a permanent hurdle. The question of how successful this effort to stymie the economic engineering effort will be is only one facet of the equation, there is also the question of how much fallout the US itself will suffer along the way. The United States’ effort to bring trade pressure against its largest economic peer will come with an economic cost to the instigator, which they are attempting to offset by fostering investment and business growth through tax cuts and fiscal spending – a combination that breaks norms of its own (deficit control). In the week ahead, we are due the United States’ 3Q GDP update. This is the period through which the trade war truly ramped up, and it will be used as an evaluation of whether the polices are boon or burden at home. Should this and other more timely economic readings head lower, buoyant sentiment readings over the past year will start to flag and make a self-fulfilling prophecy of financial concern. The Euro’s Fundamental Path is Growing More Complicated For the most part, the Euro has spent the past 18 months either in a fundamentally enviable position or simply a neutral bearing that could take advantage of weaker counterparts. Economic activity has been slow but steady with members bearing extraordinary austerity following the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis finally turning a corner. Further, the initial threat of the region having to pursue the same costly economic war against the United States was averted when EU President Juncker agreed with US President Trump to avoid further tariffs so long as both sides continued to negotiate. Meanwhile, the mere anticipation of a rate hike from the European Central Bank leveraged the kind of speculative front-running appeal for the Euro through much of the past year that so closely mirrored the Dollar’s own charge in 2014 and 2015. That passive state of speculative appeal is starting to falter however. While growth readings still seem to be following a stable path, the commitment to slower growth to achieve fiscal improvement through austerity is starting to break down. Populism is spreading across the continent. The FTSE MIB is suffering more acutely than its large counterparts and Italian sovereign bond yields are climbing rapidly. Chief concern in the evaluation of Euro-area conviction is Italy. The country’s government has applied pressure and backed off in regular tide of ebb and flow; but through these phases, ever increasing the tension. It seems we have reached the point of no return where rhetoric will no longer be enough to satisfy markets. Heading into this past week’s EU Summit, the leadership of the Italian government made clear that it intended to rebuff budget restrictions to support growth and fulfil campaign promises. There was no mistaking the Union’s perspective on Italy’s intended path: they said the spending and deficit projections in their plans were unacceptable. This standoff remains unresolved, but the financial markets are starting to pull back to curb their exposure to the risk. The FTSE MIB is suffering more acutely than its large counterparts and Italian sovereign bond yields are climbing rapidly. A 10-year yield spread of over 400 basis points over the Germany bund equivalent is considered a level akin to serious financial pressure. We were just above 300 basis points to close out this past week, but that was before the news after the close that Moody’s had downgraded the country’s credit rating a step to Baa3. That will have an inevitable impact on funds that have to abide credit quality when dictating their exposure. In the week ahead, we have another assessment of Italy’s financial condition coming from Standard & Poor’s. This fundamental impact on the Euro is not the only theme competing for influence. Monetary policy is another fundamental strut that could buckle or hold the currency strong through the growing pressure. There is no change expected from the gathering Thursday, but there is growing concern over the internal and external risks for the Eurozone. If they cool expectations for the first hike coming mid-2019, there is still premium for the Euro to give up. A further complication to consider: if the Euro drops materially, expect the Trump Administration to raise its pressure on the regional economy. Brexit Risk Jumps after EU Summit, Rumor of Border Breakthrough, Protests and New Credit Ratings The Brexit countdown is taking on a Edgar Allen Poe-level resonance. The European Union summit this past session was specifically targeting discussion between the UK and 27 leadership to see if they could make a high-level breakthrough on the divorce proceedings. The primary hold up at the end of the gathering remained the border issue and the complications that it invites. It may seem that there is plenty of time to negotiate with a little more than five months until the official split, but there is considerable work to do in passing the proposal through so many different governments and working out the technical aspects thereafter. So long as this situation is unable to pass the critical step of an acceptable draft agreement between both sides, the Sterling is likely to see steady retreat as capital funnels out of the country to avoid the uncertainty facing London’s financial center specifically. With the risks growing, the attention on progress will intensify. At the very end of the coming week – after the close Friday – we are due two credit rating updates on the United Kingdom from Standard & Poor’s and Fitch. With that said, there seemed a possible breakthrough in the closing hours Friday when it was reported that Prime Minister May was prepared to drop their Brexit demands on the Irish border issue in order to earn a breakthrough. Such a move would likely earn the ire of Brexiteers who would balk at likely permanent participation in the EU’s customs union. It remains to be seen if the UK’s government would back such a appeasement, but it doesn’t seem enough for many Brits. Over the weekend, a protest in London calling for a second EU referendum drew reportedly between 600,000 and 700,000 participants – one of the largest in the capital’s history. It is unlikely however that the government will return to the polls on the issue unless there are a number of political turns that force the issue. Ahead, we will have to keep a very close eye on the headlines to see what transpires in the political environment in England as well as between the UK and EU. That doesn’t mean though that there aren’t any meaningful milestones on the docket to mark on our calendars. At the very end of the coming week – after the close Friday – we are due two credit rating updates on the United Kingdom from Standard & Poor’s and Fitch. These groups have generally maintained a wait-and-see perspective until it became clear that there would be a compromise scenario or a crash out. However, time is a factor that they can no longer ignore in this equation. With each week that passes without a breakthrough, the economic and financial ramifications deepen. More stark warnings are likely if there is not a confirmation of the border issue and a downgrade is not impossible.