News this past week:
- Oil prices continue to decline
- Brexit negotiations begin
- Bank of England split over policy rate moves
- MSCI adds China A shares to All Country World Index
- Brexit bills dominate UK Queen’s speech
Its just a week until Britain is expected to trigger Article 50, sterling is at a three week high, UK inflation is at its highest since 2013, leaked EU documents suggest Britain could be kicked out EU and fined £50bn. Add to this that the Bank of England (BoE) Chief Economist Andy Haldane is postulating a base rate rise to 4.25% that could wipe out 1.5 million jobs but boost productivity in the long run. Scotland is pushing harder for another independence vote, and the BoE predicting a further retail slowdown: all in all perhaps enough commotion to burrow yesterday’s embarrassing infighting of the Labour Party. Or perhaps not. It seems that it doesn’t matter how old a nation’s democracy, advanced its economy or established its laws; political risk teeters when the populous lambast inequality and the public coffers are constrained by their own indebtedness.
Following Labour’s commotion yesterday, with Labour deputy leader Tom Watson clashing with shadow chancellor John McDonnell and an embarrassing parliament session feud, Jeremy Corbyn’s video address seemed a phony attempt to reassure members that the embarrassment only goes to prove that ‘spirits in the Labour party can run high’. Mercifully, attention is focused less on Labours potential disconnect and more on the impending Brexit annulment.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s ‘no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal’ is being threatened by the EU’s leaked plans for a prolonged legal battle, seeking £50bn of apparent dues, should the UK leave the EU with no deal. President of the European Council Donald Tusk promised to make ‘the process of divorce the least painful for the EU’ implying the obvious antithesis for the UK. But as difficult as the Brexit process could be, the legitimacy of the EU’s request for alimony seems tenuous and the potential damage to the EU from a go-it-alone Britain should prove a strong incentive for some sort of eventual deal.
The risks of a hard landing in China have subsided as the strong economic data releases of January continue to support the country’s improving economic outlook. Exports, measured in US dollars jumped 16.7% year on year, from 3.1% in December and beat market calls for 10%, meanwhile imports remained robust at 7.9%, beating the market consensus once again. Inflation figures also surprised on the upside; PPI surged 6.9% to the highest level since March 2011 while CPI rose 2.5%, from 2.1% in December. ‘Seasonal factors’ could have contributed to the encouraging trade data; boosted by the timing of the week-long Lunar New Year beginning in January.
As Trump voiced his concerns over the apparent ‘bunch of bad hombres down’ in Mexico, the less sensational Fed voted unanimously to keep rates on hold and gave little indication of a hike at the next meeting in March. Comments included ‘some further strengthening’ in the labour market, increasing inflation, albeit still below the central bank’s target, and ‘soft’ business sentiment.
One thing you cannot say about Trump is, unlike many politicians globally, he has followed through with some of his main campaign promises, albeit some more recent actions are deemed controversial by many. We suspect the broadly dovish Fed members will act on a wait-and-see basis, as there has been little to no guidance from the Trump administration with respect to fiscal policy deployment and the consequent effects on US growth. The futures market is pricing in over a 70% chance of a hike in June.