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24 hours is of course a long time in markets, and this time yesterday optimism was blossoming about a potential Brexit deal to end the years of debate and gridlock. The harsh reality has now bitten though, and the brutal realpolitik has subverted that narrative: Dominic Raab – the UK’s key Brexit negotiator – has resigned from Prime Minister May’s cabinet, amounting to a no-confidence motion in the Prime Minister and her deal. It’s curious still as to what Raab’s motives are: he was in the room with Prime Minister May negotiating the deal with the Europeans. Nevertheless, he has pulled his support, and it’s now believed the castle is about to fall.
There was volatility in markets in response to the shock news, however it was mostly contained to Pound. The Cable plunged from the 1.30 handle to trade below 1.2750, in what amounts to its largest intra-day move in over a year, as yields on UK Gilts plunged on back of unwinding bets of more BOE rate hikes. Continental stock indices lost ground, with the DAX shedding 0.5 per cent for the day; however, the plunge in the Pound, coupled with more stable oil and commodity prices overnight, helped the FTSE100 close flat for the day. It’s a very premature call, but futures markets are pointing to a more stable day for European equity markets when they come on line in 10 hours-time, revealing that though Brexit is a massive social, cultural and political issue, for market participants, at least for the time being, it’s more a nuisance than a major concern.
Wall Street bounce:
Activity on Wall Street last night can attest to this: after hitting the skids in early trade as traders digested the Brexit news, US indices gradually turned to trade-off its own themes. It’s resulted in what appears to be a reasonable outcome for the day’s trade. At time of writing, the NASDAQ is up in the realm of 1-and-a-half per cent, the S&P500 has climbed 0.9 per cent, and the Dow Jones is trading 0.7 per cent higher. The real impetus for the shift in market sentiment came upon news that US and Chinese negotiators are in the process of knuckling down terms of a trade agreement to be discussed at this month’s G20 meeting. Industrial stocks have benefitted most from the dynamic, as fears regarding growth risks wane, while Treasury yields have popped higher, with the yield on the US 10 Year note-rallying to 3.12 per cent.
Markets were provided with ample material to judge US economic conditions during last night’s trade. US Retail Sales data was released and surprised to the upside, somewhat confirming the US economy’s sustained strength. Of greater import, US Federal Reserve Chairperson delivered two separate addresses in the last 24 hours, hammering-home in both his conviction that the US economy requires further interest rate hikes, even if that means some heightened volatility in asset prices. Traders largely took the news in their stride, taking it as a continuation of messaging markets have received from the Fed for the most part of the year. The US Dollar was rather steady on the news, as interest rate markets held to their current perception regarding future interest rate hikes: that is, a 75 per cent chance for a hike in December, followed by another 2-and-a-bit hikes for the entirety of 2019.
The big paradox:
Moving forward and looking at the bigger picture, herein lies the problem, however: markets are still under-pricing the likelihood that the Fed will hike the 3 times next year that it has flagged. Far be it to argue with the multitude of brilliant minds collectively deciding this. But as recent history has proven, the biggest spikes in volatility have come when traders have mis-forecast the fundamentals and underestimated the conviction of the Fed. It goes back to the big paradox dictating market behaviour currently (although it must be cited this up for debate and is rooted in contestable philosophical assumptions): stronger economic activity will force the Fed to aggressively hike rates, which will suck liquidity from the markets, stretch valuations further, and drive funds into safer, relatively higher yielding assets. The ultimate effect will be tighter financial conditions, higher volatility, and weaker activity in equity markets.
The big picture aside, and the day ahead is shaping up as a positive one for the ASX200. SPI futures are indicating presently a 16-point gain for the local market at the open, inspired primarily by Wall Street’s solid lead. Yesterday’s trade was rather grim for the bulls for the most part of the day, with the ASX200 down by as much as 0.7 per cent intra-day, to test the waters below 5700. Options expiries bailed out the ASX in the end, elevating the market after the formal end of trade to a neutral position for the day. The recovery was supported by positive price action on Chinese indices, which experienced (if using the CSI300 has a guide) a 1.17 per cent gain, along with a rebound in oil prices that lead the energy sector 1 per cent higher.
In another example of stock market performance not necessarily marrying up to economic fundamentals, yesterday's local employment figures provided a very healthy upside surprise. The unemployment rate maintained itself at 5.0 per cent, even despite an increase in the participation rate, courtesy of a higher than expected jobs-added figure of 32k last month. The Australian Dollar shot through 0.7240 resistance to rally toward the next key level at 0.7310, opening the possibility of further short-term gains as short sellers continue to be squeezed. Even more remarkably, the labour market numbers resonated enough with (hard to please) interest rate traders: for the first time in quite some time, better than 50/50 odds of a rate hike from the RBA before the end of 2019 is being priced in, as some traders begin to buy the notion of a markedly improving Australian economy.