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The starting gun for the "Brexit" referendum will be fired this week if E.U. leaders, who meet for a two-day summit starting Thursday, agree to the draft reform package assembled by Prime Minister and E.U. President Donald Tusk.
The U.K.'s dysfunctional cabinet will meet at the Prime Minister's country retreat today to agree--finally--on a set of proposals for how Britain will trade outside of the E .U.'s customs union and single market.
The "Super Thursday" releases from the Monetary Policy Committee--MPC--indicate that financial market turbulence and the approaching E.U. referendum have kiboshed the chances of an interest rate rise in the first half of this year. Nonetheless, the MPC's forecasts clearly imply that it expects to raise rates much sooner than markets currently anticipate, and the Governor signalled that a rate cut isn't under active consideration.
The Chancellor warned last week that he would hold an Emergency Budget shortly after a vote to leave the E.U. to address a £30B black hole in the public finances. The £30B--some 1.6% of GDP-- is the mid-point of the Institute for Fiscal Studies' estimates of the impact of Brexit on public borrowing in 2019/20, which were based on the GDP forecasts of a range of reports.
Sterling took another pounding last week. Resignations from the Cabinet, protests by the DUP, and the public submission of letters by 21 MPs calling for a confidence vote in Mrs. May's leadership, imply that parliament won't ratify the current versions of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the future relationship with the E.U. next month.
Sterling weakened further yesterday in response to the perception that the odds of the U.K. leaving the E.U. in the June referendum are rising. Cable fell to $1.39, its lowest level since March 2009. It is now $0.12 below the level one would anticipate from markets' expectations for short rates, as our chart of the week on page three shows.
In theory, any hit to sentiment and business investment as the E.U. referendum nears could be offset by a better foreign trade performance, due to the Brexit-related depreciation of sterling. But not every cloud has a silver lining.
Would the U.K. inevitably leave the E.U. if a majority of the electorate voted for Brexit on June 23? Repeatedly, the Government has quelled speculation that it will call for a second referendum on an improved package of E.U. reforms after a Brexit vote on June 23. But unsuccessful referendums have been followed up with second plebiscites elsewhere in Europe.
Sterling has rallied against both the dollar and the euro over the last week on the assumption that interventions by the U.K. Treasury and President Obama in the Brexit debate have shifted public opinion towards remaining in the E.U.
The Treasury waded in to the Brexit debate yesterday with a 200-page report concluding that U.K. GDP would be 6.2% lower in 2030 than otherwise if Britain left the E.U. and entered into a bilateral trade deal similar to the one recently agreed by Canada. All long-term economic projections should come with health warnings, and the Treasury's precise numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Even an ardent Brexiteer could not deny that uncertainty about the outcome of the E.U. referendum is subduing bank lending. The Bank of England's preferred measure of bank lending--M4 lending excluding intermediate other financial corporations, or OFCs--fell by 0.1% month-to-month in April.
With just over six weeks to go, opinion polls continue to suggest that the E.U. referendum will be extremely close. Noisy interventions in the public debate from the Treasury, independent international bodies, President Obama, and from the Prime Minister again today have had no discernible positive impact on the support for "Bremain" relative to "Brexit"
The MPC's "Super Thursday" releases suggest that the Committee won't wait long to raise interest rates after a vote to stay in the E.U., which remains the most likely outcome of June's referendum. Meanwhile, we saw nothing to support markets' view that the MPC would ease policy in the wake of a Brexit.
The minutes of yesterday's MPC meeting indicate that it is not going to be panicked into cutting interest rates in the run-up to the E.U. referendum in June. The Committee voted unanimously again to keep Bank Rate at 0.5%, and dovish comments were conspicuously absent.
Equity prices for U.K. retailers have performed woefully since the E.U. referendum. The FTSE All-Share Index for general retailers has underperformed the overall All-Share Index by nearly 30% since the Brexit vote.
Amid the intensifying debate about the pros and cons of E.U. membership, higher immigration from the rest of Europe often is blamed for the disappointing weakness of wage growth over the last couple of years. But we see little evidence to support that hypothesis.
Sharp increases in retail sales over the last two months suggest that consumers are not overly concerned by the risk that the U.K. could leave the E.U. next week. Sales volumes rose 0.9% month-on-month in May, and April's surge was revised larger, to 1.9% from 1.3%.
It's now four weeks since the Prime Minister called a snap general election, and the Conservatives still are riding high in the opinion polls. The average of the last 10 polls suggests that the Tories are on track to take 47% of the vote, well above Labour's 30%.
The Chancellor's Autumn Statement dashed hopes that the fiscal consolidation will be paused while the economy struggles to adjust to the implications of Brexit. Admittedly, Mr. Hammond has another opportunity in the Spring Budget to reduce next year's fiscal tightening.
April's public finances indicate that the economy has remained weak in Q2, casting doubt on the suggestion from recent business surveys that the slowdown in Q1 was just a blip.
Sterling is well below its $1.57 average of the last five years, despite rallying this month to about $1.45, from a low of $1.38 in late February. But hopes that cable will bounce back to its previous levels, after a vote to remain in the E .U., likely will be dashed.
Sterling rebounded last week and the probability of a Brexit, implied by betting markets, fell from 30% to 20%. The gap between cable and interest rate expectations, which opened up at the start of this year, appears to have closed completely, as our first chart shows. Sterling's rally in April quickly ran out of steam, but the evidence that support for "Bremain" has risen recently is persuasive.
We are revising our forecast for Fed action this year, taking out two of the four hikes we had previously expected. We now look for the Fed to hike by 25bp in September and December, so the funds rate ends the year at 0.875%. The Fed's current forecast is also 0.875%, but the fed funds future shows 0.6%.
The construction sector in the Eurozone remains moribund. Output fell 0.4% month-to-month in September, pushing the year-over-year rate up to 1.8% from a revised 1.4% fall in August. Declines were recorded in France, Germany, and Italy, with a small increase in Spain. These data could, in theory, lead to revisions in the final Q3 Eurozone GDP data released December 8th, but we very much doubt they will move the needle. Our first chart shows the relationship between construction and GDP growth has broken down since the crisis.
As we write, 25 Conservative MPs have confirmed publicly that they have submitted no-confidence letters to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee. That's 23 short of the 48 required to trigger a leadership contest, though some MPs might have submitted letters without making it public.
Producer prices in Germany rose 0.4% month-to-month in May, stronger than the consensus expectation of a 0.3% gain, and we think further upside surprises are likely in coming months. The headline was boosted by a 0.7% jump in energy prices, but food and manufacturing goods prices also rose.
Sterling soared yesterday following news that Britain and the EU have agreed the terms of the transition period from March 2019, which will ensure that goods, services, capital and people continue to move freely, until December 2020.
Gilt yields slid to record lows at many maturities in mid-February, and while equity prices have since rebounded, gilt yields have remained anchored at rock-bottom levels. But with political risks rising and deficit reduction still very slow, gilt yields look primed to spring back soon.
The 21K rise in the headline, three-month average, unemployment rate between November and February confirmed last month that the U.K.'s period of fantastically strong growth in employment has ended. Timelier indicators, however, suggest unemployment is stabilising, not on the cusp of a major increase.
The slowdown in GDP growth in Q1 reflects more than just Brexit risk. The intensifying fiscal squeeze, the uncompetitiveness of U.K. exports, and the lack of spare labour suggest that the U.K.'s recovery now is stuck in a lower gear.
The latest U.K. PMIs were unambiguously dreadful. The manufacturing, construction and services PMIs all fell in April, and their weighted average points to quarter-on-quarter growth in GDP slowing to zero in Q2, from 0.4% in Q1. The U .K.'s composite PMI also undershot the Eurozone's for the second month this year.
The nosedive in the Markit/CIPS manufacturing PMI in April provides an early sign that GDP growth is likely to slow even further in the second quarter. The MPC, however, looks set to keep its powder dry. We continue to think that the next move in interest rates will be up, towards the end of this year.
October's Markit/CIPS services survey added to evidence that the economy has started Q4 on a very weak footing.
The improvement in the August services PMI has generated hyperbolic headlines suggesting the U.K. is on a tear despite the Brexit vote. Taken literally, however, the PMIs suggest that the revival in business activity in August only partially reversed July's decline. Meanwhile, the impact of sterling's sharp depreciation on the purchasing power of firms and consumers has only just begun to be felt.
This week's Inflation Report--now released alongside the MPC's decision and minutes of its meeting in a deluge of releases now known as "Super Thursday"--is likely to be a damp squib.
London has been the U.K.'s growth star for the last two decades. Between 1997 and 2014, yearover-year growth in nominal Gross Value Added averaged 5.4% in London, greatly exceeding the 4% rate across the rest of the country. Surveys since the referendum, however, indicate that the capital is at the sharp end of the post-referendum downturn.
Rising political risks and NAFTA-related threats have put the MXN under pressure last month, driving it down 4.9% against the USD, as shown in our first chart.
Today's balance of payments figures for the second quarter likely will underline that the U.K. has financed strong growth in domestic consumption by amassing debts with the rest of the world at a breakneck pace.
The bond market has become extremely pessimistic about the long-term economic outlook following Britain's vote to leave the EU. Forward rates imply that the gilt markets' expectation for official interest rates in 20 years' time has shifted down to just 2%, from 3% at the start of 2016.
Mark Carney's assertion that "now is not yet the time to raise rates" fell on deaf ears last week. Markets are pricing-in a 20% chance that the MPC will increase Bank Rate at the next meeting on August 3, up from 10% just after the MPC's meeting on June 15, when three members voted to hike rates.
Mortgage approvals by the main high street banks rose to a four-month high of 39.7K in October, from 38.7K in September, according to trade body U.K. Finance.
The MPC almost certainly will keep interest rates on hold today and likely won't give a strong steer on the outlook for policy in the minutes of its meeting, which are released at mid-day. On the whole, surveys of economic activity have been weak, indicating that GDP growth has slowed sharply in the second quarter.
The Markit/CIPS manufacturing PMI shot up to a three-year high of 57.3 in April, from 54.2 in March, bringing an end to the run of downbeat news on the economy. The performance of the U.K. manufacturing sector, however, remains underwhelming, given the magnitude of sterling's depreciation.
The MPC made a concerted effort yesterday with its forecasts to signal that it is committed to raising Bank Rate at a faster rate than markets currently expect.
The preliminary estimate of a 0.5% quarter-on-quarter rise in GDP in the fourth quarter of 2015 was left unrevised, but that was the only nugge t of good news from yesterday's second GDP release. The expenditure breakdown hardly could have looked more troubling.
The Markit/CIPS PMIs for August, slated for release over the next three business days, will be closely watched. They have provided the most resounding indication, so far, that Britain is heading for a recession. In July, the composite PMI--comprised of the manufacturing and services indices--fell to 47.5, from 52.4 in June, its biggest month-to-month fall since records began in 1998.
Emmanuel Macron's victory in France has lifted investors' hopes that the good times in the Eurozone economy and equity markets are here to stay. On the face of it, we share markets' optimism. Mr. Macron and his opposite number in Germany--our base case is that Ms. Merkel will remain Chancellor--will form a strong pro-EU axis in the core of the Eurozone.
The absence of a hawkish slant to the MPC's Inflation Report or the minutes of its meeting suggest that an increase in interest rates remains a long way off.
Gilt yields have been remarkably stable following their decline in response to the Bank of England's Inflation Report in February. The average 60-day price volatility of gilts with outstanding maturities of greater than one year has fallen back recently to lows last seen in 2014, as our first chart shows.
Rapid growth in labour supply has enabled the U.K. economy to grow quickly over the last three years without generating excessive wage or inflation pressure. The rise in the participation rate--the proportion of those aged over 16 in or looking for work--has been critical to this revival. But the rise in the participation rate largely has reflected cyclical factors rather than a sustainable upward trend, and the downward pressure on participation from demographic factors will build over the coming years.
Claims abound that sterling's sharp depreciation since the start of the year--to its lowest level against the dollar since May 2010--partly reflects the growing risk that the U.K. will vote to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum. We see little evidence to support this assertion. Sterling's decline to date can be explained by the weakness of the economic data, meaning that scope remains for Brexit fears to push the currency even lower this year.
The chances of a cut in official interest rates were boosted yesterday by the sharp fall in the business activity index of the Markit/CIPS report on services in February, to its weakest level since April 2013. Its decline, to just 52.8 from 55.6 in January, mirrored falls in the manufacturing and construction PMIs earlier in the week and pushed the weighted average of the three survey's main balances down to a level consistent with quarter-on-quarter GDP growth of just 0.2% in Q1.
This week's key market event likely will be the Monetary Policy Committee's meeting on Thursday, rather than the Budget on Wednesday, which probably will see the Chancellor stick to his previous tough fiscal plans.
After the drama of the last few days, Brexit developments now are set to proceed at a slower pace.
The collapse in gilt yields last week--including a drop to a record low at the 10-year maturity--appears to be an ominous sign for the economic outlook. For now, though, the yield curve signals a further easing of GDP growth, rather than a spiral into recession. Low liquidity also means modest changes in demand are generating large movements in yields, undermining gilts' usefulness as a leading indicator.
A dearth of properties for sale has helped to ensure that house prices have continued to rise since the Brexit vote, despite weaker demand. But now, signs are emerging that demand and supply are coming closer to balance
Discussion about whether the U.K. would be better off voting to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum is rarely out of the press, raising the question of whether simply holding the national vote could damage the economy even if the U.K. votes for the status quo in the end.
One way or the other, the post-referendum lurch in sterling will make its recent gyrations pale by comparison. If the U.K. votes to remain in the E.U.--as we continue to expect--then sterling likely will jump up to about $1.48 immediately afterwards. As our first chart shows, the gap between sterling and the level implied by the current difference between overnight index swap rates in the U.S. and Britain is currently about $0.05.
The recent plunge in oil prices is another positive development, alongside looser fiscal policy and the striking of a Brexit deal with the E.U., pointing to scope for GDP growth to pick up next year.
The Prime Minister set out her blueprint for Brexit yesterday, asserting that the U.K. will leave the single market and potentially even the E.U.'s customs union in order to control immigration and regain lost sovereignty. She argued that "no deal is better than a bad deal", suggesting that the U.K. might even fall back on its membership of the World Trade Organisation as the basis for trading with the E.U., if her demands were not met.
Investors will have to keep their wits about them following the close of polls at 22:00 BST on Thursday. Sterling and other asset prices will move sharply when the likely result of the U.K.'s E.U. referendum is discernible, but exactly when that point will come during the night is uncertain.
Brexit talks will dominate the headlines this week, with the focal point set to be a meeting of the European Council on Wednesday, where E.U. leaders might give the green light for an extraordinary summit next month to formalise the Withdrawal Agreement.
Speculation that the U.K. will end up leaving the E.U. in March without a deal has dominated the headlines over the last month. Politicians on both sides of the Channel have warned that the probability of a no-deal Brexit is at least as high as 50%, even though more than 80% of the withdrawal deal already has been agreed.
Sterling's fall yesterday to $1.45 from $1.46 after the release of online and phone opinion polls from ICM both showing a three percentage point lead for "Leave" over "Remain" underlines that it not a formality that the U.K. will be a full member of the E.U. this time next month.
It's easy to claim from yesterday's labour market data that the economy is weathering the uncertainty caused by the E.U. referendum. Employment rose by 172K, or 0.5%, between Q1 and Q2, and the claimant count fell by 7K month-to-month in July. These numbers, however, flatter to deceive.
The E.C.'s Economic Sentiment Indicator for the U.K., released yesterday, painted an upbeat picture of the economy's recent performance. The ESI picked up to 109.4 in February from 107.1 in January; its average level since 1990 is 100. February's reading was the highest since December 2015, and it slightly exceeded the E.U.'s average of 108.9.
The U.K.'s political situation is extremely fluid, so it would be risky automatically to assume that the U.K. is heading for Brexit. Although the Prime Minister has resigned, his attempt to hold out until October to begin the formal process of exiting the E.U. signals that he may be seeking to engineer a revised deal, or at least to force his successor to make the momentous decision of whether to trigger Article 50, to begin the leaving process.
Housing market data yesterday fostered the view that prices are vulnerable to a fall following April's increase in stamp duty--a transactions tax-- and before the E.U. referendum in June. Political uncertainty, however, has rarely had a pervasive or sustained impact on prices in the past.
Both the E.U. and the U.K. government have been keen to emphasise, since the Withdrawal Agreement was provisionally signed off, that March 29 is a hard deadline for Brexit.
The U.K.'s unexpected decision to vote to leave the E.U. will have serious ramifications for the global economy, and LatAm economies are unlikely to emerge unscathed. It is very difficult to quantify the short-term effects due to the intricacies of the financial transmission channels into the real economy.
The preliminary estimate of Q2 GDP, published today, likely will show that growth was immaterially different from Q1's 0.4% quarter-on-quarter rate. But this should not be interpreted as a sign that the economy will be able to shrug off the impact of last month's vote to leave the E.U.
A less rapid tightening of monetary policy in the U.K. than in the U.S. should ensure that gilt yields don't move in lockstep with U.S. Treasury yields over the coming years. But the outlook for monetary policy isn't the only influence on gilt yields. We expect low levels of market liquidity in the secondary market, high levels of gilt issuance and overseas concerns about the possibility of the U.K.'s exit from the E.U. to add to the upward pressure on gilt yields.
The preliminary estimate of first quarter GDP likely will confirm that the economic recovery lost considerable pace in early 2016. Bedlam in financial markets in January and business fears over the E.U. referendum are partly responsible for the slowdown. The deceleration, however, also reflects tighter fiscal policy, uncompetitive exports, and the economy running into supply-side constraints.
Britain's shock vote to leave the E.U. has unleashed a wave of economic and political uncertainty that likely will drive the U.K. into recession.
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