Political risk remains a key driver for FX markets, with a mix of predictable and unpredictable drivers. While the upcoming French presidential election and the weekend’s Turkish referendum have featured on calendars for some months, risks such as those associated with US foreign policy or South African politics have not. The latest “out of the blue” event is Theresa May’s decision to call for a UK general election on June 8. The move has been well received by GBP, based on the thesis that the Conservatives are likely to win by a landslide and have a clear mandate to push through Brexit negotiations without too much inconvenient domestic opposition. Remember that the next parliament would run through to summer 2022, giving plenty of time to negotiate and implement Brexit outcomes. Assuming an easy Conservative win with a large majority is indeed the election outcome, which is not unreasonable based on the latest polls, presumably this would also allow PM May more degrees of freedom to negotiate a softer form of Brexit than the market currently feels is achievable. After all, a large majority won directly by PM May would leave her much less vulnerable to rebellions from hawkish factions than she is today, given she currently has only a slim and inherited majority now.
One factor that helped the market price a form of “hard Brexit” in Q4 2016 was PM May’s 2 Oct 2016 speech to the Conservative Party autumn conference, where she suggested a firm commitment to contentious policy aims such withdrawing the UK from the European Court of Justice and seeking full control over UK immigration policy – policies seen as totally at odds with core EU principles and single market membership. In this context, it’s worth noting that May had claimed till yesterday that she did not believe a new election was in the national interest, but now “reluctantly” has changed her mind.
The same PM May was also a “remain” supporter who presumably only “reluctantly” is driving Brexit through having triggered Article 50 last month, at least based on her original position. As such, there is also room presumably for PM May to again “reluctantly” decide that the pledges she made last autumn are no longer in the national interest if they would lead to a disruptive form of Brexit. Simply having to price in higher odds of this series of events going forward are GBP positive in our view, even beyond the possibility of stable government being more likely. Finally, it’s worth noting that the June election could also pose a tricky test for the Scottish National Party. After all, it will be hard for the SNP to better its 2015 general election showing when it took nearly every Scottish seat in the UK parliament. Anything that falls short of that in June would allow PM May to attack the legitimacy of new moves towards a fresh Scottish independence referendum as SNP leaders have pushed for, again helping GBP on the margin.
The steady outperformance of EM currencies since the US election suggests that markets have been very willing to discount expectations that the US administration will deliver on the protectionist promises made during the campaign. We have ourselves participated in this trend, as per our long Mexican peso position.
The US administration’s aggressive stance on trade has also been a reason behind our ongoing bearish stance on the Canadian dollar. Last week the Bank of Canada made a significant shift in a less dovish direction, moving the projected date at which the output gap will close from mid-2018 to earlier in the year.
For Asia FX, slowing global industrial growth momentum is likely to become a key theme. We judge this global IP momentum to already be slowing from about 5% 3m/3m to closer to trend growth of about 3%. Although this would be a modest slowing in IP momentum by historical standards, it nonetheless seems to be having a historically standard negative effect on risk appetite. Core yields have fallen, core equities have begun to struggle and our technical analysts argue for further downside.