Politics and Economics in the Week Ahead

<br /> Politics and Economics in the Week Ahead – Marc to Market<br />


The results of the French presidential election will be known prior to the open of the Asian session.  No doubt the outcome will spur an initial knee-jerk reaction, but barring an outright
victory for Le Pen, which seems highly unlikely, or the left candidate Melenchon
coming in second place, which also seems
improbable, the market’s reaction will likely be short-lived.  
While there is, of course, a
certain amount of anxiety, especially given the electoral surprises over the
past year,  investment community seems not overly worried. 
 Large speculators in the currency futures have been
amassing what Bloomberg calculates as a record large long euro position.
 The premium investors demand over Germany is elevated but has not
accelerated as the election drew near.    
Very quickly after the
election results are known, the market’s attention will turn to the French
parliamentary elections in June.
 Neither of the top two presidential candidates, Macron,
and Le Pen, have a presentation in the
current French parliament.  They will need other parties’ support, and the configuration of parliament is
just as crucial as the president, if not more so, for French policy going
forward vis a vis the EU and EMU.  
Many seem to be treating the
recently announced UK election as a foregone
 The Tories will increase their
majority.  While it seems true in a narrow sense, it may be politically
naive.  The Tory Party, after all, is a coalition.  Doesn’t the
impact of the election results depend on which Tories win?  Some observers
linked sterling rally on the announcement to ideas that it could produce a softer
Brexit.  That seems to be to assume what one must prove.  Couldn’t soft Brexit Labour MPs be replaced by
harder-line Tories?  
Before getting to the
national election, local elections will be held
on May 4. 
 English, Welsh, and Scottish councils will be
chosen, as will the newly created English Regional Mayors.  Labour
goes into the contest with the most council seats overall (1535 vs. 1136 for the Tories).  The results
will be scrutinized to see clues into the national contest.  A significant
loss for Labour, as some are predicting, will likely spur talk of Corbyn
stepping down, and demoralize and further weaken the main opposition party.
Not yet on many radar
screens, and yet potentially of great importance, is the open primary for
Italy’s ruling PD (April 30). 
 Recall the fact that the primary was set in April spurred a fissure in the coalition that makes up the
party and the spinning off of part of the left-wing split off.   It had
accused Renzi of taking the party to far to the right.   We have warned
that Italy’s election next year may be more of a threat to the EU and EMU than
this year’s Dutch, French and German contests.  
The outcome of the primary
will determine who face the Five-Star Movement (M5S). 
 The PD and M5S are in a statistic draw at the moment.
   Renzi is likely to win the PD primary, but anything but an overwhelming victory
bodes poorly.  It will also be important to see if Renzi shifts to the left or
tries to peel votes from the M5S.
Fitch reduced its credit
rating of Italy to BBB before the weekend from BBB+.  
There is unlikely to be much material
impact.  Fitch’s rating had been higher than the other rating agencies
that the ECB uses to set terms of loans it makes.  Fitch’s rating is now
at the same level as Moody’s and DBRS.  This
is the lowest level of investment grade.  Standard and Poor’s is more
aggressive and sets it at BBB-.  
With a large debt burden,
little meaningful progress in reducing it, not to mention a banking sector
burdened by bad loans and a challenging profit environment, the risk of losing
its investment grade status has increased. 
 A loss of its investment grade
status would mean that, without getting on
a support program–and the loss of sovereignty that implies–Italian sovereign
bonds would no longer be acceptable collateral,  which would further
squeeze Italian banks.   Perhaps, the potential loss of Italy’s investment
grade status over the next 18 months is a significantly underappreciated
financial stability risk.  If it were to happen before next year’s
election, it would make for the explosive
political climate.  
The US political drama is
likely to intensify. 
  Congress returns from its two-week
recess, and there is expected to be a flurry of announcement about intentions
and plans as President Trump’s 100th day in office approaches (April 29).
 There are three issues, the most important of which is the federal
government’s current spending authorization (as opposed to funding it, which
relates to the debt ceiling, for which the Treasury Department has already taken
steps to minimize the disruption while waiting for Congress to lift it) expires
on April 28.
The other two issues, health
care reform, and tax reform are not as pressing, and there have been
conflicting signals from the White House and Congress. 
 Ahead of the 100th-day anniversary, there was some suggestion that a new vote on
replacing the Affordable Care Act could be held,
but this seems unlikely.  The Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group may
have been talking, but there is a fundamentally different set of interests.
 The split also is evident in discussions about tax reform.  Around mid-week, President Trump indicated there would
be an announcement on tax reform.  It is difficult to envision more than a
wish list at this juncture.  Recently, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin pushed
out expectations for tax reform from the August recess to the end of the year.
Trump is right, as was
Obama, the 100-day bogey is of little significance.  It is the next 1000
days that are important. 
 As a campaign device, Trump had offered
a “contract with the American voter” over what he would do in his
first hundred days.  The importance attached to the fact that practically
nothing outside of some executive orders has
been achieved beyond the scope of this analysis. However, the important
point for investors is that many market participants appear to have downgraded
the chances that Trump’s legislative agenda will be delivered, and this seems to be an important factor in what the
media has dubbed the unwinding of “Trump trade.” 
It is not the media, which the White House says it is at war with,
whose judgments are key. 
  The 2018 midterm elections loom on
the horizon yet are very present.  There is only so much that can be
accomplished by executive orders that more the most part call for an
investigation of this, or a check on that or study there.   A stymied
legislative program could weaken the Republican hold of both the House of
Representatives and the Senate.  This
would force the White House to work with the Democrats if it were to pass
The ECB meets next week.  The March meeting elicited a hawkish response from
the market.  Draghi is likely to try to ensure a more dovish message is heard. His pre-weekend comments sketched his
views.  He continues to see downside risks to growth and no evidence that
inflation is on a rising trend.  Draghi reiterated that he anticipates
rates will “remain at present or lower levels,” for an extended period.  While no policy change is expected, there is scope to adjust the
securities lending program to ease pressure on the repo market.  
Sweden’s Riksbank meets and
policy is likely to remain on hold.  Its asset purchase program in on
track to end in June. 
 The past rise in energy prices may
spur the Riksbank to lift its inflation forecast.  Ahead of the weekend,
the euro make new highs for the year against the Swedish krona. On a
trade-weighted basis, the krona has weakened by about 2.5%  over the past
The Bank of Japan will maintain it current policy stance, and the focus is on its updated economic projections. it will issue its report on Economic Activity and Prices.  Better growth prospects, especially in Asia, provides stimulus to the Japanese economy through trade, but what about inflation?   In January,
the BOJ projected that core inflation, which excludes fresh food, will rise
1.5% this fiscal year that began at the start of the month.  The core rate
had risen by 0.2% in the 12-months through February.  It seems to be more
an exercise of hope that compelling analysis.  The expected inflation on
breakevens (6-10-year) is 0.42% and 0.48%.  The FY18 inflation forecast
stands at 1.7%, and the central bank
anticipates FY19 to be near the 2.0%. The take away
from what seems like unrealistic forecasts are
the signal that the BOJ remains committed to its unorthodox policies.  
The economic data highlights
include the flash HICP measure of inflation for the eurozone and the US and UK initial estimates for Q1 GDP. 
 The eurozone
inflation is expected to have ticked up in April after falling in March.
 The Easter holiday is generating some noise, but Draghi’s assessment
seems fair.  The headline rate is expected to rise to 1.7% from 1.5%.
 The core rate can rise to 0.9% from 0.7%.  It averaged 0.9% in 2016
and 0.8% in 2014 and 2015. 
The UK is expected to have
grown around 0.4% in Q1, decelerating from 0.7% in Q4 16. 
  It has averaged 0.5% over the past four, eight and
20 quarters.  The market impact is likely to be marginal. The dismal March
retail sales report failed to spur a serious pullback in the sterling.
 Sterling’s sharp advance seemed more about positioning, and the prospects
of a softer Brexit, and reduced risk of no agreement rather than economic
support.  The 10-year gilt yield is hovering a little above 1.0%, the lows
since last October.  A convincing break gives immediate potential to 90-95
basis points. Similarly, the implied yield of December short-sterling future is
near 40 bp, which is also near the least in six months.  It has fallen
around 15 bp over the past month and is just below the 200-day moving average.
The median forecast in the
Bloomberg survey puts Q1 US growth at 2.0% annualized.
  We think the risk of disappointment
is palpable, but outside of a knee-jerk reaction, we do not see it impacting
the Fed’s forward-looking decision in
June.   Consumers took the quarter off it would seem after a strong 3.5%
rise in Q4.  It is difficult to see
the other sectors that will offset the pullback in consumption.  Still,
with income and savings increasing in Q1, and the distortions caused by the
warmer weather and lower utility consumption, recession fears are likely
exaggerated.  For reasons that are not particularly clear, the US economy
has typically underperformed in the
January-March period since the Great Financial Crisis ended.  


Politics and Economics in the Week Ahead
Politics and Economics in the Week Ahead

Reviewed by Marc Chandler

April 23, 2017

Rating: 5

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