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Cool Video: Brexit, Europe and EU Challenges

Marc ChandlerEarlier today, I had the opportunity to discuss the outlook for sterling and the US dollar on Bloomberg TV with Rishaad Salamat and Haidi Lun.  It is a momentous day with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty being formally triggered by UK Prime Minister May, nine months after what was, at least initially, a non-binding referendum.

European Council President Tusk is expected formally to respond for the EU before the weekend. It is not immediately clear when the negotiations will start. However, it is clear that the formal triggering of Article 50 will transfer the initiative and balance of power toward the EU from the UK.  Over the 24 months, there will be plenty of posturing, negotiations, brinkmanship tactics, and blinking.

Many investors may be best served by keeping the core issue in perspective. The UK government is willing to lose access the single market in order to get more control of its borders for immigration and trade.  Europe, on the other hand, just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome which established the European Project.  Losing a member, and an important, though not a founding member, is a significant blow to Europe, which is having its own identity crisis of sorts.

Some evolution that the UK blocked, such as European army, may go forward, but the UK’s amputation will change the balance in Europe on a range of issues and alter Europe going forward.  Non-EMU, EU members, have lost a voice, and these countries are mostly in eastern and central Europe and are presently strained relationships with the older Western part

However, contrary to speculation that Brexit would lower the barrier to exit and others will soon follow. Surveys suggest that EU support has risen among most of the members.  It is as if the body politic has been attacked, and the antibodies have rallied in defense.  The populist-nationalist challenge was turned back in the Netherlands.  The price was to co-opt the anti-immigration plank of the populist-nationalist platform.

In France, Fillon’s self-immolation gave Macron an opportunity and because of the nearly “anyone but Le Pen), it is not clear if the center of the political spectrum shifted. In Germany, Merkel’s CDU did well in past weekend election in the state of Saarland.  In the two elections next month and the national election in September, her biggest challenge is from the centrist Social Democrats, not the anti-EMU and anti-immigration AfD.   Italy’s election may be a more serious challenge than this year’s contests.

Rishaad asked me in the interview if the EU is such a good place, why make it hard to leave?To me, it is obvious that you cannot make plans for the future unless there is a commitment. There are some things, like national interests, which if not permanent, have a longer life that individual administrations (governments).    There is no clause in the US Constitution that allows states out of the union (yes, leave aside the Republic of Texas, which for a brief moment was an independent country).  As I noted in the interview,  the American Civil War, fought to keep the union together, and the poorest states are the Old South, like Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana,

I think Brexit ultimately makes the UK weaker, not stronger, but there are competing influences on sterling. Cyclical factors are what I cite in the interview, but of course, market positioning may also be important.  There are some drivers that have very little to do with the UK, such as the dollar’s broad direction, Fed and ECB policy, or, as we have seen, significant volatility emanating China, or Greece.  Nor can investors ignore the reaction function of the Bank of England.  Although we expect the BOE steady, we recognize that price pressures have not peaked and the economy is still resilient. There is some risk of a hike.

Sterling finished the North American session on a soft note on Tuesday and opened Asia around a half cent lower to return to $1.24. The US dollar more broadly is seeing Tuesday’s recovery extend against European currencies.  The Dollar-bloc currencies are firm, and the dollar is steady around JPY111.00.   Consolidation is the most likely near-term scenario.


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Marc Chandler
He has been covering the global capital markets in one fashion or another for more than 30 years, working at economic consulting firms and global investment banks. After 14 years as the global head of currency strategy for Brown Brothers Harriman, Chandler joined Bannockburn Global Forex, as a managing partner and chief markets strategist as of October 1, 2018.
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