Post-Brexit: Uncertainty Everywhere, Everything on the Sidelines (Cash Too), and Market Index Copycats

Yes, I know markets have been rallying and S&P 500 has been hitting all-time highs. But, remember Brexit?

In case you forgot, the people of United Kingdom voted to leave European Union on June 23rd. Markets then destroyed more than $3 trillion in paper wealth in the next 2 days (Friday and Monday).

After that, market just shook it off. As Taylor Swift says, “Shake It Off.” “It’s gonna be alright.”

The actual businesses and people in the UK just cannot shake, shake, shake, shake, shake,….it off.

The UK job market went into “freefall” as the number of people appointed to full-time roles plunged for a second successive month in July, according to a survey. An index of permanent positions dropped to 45.4 from 49.3 the previous month, the lowest level since May 2009. A number below 50 indicates a decline in placements (contraction). Employers in the survey cited Brexit-related uncertainty.

The same uncertainty that scared away some investors and sit on cash, including me. 91% of investors made money in July as US markets kept hitting record highs, according to Openfolio, an app that allows you to connect and compare your portfolio to 60,000 other investors. Average cash holdings of these investors grew 25% over the past three months leading up to July.

75% of investors lost money in June as Brexit uncertainly weighted in. The portfolio of the majority of investors are tracked with S&P 500. The problem here can be described by Ron Chernow,

As a bull market continues, almost anything you buy goes up. It makes you feel that investing in stocks is a very easy and safe and that you’re a financial genius.

93% of investors lost money in January as the energy prices plunged and uncertainty in China scared investors.

Here’s another quote by Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad),

As a bull market turns into a bear market, the new pros turn into optimists, hoping and praying the bear market will become a bull and save them. But as the market remains bearish, the optimists become pessimists, quit the profession, and return to their day jobs. This is when the real professional investors re-enter the market.

I’m naturally contrarian like Bill Ackman. I love going against the crowd. I love Bill Ackman. When I met him, I had no problem keeping my cool after learning my lesson from the Ben Bernanke experience.

Bill Ackman (left) Khojinur Usmonov (right)
Bill Ackman (left)
Khojinur Usmonov (right)

Being contrarian has made me money. It has also got me into “value trap” like buying $TWTR around $34.

The UK labor market survey was released a day after Bank of England cut rates and expanded quantitative easing.

  • On Thursday (August 4th), Bank of England (BoE) cut rates by 25bps (0.25%) to 0.25%, the lowest since the central bank was founded in 1694 (322 years) and the first cut since March 2009.
    • The central bank signaled further cut to the interest rate if the economy deteriorates further, “If the incoming data prove broadly consistent with the August Inflation Report forecast, a majority of members expect to support a further cut in Bank Rate to its effective lower bound at one of the MPC’s forthcoming meetings during the course of the year.” (I’ll address the recent economic reports and BoE’s forecasts later in this article)
    • During the press conference, Mark Carney (The Governor of BoE), stated he is not a fan of negative interest rates. He clearly stated that MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) is very clear lower bound is above zero. Options other than NIRP (Negative Interest Rate Policy) are available, “we have other options to provide stimulus if more stimulus were needed.”
    • Carney told banks they have “no excuse” not to pass on the rate cut in full to customers. In other words, he’s telling them not to mess with him.
    • “With businesses and households, anyone watching, if you have a viable business idea, if you qualify for a mortgage, you should be able to get access to credit.”
  • With 6-3 vote, they will provide an extra 60 billion pounds ($78 billion) of newly created money by buying government bonds over six months, extending the existing quantitative easing (QE) to 435 billion ($569 billion).
  • To cushion the blow to banks’ profitability, BoE will provide up to 100 billion pounds ($130 billion) of loans to banks close the base rate of 0.25% under the Term Funding Scheme (TFS). The scheme will charge a penalty rate if banks do not lend.
    • “The TFS is a monetary policy instrument. It reinforces the transmission of Bank Rate cuts and reduces the effective lower bound toward zero, it charges a penalty rate if banks reduce net lending, it covers all types of lending, and it is funded by central bank reserves.” (Page 6)
  • With 8-1 vote, BoE will also buy as much as 10 billion pounds ($13 billion) of corporate bonds in the next 18 months, starting in September. For that, BoE is targeting non-financial investment-grade corporate bonds, issued by “firms making a material contribution to the UK economy” (Page 3)

I did not expect that much of stimulus.

While I was wrong on this one, I was right in July when markets expected rate-cut and expansion of QE.

Note: I’m always active on Twitter. Follow me, @Khojinur30.

The stimulus comes as recent economic data has been weak. Confidence tumbled. Manufacturing, construction activity, and service-sector all shrank sharply.

Consumer confidence dropped 11 points to -12 in July, the sharpest month-to-month drop (M/M) since March 1990.

GfK Consumer Confidence Index Souce: Trading Economics
GfK Consumer Confidence Index
Souce: Trading Economics

Activity among UK manufacturers contracted at its fastest pace at the start of third quarter. UK manufacturing PMI (Purchasing Mangers’ Index) fell to 48.2 in July, down from 52.4 in June, the lowest levels since February 2013.

Market/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI Source: Markit/CIPS
Market/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI
Source: Markit/CIPS

Manufacturing sector accounts for 11% of the UK economy.

UK manufacturing stats:

  • Employs 2.6 million workers, accounting for 8.20% of the working population.
    • “UK manufacturing employment decreased for the seventh straight month in July, the rate of job loss was the second-sharpest for almost three-and-a-half years” the PMI report said.
    • It also stated “Weaker inflows of new work and declining volumes of outstanding business also suggest that employment may fall further in coming months.”
  • Contributes to 10% of GVA (Gross Value Added), which measures how much money is generated through goods and services produced. In 2014, GVA per head on average in the UK was 24,616 pounds ($32,113), growing 3.6% Y/Y.
  • Accounts for 44% of total exports. Exports alone account for 27.4% of the UK’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
    • Export orders rose for the second successive month in response to the weaker pound. On July 6th, sterling plunged to $1.2788, the lowest since 1985.
  • Represents 69% of business research and development (R&D), which accounts for mini 1.67% of the UK’s GDP.

What is also interesting in the PMI report is the input price. Input price inflation rose to a five-year high in July, “reflecting a sterling-induced rise import costs.” Some part of the increase in costs “was passed through to clients.”

Markit/CIPS UK Input Prices Index Source: Markit/CIPS
Markit/CIPS UK Input Prices Index
Source: Markit/CIPS

UK construction industry, accounting for 6.5% (Parliament.uk – PDF download) of the economic output, suffered its sharpest downturn since June 2009 as the sector came under pressure from the uncertainty. UK construction PMI inched down 0.1 to 45.9 last month.

Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI Source: Markit/CIPS
Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI
Source: Markit/CIPS

Clients of the construction firms had adopted “wait-and-see” approach to projects rather than curtailing and canceling the projects.  The same “wait-and-see” that has caused investors like me to sit on cash (Cash on sidelines).

“Insufficient new work to replace completed projects resulted in a decline in employment numbers for the first time since May 2013” the PMI report stated. The construction industry accounts for 2.1 million jobs, 6.62% of the working population. The industry contributes to 6.5% of GVA.

And services too. UK services PMI plunged to 47.4 in July from 52.3 in June, the first contraction since December 2012 and the fastest rate of decline since March 2009 and the steepest M/M decline (-4.9) since PMIs began in July 1996.

The sector accounts for 78.4% of the UK economic output.

Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI Source: Markit/CIPS
Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI
Source: Markit/CIPS

Not surprisingly, the sentiment of businesses dropped to the lowest since February 2009.

Market/CIPS UK Services PMI Expectations Source: Markit/CIPS
Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI Expectations
Source: Markit/CIPS

Bank of England slashed its growth and increased its inflation forecasts. The central bank slashed its growth forecast for 2017 to 0.8% from initial estimate of 2.3%, making it the biggest downgrade in growth from one inflation report to the next. They now expect inflation to hit 1.9% in 2017, from previous estimate of 1.5%.

For 2018, the economy is expected to grow at 1.8% from previous estimate of 2.3%, and CPI is expected to hit 2.4% from previous estimate of 2.1.

Unemployment is expected to reach 5.4% next year from initial estimate of 4.9%, that is more than 250,000 people losing their job….even after the stimulus.

The bank’s outlook also includes lower income and housing prices to decline a “little” over the next year.

UK house prices fell 1% in July, according to a survey by Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender. The reports for the next few months will sure be interesting.

Confidence will continue to fall in the coming months as uncertainty will continue to exist and businesses will be extremely cautious with regard to spending, investment and hiring decisions, and people will be cautious with regard to spending.

All these survey conducted shortly after Brexit reflects an initial reaction. What matters now, especially after the new wave of stimulus, is the level of uncertainty and the magnitude of contractions. The three PMIs – manufacturing, construction, and services – accounting for almost 96% of the economic output, does not cover the whole economy as the retail, government and energy sectors (Oh energy), are excluded. However, it is clear the UK economy is slowing and is likely to slow in the coming quarters. Until clouds stop blocking the sun from shining, we won’t have a clear picture of the economy.

Will there be a recession or not? I’m not calling for any recession at the time. I will get a better idea of where the UK economy is heading as we get more data.

Tomorrow (Tuesday):

Manufacturing production.

In two weeks:

Consumer Price Index (CPI) – With data reflected in the PMIs and the amount of stimulus announced by BoE, inflation overshoot is possible. This report in two weeks will only reflect July. We should get better of where inflation is going in September and October.

Jobs report

Retail Sales

In four weeks:

Another manufacturing and construction PMIs. The services PMI comes the week later.

I should make a call on whatever the will be recession after the data and some by mid-September.

Without fiscal stimulus, monetary stimulus alone cannot offset most of the Brexit ills. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, signaled loosening of fiscal policy in October. By then, it just might be too late.

Extra: Bad Karma

Central Bank Meeting Minutes: BoE, FOMC and ECB (Update on Greece)

During the week of February 16, 2015, BoE (Bank of England), FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) and ECB (European Central Bank) released its meeting minutes for the latest monetary decisions. Let’s go in depth of these meeting minutes and how we can apply them to our trading decisions.

 

Bank of England (BoE) – (February 18, 2015)

The Bank of England meeting minutes showed that the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted unanimously (9 members) to keep the benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record-low of 0.5%. There were hints it could be lowered in the next few months (yes, decrease, not increase). Two committee members, Martin Weale and Ian McCafferty who voted in favor of rate hike previously, were in favor in holding rates this time. Regarding its inflation in which Consumer Prices Index (CPI) fell to 0.3% (lowest since decades ago) last month changed the views of MPC. Some worry that it might slip below zero in the next few months. It has caused some to suggest rate cut over the next few months. The rate cut hinted in the minutes is totally different than what the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney said last week.

Mark Carney spoke to the press at Inflation Report press conference. He signaled that BoE remains on course to raise interest rates in the U.K. next year, despite decline in inflation. He also mentioned that BoE might cut the interest rate if inflation transforms into deflation (below 0). I believe if the inflation falls below 0, the BoE will cut the interest rate by 0.25, but only for short period of time. However, he pointed out that BoE still expects its next move will be raising rates, not cut them.

There are confusions going on with BoE on interest rate. I look at this way; inflation goes below 0, rate cut will come, inflation starts to increase, rate increase will come, and watch out for future statements by BoE for more clues. I would not trade Pound (GBP) based on these interest rate talks, for now. There is no clear road for interest rate for now. But, I would trade based on other news/events and charts’ technical.

 

Federal Reserve – (February 18, 2015)

The Federal Reserve meeting minutes showed that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) expressed concerns over raising interest rates too soon, which could could halt or slow the U.S economic “recovery”. They are also worried over the impact of dropping “patient” from central bank’s rate guidance. They thought that removing “patient” from the FOMC statements in the future would put too much weight on its meaning. As a result, it would cause financial markets to overreact (Unlike Swiss National Bank, Federal Reserve cares about financial markets movements). If “patient” is dropped, I would think that interest rate hike is coming in the next two meetings. They also worried about falling inflation expectations in the U.S. If the inflation drops, I believe it’s going to halt (not cut) FOMC from raising the interest rate, but not decrease the rates.

In the minutes, it’s mentioned that there are worries about international events such as Greece (Greece got 4 month bailout) and Ukraine (There’s no “truce”). But, it’s not going to keep them from raising the interest rate, backed by strong jobs reports. However, the federal reserve signaled its willingness to keep interest rates low for longer because of strong U.S dollar and “flat” housing market. Raising interest rates will only send U.S higher, making it much stronger than ever.

On February 24 and 25, Fed Chair Janet Yellen will be speaking in congressional testimony and we should look for further clues to the timing of the interest rate hike.

Any clues of earlier rate hike will send U.S. dollar to rise in which I would go short USD/JPY, USD/CAD, and/or long GBP/USD. Remember, don’t hold your trade positions for more time if you trigger market order just based on what Yellen said, unless there are other news and technical to support your trade.

 

European Central Bank (ECB) – (February 19, 2015)

The European Central Bank first ever meeting minutes showed fears of continued deflation the euro zone, which led to launch of Quantitative Easing (QE) program which starts in March. The main goal of QE is to drag the euro zone out of deflation and near to 2% inflation target. This first minutes doesn’t reveal much of anything. Since there weren’t any new details or “surprising” details, the markets, especially Euro did not move much.

Europe has agreed to extend its financial lifeline to Greece only for 4 months. The deal was stuck last Friday (February 20, 2015). This is another bailout for Greece. How long does Euro has to keep bailing out Greece from the mess Greece made? The deal is not final if Greece does not come up with its plan by Monday (February 23, 2015). Then, it will be voted by institutions involved in the bailout by April. If the institutions do not back the plan, the “deal” becomes “no deal”.

I would still keep an eye on Greece. If you trade Euro, be careful with news coming out of Greece. It will be violent and may cause you to have losing positions or touch stop loss (or make money). When picking Euro to trade, I would pick pairs other than EUR/USD.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave comments or contact. Thank you.