Blain's morning porridge, submitted by Bill Blain of Shard Capital
“Weebles Wobble but they don’t fall down..”
I oft get accused of being too bearish, too miserable, and too gloomy. That’s not true! I’m a very happy, smiley, even jovial chap. I’ve learnt it’s better to look at the facts, assume the worst and not be surprised. 30 plus years in markets also teaches me no matter how awful it looks, it’s never as bad as it might be, and it always gets better. So being aware of just how bad it might get, rather than fooling ourselves how good we hope it might be, seems the best plan.
And, on the subject of self-delusional behaviour, from today “Blain’s Brexit-Watch” will be a regular part of the daily porridge – at the bottom, after the Fun-Stuff.
The Fun Stuff today will be the Fed decision. Just how will the Fed frame a 25 basis point ease? Regular readers will know my view is a Fed ease is a pointless sop. The Feb will ease because they expect a now pretty-much unavoidable trade war and global slowdown, and really ought to be seen to be prepared for it.
The real issue isn’t even why we’re heading for global slowdown. These include Donald Trump’s tweets y’day accusing the Chinese of reneging on their “agreement” to buy more US agricultural products – effectively scuppering the resumed trade talks before they started. (Serious question to my US Republican friends: are you even remotely concerned about Donald’s increasing randomness?)
The real threat is China’s response. Thus far they have avoided saying anything that might overtly damage the current meetings, but equally they made clear they are not going to respond to threats. Yesterday’s responses were coded, but re Trade they effectively asked what “agreement to buy US agricultural products” is Trump talking about? At the Osaka G20 Trump demanded China bought more from US Farms, but they simply agreed to enter into a new round of talks. While Trump accuses the world’s second largest and fastest growing economy of lying, Xi is talking about how China must now rely on domestic demand to manage current “risks and challenges”. Xi is making clear he has no intention of pandering to Trump, and sending a clear signal Beijing is prepared for trade war if Trump presses the button.
Or does China now take the initiative? They are sounding increasingly confident. Yesterday they accused the US of provocation in “creating” the Hong Kong protests. This gets dangerous. Tensions are building over Hong Kong – which I warned could become a flashpoint. Bloomberg reported The White House monitoring a “congregation of Chinese forces” (Military or Armed Police) on the Hong Kong Border. Speaking to a former colleague yesterday, he confirmed a very nervous mood and a general exodus of risk capital to Singapore. If China intervenes, they are betting Trump the Bully will stomp and shout, but stop short of a meaningful response.
With the election coming up, the risk is Trump feels he can’t afford to not to act. Then it potentially gets very messy.
Trump is acting like he holds all the cards. He doesn’t. He needs to understand who does. Watch Hong Kong
Interesting results from Apple y’day as they beat expectations. They are managing the process of switching revenues from the increasingly commoditised mobile phone space into services rather well. They are retaining the allure of the Apple ecosystem, which ensures customer loyalty. The prices of cheaper models may fall, but they will retain the must have buyers who will pay premium new model prices, and continue to attract wearables and services. It’s interesting Cook declined to say much of commoditising Apple services or wearables by making them more compatible with other operating services. Disclosure: I am an Appleholic. I can’t resist.
Blain’s Brexit Watch
As the Sterling Time Bomb ticked down to $1.22, yesterday’s Brexit highlights included the threat of insurrection in the Valleys if the Welsh find it difficult to export Lamb to Europe. “Come home to a real fire… buy a cottage in Wales!” Folk are getting nervous about weakening sterling, hence the BBC interviews with pensioners in France complaining they can’t go on holiday on their state pension because everything is so expensive. Wait till import inflation really hits…
Today, Boris is in Norn Iron and about as welcome as a Lannister in Winterfell.
More hopeful were Boris’ comments about staying in the customs union for a time if a Brexit Deal can be struck. It’s a clear signal to Europe. He’s confirming his position clearly – give me some compromise and a deal Parliament can accept, and we can agree a Brexit agreement that benefits everyone.
But yesterday showed Europe aint for turning…
The secret of good comedy is timing.. I was talking to a client about Sterling weakness. We were wondering if Sterling weakness was overplayed, and my chap asked what would be the most obvious buy-signal? I suggested Boris Johnston’s refusal to pick up the phone to Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, was telling – I opined the moment to buy Sterling would be Varadkar calling him, a clear sign Ireland, and therefore the EU, understood the dangers of No-Deal and would be willing to compromise on the backstop.
Little did we know that Boris has already called Leo, and the two of them were having a “frank exchange”. Boris politely asked for a renegotiation. Leo said no (actually I suspect it was blunter than that). “Uncompromising” was the official view.
A No Deal causes massive problems if the border is “closed/slowed” for customs. The political dimensions for the UK are enormous; risking the Good Friday peace agreement, encouraging Sinn Fien and its associated Thugocracy to reopen “operations” against the crown, and general distraction. Nasty, but containable.
For Ireland a No-Deal is a nightmare. Aside from the freight going across the Norn Iron border, the real issue is 88% of Ireland’s freight goes from Dublin to Hollyhead in Wales then onto Europe. (2017 numbers). The ports with direct links to the continent are too small to handle Ireland’s trade with the EU – and take double the time of direct UK access to Europe, which is critical for agricultural exports. There are solutions. New ships would take time to arrange. Logistical solutions are possible, such as “Authorised Economic Operators” to allow closed truck access through the UK – it works for Switzerland. But will an angry UK let them work for Ireland, when Europe won’t let work for the UK?
A deal is much better than no deal.. what’s the current betting Boris can get a deal? 20/1 on a No Deal at the bookies does not equate to the 1 million to one Boris thinks likely….
Oh, what fun…