Poor UK Economic Data & Brexit Woes
UK retail sales fell by 0.8% in September according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.
As expected, inflation in the country is having a direct impact on the retail sector, as the ONS also reported that prices in shops have risen by 3.3% over the last year — a jump not seen since early 2012.
Consumer spending has been a key driver of growth recently, so this pull back will be seen as a concern, and possibly a factor the Bank of England will keep in mind as it debates over whether to raise interest rates.
All of this bad news is putting downward pressure on the Pound once again. Sterling reached $1.3226 against the Dollar recently in mid-October.
There is likely to be more volatility in the British currency as Brexit negotiations are in difficulty according to reports. The odds of Britain walking away without a deal from the talks have grown recently, with fingers pointing at both ineffectual Conservative leader Theresa May and the rigidity and stubbornness of the EU’s negotiating team.
In a move that may help to smooth negotiations, the Conservative Party has officially announced it will be assuring the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK after Brexit officially happens (and at this rate there’s plenty of doubt over whether it will happen at all). However the question coming from opposition leaders is: why did it take so long for them to do this? We don’t have an answer to the question, but it is yet another example of sloppiness on the part of the Tory party, whose stance on the negotiations in Brussels and Strasbourg and the future of the EU-UK relationship appears just as confused as their opposition in Parliament.
Speaking of which, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn employed a machiavellean tactic by turning up in Brussels earlier than Theresa May on October the 19th to address a gathering of European Socialists, putting on a display of political theatre in order to undermine her position. After being introduced as ‘the next prime minister of the UK’, Corbyn called for the current PM to stand aside and let him take up negotiations, setting out his vision of a Brexit which maintains free access to the single market.
Of course, as anyone who has followed the referendum narrative knows, you can’t stay inside the single market and have Brexit. The two positions are entirely contradictory, for remaining in the customs union means conceeding to the laws that the European Union dictates, while Brexit means leaving all EU institutions, including the single market, European Court of Justice and so on. As a man who was once a noted Eurosceptic amongst the Labour back-benchers, it frankly seems naive for Mr Corbyn to expect such a favourable deal which lets the UK pull out of the Union yet retain tariff-free trading with the EU’s member states. Frankly, his words ring just as hollow as Theresa May’s call for a ‘close’ relationship with the EU. Neither of the leaders seem to grasp the fact that the Union is built on protectionism and not ‘fairness’ as they would so hope.
Indeed, the view from the continent arguably looks as if the EU Commission is trying to keep Britain subdued, as can be seen by the fact they are staunchly against letting the UK discuss the future of its trading relationships with the EU and the rest of the world for the time being — effectively sticking a roadblock right in the middle of negotiations. The EU is totally transparent in its interests. The bloc’s chief goal is its own survival and the promotion of ever closer union. Trying to have a sensible, logical and rational negotiation with such an organisation was always going to be difficult.
But it isn’t just the EU Commission that Theresa May’s Brexit team must be wary of. British members of Parliament are trying to derail the process. 18 Labour MEPs and one from the Liberal Democrats supported a European Parliament resolution critical of the British government’s approach to the negotiations, which said Brexit talks should not move on because insufficient progress had been made on divorce issues. This position is not a surprise, given that many Labour party members have difficulty accepting the outcome of the vote on June 24th last year, and never wanted a referendum to be held at all. Though they may pretend that the reason they attempt to block progress is due to wanting the government to be more accountable, in this writers opinion they are simply hoping to stall negotiations and hopefully force a rerun of the referendum, despite their protestations to the contrary. The EU is no stranger to reruns of this nature. Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 but the decision was ultimately overturned.
Now that the fifth round of monthly Brexit talks between the UK and the EU has taken place, a decision is due to be taken by the EU later on whether or not enough progress has been made on “separation issues” to be able to start talks about the future relationship between the bloc and the UK post-Brexit. Refreshingly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there were “encouraging” signs that the Brexit talks could move on to the subject of the future trade relationship as early as December, according to The Guardian. For the time being however, investors will be hoping for more clarity and a faster negotiation progress from the Commission and the British Government, but it looks like they will be waiting quite a while longer.
With that being said, it seems that key Brexit negotiators are beginning to concede that a financial settlement (or ‘exit bill’) that the UK has been asked to pay may well favor the European Union. If they get their own way on this, perhaps they will allow negotiations to run more smoothly.
Losses for the Pound (seen here against the Euro through 2017) have helped the FTSE100 to rally throughout the year. However, stock market performance is obviously not 100% correlated with economic prosperity. The reason that the FTSE, as well as the Bats Low 50 index have outperformed despite the woeful Brexit situation is simply because firms within these indices make much of their profits overseas. A cheaper Pound allows consumers in other countries to buy their goods for less, improving company profits. In strict contrast, the Bats Brexit High 50 index has underperformed. The Bats Brexit indices were designed to act as barometers for assessing how Brexit is impacting UK companies. They do this by analysing the difference in performance between companies that generate a large portion of revenues in the UK and those that have less revenue exposure to the UK. The High 50 is made up of companies that depend more upon domestic revenues for success, while the Low 50 is those that primarily generate earnings overseas. You can clearly see the discrepancy between the performances of the High 50 (in red), FTSE100 (in yellow) and Low 50 (in blue) indices this year here. Invstr contains a broad selection of Bats indices which users can trade.