Posts in European politics and society

Markets were mulling familiar themes last week. Will a wider U.S. twin deficit change the rules for the dollar and treasuries and is elevated volatility here to stay in equities? Judging by last week, the answer would be: probably and yes. The contemplation over these stories, though, were interrupted by politics. Mr. Trump announced his intention to apply tariffs on steel and aluminium—25% and 10% respectively—and Mrs. May attempted to give clarity on the U.K. government’s Brexit position.* I was unimpressed with both. Before I have a dig at Mr. Trump, I ought to provide an example of someone who supports it. I have great respect for Stephen Jen, but his argument here is like endorsing the idea of a diet by advising someone to eat nothing but kale and carrots for a decade. The analysis of Mr. Trump’s tariffs requires a distinction between the principle and the concrete measures. I concede that China is bending the rules of global trade, but Mr. Trump is stretching the fabrics of macroeconomic policy if he starts imposing tariffs on industrial goods. He is presiding over an economy close to full employment, a low domestic savings rate, and a medium-sized twin deficit. To boot, he is about to let fly with unprecedented fiscal stimulus.

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As if I was never away

It’s been a while since I had a look at financial markets. But I am happy to report that the laws of the natural world, inhabited by investors, are undisturbed. Volatility across most asset classes remains pinned to the floor, equities have pushed on—with the annoying exception of the majority of the portfolio’s holdings—and short-term rates in the U.S. also have crept higher. In this environment, the DXY has regained its footing, although it still looks vulnerable relative to many of its G7 sisters, and the yield curve in the U.S. is still not sure whether to steepen or flatten. It seems to have settled in the middle; a small rise across the curve. Political risks have returned to Europe—did it ever go away?—but I am unimpressed with the bears’ attempt to kick up a fuss. In Germany, I am reasonably certain that a government is formed, eventually. In Spain, I think the Catalan separatists are on the road to nowhere. Their leader Carlos Puidgemont is caught between a rock and a hard place, and I think they will need to have regional elections to settle what precisely the mandate is. Finally, we are supposed to worry about Italy leaving the Eurozone. Break-up risks in the euro area, however, is the dog that never barks. The periphery wants to use the euro, not jettison it for their own.

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Is reality catching up with investors' favourite narratives?

I am still willing to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt. We have no actual policymaking to judge yet, and at least some of the people he is surrounding himself with look capable. I admit, however, that the burden of evidence is getting heavy. The president-elect's tweets, on their own, are evidence that he has tendency to act long before thinking. Last week's presser also provided a timely reminder that we are dealing with a volatile character. I understand that infuriating "soft" liberals, such as yours truly, is exactly what Mr. Trump and his strategists want. I have no doubt that the incoming administration's communication "style" is carefully planned. The base loves it! But problems are brewing, chiefly among which is the growing chasm between Mr. Trump and the intelligence apparatus upon which he will so desperately depend for policymaking when he takes office. 

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In the Mouth of Madness

My last post was a copout, but necessary for me to express where I think things stand without going off on a million tangents. I think that maintaining an ultra-cynical view on markets, and the economy, now is critical. Recent political events have injected a huge amount of emotion, and I dare say anger, into the economic and financial market debate. It’s tempting to jump in both feet first, but investors are ill served by letting their own views and biases steer their decisions. This will sound obvious, but it isn’t always easy to follow.

Sometimes, though, a cynical approach can only come after a cathartic release of your own opinion and views. This post does just that, and I am going to piss off a lot of people. So close your browser if you’re not interested.

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