British Pound and the Defining Issues for 2016

British Pound and the Defining Issues for 2016

By Kathy Lien, Managing Director for BK Asset Management

2016 will be a defining year for the British pound – a year when politics will overshadow economics.

Considering that sterling ended the year near 7 month lows against the U.S. dollar, some of our readers may find it surprising that the U.K. was one of the best performing G10 economies. However according to the latest figures for the third quarter, the U.K. economy grew at an annualized pace of 2.1% which matches the pace of U.S. growth. In contrast the Eurozone and Japanese grew 1.6%, Australia expanded 2.5% and Canada contracted by 0.2%. There’s also very little debate that the Bank of England will be the next major central bank to raise interest rates. Yet sterling benefited from none of this and instead weakened versus the euro, Japanese Yen, U.S. and New Zealand dollars over the past 6 months. Part of the underperformance was driven by U.S. dollar strength but slow U.K. wage growth, mixed data and cautious policymakers has the market looking for rates to rise in 2017 and not 2016.

We believe the market is underestimating the Bank of England and the U.K. economy because 2016 should be a year of strong growth.

Consumer spending is the backbone of the economy and sales surged in the month of November. While wage growth slowed, labour force participation rates remain near their highest levels in 20 years and service sector activity is accelerating according to the latest reports. As the labor market tightens and inflation bottoms out, wages should rise as well. Slow Chinese and Eurozone growth poses a risk to the economy and the manufacturing sector but the U.K. is still expected to be one of the fastest growing G10 economies in 2016.

From the perspective of growth alone, the Bank of England should raise interest rates in the first half of the year. However there are 2 primary issues holding the central bank back – low commodity prices and the risk of Brexit. Oil prices could remain low for a large part of the year and as of November consumer prices are running at a 0.1% annualized pace, which is far short of the central bank’s forecast. Considering that the Federal Reserve raised rates with yoy inflation at 0.5%, the BoE may not need to see CPI above 1% before tightening monetary policy but they could be reluctant to do so until there is greater clarity on Britain’s position within Europe.

The greatest risk that the U.K. economy and the British pound faces in 2016 is Brexit.

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FOMC Voters 2014 Dove Hawk Scale

The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee changes every year and 2014 in particular iss a big year for the Federal Reserve because there are a number of new faces on the Federal Open Market Committee or FOMC. With her official confirmation on Monday, Janet Yellen will become the first woman to lead the world’s most influential central bank. Having served as the Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve since 2010, she is not new to the FOMC but her voice will be heard much louder this year in the highly anticipated quarterly post monetary policy meeting press conferences. Yellen is a vocal dove that puts growth ahead of inflation but actions speak louder than words and her vote to taper asset purchases in December suggests that as Fed Chair, she may not be as dovish.

Every year, the makeup of the Federal Open Market Committee also changes with previous voters rotating out and new voters rotating in. This year’s policymakers have the huge responsibility of determining the pace that asset purchases will be tapered and when Quantitative Easing will end.

Two major doves favoring easier versus tighter monetary policy (Evans and Rosengren), one moderate hawk who favors tighter policy (George) and one centrist (Bullard) will be rotating out of voting positions. They will be replaced by Plosser and Fisher, two major hawks, Pianalto a moderate dove and Kocherlakota, who shares a similar bias as Yellen.

Former Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer has also been nominated to replace Yellen as Vice Chair and if confirmed, another hawk would be added to the roster.

There will also be 2 vacancies this year – Elizabeth Duke’s seat (she retired in summer of 2013) and Sarah Raskin’s slot once she moves over to the Treasury. Jerome Powell’s term ends January 31st but President Obama is considering a reappointment. This would leave the central bank more hawkish and willing to follow Bernanke’s proposal for reducing asset purchases by $10 billion at every meeting this year.

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2014 FOMC Voters

Openly Dovish

New Fed Chair Janet Yellen
Fed Board Member Daniel Tarullo
NY Fed President William Dudley

Minneapolis Fed President Kocherlakota

Moderately Dovish

Cleveland Fed President Pianalto
Fed Board Jerome Powell* (term ends Jan 31 but possible reappointment)

Moderately Hawkish


Fed Board Member Jeremy Stein
Vice Chair Stanley Fischer** (waiting confirmation)

Hawkish


Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser
Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher

2 Vacant Slots

Leaving 2014

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke
(dove)
Kansas City Fed President Esther George (moderate hawk)
St. Louis Fed President Bullard (centrist)
Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren (dove)
Chicago Fed President Charles Evans (dove)

Potential Replacements for Vacant Slots

Lael Brainard, the former Treasury undersecretary is a possible candidate to replace Sarah Raskin’s seat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. She stepped down from the Treasury in November and has been known to play a major role in negotiations with China and Europe during the sovereign debt crisis. Brainard is a strong negotiator who pressured European leaders for a more aggressive response to the debt crisis. Thomas Hoenig’s name has been floated around as a possible replacement for Duke. Hoenig is a former Kansas Federal Reserve President who was a vocal hawk during his time at the central bank. Finally Jeremy Stein is expected to step down from the Fed and return to teaching at Harvard in May, which means that he could leave another seat vacant. The Obama Administration will be eager to fill these slots quickly and bring the FOMC back to full capacity.

FOMC Voters 2013 Dove Hawk Scale

The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee changes every year and for 2013 in particular, the new makeup of the FOMC will be extremely important because this group will decide whether asset purchases should end in 2013. Gone are Lacker (the most hawkish member of the FOMC), Pianalto (a dove), Williams and Lockhart. Three doves and one hawk will be replaced with two uber doves (Evans and Rosengren), one moderate hawk (George) and one unknown (Bullard). What this implies is that the new voting members of the FOMC may not be as eager to phase out asset purchases this year as the prior committee.

Here is the updated FOMC Voters Dove Hawk Scale for 2013

These new members will have their first opportunity to vote on monetary policy at the January 25th FOMC meeting and here’s where they stand:

Openly Dovish
Chicago Fed President Charles Evans
Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren
NY Fed President William Dudley
Vice Chair Janet Yellen

Moderately Dovish

Fed Board Member Jeremy Stein
Fed Board Member Sarah Raskin
Fed Board Member Daniel Tarullo

Slight Lean towards Dovishness

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke
Fed Board Member Elizabeth Duke
Fed Board Member Jerome Powell

Slightly Hawkish
Kansas City Fed President Esther George
St. Louis Fed President Bullard