Stocks Recover: Is Brexit Fallout Over?


Global stocks have mostly recovered from the previous week's steep sell-off, so is the Brexit fallout over? History may or may not look back on June 23, 2016 and declare it “UK Independence Day”. Since residents in the United Kingdom voted in a non-binding referendum to leave the European Union, there is still so much unknown, including who will succeed Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite an internal Tory party horse race, the leading contenders are Theresa May, who half-heartedly supported the Remain camp and Michael Gove, who along with former London mayor Boris Johnson, was a leader of the Leave campaign. (Here’s an easy way to remember their names: Invoke the Clash and hum to yourself, “Should I May or Should I Gove?”) As the next Prime Minister grapples with how to leave EU, US consumers and investors are trying to understand the impact of the historic vote. Unlike the run of the mill correction that we saw earlier this year, the UK’s exit from the 28-member union is an “exogenous event.” That means that it came from outside the predicted modeling system that most economists utilize and as a result, can have significant, negative effects on prices.

We saw how negative on the first two days of trading following the vote: the British pound sterling tumbled to its lowest level against the US dollar in more than three decades and global stocks fell sharply. Meanwhile, bastions of safety like US treasuries, German bunds and gold saw big inflows. Despite the magnitude of the surprise, large financial firms said that even in the hours after the vote, there was no liquidity crisis and markets functioned well. And by the end of the first full week after the vote, the damage was fairly contained and most global markets recouped their initial losses.

So is the Brexit fallout over? It would be great to think so, but that might be a case where optimism clouds a realistic assessment of the situation. Consider this: nine years ago, another unexpected June event occurred: investment banking firm Bear Sterns (BS) had to bail out two of its hedge funds that were collapsing because of bad bets on subprime mortgages. At the time, there was no mystery surrounding the risks that were emerging, though 15 months later, the world seemed shocked to discover what seemed clear in the middle of 2007: something very bad was brewing.

In June 2007, the New York Times said the Bear Sterns hedge fund debacle stemmed “directly from the slumping housing market and the fallout from loose lending practices that showered money on people with weak, or subprime, credit, leaving many of them struggling to stay in their homes. Bear Sterns averted a meltdown this time, but if delinquencies and defaults on subprime loans surge, Wall Street firms, hedge funds and pension funds could be left holding billions of dollars in bonds and securities backed by loans that are quickly losing their value.”

While at the time, the event did seem small and well contained; here is the timeline of what occurred next:

  • June 2007: BS Bails out hedge funds; markets convinced that all is well
  • October 2007: US stock indexes hit all-time highs
  • March 2008: BS goes broke and is taken over by JP Morgan Chase
  • September 2008: Lehman Brothers Holdings files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; Bank of America purchases Merrill Lynch; the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is authorized to lend up to $85 billion to AIG; the Reserve Primary Money Fund falls below $1 per share; Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley become bank holding companies

This is not to suggest that Brexit will cause a financial crisis, but we should carefully consider what dangerous spillover effects could occur. While US banks are better capitalized than they were leading up to the fall of 2008, the UK and European banks do not look nearly as healthy. In the two trading sessions after Brexit, the European Bank index lost about a quarter of its value and UK based banks did even worse.

And if European growth slows, its weaker economies (Greece, Italy, Spain) will once again be at the heart of sovereign debt questions. Additionally, as the dollar rises, emerging markets like China could come under pressure, echoing what happened in the first six weeks of the year, when global stocks tumbled and US stock corrected.

In terms of the US economy, analysts at Capital Economics say the UK and the EU account for 4 and 15 percent of US exports, respectively. If both regions go into a recession, Brexit could shave 0.2-0.3 percent from the current annual US growth rate of about 2 percent.

But estimates can be rocked by emotions. A US-based multinational may hold back on hiring everywhere to see how things shake out post-Brexit. For US exporters, the rising US dollar will create a drag on competitiveness in overseas markets and could potentially trigger lay offs at home. And if non-affected businesses and consumers start to feel unnerved, they too might pull in the reins, causing the US economy to slow down more than anticipated.

This week’s June employment report may go a long way to soothe nervous economists and investors. The May report was a dud-only 38,000 jobs were added, the worst month since September 2010. This year, the economy has added 149,600 jobs per month on average, the worst start to a year since 2009. Economists are hopeful that the job picture improved in June. The consensus is that 180,000 jobs were added during the month, including the return of 35,000 striking Verizon workers, and that the unemployment rate will edge up from 4.7 percent, the lowest since November 2007, to 4.8 percent.. Stronger than expected summer job creation may force the Fed to at least consider a hike at the September meeting (July is likely off the table due to Brexit), though the market is still betting on December as the only quarter-point increase for 2016.

MARKETS: Brexit uncertainty may test the third longest bull market in history, but in the first full week of trading, investors took the news in stride. Bond yields hit all-time lows around the world last week. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note touched a record low of 1.385%, breaking its previous intraday low of 1.389% set on July 24, 2012, when it also set a record closing low of 1.404%.

  • DJIA: 17,949, up 3.1% on week, up 3% YTD
  • S&P 500: 2102, up 3.2% on week, up 2.9% YTD
  • NASDAQ: 4862, up 3.3% on week, down 2.9% YTD
  • Russell 2000: 1156, up 2.6% on week, up 1.8% YTD
  • 10-Year Treasury yield: 1.446% (from 1.56% a week ago)
  • British Pound/USD: $1.3277, down 2.3% on the week, down 13.2% since Brexit vote (touched $1.3118 on Monday, its lowest level in 31 years)
  • August Crude: $48.99, up 1.4% on week
  • August Gold:  at $1,339, up 1.3% on week, highest settlement since July, 2014
  • AAA Nat'l avg. for gallon of reg. gas: $2.28 (from $2.31 wk ago, $2.77 a year ago)



Tues 7/5:

U.K. Conservative Party lawmakers begin balloting to elect a successor to David Cameron as prime minister

10:00 Factory Orders

Weds 7/6:

8:30 International Trade

10:00 ISM Non-Mfg Index

2:00 FOMC Minutes

Thursday 7/7:

U.K. Conservative Party leadership holds second vote

8:15 ADP Private Sector Job Report

Friday 7/8:

8:30 June Employment Report

3:00 Consumer Credit

Saturday 7/9:

Group of 20 trade ministers meeting in Shanghai