Sterling Pounded By May's Hard Brexit

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Summary

May's comments send sterling below $1.22 for the first time since October.

South Korean won lost more than 1% on numerous issues, including spat with Japan.

China's liquidity squeeze is abating and the yuan fell.

The sterling has stolen the US dollar's spotlight. The issue facing market participants was if the rise in hourly earnings reported as part of the pre-weekend release of US December jobs data was sufficient to end the dollar's downside correction. Instead, May's comments over the weekend indicating not just a desire but strategic thrust to abandon the single market in exchange for regaining control over immigration and not being subject to the European Court of Justice has cost the sterling more than one percent.

The sterling has been sold through $1.22 for the first time since the end of October. Last week's recovery fizzled near $1.2430. It reached $1.2125 in the European morning. The next downside target is near $.12080. The $1.22 area that was once support is likely to be seen as resistance. The weakness of the sterling is helping allow the FTSE 100 extend its winning streak to its tenth session and 14 of 15 sessions (yes, it had declined once since December 14 when the Fed hiked rates).

European shares are otherwise heavy today, with the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 off 0.4%, led by the telecoms and real estate sectors. If sustained, it would be the third decline in four sessions as the momentum seen early last week fades. Italian and German data drew some attention. Even though Italy created 19k jobs in November, the employment ticked up to 11.9% (from 11.8%). When combined with the other EMU members, the aggregate unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.8%.

Germany reported a 0.4% rise in November industrial output, which was a bit softer than the 0.6% median forecast. However, the year-over-year pace of 2.2% was above expectations and the best in three months, and the third best of the year. This, alongside the PMI, provides more evidence acceleration of the German economy in Q4. Construction output rose 1.5%. Manufacturing production rose 0.4%, while energy output fell 0.4%.

It appears that some of the manufacturing was for exports, as separately, Germany reported exports rose 3.9% in November. This is a four and a half year high. The median forecast was for a 0.5% increase. German imports rose 3.5%. The net result was a 22.6 bln euro trade surplus, up from 19.4 bln euros in October. The surplus was steady around 21.1-21.6 bln euros where the six- and 12-month moving averages are found. The three-month average is 22.1 bln.

Outside of the sterling and European data, the third development on investors' radar screens is the easing of the money market squeeze has seen the Chinese yuan come under new pressures. The overnight offshore yuan [CNH] deposit rate fell 12.5 percentage points, after hitting 105% before the weekend. CNH fell nearly 0.5% today as some of the bears who were squeezed out last week may have begun reestablishing positions. The onshore yuan fell 0.2%.

Asian equities extended their pre-weekend losses, without Japan, where markets were closed due to a national holiday. The MSCI Asia-Pacific Index excluding Japan fell nearly 0.25%. The loss before the weekend snapped an eight-day advance. Chinese shares bucked the trend. The Shanghai Composite gained a little more than 0.5%.

South Korea rivaled China for attention today in Asia. The won fell nearly 1.3%. Part of this may be a strong dollar. Part of this may be concern that North Korea may launch a long-range missile any day. However, the won's weakness also seems to be partly a function of a spat with Tokyo relating to the so-called comfort women. Japan not only recalled its ambassador but also suspended talks about the currency swap arrangement. Lastly, there was also some concern that the influence-peddling scandal that toppled the Park government may be spreading to industry.

The US economic calendar is light with only November's consumer credit on tap late in the session. The Fed's regional Presidents Rosengren and Lockhart speak. After the rise in hourly earnings, the market increased the probability of a March rate hike. We note that the base effect likely means that the pace of hourly earnings growth slows in January.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.