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“There are many things that Parliament cannot do,” said William Pitt the Elder in 1793. One of these things, it seems, is resolving the Brexit uncertainty that has preoccupied the UK for the last three years.
This week, the eventual outcome remained as uncertain as ever. The House of Commons voted to force the government to avoid a no-deal Brexit, the government withdrew the whip from more than 20 Conservative MPs, and the Opposition refused to grant Boris Johnson, the prime minister, a general election. To add to the drama, the prime minister said that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than extend the Brexit deadline, and his own brother resigned as both minister and MP.
All of that led to some extraordinary ructions in the markets. To begin with, bond prices slid and 10-year gilt yields shot up from 0.35% to nearly 0.65% (yields and prices move in opposite directions). The pound hit its lowest level for 34 years, before rallying sharply after the vote to extend the Brexit deadline. The FTSE 100, by contrast, surged at the start of the week before surrendering some of its gains to end almost 1% up as of Thursday’s close. As so often, sterling’s weakness boosted the share prices of large FTSE constituents that make the bulk of their earnings overseas.
Lam backs down
In Hong Kong, tensions eased somewhat as the government met one of the protestors’ main demands. Carrie Lam, the territory’s governor, withdrew the Extradition Bill that provided the initial spark for five months of protests.
The Hang Seng rose by 3.8% in response, but only one of the campaigners’ five main demands has been met. Calls for universal suffrage in Hong Kong are growing, and the concession from the authorities appears to have come too late to end the demonstrations.
Argentina, and another case of how not to run an economy
The main news from Latin America this week was Argentina’s re-imposition of capital controls. The Argentinian peso has lost a quarter of its value since August’s election, in which the Peronist candidate Alberto Fernández won an unexpected first-round victory.
Under the new controls, Argentinian businesses have to repatriate overseas earnings within five days, and companies are required to seek permission from the central bank before selling pesos. Individuals are now limited to purchasing US$ 10,000 per month.
Ex-Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe died at the age of 95. Helping the country achieve its independence, events quickly turned sour in what should have been an economic success story. Zimbabwe had a lot going for it: an educated population and it was known as the breadbasket of Africa. In a textbook case of economic mismanagement, inflation peaked at 89.7sextillion percent in 2008, eventually forcing the abandonment of the Zimbabwean dollar. Even with Mugabe gone (2017 military coup), corruption and mismanagement remain engrained in the country. The reintroduction of the Zimbabwean dollar earlier this year in a new form also resulted in hyperinflation rearing its head – the solution of course was to stop publishing official statistics.
Tick tack trade war
The US-China trade war entered its next phase, with the imposition of tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s imports. The US imposed 15% levies on Chinese goods while Beijing added tariffs of between 5% and 10%. The good news is that markets had already priced-in the increases and, more importantly, the US and China agreed to sit down and talk again in October.
Chinese companies don’t seem to be minding much, judging by the forward-looking indicators. China’s private Caixin/Markit purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for manufacturing rose above 50 (the level that indicates economic expansion). The equivalent services PMI rose to 52.1.
In the US, the Institute for Supply Management’s PMI covering service sectors firms for August rose strongly to 56.4. Coupled with strong job creation data (195,000 jobs added in August as measured by ADP), this helped buoy investor sentiment and the S&P 500 index gained 1.7% to close of business Thursday...
67th time lucky?
Brexit contortions aside, the main news from Europe was Italy’s new government – the 67th since World War II. The Five Star Movement and the centre-left Partito Democratico agreed to form a coalition with Guiseppe Conte returning as prime minister. Matteo Salvini and his right-wing populist Lega party are waiting in the wings, however, and the budget showdown with the European Union in October could lead to more elections.
European equity markets generally performed well over the week, with the FTSE World Europe (ex UK) index 1.8% higher by Thursday’s close.
And finally …
Is it a sea serpent? A plesiosaur? A swimming deer? A Greenland shark? Or a hotchpotch of hoaxes, hogwash and hysteria?
The identity of Nessie has long been in dispute, ever since the supposed first sighting of a monster in Loch Ness the 1930s. This week, however, scientists announced a new theory: could the monster be a giant eel?
Professor Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago has identified the DNA of European eels in almost all parts of the loch. Although he admitted that the data didn’t reveal the size of the eels, he said that “we can’t discount the possibility that what people see and believe is the Loch Ness Monster might be a giant eel”. Local resident Steve Feltham, who has entered the Guinness Book of Records for the length of his Nessie hunt, was less impressed by the revelation. “I caught eels in the loch when I was a 12-year-old boy,” he said.