‘Independence Day’ is market comeuppance day

<p>It’s now clear that aside from more speculative and protective assets, markets have spectacularly mispriced the risk of a Brexit, even after several months of preparation.</p>

It’s now clear that aside from more speculative and protective assets, markets have spectacularly mispriced the risk of a Brexit, even after several months of preparation.

 

In other words, markets were taken off guard, by the UK’s “Independence Day”, to use UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s term.

 

That was illustrated most clearly by sterling trading against the dollar close to the year’s highs around $1.50 just hours ago, before the first indications about the real outcome rather than the one widely speculated filtered through.

 

The pound was the first and clearest casualty when the reality that the UK was going to stage a plebiscite sank in, early in the year, and it is again the clearest channel of the market’s distress right now.

 

Sterling has traded some 12% lower than early morning levels, easily it’s biggest single-day crash in about 30 years, and certainly displaying a level of volatility which could trigger an official intervention by the bank of England in the currency market.

 

That hasn’t happened yet, judging by a televised appearance by BoE governor Mark Carney a short time ago. He did nevertheless reassure markets that the Bank “will not hesitate to take measures as required”.

 

Once the decision for such action has been taken, if required, the next logical question should be whether recent on-the-record statement by other global central banks about potential intervention and other financial market backstops, will be realised.

 

If central banks deploy their resources in concert, it would be the first co-ordinated intervention by monetary policy makers since Europe’s sovereign debt crisis in December 2011.

 

We may be some distance before similar moves are required today, but if seen, they will have a short-term impact on market volatility which will not be entirely positive for currencies and stocks.

 

The BoE governor added that UK banks had been stress tested against scenarios which were “more severe” than the current one.

 

He was alluding to sharp falls by major bank stocks, including the biggest faller on the FTSE 100 a short time ago, Barclays.

 

Its stock plunged more than 26% at one point as investors priced back in losses for the year which the shares had partially recouped over the last few months.

 

Investors may be singling out Barclays given that it was widely perceived to have passed the last BoE stress tests, published in December, by a narrow margin, and might have even failed using slightly different rules.

 

Our view is that Barclays is nowhere near a state in which it might require help from the BoE’s Emergency Liquidity Assistance programme, the main tool the bank has deployed in recent history to fulfil its role of ‘lender of last resort’.

 

Overall, there are no large UK banks that might require the same backstop of collateral that the BoE offered banks like HBOS and RBS in October 2008.

 

Even so, it may be that the governor’s appearance on TV shortly after Prime Minister David Cameron’s live on-air resignation, has reassured global markets to some extent.

 

Major stock market indices whilst sharply lower on the day have dragged themselves off the day’s most eye-watering levels, whilst the pound’s deepest session loss against the dollar has been halved.

 

The FTSE 100′s tumble of as much as 8.6%, so far, could in fact be described as reassuringly contained, under the circumstance.

The fall was no further than was indicated by the futures market, and just slightly deeper than the widest possible standard deviation of the last month of trading (judging by weighted average Bollinger Bands).

 

It’s early days, but if contained FTSE impact is a sign of some orderliness in today’s market proceedings that can be sustained, then the absolute worst-case scenario for global markets might be avoided.

 

Of course, severe cross-market value destruction has already taken place and will reverberate for years.

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