The Washington impasse may lead to further Euro strength

In an epic reversal of fortunes, the Eurozone is starting to look like a safe haven to some.

It’s been a pretty quiet year in the major currency markets. Euro vs the USD is the most actively traded currency pair in the 5 trillion USD a day market, and this year its range has been pretty muted, with a high on 1 February of 1.3711 and a low of 1.2746 on 4 April. As I write, on 21 October, the current price is 1.3680, so only a hair’s breadth away from the year’s highs.

The USD was already suffering as a result of the Fed’s "no-taper" shocker in September and we know what China felt about Washington’s stand-off and brinkmanship with the debt ceiling; last week saw China’s ex-deputy head of FX regulation opining that China should cut its holdings of US Treasuries in the medium to long term and the ECB’s Nowotny chipping in to say that the Euro will play an increasing role as a reserve currency.

The dollar’s trouble is that it now seems highly unlikely that the Fed will stop printing money in the near future. The messy denouement of the Washington show means that we will now be subject to another four or maybe even six months of rather unsettling uncertainty.

Although Congress has extended to debt limit to 7 February, the US Treasury could then start to use "extraordinary" accounting measures to live from hand-to-mouth for a few more weeks, as it started doing this year in May, finding some USD 300bn tucked away to prolong the real debt limit deadline to 17 October (ish). The seasonal shape of US Treasury receipts and payments suggests it will only take a couple of months or so to use up USD 300bn this time, only getting them through to April.

This is neither "nowt nor summat", as we say in Yorkshire. It’s not a short enough time for consumers, corporations and the Fed to feel this is all going to be behind us soon, and it’s not far enough away for everyone to think "whatever, I’ll forget about Washington for a year", say. It’s just about the worst timescale one can imagine.

Consumers will put off purchases, employers will hesitate to hire - in both cases probably not catastrophically, but enough to take the edge off growth - 0.5 per cent in Q4 2013 and Q1 2014. More importantly for the dollar’s fortunes the Fed now seems highly unlikely to taper before its March meeting, and there must even be some doubt over that now.

The Fed’s key data points are going to be unreliable. We’re now going to see September’s employment report on 22 October, but the market’s reaction function will be heavily skewed: if the numbers are weak, then they’ll be taken to presage an economic dip, if they’re strong they’ll be discounted as dating from before Washington’s antics. The next employment report, for October, will now come out on 8 November and the "household survey" used to calculate the unemployment rate will have to conducted retrospectively - so that will be tainted, and also subject to the same interpretation bias. This all means it’ll be January before the Fed might feel it has "clean" jobs data to analyse.

In an epic reversal of fortunes, the shutdown/debt ceiling debate has given even the Euro some semblance of safe-haven status and thrown into stark relief the contrast between the philosophies of the Fed and the ECB.

With the OMT still doing its job as a virtual sticking plaster, and a Grand Coalition in the making in Germany, there seems little reason why EUR/USD can’t climb towards 1.40 or above before Christmas. That in turn will make the ECB very uneasy, as the Eurozone is flirting with deflation, so a rate cut and/or another LTRO seems very likely-probably at the December meeting.

US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reads the FT during the annual World Bank - IMF meetings in Washington, DC. Photograph: Jim Watson/Getty Images.

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.