Short reprieve only for Irish shares as Theresa May faces her Brexit vote next week

At the end of a week overshadowed by global trade tensions, Irish shares clawed back some of their heavy losses. But the respite is likely to be shattered next week unless Theresa May secures an unlikely Brexit vote in the Commons on Tuesday.

The local stock market has suffered in the past week from a barrage of trade and Brexit events that hit both its heavyweight stocks and midling shares hard.

CRH and Smurfit Kappa - which had slid in tandem with global construction and packaging stocks - rose 2.6% and 2%, retrieving some of their losses of recent days.

And smaller stocks such as the Irish home builder Glenveagh Properties also gained over 3% even as its peer Cairn Homes fell further, by 1%.

As relative newcomers to stock markets, Irish homebuilders have along with the Irish banks been the surprising casualties of the global shares rout.

The Iseq Overall Index posted a 1.2% increase in the latest session did little to mask the damage visited on Irish shares.

The index in the past week has slid over 5.5% and has now lost 18% of its value this year - a performance which puts it among the worst performing stock markets in Europe.

The outlook for next week remains troubled.

Trade war tensions continue to simmer and fears will increase about the political future of Ms May, if her Brexit interim deal is voted down, that is, if a vote takes place in the first place.

And US stocks resumed their decline as the Trump administration pressed its trade war with China and the latest batch of economic data added to concern that growth has peaked.

Oil surged after Opec agreed to cut output.

The S&P 500 turned lower after White House adviser Peter Navarro said tariffs on Chinese goods would rise if there’s no trade deal after a 90-day truce expires.

Technology shares bore the brunt of selling, with Apple down by more than 2%.

US stocks had initially opened higher after the US November jobs report showed moderation in the labour market, giving succour to proponents for a slower pace of US Federal Reserve interest-rate increases.

The debate about the pace of US rate increases has intensified.

John Dolan, senior corporate dealer at Fexco Corporate Payments, said that recent events could mean the US central bank slows the pace of future rate increases.

Fears over the US economy’s growth prospects and the impact of the trade war with China have palpably changed the mood music at the Federal Reserve. Unless the US economy recovers its mojo quickly, the pace of the Fed’s planned interest rate rises could be dialled down," Mr Dolan said.

Capital Economics took a different view: "The US employment data published today were a little weaker than expected. But this still supports our view that the Fed is on track for a December rate hike, even though investors are no longer banking on it."

Brexit will again loom large for Irish and UK stock market investors next week.

And Irish firms will be closely watching for the reaction of sterling.

"While there is plenty on the agenda next week, the UK’s Brexit vote in parliament will be the only event in town," said Chris Beauchamp at online broker IG.

"Reports of a shift towards a softer Brexit or a second referendum should be taken with a pinch of salt, but with the deal still unlikely to pass under any but the most inventive scenarios the weekend will likely see plenty of wargaming of alternative scenarios," he said.

But even a lost vote may not spell bad news for sterling.

Sterling may more than hold its poise if Ms May’s Brexit deal is rejected by a margin of fewer than 70 to 75 votes, analysts say.

A relatively small shortfall for the UK prime minister, who needs 320 votes to push the pact through parliament, may kindle hopes that she could succeed in a second attempt and spur gains in the currency.

On the other hand, a large margin of loss - 100 or more - would ignite risks from a no-deal Brexit to an early election or even a second referendum, driving sterling lower, according to strategists and fund managers.

The margin of votes is crucial since a change of heart by one MP would widen or narrow the gap between ayes and nays by two.

The effects of a hard Brexit and trade wars were high up the list of potential risks for the Irish financial system highlighted by the Central Bank.

The Central Bank brings together in its annual Macro-Financial Review all the risks facing Irish banks and, by implication, the wider economy.

"There are threats to international trade flows, from the imposition of trade barriers and the possibility of a hard Brexit, and vulnerabilities in EMEs (emerging market economies) owing to high debt and US dollar appreciation. A reversal of investor sentiment in financial markets could have an adverse effect on global growth and financial markets, in particular in the global leveraged loans market," it said.

The main issue facing the Irish economy is Brexit and, in particular, the possibility of a disorderly Brexit occurring," according to the report.

Officials said that the Central Bank had long tracked the global trade risks because the influence of the many multinationals makes the Irish economy disproportionately vulnerable to geopolitical or trade shocks.

And Irish SMEs are also relatively more vulnerable to a hard Brexit and to any further sharp fall in the value of sterling against the euro.

Officials wouldn't say whether the Central Bank would have further advice in the specific circumstance of Ms May losing her vote on Tuesday.

Banks had already made contingency plans for Brexit and would be expected to continue to do so, officials said.

A Brexit that preserves current trading arrangements would still see uncertainty arising owing to the EU-UK negotiations that would remain to be completed after March 2019.

"A hard Brexit would cause a substantial reduction in output and employment. Recent years have seen sharp movements in the euro-sterling exchange rate," said the review.

"Any further weakening of sterling would make Irish exports to the UK more expensive.

"In the event of a hard Brexit, a weaker pound could coincide with an increase on tariffs on those exports.

"Sectors such as agri-food and wholesale-and-retail are more exposed to the effects of Brexit than others, while regions with a focus on the UK market, such as the border counties, are more vulnerable," it said.

- Additional reporting Bloomberg


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