Who’s worried about geopolitics?
That’s a joke. No one is worried about geopolitics. Or at least not according to risk assets, which are grinding inexorably higher across the globe despite a laundry list of flash points that has now grown to include a secessionist bid in Catalonia and a shooting war between Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga.
To be clear, we didn’t need either of those two things. Because the Catalonia issue threatens to push periphery spreads wider just when the ECB is set to cut QE in half and the latest flare-up between Baghdad and Erbil comes at a particularly delicate time when everyone from Iran, to Russia, to the U.S., to Turkey is trying to sort out what their post-ISIS role will be in Iraq and Syria.
But all of that seems remote to investors. Indeed, if the back and forth between Trump and Kim isn’t enough to derail South Korean equities, then it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to extrapolate what a renewed Kurdish independence push might mean for EM more broadly (think: the knock-on effect for Turkish assets) or what an outright Catalan independence declaration would mean for anything other than the IBEX.
One person who thinks it might be a mistake to ignore geopolitics is Taimur Baig, chief economist at DBS Group Holdings.
“The current environment of modestly rising growth, low inflation and easy liquidity has made investors so comfortable that markets are hardly pricing in geopolitical risks,” Baig writes, in new note, adding that “the general view is that whether it is N.Korea, Iran, Catalonia or Italy, market-damaging outcomes are unlikely given high stakes involved.”
This kind of complacency is in the face of multiple flashpoints and powder kegs is “unwelcome” Baig continues, before warning that “major fiscal stimulus in the U.S. could cause USD to rally and long rates to sell off, which then motivates protectionist measures, negatively affecting EM FX and rates as well as stocks worldwide.”
Right. And against this backdrop, clouded as it is by uncertainty on all fronts, the saving grace is that at the end of the day, the world is being guided by a steady set of (small) hands…