Sunday, 19 June 2016

Markets Are Still Massively Underpricing The Risk of Brexit

As we enter the last week of campaigning before the EU referendum, financial markets are still massively underpricing the risk of Brexit. Listen to the pundits on CNBC, or Bloomberg, particularly in the US, where they are removed from the facts on the ground, and its clear that they are continuing to live in denial of the possibility of Brexit. They are looking at the bookies of odds for Remain still being around 6:4. But, the bookies odds are not reliable, and could change before the poll.

My initial thought was, like the Scottish Referendum, that inertia would win the day, handing a win to Remain. Over the last few weeks, its become clear why that is wrong. As I wrote a few days ago, the core racist and bigoted vote for “Leave”, of around 30% of the population, is enough to win it for them, unless a large number of Remain voters can be persuaded to turn out to vote. As yet, there seems little sign of that happening, because the Remain vote is soft, as all the conversations on the doorstep indicate. The Tories, Blair-rights, and media were setting Corbyn up to take the fall for their decades of inadequacy in that regard, as they, along with their co-thinkers across Europe, have given workers little to be positive about Europe for, with their policies of austerity, and attacks on workers rights and conditions.

Those policies, particularly since 2010, have left the field open to Tory eurosceptics, and the racist press to engage in a carnival of bigotry, whipping up xenophobia, the culmination of which was pretty inevitable, and found the first indication of that inevitability in the murder of Joe Cox MP by a right-wing, nationalist zealot. It is just a taste of the reaction that will follow a vote to leave the EU, and the encouragement it will give to all of those right-wing, nationalist and xenophobic elements. Those in the media bubble, who expect Joe Cox's murder to have any significant impact on the outcome of the referendum are likely to be sorely disappointed, unfortunately. For the same reason that I pointed out recently that we have developed an Idiocracy more than a bourgeois democracy, there will be too many elements of the general population absorbed in the 2016 Euro Football Championships, to be even aware of Cox's murder, let alone have any inkling of what it represents. 

Its applying a degree of rationality that simply does not exist for many of the population. Some years ago, I related on a blog post a discussion I had with someone in the local gym. He was an affable enough kind of bloke. He was himself half West Indian half white British. In the discussion, he told me that he hated Asians, and thought they should all be sent home – though where home was he didn't specify. “What about X”, I asked him. X was an Asian bloke we both knew and talked to in the gym. “Oh I have to like him,” he replied, “he's my cousin”!

The fact is that none of these issues have actually been tackled over the years. As I pointed out some months ago, the Labour Party's policy on immigration has been a mess. On the one hand, it has pandered to racism by arguing the need for immigration controls, as though it were immigrants and not capitalism that was the problem for British workers, whilst typically dressing it up with terms such as “non-racist immigration controls”, as though that was not in itself a contradiction in terms. Rather than tackling the ideology behind various forms of bigotry, it has instead settled for outlawing bigoted ideas, with various forms of legislation, and a plethora of quangos that only ended up feeding the mythology of racism, as the idea was allowed to be spread that those who were actually suffering from bigotry, were rather somehow being favoured by the state over everyone else.

The two main parties were happy to not look what was lurking under the carpet in that regard so long as this 30% of the population, set aside these bigoted views in favour of concern over other issues, come general elections, or else, didn't vote at all. To the extent that they supported parties like the BNP or UKIP in general elections, they were overwhelmed, especially given the First Past The Post electoral system. They should have realised the writing was on the wall, when it came to a binary question such as EU membership, therefore, given the size of the vote that the bigots were able to muster in local elections, and in European Parliament elections.

Only if they were able to get out a vote of the size of a general election, were the Remain camp likely to win, and they have done absolutely nothing to provide ordinary working-class people with any positive reason why they should do so. At the same time, the only message that could provide such hope, and reason to vote to Remain, that which I have proposed, and which Corbyn and others have put forward in various forms, that its necessary to remain so as to link with other European workers to fight for a reform of the EU in workers interests, is a harder case to make. Moreover, its a case that the Tory media have been vigorous in preventing being put to the voters.

Even if the polls were showing a 50:50 split currently, that would mean a comfortable win for Leave given the difference in the commitment to vote of those on each side of the divide. But, recent polls are even showing a lead for Leave. My best guess, therefore, now has to be that the vote will be to Leave, and that seems also to be increasingly recognised by Remain campaigners themselves.

Billions of pounds has gone out of the economy over recent months, but the Pound has remained quite high, and stock markets have even risen, whilst the only sign of increased fear has been a rush for safe haven assets such as gold, and bonds. A large drop in the Pound in the days before the vote could possibly persuade enough Remain voters to turn out, and act to swing undecided voters. To be honest, I'm amazed that such a crisis has not already occurred. It may be that reality will dawn in the next couple of days, or it could be that there is a feeling that a) Brexit cannot happen, or b) that it will take some time before the real consequences are felt. Anyone thinking that is likely to lose a lot of money.

What now seems likely to be an inevitable vote for Brexit will cause a sharp drop in the Pound, rising inflation, and a need for the Bank of England to intervene to raise official rates. That is likely to cause UK gilts to drop, with a consequent crash in UK stocks, and property markets. Anyone waiting for the shoe to drop before taking action, will find themselves too late.

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