Event risk and market volatility: Partners in crime

Market volatility has been reasonably subdued in recent weeks, despite acute event (and macro data) risk in the next four weeks, including of course US presidential elections on 3rd November, and a number of significant macro, policy and geopolitical developments.

In the past month volatility in major developed and emerging market currencies versus the US Dollar has only risen materially in the high-yielding Turkish Lira and Mexican Peso and the low-yielding Polish Zloty, Korean Won and more surprisingly the Taiwan Dollar.

However, this is not a case of more confident financial market participants finding their feet, in our view, but rather a reflexion of financial markets unable to see through the smoke and reluctant to pit themselves against their peers going into year-end and/or test monetary authorities’ resolve at time of acute uncertainty.

S&P 500 (realized) volatility has edged lower since its early September spike, with markets seemingly undecided whether a Trump or Biden victory will be a net positive for equities.

For similar reasons the Dollar, Euro, Sterling, Yen and Swiss Franc have shown little directionality since late-July. Headwinds and tailwinds for these reserve currencies have either tended to cancel each other or simply fade, leaving market participants in two-minds and opting for the path of least regret.

Back in November 2019 we correctly predicted that “global FX volatility would rise in coming weeks, with the potential for a volatility spike in mid-December”. We once again think the risk is biased towards FX volatility rising in coming weeks, particularly given the still very uncertain outcome of US elections to be held in just 26 days.

We think the risk of higher volatility is most acute if US President Trump once again defies opinion polls to win or if a prolonged period of uncertainty ensues in the event of either candidate contesting the result of a very close election.

Moreover, the odds Sterling volatility spiking higher in the next fortnight are high, in our view, whatever the outcome of UK-EU negotiations over a new trade deal which will likely reach a crescendo ahead of the European Council meeting on 15-16 October.



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