Still feeling fragile after Friday’s global stock rout, the investment set is coming into the week laden with the sense that anything could happen after the British voted to jump ship and leave the European Union.
The Brexit vote — which surprised markets around the world even though a “Leave” decision was seen as possible — led to an immediate and visceral reaction from traders Friday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 610.32 points, or 3.4 percent, to 17,400.75, as markets were hit even harder in Europe: at the extreme the FTSE MIB in Milan dropped 12.5 percent to 15,723.81.
Whether that downward trend will continue today depends on a complex calculation that factors in best guesses on everything from how long it will take the U.K. and EU to unwind their connection to how consumers and companies will react to what, if any, effect this has on the U.S. election.
There’s also the nagging fear that some other hit could be coming, like the failure of a large hedge fund that bet the wrong way and was mortally wounded by the decrease in the value of the pound.
“If this triggers some other financial event, a financial disruption…a second shoe drops that causes this to linger and get worse,” said Frank Badillo, director of research at Macro Savvy. “At the same time, it could go the other way. Going back to 2008, most of the trouble in the world has been self-inflicted because of panic. We can’t predict how irrationally people are going to respond. That’s why these things are so difficult to gauge.”
He said the Brexit vote would have only a modest impact on the U.S. economy and could even help markets here as investors look for a relatively safe place to park their money.
IHS Global Insight’s director of consumer economics Chris G. Christopher Jr. said: “One thing this will do, with the Sterling pound taking a little bit of a hit, is make the dollar stronger. There will be a flight to safety, making prices of imported goods relatively cheaper. That will hurt our exports, but they’ve been hurting anyhow.”
As for the possible impact of the stronger dollar on apparel retailers, Christopher said, “Consumers might benefit from lower clothing prices; retailers will not be happy about this.”
Exactly how consumers will feel after another round of searing headlines remains an open question, although it is the luxe set that’s expected to react first.
“The everyday normal consumer is pretty much engrossed in what is going on in the U.S.,” said Natalie Kotlyar, assurance partner and leader of BDO’s Northeast retail and consumer products practice. “[They] may not be as affected by this as a luxury consumer who perhaps will have global investments, understands the ramifications of what is happening and the challenges.”
But in the coming weeks and months Britain’s vote could start to echo in the U.S., which is in the midst of a bitterly fought election that’s bringing an increasingly nationalist sentiment to the fore.
Phillip Swagel, a professor of international economic policy at the University of Maryland said there is a “lesson on the desire for change” in the Brexit vote.
“British voters understood that there would be a short-term economic hit from leaving the EU and they voted for it nonetheless,” Swagel said. “They were so dissatisfied with the situation, on economics and especially on immigration and home rule, that they were willing to pay the near-term price of a weaker pound and lower [gross domestic product].”
That translates to some extent for the U.S., “but only in part,” he noted.
“The British worry on immigration is shared by some U.S. voters, but [Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald] Trump’s anti-immigration message worked better in the primary than [it will] in the general election,” Swagel said.
Trump has been a vocal anti-immigrant voice on the campaign trail, vowing to build a bigger and stronger wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, among other things.
“His harsh rhetoric on immigration will boost turnout on the Democratic side, making the issue less potent in the U.S. than the U.K.,” Swagel predicted.
The wild card on the U.S. side would be a sharply slowing U.S. economy between now and November, he said.
“This would magnify the desire for change — it’s hard for [Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary] Clinton to portray herself as the person to bring about change,” Swagel noted. “My expectation is that the U.S. economy will continue to grow at a moderate pace this year, even with the market downdraft from the Brexit vote. I don’t see a strong rebound coming, and I don’t think Clinton’s proposals will bring about a strong economy. But the path is probably decent enough to mean that Clinton gets through.”
The U.S. economy — which is seen by experts as relatively strong, but is still too weak for the liking of many workers — is expected to take a modest hit.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Ethan Harris said that the Federal Reserve “will likely delay” an increase in the benchmark interest rate.
“We expect the next hike to be in December versus our prior forecast of September,” Harris said. “We think Brexit will shave a few tenths off U.S. GDP growth, with the drag showing up as early as next quarter.”
Harris also trimmed his 2017 GDP forecast by 0.2 percentage points to 1.8 percent, “given the global uncertainty has increased following the Brexit vote.”
Analysts advised investors to pay close attention to how much exposure U.S. retail companies have to the U.K. market.
Cowen & Co.’s retail analyst Oliver Chen said investors should gravitate toward companies catering to middle-income consumers, such as Ross Stores Inc., Target Corp. and Ulta Beauty.
On the flip side, he noted that: “A depreciating euro [is] likely to pressure top line the most for Fossil, Hudson’s Bay Corp., Movado and Michael Kors.”
Adrienne Yih Tennant, a retail analyst at Wolfe Research, pointed to investment opportunities at Ulta Beauty and The Children’s Place, companies with international exposure that are dominant in their category.
“Given the notion of global contagion, total non-U.S. exposure matters more than solely European exposure,” she said. “As the U.S. dollar strengthens, this will exacerbate trends that have [before] been negatively impacting tourist traffic and U.S. retailers’ demand abroad.”
Tennant pointed to fashion companies that have a significant percentage of their sales that come from overseas, including: Coach, 43 percent; Abercrombie & Fitch, 35 percent; Lululemon, 27 percent; Michael Kors, 26 percent, TJX, 23 percent; The Gap, 23 percent, and Kate Spade at 19 percent.
The world that’s grown closer with globalization over the past 20 years is suddenly seeming a little too close for comfort to many.