Brexit talks go to extra-time, AstraZeneca drops on takeover

  • Sterling rises as Brexit talks are extended again
  • European markets opened higher and US futures up
  • US stimulus in focus, Fed meeting later this week

Brexit talks are going into extra-time; neither side want it to go to penalties. Both the UK and EU say they will continue talking and want to go the ‘extra mile’. The market read this as progress towards a deal, although the two sides remain far apart on the last big issues. Sterling gapped higher at the Sunday night open, with some shorts maybe covering their positions on the extension. GBPUSD advanced to 1.34, bouncing on hopes of a deal, while the 200-day simple moving average offered the near term support. The pound also strengthened versus the euro as EURGBP dipped from the 0.92 area traded on Friday back towards 0.90. Those gaps may offer some decent intraday support but unless hopes rise in the next day or two would be liable for a fill. Sterling still trades with headline risk, but the truth is the ranges remain very tight and the failure to break out in either direction reflects the fact that the outcome remains very binary and both deal and no-deal are still very much in play. It’s probably a toss of the coin now whether we get a deal or not.

British banks with high exposure to the UK economy and property market remain high beta Brexit stocks – Lloyds and Natwest both rose 5% in early trade having taken a bit of a thumping at the end of last week. Likewise, housebuilders popped 5% higher on Brexit deal hopes. These stocks are a leveraged bet on the UK economy, which in the near-term at least is going to be at the mercy of a Brexit trade deal and the vaccination programme. Markets have also pushed back expectations for interest rate cuts by the Bank of England, which meets later this week.

AstraZeneca shares dropped 6% – seemingly on fears it’s paying too much for the US biotech company Alexion. Whilst the 45% premium may seem high, it’s probably not that significant when you consider the sector and the cash flow generation and revenue growth that it will bring. Debt taken on to buy the company will be repaid quickly. Richly-valued AZN shares needed to do some work too. It’s a big turnaround from the dark days of six years ago when Pfizer tried to land AstraZeneca.

Elsewhere it’s a familiar story of hope around fiscal stimulus in the US and vaccines being rolled out, with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab being rolled stateside today as part of a programme that will see 100m people inoculated by the end of March. Vaccines will continue to support risk sentiment and provide succour to the stock market as it enables investors to look past the current situation to a more normal 2021. For the time being Main Street needs help and as far as stimulus goes, getting a deal through Congress is proving as difficult as Brexit. The $908bn bipartisan package is being put forward today, but it’s uncertain whether it will pass.

The Federal Reserve meets later this week, with attention on its emergency $120bn monthly bond buying programme. It’s expected that the Fed will anchor expectations around the longevity of the asset purchases to make it clear it’s in this for the long haul. With 10-year Treasury yields rising in recent weeks, and coming close to 1% again, it may also choose to switch its focus to longer dated debt in order to better anchor interest rate expectations for a longer duration.