Pound Falls after Weak UK Data

Sterling has fallen after the release of weak UK data, and is trading lower against both the dollar and the euro. The fall comes after yesterday’s gains when the pound reached the highest level since spring 2008.

UK retail sales in 2020 post record fall

Despite expectations for a 1.2% gain, retail sales volumes in the UK rose by just 0.3% in December from January, according to data from the Office for National Statistics released on Friday. Clothing sales rose 21.5% after a 19.6% drop in November. In 2020, retail sales fell by 1.9% when compared with 2019, due to the coronavirus lockdowns. On the other hand, online and mail order sales rose 32% in 2020. Clothing stores, petrol stations and department stores recorded significant falls in sales volumes when compared to 2019.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for Economic Statistics, said: “December’s retail sales increased slightly, driven by an improved month for clothing sales, as the easing of some lockdown measures for parts of the month meant more stores were able to open. Food store sales this month were subdued as retailers reported lockdowns and restrictions on the sale of non-essential items impacted on footfall. Retail sales for 2020 saw their largest annual fall in history as the impact of the pandemic took its toll. Clothing retailers fared particularly badly, with a record annual fall of over 25%, while movement restrictions led to a record year-on-year decline for fuel sales.”

Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, noted that retail showed resilience as “Strong performance in grocery and record-breaking online sales for non-food meant that Christmas 2020 was the most digital ever.” He also added: “For now, pent-up demand is likely to see shoppers out in force once restrictions lift, as we saw in summer at the end of the first lockdown. Crucially, the reopening of the high street will this time coincide with the ongoing vaccine rollout, which should boost consumer confidence and see them return to stores once more.”

Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, also commented: “The tiny rise in retail sales in December shows that it wasn’t a very merry Christmas for retailers. And January’s lockdown means it won’t have been a happy start to the new year either. But at least retailers are more immune to lockdowns than many other consumer-facing businesses. The upshot is that retail sales added almost nothing to GDP in December and January’s lockdown means sales will probably drop back again this month. Admittedly, they won’t fall as far as non-retail consumer spending. According to daily data of electronic card payments, so far this month consumption has declined from being slightly above its pre-pandemic level in December to about 35% below. We suspect that GDP may fall by around 2% m/m in January. But hopefully that will be the last decline.”

Government Borrowing

The release of separate data showed that the UK’s borrowing rose in December to the highest level and it marked the third-highest borrowing in any month since 1993 when records started. The ONS said that public sector net borrowing was £34.1bn in December 2020, £28.2bn more than in December 2019.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said that it is possible that total borrowing could be close to the OBR’s £393.5bn forecast. He explained that December’s high borrowing “reflected a 26.1% year-over-year jump in central government expenditure, mostly related to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. Tax receipts were only down 1.2% year-over-year, thanks to growth in corporation taxes and stability in income tax receipts. However, borrowing will fall once the support schemes expire at the end of April –– and next year we could see sharp tax rises, to get the public finances back on track, Tombs predicts. Public borrowing will fall sharply from about 20% of GDP this year to between 8% and 10% in 2021/22, if the government stops the furlough and self-employment income support schemes in the spring, and healthcare spending declines. We doubt that the Chancellor will go a step further in the Budget on March 3 and push through large immediate tax rises or non-health spending cuts.” He noted that fiscal policy will tighten, and taxes are expected to rise significantly in 2022.

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Plans for buying property may have been postponed for a while due to the Coronavirus lockdown restrictions, but as these begin to ease, Brits’ interest in foreign property has been reignited. Now cities in such European countries as Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Greece are sought after, as Brits’ love for warm climes and sandy beaches has been rekindled.

Costa del Sol in Andalusia, southern Spain, has always been one of the most sought-after locations for Brits and will continue to remain one of the most desirable places for property investment.  While the real estate market has suffered considerably during the coronavirus crisis, since 18th May when viewings have been permitted again, there has been an increase in requests, boosting confidence that the real estate market will undergo a quick recovery.

Costa del Sol

Famous for its beautiful beaches, art and culture, amusement and national parks, the birthplace of Picasso has always been among Brits’ favourite places, both for their holidays, but also for living and buying property.

Its beauty and popularity have not faded due to the pandemic. Instead, luxury villas and high-end developments in hot spots have retained their value. Other areas might become even more overpriced, while other less sought-after locations might have more realistic prices. According to Olive Press, “when it comes to new developments along the Costa del Sol, again, this wonderfully touristy area ensures a healthy outlook. The construction industry is seeking help to ease it through these difficult times, with calls to rethink new construction tax and bureaucratic processes.”

What to consider

  • Prices and Currency Volatility: The cost of a European property in Sterling can change drastically due to currency volatility as a result of political, economic or other events such as the current pandemic. Markets will always be moving, and prices will remain unpredictable, especially with Brexit uncertainty, the Bank of England’s possible move into negative interest rate territory and the increasing worries about the slow economic recovery.
  • Brexit: This is another topic that is likely to concern home buyers as there might be significant changes in regulations including the stamp duty and increased taxation. Despite the uncertainty, UK citizens will be able to buy homes abroad and live there. You will be able to stay, if you are legally resident in Spain before the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, but you will need to register as a Spanish resident if you want to stay in Spain for more than 3 months. If you are living in Spain before 1 January 2021 and register as a resident after 6 July 2020, you will be issued with a biometric residence card (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero). If you move to Spain after 31 December 2020, there will be different immigration requirements.
  • Your strategy when transferring funds: Since you will be transferring a large amount of funds, you will need to consider how much that will worth after the exchange. Getting in touch with a currency specialist such as Universal Partners FX can help you navigate the current market while taking into consideration your specific needs, goals and your budget.

If you are considering buying your dream home in Spain, get in touch with Universal Partners FX so you can have peace of mind when sending a large amount of money overseas. If you want to schedule ahead and safeguard your funds, talk to one of their foreign exchange experts today.

Sterling has rallied after better than expected forecasts from the Bank of England. The Bank noted that the economic standstill in the period between April and June was “less severe” than anticipated. While the UK economy has considerably shrunk this year due to the Coronavirus, it is now on a path to recovery, slowly picking up again.

Bank of England Monetary Policy Meeting

In its Thursday morning meeting, the Bank decided to keep UK borrowing costs at record lows, interest rates at just 0.1%, and its quantitative easing programme at £745bn.

According to its forecasts, UK recovery will take longer but the slump will be less severe. The Bank said that “the fall in output in Q2 is expected to have been less severe than was assumed in the illustrative scenario in the May Report. In that scenario, it was assumed that restrictions would be gradually unwound between early June and late September, but they were lifted earlier.” In terms of recovery, this will take time:

“In the MPC’s central projection, GDP continues to recover beyond the near term, as social distancing eases and consumer spending picks up further. Business investment also recovers, but somewhat more slowly. Unemployment declines gradually from the beginning of 2021 onwards. Activity is supported by the substantial fiscal and monetary policy actions in place. Nonetheless, the recovery in demand takes time as health concerns drag on activity. GDP is not projected to exceed its level in 2019 Q4 until the end of 2021, in part reflecting persistently weaker supply capacity. Given the scale of the movements in output, as well as the inherent uncertainty over the factors determining the outlook, the evolution of the balance between demand and supply is hard to assess.”

Labour market and employment

The Bank also warned that unemployment will rise sharply by the end of the year. The Bank’s monetary policy committee said:

“Employment appears to have fallen since the Covid-19 outbreak, although this has been very significantly mitigated by the extensive take-up of support from temporary government schemes. Surveys indicate that many workers have already returned to work from furlough, but considerable uncertainty remains about the prospects for employment after those support schemes unwind. In the near term, the unemployment rate is projected to rise materially, to around 7½% by the end of the year, consistent with a material degree of spare capacity.”

The unemployment rate is currently 3.9%, and the government’s furlough scheme is helping employers to keep their staff.

The Monetary Policy Committee highlighted the threat of unemployment, which will remain high next year too. The Bank’s economists said that the “Labour market slack persists over the first half of the forecast period, as unemployment is judged likely to decline only gradually after peaking in Q4. The gradual decline in part reflects an expectation that hiring will pick up relatively slowly, consistent with uncertainty affecting companies’ demand for labour. In addition, the MPC judges that there is likely to be some reduction in the efficiency with which people can find jobs. That tends to happen as unemployment rises, as some people take time to find new jobs, and their skills erode. Moreover, in the present conjuncture, the dispersed effects of Covid-19 on economic activity across sectors are judged to be likely to result in a greater degree of mismatch than usual, given differences between the sectors from which workers have been made unemployed and the sectors in which firms are posting vacancies.”

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday to discuss the Bank’s Monetary Report, Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey said that the forecast that unemployment might almost double to 7.5% is a “very bad story.” But he also said that it will eventually fall back to 4.5% by the end of 2022.

Negative Interest Rates?

The Bank of England said that it is currently considering the possibility of imposing negative interest rates in the UK, as other banks including in Japan and the Eurozone, have done. This means that banks will be charged for leaving money with the central bank, so they are forced to lend them. The Bank is currently deciding whether this will impact on the financial system, economic confidence and bank profits, as well as savers. According to the Bank, “the effectiveness of a negative policy rate will depend, in part, on the structure of the financial system and how the policy transmits through banks to the interest rates facing households and companies. It will also depend on the financial and economic conditions at the time.”

 

Transferring funds abroad?

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey said that “There are some very hard yards, to borrow a rugby phrase, to come. And frankly, we are ready to act, should that be needed.” If you feel the same and you are ready to act, then get in touch with Universal Partners FX. Whether you are transferring funds overseas to family or for a new property, then Universal Partners FX team can help you access the most competitive exchange rates and make your stress-free.

The latest release of the UK inflation figures has failed to provide a boost to the pound. Despite the recent Brexit optimism, the pound did not rise further after the latest inflation figures which came in line with expectations.

The GBP did not react to the news that inflation fell to 0.5% during May as it was expected. Sterling’s upside is also considered to be limited as traders are expected to remain cautious ahead of the latest monetary policy update by the Bank of England on Thursday. The BoE is expected to keep rates at 0.1% and increase its quantitative easing programme by £100bn.

UK CPI

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK consumer price inflation eased for the fourth consecutive month in May, coming at an annual rate of 0.5%, meeting expectations. Inflation has fallen after a record fall in fuel prices which dragged the UK's inflation rate down. This was due to the lockdown as May was the second full month of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions. This was the lowest annual rate recorded since the Brexit referendum vote in June 2016.

Economists said that this will inevitably add to the discussions of whether the Bank of England will likely take Bank rates into negative territory.

ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow said: “The growth in consumer prices again slowed to the lowest annual rate in four years. The cost of games and toys fell back from last month’s rises, while there was a continued drop in prices at the pump in May, following the huge crude price falls seen in recent months. Outside these areas, we are seeing few significant changes to the prices in the shops.”

Rising prices for food and non-alcoholic drinks helped offset the pressure from the falling oil and petrol prices in May.

What economists say

Economist James Smith explained that the UK inflation will stay below 1% this year:

“The other argument that is often made in favour of inflation returning, is that governments and central banks are pumping vast amounts of cash into the system. But this is unlikely to lead to higher prices, at least in the short/medium-term. In the case of the government, its spending has so far been solely aimed at keeping firms and consumers afloat, rather than trying to stimulate demand (which by definition, is constrained by the ongoing lockdown measures). The bottom line is that inflationary pressures are likely to remain fairly muted for the time being. This, in turn, will keep the pressure on the Bank of England to maintain its current degree of stimulus, and we expect a further £150 billion of QE to be unveiled this week.”

Chief UK economist at Capital Economics, Paul Dales, also said that "May's further fall in inflation is probably only the beginnings of a prolonged period of very soft price pressure." This he clarified, will drive MPC members to ask for more stimulus to boost the economy on the BoE’s policy meeting on Thursday.

For many businesses and consumers, the year ahead appears to be a very tough one, with more pressure on households. Businesses and employers have been hurt, and there is generally pessimism about the status of the UK economy due to the coronavirus and a possible second wave of Covid-19 cases.

If you are a business sending money abroad and are worried about the pound’s volatility due to the current market conditions, please get in touch with Universal Partners FX. UPFX’s dedicated foreign exchange specialists can help you transfer your funds safely, pay employees and maximise the value of your money.

On Wednesday (03/06/20), the Euro was up against the US dollar, marking its seventh consecutive day and the “longest winning streak since December 2013.” The euro’s surge is the result of investors moving away from the US dollar as well as news that the European Commission will be helping the Eurozone economy with a 750 billion euro ($826.5 billion) fund to ease the damage from the pandemic.

The Euro had a roller coaster ride the last few years. Recently, due to slower economic growth, the Euro has dropped, but there have been signs of increase as the Covid-19 pandemic hit financial markets and investors turned towards the safety of government bonds. But soon it fell again, as investors turned to safe-haven assets such as the US dollar. Since mid-March, the euro has been at its highest after the significant decrease of new coronavirus cases in the EU.

With the continued uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing Brexit negotiations, the Euro will remain sensitive. But let’s see what the main drivers of the euro in the coming months are.

Key Drivers of the Euro

Apart from the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit updates, the Euro is sensitive to releases of macroeconomic data including GDP, unemployment rates, manufacturing and services output and consumer price indices which measure the Eurozone economy’s health. Significant events such as meetings of the European Central Bank (ECB) and updates regarding policy on interest rates and fiscal stimulus, can also impact on the single currency. For example, low interest rates are unattractive to investors.

If the US Dollar rises, as the US economy strengthens and interest rates are increased by the Federal Reserve, then this will weigh on the Euro. There are also dangers from weaker global growth and a slowing of the EU member states’ economies, especially the German economy.

Last but not least, if the Chinese economy slows and China’s trade is reduced, then there will be less demand for European imports.

European Commission forecast for the Eurozone economy

In its Spring 2020 Economic Forecast, the European Commission reported that the coronavirus pandemic will have “very severe socio-economic consequences” for the global and EU economies. It has forecast that “the euro area economy will contract by a record 7¾% in 2020 and grow by 6¼% in 2021. The EU economy is forecast to contract by 7½% in 2020 and grow by around 6% in 2021. Growth projections for the EU and euro area have been revised down by around nine percentage points compared to the Autumn 2019 Economic Forecast.”

Paolo Gentiloni, European Commissioner for the Economy, said: “Europe is experiencing an economic shock without precedent since the Great Depression. Both the depth of the recession and the strength of recovery will be uneven, conditioned by the speed at which lockdowns can be lifted, the importance of services like tourism in each economy and by each country's financial resources. Such divergence poses a threat to the single market and the euro area - yet it can be mitigated through decisive, joint European action. We must rise to this challenge.”

Economists’ Predictions in the near- and long-term

According to Citibank, “Second waves of crisis, trade wars and the ECB’s future reaction will likely keep EUR soft near term and upside capped medium term despite a lot of bad news in the price.”

In the long-term, analysts at CIBC expect the Euro to rise: “While euro sentiment remains compromised by the lack of political coherence, we’ve seen the ECB taking action by expanding its balance sheet. However, that move has been dwarfed by the additional supply of USD currently being injected into the market, which remains supportive for the EUR/USD pair.” They added that positive fund flows as a result of the Eurozone current account surplus will benefit the euro, despite political uncertainty.

Natixis Research expects Eurozone inflation to return in 2021 due to the “decline in productivity and the increase in unit production costs due to the new health standards taken because of the coronavirus pandemic.” In turn, the increase in inflation will lead to a rise in long-term interest rates which will support the euro.

If you are considering buying or selling euros, get in touch with expert currency specialists Universal Partners FX. UPFX’s friendly and dedicated foreign exchange team is available to guide you through the current volatile market and help you transfer your funds safely and fast, while providing access to the most competitive exchange rates in the market. Give them a call today to find out how much you can save on your international money transfers.

The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic has certainly affected exchange rates and increased currency volatility. However, the US Dollar is a safe-haven currency, like CHF and JPY, which means traders have turned towards the USD during the crisis, causing it to move higher. In the short term the outlook for the USD appears to be positive. In the long term, though, the currency is seen as dropping, according to recent analyses. But let’s see more closely what is happening to the USD.

Short-term outlook

For many economists, the buying of safe-haven currencies due to the coronavirus will continue in the coming weeks and will strengthen the dollar. Already, the greenback has been steadily rising through 2020, but rose even higher, outperforming its major peers as global governments struggled to contain the virus, enforcing strict lockdown measures that have unavoidably hurt their economies.

Eventually though, in the longer term, the dollar will decline, according to Georgette Boele, senior FX strategist at Dutch investment bank ABN AMRO. Referring to the dollar’s outperformance, Boele said: "Do we expect this trend to continue? In the near-term (up to 3 months) yes, on the longer-term no.” The dollar will possibly rise higher, the Dutch bank predicts, because traders are overoptimistic about how quickly global economies will recover. Once it is realised how badly global markets have been hit, another wave of selling riskier assets and buying “safer” ones such as the USD will be triggered. As Boele explains: "There is an enormous gap between the economic reality and what analysts forecast, on the one hand, and the optimism among investors for the second half of this year, on the other. This should support the U.S. Dollar as most liquid safe haven currency.”

For Boele, the Dollar will find support in the short term if there is a second wave of coronavirus cases, as investors turn again to safe havens.

Additionally, in terms of Sino-American tensions, any increase of anxiety regarding geopolitics will favour the USD.

While the dollar will not be falling any time soon, it is possible that with the easing of the lockdown measures and the risk of a global recession being averted, the greenback might experience downside pressure. 

Long-term outlook

This is why, as Boele asserts: "After macro and earnings disappointments in the next few months, later this year investors could start to look forward to a strong and durable recovery in 2021. Therefore, over the medium term, investors will shy away from safe haven currencies such as the US dollar and Japanese yen and be open for alternatives.”

As economic conditions improve, the dollar could possibly lose momentum. The US Federal Reserve’s QE programme which has increased dollar supply to respond to the coronavirus pandemic will also add to the dollar’s potential woes. Boele said: "Because of the unlimited QE by the Fed, there is already some more confidence in financial markets. As soon as safe haven demand fades, the Dollar will decline. The QE is simply too large for the Dollar to ignore.”

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The pound was lifted after the release of Markit's preliminary Purchasing Managers' Indexes for May which bounced from April's figures. However, the data is far from positive for many economists as Britain’s economy continued to shrink, suffering its worst contraction for the month of May. According to CBI chief economist Alpesh Paleja, May has been a “pretty awful” month for businesses.

Thursday’s release of data from IHS Markit’s PMI surveys, shows that both the manufacturing and service sectors have been shrinking as the lockdown continues, with signs that the pace of the decline is slowly easing.

The UK Composite Output Index for May was 28.9, up from 13.8 in April, the UK flash manufacturing PMI (May) 40.6, up from 32.9 and the UK services flash PMI (May) 27.8, up from 12.3. While the contraction is slower, still the readings are below 50, which indicates a slow in activity.

Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, explained today’s numbers:

“The UK economy remains firmly locked in an unprecedented downturn, with business activity and employment continuing to slump at alarming rates in May. Although the pace of decline has eased since April’s record collapse, May saw the second largest monthly falls in output and jobs seen over the survey’s 22-year history, the rates of decline continuing to far exceed anything seen previously. Travel and tourism firms, hotels, restaurants and producers of consumer goods such as clothing were again the hardest hit, reflecting virus containment measures, but this remains a shockingly broad-based downturn with very few companies left unscathed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Businesses have suffered

With businesses shut during the lockdown, activity has been low, with cancellations of orders and a drop in demand. New employment to UK firms was also low, resembling the record lows of April.

The slowdown shows the stark reality of the coronavirus impact on the economy, which is slightly different than economists’ optimism and expectations of a quick bounce back.

For Neil Birrell, Chief Investment Officer at Premier Miton, the recovery will happen, but is still far away: “The PMI data in from the UK and Europe suggests that the outlook is improving. That is to be expected, as the surveys are taken mid-month and economies were more open than they were in mid-April. But with UK Composite PMI at 28.9, albeit up from 13.8 in April, and the Eurozone Composite PMI reading at 30.5 the outlook is still grim. Markets may well take this as a sign that the nadir has been reached, although recovery is some time off.”

Similarly, Duncan Brock, Group Director at CIPS, believes that a second wave of Covid-19 infections could slowdown recovery. He said that the easing of the lockdown does not signal a clear way towards improvement in the manufacturing and services sectors. He added: “This month saw another steep fall in overall business activity, surpassing for the third time the rates of decline seen during the global financial crisis in 2009. No new orders, premises shut down and furloughed staff unable to return to work were at the heart of the desolation as business struggled to continue with two hands tied behind their back.” Additionally, if job cuts continue and “purse strings will be drawn tightly shut and spending severely curtailed, putting further pressure on the UK economy and ensuring any recovery is many years into the future.”

If you are sending money abroad and are worried about currency volatility due to the current economic conditions, please get in touch with Universal Partners FX. UPFX’s dedicated foreign exchange specialists can help you access bank-beating exchange rates and transfer your funds fast and securely.

Brexit has been instrumental in the pound’s trajectory, responsible for its collapse and slow recovery. The coronavirus pandemic comes to add more pressure to the pound due to the lockdown measures and the ensuing adverse economic effects.

In the short term, as the UK grapples with the threat of Brexit and the coronavirus, the outlook looks extremely negative. But, how will the pound fair in the long term?

What’s happening now?

Sterling has been hit by Brexit and the coronavirus crisis, with the latter making its effects on the British currency very clear in mid-March, when the GBP plunged to levels not seen in 35 years with anxious traders turning towards safe havens such as the greenback. Until the pandemic is over, analysts predict that the pound will continue to be weak. At the moment, Sterling will remain reactive to headlines concerning the pandemic which has triggered the deepest decline in economic activity since 1929.

Indeed, things have changed a lot since last December when traders felt optimistic about Boris Johnson’s decisive victory in the general election, with many expecting significant progress in the Brexit talks and positive economic data.

Now, with the transition period due to expire at the end of the year and the government saying that it will not ask for an extension, the reality looks different, with the possibility of leaving without a deal posing a real threat to the pound’s future. This means that the UK could fall into a recession as economists have warned.

Short-term predictions

Georgette Boele, Senior FX Strategist at ABN AMRO has said: "In the near-term we expect another wave of risk-off in financial markets as markets are in our opinion too optimistic currently on the speed and strength of economic recovery." Boele added: “There is an enormous gap between the economic reality and what analysts forecast, on the one hand, and the optimism among investors for the second half of this year, on the other. This should support the U.S. Dollar as most liquid safe haven currency."

Long-term predictions

Following Brexit, the forecast for the pound has been dire.  As Brexit troubles are not over yet, and as the coronavirus continues to inject fear in investors, the long-term outlook for the pound is definitely bearish.

Since the June Brexit referendum, consumers have underpinned Britain’s economic expansion as businesses stopped investing. Despite the fall in the pound, consumer spending has grown since the vote, and with many businesses now closed due to the coronavirus, understandably, there are concerns for an economy so reliant on consumption.

With the economy hurt due to lockdown restrictions and a lack of exit strategy, the pound will be under pressure for the long term.

GBP: Investors turn bearish

In the Financial Times article “Investors turn bearish on the pound,” Philip Georgiadis writes that investors are anticipating further falls for the pound and have “increased their bets against the UK pound to the highest level of the year, raising the spectre of a new bout of volatility for the currency.” According to the article, “fund managers and other companies betting in the futures market have turned bearish as concerns over Brexit rise in parallel with the damage the coronavirus pandemic is causing the UK economy.”

Similarly pessimistic is Rabobank which says: “Additionally, insofar as no real progress was made on the last round of post-Brexit talks between the UK and the EU and given that the summer deadline for any request for an extension to the transition phase is looming, it is difficult to be optimistic on GBP.”

Analysts at Danske Bank also find that in the coming months the pound will remain under pressure as “Time spent fighting the coronavirus by both the UK and the EU means less time to negotiate a deal before the end of the year, increasing the risk of a big trade shock by 1 January 2021.”

While overly optimistic valuations might fall to meet reality and as such drive the pound lower, there is also the possibility of the British currency strengthening as the global outlook improves. Sterling’s weakness due to global uncertainty could be reversed as nations successfully fight the virus and recover.

What is certain, is that there are no certainties and the pound could easily come under pressure as optimism withers.

How UPFX can help

If you have a Sterling transfer, wish to better understand the market outlook or want to discuss your FX needs with a foreign exchange currency specialist, please get in touch with Universal Partners FX.

With UPFX you can save money on your international currency transfers, access competitive exchange rates and a dedicated customer service.

The UK economy has shrunk sharply in the first quarter of 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Sterling fell initially, but then stabilised after the British government extended its furlough scheme until the end of October.

GDP

GDP fell 2.0% fall in the three months to March after there was no growth in the three months to February. Particularly, March was a terrible month for the economy, as the GDP dropped by 5.8%, marking the worst performance since the ONS started calculating monthly data back in 1997.

While the UK economy before the Covid-19 lockdown was not faring well, contracting by 0.2% in February, as the coronavirus pandemic started, in March, however, it suffered dramatically. The drop in the first three months is considered to be the biggest quarterly drop in activity since 2008 after the collapse of the Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the global financial crisis.

Yesterday, chancellor Rishi Sunak warned that the UK recession was “already happening”, and that things will not improve in the near future. Last week, the Bank of England forecast that the UK economy might contract by 25% in the April-June quarter, which could be the deepest recession in three centuries.

Decline in Services, Manufacturing and Construction

The ONS reported that in March, with the beginning of the lockdown, the GDP contracted by 5.8% with the services sector shrinking by 6.2% during March, manufacturing output dropping by 4.6% during the month and construction contracting by 5.9%.

The Office for National Statistics explains that there is a close connection between the lockdown measures and the drop in economic activity:

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, public health restrictions and social distancing measures have been put in place in the UK, leading to a widespread disruption to economic activity. These measures have impacted upon the spending behaviours of consumers as well as how businesses and their employees operate. It has also affected the provision of services provided by government, including health and education.

Services output decreased by 1.9% in Quarter 1 (January to March) 2020, the largest quarterly fall since records began. Production output fell by 2.1% in Quarter 1 2020, driven by declines in manufacturing. Construction output decreased by 2.6% in the first quarter.

According to Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics, in March, the coronavirus pandemic hit the economy hard, with certain industries such as services and construction declining sharply and others, such as IT support and pharmaceuticals seeing growth.

Key points from the release:

The release reflects the dire effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic disruption to various sectors. March was the worst month as education fell by 4.0% due to school closures, wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles by 10.7%, food and beverage service activities by 7.3% and accommodation by 14.6%. The travelling sector was also hit falling by 23.6% while transport equipment-making declined by 20.5%.

What economists say:

Talking on Sky News, Sunak said that the government was positive and could “emerge stronger” on the other side. He said: “In common with pretty much every other economy around the world we’re facing severe impact from the coronavirus. You’re seeing that in the numbers. That’s why we’ve taken the unprecedented action that we have to support people’s jobs, their incomes and livelihoods at this time, and support businesses, so we can get through this period of severe disruption and emerge stronger on the other side.”

However, Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, fears that Britain will not “emerge stronger” from the lockdown as he believes that UK firms will remain under pressure:

While countless companies have made adjustments with admirable speed, many will find it difficult to operate at anything like normal capacity under social distancing rules. The furlough scheme has undoubtedly staved off redundancies, and the new flexibility provides businesses a better chance of rebooting.

The Treasury will need to continue innovating to kickstart any recovery. The Government’s loan scheme provided ready cash, but now leaves many firms saddled with debt. Unless this is managed well, it will drag on business investment for long after the lockdown ends.

If you are sending money abroad and are worried about the pound’s volatility due to the current market conditions, please get in touch with Universal Partners FX. UPFX’s dedicated foreign exchange specialists can help you access the most competitive exchange rates and make your currency transfers stress-free.

A weakening global investor sentiment and a collapse in oil prices has hurt the pound, but the British currency gained slightly on Wednesday despite news that UK inflation fell in March.

Oil

Brent crude oil lost a further 10% in value and WTI crude 5% on Wednesday. The slump in global oil prices demonstrates the massive drop in activity which hasn’t yet been priced by markets. Later on Wednesday, there was a jump in the price of oil, partly the result of a tweet in which President Donald Trump said  that he had “instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

Inflation

After the government’s Covid-19 lockdown measures which hit demand for some goods, inflation figures on Wednesday painted a negative image of things to come, as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported a 0.2% drop. While this was expected, as consumers spent less on clothing and fuel due to the lockdown, there are concerns that there will be further drops if restrictions continue. The pound could fall further if dire economic data continues, the oil market is further weakened, and investors’ mood drops.

According to the ONS, consumer prices rose by 1.5% per year last month, down from 1.7% in February, which was the lowest since December, as cheaper clothing and fuel pushed inflation down. The ONS explained: “Falls in the price of motor fuels and clothing resulted in the largest downward contributions to the change in the CPIH 12-month inflation rate between February and March 2020. Rises in air fares produced the largest, partially offsetting, upward contribution to change.”

The ONS believes that people avoided shops or stockpiled essential items due to the coronavirus. While the lockdown was officially introduced on 23 March and prices were collected around 17 March, social distancing seems to have shaped consumer behaviours and retailers’ expectations, with less browsing in shops and more time spent indoors.

The inflation report also showed that due to the virus pandemic and failure of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+) to agree to cut supply in early March 2020, petrol prices fell by 5.1 pence per litre between February and March 2020.

What did economists say?

The drop in inflation in March is just the beginning and demand will continue to wane. Equals Group chief economist Jeremy Thomson-Cook said: “UK inflation stayed steady at 1.5% in March but the wider picture around prices shows that we will not be talking about high inflation for some time. A recession like the UK is currently enduring – we will wait on the data to confirm – naturally will see lower inflation through the destruction of a demand side to the economy whilst movements in oil markets of late show just what can happen to prices when demand dries up. You cannot have inflation without demand and if we are correct that demand rebounds slower than it fell – a Nike tick-shaped rebound – then the impulse into inflation should be low although a weak pound does remain a risk.”

Laura Suter, personal finance analyst at investment platform AJ Bell, says that the drop in oil prices and the change in shoppers’ attitudes will affect inflation: “Even before the recent capitulation, the price of oil was on the slide in March and this dragged inflation down slightly from February’s 1.7% to 1.5%. Oil prices have a massive impact on the UK’s inflation rate and with prices at the pump and home energy costs getting cheaper we’d expect this trend to continue for the next couple of months….What’s more, with retailers having to shut their doors we’re seeing more and more offer discounts to shoppers to move their buying online.”

UPFX

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