The pound fell and remains vulnerable to global growth concerns and the ongoing fuel crisis in the UK as analysts fear of a difficult winter ahead. The fuel crisis has sparked concerns that growth will slow down, while rising inflation will aggravate problems. The panic buying of petrol was the result of fears regarding supply chain issues as the UK is struggling to recover from the Coronavirus pandemic.  

150 soldiers prepared to drive tankers

UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said that military tanker drivers are ready to help with the fuel crisis and transport petrol to stations, as 150 soldiers will be driving tankers within a few days. Despite calls to motorists to stop panic-buying at petrol stations, queues have continued. Kwarteng admitted that the last few days have been difficult, with large queues, but the situation is stabilising and that with soldiers driving the tanker fleet and getting petrol into the forecourts, things will return back to normal soon. In regard to issues in the run-up to Christmas, where people are busier, Kwarteng explained that it was difficult to make any predictions, but, nonetheless, he reiterated that the “situation is stabilising.”

The fuel crisis has generated more concerns about who will have priority access and many unions have requested that doctors, nurses and other essential workers to be given priority access to fuel. The Prime Minister has resisted this. The worst shortages have been experienced in London and English cities with fights and, in one incident in south London, a driver pulling a knife.

The supply chain issue and the shortage of lorry drivers is linked to Brexit and the government has said that it will deal with the driver shortage by providing temporary visas to 5,000 foreign drivers.

Bank of England to raise interest rates

The Bank of England will be forced to raise interest rates to fight inflation. Markets are concerned about the Bank having to tighten its policy against a weak background, with analysts describing it as a “stagflation story.”

The UK is especially vulnerable as it appears to be the hardest hit by the energy and supply chain crisis. The energy crisis is affecting economic activity, while the rising gas prices are a real issue for the currency. With the ongoing energy crisis, the pound will remain under pressure, and once it clears it will be able to stabilise. The gas price surge is also a global phenomenon as Asian countries are also competing for the same supplies. Growing fears of an energy shortage in China have led to Sinopec, an LNG importer, to outbid European competitors.

Traders and analysts are now focusing on the fuel crisis as they are worried about how the UK economy will fare and whether the current crisis is temporary or will last longer.

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The pound was stronger yesterday but dropped slightly today following the fuel crisis. The government has the army on standby to help ease fuel supply problems following days of long queues, panic-buying and pump closures. Analysts warn that this will only offer temporary relief, and that the UK needs to do more to more find a more long-term and viable solution to its current HGV driver shortage.

Analysts have noted their concerns about the impact of fuel shortages on everyday life, soaring energy prices and labour shortages which could eventually dent the UK’s economic recovery.

Petrol supply

Fears of driver shortage hitting fuel supply has led to a surge in demand with up to 150 military tanker drivers ready to deliver to petrol stations which have run dry because of panic buying. There is no shortage of fuel, but simply a shortage of fuel in petrol stations, due to a lack of lorry drivers. While this was expected to have minimal effects, the problem has been exacerbated due to the behaviour of motorists who have rushed to stations panic-buying fuel. The transport secretary Grant Shapps said there were "tentative signs" of stabilisation in petrol stations and the Petrol Retailers Association said that the number of motorists at petrol stations was beginning to calm. As Shapps noted, "Once we all return to our normal buying habits... the quicker we get back to normality." The UK is short of more than 100,000 lorry drivers which has affected many industries, especially food suppliers and supermarkets.

In a joint statement, fuel companies, including BP and Shell, have reassured the public that supplies have not been affected and that demand will return to normal levels.

Higher Inflation Could Help the Pound Rise Higher

In the meantime, the pound is expected to rise as inflation pushes higher and the BoE is forced to raise interest rates. Higher inflation is the result of a combination of factors, including supply shortages and shortages of HGV drivers. While the central bank has stated that inflation is only temporary, there are concerns that it will remain high for a longer period of time.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey has expressed his concerns about the current issues with supplies that have pushed inflation higher, and he noted that the Bank is ready to act if this becomes a long-term issue. He said that higher inflation can be dealt with higher interest rates and that a rate rise before the end of this year is not impossible.

The rising energy prices that have pushed inflation higher are a major concern in the UK, and the question is whether more persistent inflation than expected will prove to be the case and how the Bank of England will change its monetary policy to respond to this. The Bank of England last week warned that their forecast for high inflation at 4.0% will be exceeded. In August, the Bank raised their peak forecast from 3.0% to 4.0%.

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The UK’s supply problems could push the pound lower despite that the market has priced in more interest rate hikes by the Bank of England for next year. The government has offered temporary visas to fuel tanker and food lorry drivers, and to poultry workers. Britain's ongoing supply chain crisis could threaten the UK’s economic recovery, and combined with higher inflation, it could post serious risks to the pound.

Visas to lorry drivers

With Christmas just around the corner, the government is seeking to avoid disruption and will provide up to 10,500 lorry drivers and poultry workers with temporary UK visas. 5,500 poultry workers and another 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers will be allowed to work in the UK for three months, until Christmas Eve. The Road Haulage Association said the government’s announcement "barely scratches the surface", and that just offering temporary visa for a limited period "will not be enough for companies or the drivers themselves to be attractive." Director of the HGV Recruitment Centre, Marc Fels, said visas for lorry drivers were "too little" and "too late." The move is, however, a huge step forward in providing a temporary solution to supply chain disruption. The government has also requested from the Ministry of Defence examiners to increase HGV (heavy goods vehicle) testing capacity and sent one million letters to drivers who have an HGV licence to return to the industry. 

Various industries such as supermarkets and food chains have reported shortages of lorry drivers, while fuel deliveries have also been affected, with queues at petrol stations as consumers are panic buying despite calls from the government that the UK has plenty of fuel.

Petrol Crisis

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has stated there was enough fuel and that people should only fill up when needed to avoid creating shortages. He said there were no supply problems at the six refineries and 47 storage facilities, and that drivers and motorists needed to “be sensible.” With the petrol crisis deepening, ministers have been forced to suspend competition law to help oil companies support petrol stations that are running dry, after days of panic buying. Following a meeting with oil companies on Sunday, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng agreed to allow companies in the oil industry to work together, sharing information to keep petrol stations topped up.

The panic buying and shortage of drivers has also led the government to consider an emergency plan. The prime minister and senior members of the cabinet will examine “Operation Escalin” after BP reported that a third of its petrol stations had run out of the two grades of fuel, and the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), said that 50% to 90% of its members were also running out, with more to follow.

Operation Escalin was first conceptualised as part of the planning for a no-deal Brexit, and involves  hundreds of soldiers being drafted in to drive a reserve fleet of 80 tankers. The Prime Minister will consider the Escalin and other proposals on Monday afternoon, in a meeting where ministers will also discuss ways to stop people from panic buying. Shortages could continue if people’s behaviour did not change.

The UK could also face a national shortage of turkeys in the run-up to December, with labour shortages due to Brexit.

 

If you are a business transferring funds overseas, contacting a currency specialist could save you time and money. Get in touch with Universal Partners FX and their dedicated team to discuss the latest market movements ahead of your currency exchange. If you are transferring funds to pay your employees abroad, get in touch with Universal Partners FX to find out how much you can save in your international money transfers. Universal Partners FX can provide invaluable help on efficient risk management and tailored solutions to your business’ transfer needs.

The pound was higher against the US dollar on Monday amid little economic data releases and thin trading. The US dollar fell after Friday’s dovish speech by Fed Chair Jerome Powell. Jerome Powell indicated Friday that the central bank will possibly begin tapering before the end of the year, but a rate hike was not imminent as there is still “much ground to cover” before the economy reaches full employment. At the same time, there could be some risk ahead for the pound, due to renewed Brexit concerns.

Jackson Hole symposium

In his much-anticipated speech at the Jackson Hole symposium, Fed Chair Jerome Powel said that the central bank could start tapering its stimulus programme by the end of the year, easing market fears for a quicker withdrawal of its funding.

The Fed took its benchmark rate down to almost zero and accelerated its quantitative easing programme in an attempt to resuscitate the economy during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The question of when the Fed will begin to tighten its programme has been the main concern for markets for some time now, and it might remain as Powell avoided to give any definite answers. The Fed is aware that any specific answers could seriously impact the global economy, this is why it has chosen to postpone any reduction of its funding.

“The timing and pace of the coming reduction in asset purchases will not be intended to carry a direct signal regarding the timing of interest rate liftoff, for which we have articulated a different and substantially more stringent test,” Powell said during the summit. He added that inflation is close to the Fed’s 2% target rate, but “we have much ground to cover to reach maximum employment.” Markets reacted positively to Powell’s comments, with major stock indexes rising higher.  

Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida also agreed with Powell’s remarks. He explained that tapering could be possible by the end of this year, as long as labour gains continue: “I think that if that materialises, then I would support commencing a reduction in the pace of our purchases later this year,” Clarida noted.

The Fed said that “substantial further progress” will need to be seen before tightening policy. Powell said that in terms of inflation the “test has been met” and that there “has also been clear progress toward maximum employment.” He said that the Fed agreed at the July Federal Open Market Committee meeting that “it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year.”

Powell defended the Fed’s policy and decision not to make an “ill-timed policy move” and stated: “Today, with substantial slack remaining in the labour market and the pandemic continuing, such a mistake could be particularly harmful. We know that extended periods of unemployment can mean lasting harm to workers and to the productive capacity of the economy.” Additionally, he stressed that the delta variant “presents a near-term risk” but “the prospects are good for continued progress toward maximum employment.”

Renewed Brexit concerns

The UK government supply chain crisis could have a significant impact on Christmas and create further food shortages over the next year too. Iceland, Nandos, KFC, McDonald’s, and Tesco are among the many businesses that are reporting stock issues as a result of lorry driver shortage due to Brexit. Restaurant chains Nandos and KFC are facing chicken shortages, McDonald’s is finding it difficult to make milkshakes and Iceland is running out of bread and soft drinks. The problem has become noticeable over the summer when social media was flooded with images of empty shelves.

The disruption was then largely blamed on the “”, but businesses have for a long time now warned of a chronic shortage of lorry drivers due to Brexit. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Iceland managing director Richard Walker said the lack of lorry drivers “is impacting the food supply chain on a daily basis.” “We’ve had deliveries cancelled for the first time since the pandemic began, about 30-40 deliveries a day,” he said.

British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths said last week that “When you don’t have people, you have a problem - and this is something we are seeing across the whole supply chain. The labour crisis is a Brexit issue,” he said.

Nick Allen of the British Meat Processors Association warned that such shortages will impact on Christmas staples: “We are cutting back and prioritising lines and cutting out on things, so there just won’t be the totals of Christmas favourites like we are used to.”

If you are a business transferring funds overseas, contacting a currency specialist could save you time and money. Get in touch with Universal Partners FX and their dedicated team to discuss the latest market movements ahead of your currency exchange. If you are transferring funds to pay your employees abroad, get in touch with Universal Partners FX to find out how much you can save in your international money transfers. Universal Partners FX can provide invaluable help on efficient risk management and tailored solutions to your business’ transfer needs.