The UK’s successful vaccination rollout programme, along with the BoE’s decision not to lower interest rates, have boosted market sentiment about the UK’s speedy economic recovery and pushed the pound higher. The pound is trading almost close to a nine-month high against the euro, and at a 33-month high against the dollar. It is almost getting closer to its highest levels in over three years.

Rabobank’s Jane Foley said: “GBP bulls have been flexing their muscles since the start of the year based on relief about the EU/UK trade deal and on hopes that the relatively rapid vaccine roll-out programme will lead to a fairly fast economic recovery this year.”

Weaker dollar

The pound’s strength is a result of it capitalising on the US dollar’s losses. The prospect of a major new US stimulus package has weakened the dollar, which continued to fall lower after last week’s disappointing US payrolls report. The wider increased confidence has turned investors away from the safe haven dollar and towards riskier assets.

JP Morgan explained that "The broader USD continues to trade with a much softer tone, drivers seem to be the relentless CNH bid into Chinese New Year and the fact that US yields backed aggressively off key levels and have now calmed down." According to JPMorgan, the USD selling by Chinese traders has also push the dollar lower, a move that is highlighting the importance of the Chinese Yuan in broader market movements.

The past three days’ weakness of the dollar shows that the recent dollar rally has come to an end and that the trend of depreciation has come back into play. JP Morgan said: "We added to our modest sterling longs yesterday via GBP/USD and look for this move to keep going at least until the end of the week (Chinese New Year on Friday).”

Quick vaccinations and market optimism

The UK economy might experience its troubles, but the swift pace of vaccinations suggests that economic recovery will be stronger and faster. The vaccination programme will soon impact health outcomes and boost the Bank of England’s positive outlook. If the Bank shows further optimism and investors are upbeat about economic prospects, then the pound will rise higher.

The general positive market sentiment has helped the pound, as it has become linked to risk appetite during the crisis.

With downside risks for Sterling expected and priced in, analysts see further potential for the pound as the vaccination rollout continues strong. As NatWest Markets analysts said, a "quicker pace of vaccine roll-out will likely lend support to Sterling.” However, they expect any pound increases to be short-lived, as the UK economy struggles post-Brexit.

The Bank of England has said that a strong economic rebound is possible once the lockdown restrictions are lifted and consumers start spending again.

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The possibility of the Bank of England pushing interest rates into negative territory has been hinted at by a member of the BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee. If interest rates go lower, it is expected that the pound will be negatively impacted in the next few months. The decision to use negative interest rates is considered by the bank as positive in regard to offering further support to a struggling economy.

MPC member Silvana Tenreyro said in an online speech that negative interest rates will boost UK growth and inflation. "Cutting Bank Rate to its record low of 0.1% has helped loosen lending conditions relative to the counterfactual (of no policy change), and I believe further cuts would continue to provide stimulus," Tenreyro noted. Tenreyro said the Bank of England has been in contact with financial services firms discussing the potential impact of negative interest rates. She said: "Once the Bank is satisfied that negative rates are feasible, then the MPC would face a separate decision over whether they are the optimal tool to use to meet the inflation target given circumstances at the time."

How has the pound performed in 2021?

The pound has not enjoyed a good start to the new year, as it dropped against the euro and the dollar. The fact that the UK and EU reached an agreement on Christmas Eve has not made the situation better either, despite the hopes of some economists. Additionally, they are increasing concerns about the economy due to the stricter lockdowns. This has raised expectations of a further interest rate cut by the BoE.

The possibility of lower interest rates will also make UK money markets less attractive, turning investors away from the pound and towards other investments.

What do analysts and traders say?

Analysts expect that the upcoming Bank of England meeting on 4th February will garner a lot of attention, and as we get closer to it there will be growing speculation on the possibility of an interest rate cut.  

The pandemic has not helped either, as many economists believe that it has dampened sentiment towards Sterling and resulted in concerns about a slower economic recovery and a more cautious Bank of England. At the same time, other analysts disagree and do not expect an interest rate cut this February. Robert Wood, UK Economist at Bank of America said: "We do not expect the BoE to cut Bank Rate in February. Banks do not seem ready and some rate setters argue negative rates could be counterproductive when GDP is falling.” If this happens then the pound may rise.

With the pandemic and ongoing vaccinations, it is not yet clear how the UK economy will fair. Nonetheless, the UK government is committed to delivering CovidD-19 vaccines to the most vulnerable categories by mid-February. If everything goes as planned, and people are successfully vaccinated, then the BoE might reassess its plans and reconsider whether cutting interest rates is the best possible solution. If the economy shows signs of recovery, then the pound will respond favourably.

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With a lot less Brexit uncertainty and projected gains by 2022, the UK economy and the pound are expected to recover. In the short term, and due to lockdown measures, the pound will be weighed down by negative sentiment which will also lead to economic contraction. But economists are positive that following the rollout of vaccines there will be a sharp recovery in economic activity and investor sentiment which could see Sterling rising against major currencies such as the euro and dollar.  

The recent lockdown restrictions to control the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus will slow down the economy and hurt the pound, but a swing in sentiment might also be materialising soon as the market has reached its negativity point against the pound. Kit Juckes, Macro Strategist at Société Générale, has said that things will improve with the new vaccines and positive news about controlling the virus: "If the new lockdown does work, and more so if vaccine deployment does go quickly from here inwards, Sterling could have a good year. In the meantime, it seems clear that a lot of gloom is priced in already.”

England is currently under a strict national lockdown as the government struggles to rein in the rise in infection. On Wednesday, the UK recorded its greatest daily surge in coronavirus-related deaths since 21 April, with a total of 1,041 registered deaths.

Short-term forecasts for the pound

In the first quarter, the UK economy could contract due to further lockdown measures which will slowdown economic recovery. A rebound in economic activity, however, is expected immediately after the lockdown measures are lifted. With more vaccinations, as a 2 million weekly target is set to be successfully completed by the end of January, economists are hopeful that the economy will slowly bounce back. The government has obtained access to 100 million dosages of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with tens of millions of vials to be delivered once the MHRA has quality checked them. There are more than 730 vaccination sites across the UK, and more are opening this week to provide access to Covid-19 vaccines to a wider group of people at risk. In this respect, as vaccinations increase, so will market sentiment towards the pound.

"We expect a gradual re-opening from early March onwards, with faster progress of normalisation thereafter as more people are vaccinated and springtime heralds the natural remission of seasonal respiratory viruses,” Kallum Pickering of Berenberg said. Analysts at Berenberg highlighted that the near-term outlook will be “much worse than before” and forecasted a 2% decline in the first quarter of the current year estimated growth of 6% for the whole of 2021. Kallum Pickering said that the forecast for the first quarter might be gloomy, but the second quarter will see “faster catch-up growth” of 9% and the third quarter is forecast to see 4.5% growth than the 2.3% previously.

Growth rebound in the Second Quarter

According to Pickering, the growth rebound in the second quarter of 2021 will be greater than originally estimated with +9% expected, against the 6% growth forecast previously. For the fourth quarter he sees 1.3% forecast versus 0.9% previously. Pickering said: “we now project an 11.5% decline in 2020 followed by gains of 6.0% in 2021 and a 6.5% gain in 2022 (previously -11.6%, 7.3% and 4.9%, respectively). Despite the near-term hit, the UK medium-term outlook remains positive. With much less Brexit uncertainty and strong gains in global demand ahead, UK real GDP can still recover to its pre-pandemic level by the end of 2022 as previously expected.”

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The possibility of striking a Brexit deal before the weekend has helped to stabilise the pound as it recovered some ground, on Thursday. However, tensions are building ahead of the weekend as talks continue. This means that any Brexit-related headlines will create pound volatility and move the market considerably.

The clock is ticking

While markets are hopeful that a deal will be reached, the fact that the clock is now ticking with little space for manoeuvres means that the pound will remain sensitive. The Telegraph reported that Barnier told EU ambassadors that the UK has become more flexible and lowered its demands in regard to UK waters post-Brexit, demonstrating that the two sides are closer to an agreement. Fisheries and governance remain unresolved, with the latter to be negotiated once all other agreements are settled. Talks could now focus on the percentages involved in fisheries, but France might prove to be uncompromising on its fishing demands. According to The Telegraph, "Fishing nations such as France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain fear Mr Barnier may cave too easily to British demands as talks enter their endgame. Paris insists the UK red line of annual fishing negotiations is unacceptable.” France has already clarified that it will veto any deal that goes against their interests.

A report in The Times said that "France and other hard-line countries are pushing for no deal in Brexit talks to soften up Britain before a reset in negotiations next year, unless the government makes significant concessions in the coming days," and unless the UK "backs down over the next 48 hours", a period of 'no deal' will "bring a chastened Britain back to the table next year".

The BBC's Europe Editor Katya Adler said that Brussels believe a deal will be possible in the event that the UK makes significant steps to meet the demands regarding fisheries, competition rules and governance.

Talks continue in London

Negotiations are at the final stages, but it appears that any last hurdles will require, maybe not divine intervention, but at least some help from leaders from the UK, EU Commission and France. Both Wednesday and Thursday, saw negotiators working well into the night for the final push.

On Friday, The Telegraph reported that talks will find Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron coming head to head this weekend, with France interested in securing access to fish in British waters.

According to certain sources, Macron's officials have been "lobbying hard" among different member states to agree to added demands on fishing, state subsidies and non-regression clauses, and these will be discussed by both the PM and the French president over the weekend.

EU member states could also veto any deal as they continue to have concerns about state aid mechanisms and how to enforce agreed environmental and labour standards. France and Denmark are reluctant to lose their fishing shares in UK waters.

Indeed, there is not much time left now, as negotiations continue and the upcoming EU leaders’ meeting on 10 and 11 December 10-11 means that a final deal needs to be ready to be agreed. Sterling will make significant gains if a deal is announced in the coming weeks and it could potentially continue to rise.

 

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The pound appears to have risen ahead of the weekend, as Brexit negotiations continue. EU ambassadors have been told that a trade and security agreement with Britain is almost ready to be finalised as gaps on the contentious issues are “slowly shrinking.”

Both sides however remain inflexible, with European politicians saying that there remains work to be done and the UK saying that the EU needs to compromise. The risk of a no-deal Brexit in six weeks is still high.

According to a Bloomberg article, the UK “hasn’t moved sufficiently to overcome the main obstacles to a post-Brexit trade deal as three of the bloc’s leaders called for contingency plans to be stepped up in case there is no agreement.” Secretary General of the Commission Ilze Juhansone told envoys from the EU’s 27 member states on Friday that “negotiations could now slip into December as progress has been slow.”

On the other hand, the report noted that "The U.K. government has said that both sides have already made concessions on the three remaining areas of disagreement - access to British fishing waters, the level playing field for business, and how any deal is enforced - but that it’s up to the EU to make the final compromises."

A report on Reuters, stated that EU diplomats reported that “The European Union and Britain remain at odds in last-ditch trade talks over fishing rights, guarantees of fair competition and ways to solve future disputes, even though they are very close to agreement on other issues.” A senior EU diplomat told Reuters that “We are both close and far away. It seems that we are very close to agreement on most issues but differences on the three contentious issues persist.” Officials will continue negotiations online, as on Thursday it was announced that direct talks were suspended after a member of the EU team tested positive for COVID-19.

Negotiations are stuck

Negotiations have not progressed much as both sides remain unyielding on the main points: “Some things on the level playing field have moved, albeit very, very slowly. Fisheries are not really moving anywhere right now.” In terms of state aid, Britain has offered to set up a regulator for corporate subsidies, as the EU requested, but this was rejected as the body needed to be independent from the government and with a clear authority. Another EU official said that “negotiators mostly focused on such elements of corporate fair play as well as divvying up fishing quotas in recent days: ‘Both of these are still very stuck.’”

Pound Rises despite Brexit deadlock

The pound has risen against the Euro, Dollar and other major currencies, as negotiations continue. Markets remain confident that both sides will strike a deal despite the persistence of major differences. In the possibility of a trade agreement being reached the next two to three weeks, the EUR is expected to fall, something that will also be supported by positive news about a vaccine for Covid-19.

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Sterling extended earlier gains after a report that the UK and the European Union could agree on a trade and security deal some time next week. Optimism regarding striking an agreement has given the pound fresh impetus, despite that time is running out.

Economists believe that Sterling could strengthen more by mid-2021 if a free trade agreement is reached, as officials are expecting news of some form of progress as early as Monday. British and European parliaments will still need to confirm the terms of the agreement before the transition period ends on 31 December. At the moment, investors remain hopeful, but the possibility of the talks stalling as major differences cannot be bridged is strong, and in such a scenario the pound would likely fall.

Newspaper reports suggest a trade deal is possible

During the week, various newspaper reports have suggested that a trade deal is "just days away" with the Telegraph saying that Ireland believes there are "landing zones" for an agreement and that France has accepted the restrictions to its fishing rights in UK waters after the transition period ends. The newspaper also reported that "the trade agreement could be announced as early as Monday, sources in Brussels suggested – but only if both sides made compromises on issues such as fishing and subsidy law." On Tuesday, the Sun newspaper said a deal could be expected next Tuesday, as the UK Chief Negotiator David Frost said to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to prepare for a trade deal on Tuesday, news that have helped lift the pound.

Despite positive but unofficial reports in British newspapers, both the EU and UK have not offered a definite answer about the status of the negotiations which means the possibility of a no deal is still a valid outcome with some analysts remaining very cautious. At the same time, the markets seem to have made peace with a possible no-deal scenario, so any news of a deal, no matter what that deal is, will lift the pound. However, a possible deal will only mean temporary and limited gains for the pound according to some analysts, while for others, a considerable rise should be expected.

Brexiteers feel stuck as no deal impossible

The UK is now trapped and will be unable to benefit from Brexit, said former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib. Habib, who attacked the PM saying that a no deal Brexit was not possible, said in an interview to Express.co.uk, that "We are already stuck, to some extent, in the gravitational pull of the European Union.” For hard Brexiteer Habib, a no deal Brexit would allow the UK to completely cut its ties to the European Union, but, unfortunately, this is not possible anymore. As he said, "We have a deal of some description from which we simply cannot escape."

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A weak US dollar and rising hopes for a trade deal between the European Union and Britain helped Sterling rise on Tuesday afternoon.

Analysts are now saying that the pound could rise further in the event of a post-Brexit trade deal. This, of course, is something we have seen every time that there was any positive news pointing to a breakthrough to the negotiations. Sterling fell immediately after the UK referendum vote to leave the EU in June 2016, as political uncertainty hurt the pound. Since then, Sterling has been volatile every time news was released regarding Brexit and has fallen on news of a stalemate in the negotiations or disappointing updates from both sides. As we are nearing the end of the Brexit transition period, and the possibility of an agreement appears more certain, the pound will most possibly react positively and rise.

A possible agreement by mid-November will support the pound

Optimism regarding the trade talks has risen recently after the EU’s negotiating team and Michel Barnier the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said that they will resume talks in London until Wednesday 28 October and many reports have noted that an agreement could be reached by Saturday, 31st October 31.

Any time from now until the middle of November, when a possible deal might be reached, Sterling could strengthen as long as the two sides ensure that a no deal scenario is not in the cards.

By reaching an agreement, both sides will provide certainty to businesses and investors, eliminating uncertainty, restoring sentiment and offering relief to the pound.

USD weakness to support the pound

For many analysts, the pound might rise, but this might not be a sharp rise and it will only be the result of a depreciation of the USD. At the same time, they predict that a strategic buying of Sterling in anticipation of a deal being reached might be possible, but this will be short-term.

According to Pound Sterling Live, Rabobank see potential for the GBP/EUR exchange rate to rise if a Brexit deal is announced, but such a rise will be limited.  Jane Foley, Senior FX Strategist at Rabobank said: "We don’t expect that relief at the end of the Brexit process will be sufficient to divert attention away from a poor set of UK fundamentals," she adds.

"If we are wrong on the market’s assigned relative probabilities, then Sterling will move more or less than we expect. Given the better mood music of recent weeks, risks appear skewed in favour of a smaller move,” Paul Robson, Head of G10 FX Strategy EMEA at Natwest Markets said. But they also highlighted the issues lying ahead, including that of companies having to adjust to the new realities after Brexit and the potential disruptions in various sectors, including the auto industry that were recently highlighted by the automobile sector.

Potential threats ahead

Economists are emphasising the fact that Brexit will not only disrupt various industries and create uncertainty about the future of businesses, but it will add to the UK’s existing problems. The economy is currently hit by Covid-19, government finances are deteriorating, and lockdown restrictions are hurting the economy further. With a weak economy and limited investment flows, the pound might have a rocky road ahead, with or without a Brexit trade deal.

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The pound was pulled from different directions yesterday, as on the one hand, the Bank of England hinting at negative interest rates pushed it lower, and on the other hand, positive Brexit news helped lift it.

The pound fell after the Bank of England said that it is considering how to use negative interest rates and it will discuss with regulators how to efficiently implement them. The pound dropped sharply after the announcement.

As quoted on Bloomberg, Valentin Marinov, head of foreign exchange research and strategy at Credit Agricole SA, said: “Negative rates are the nuclear option. It could ultimately push the pound into uncharted territory of losing whatever is left of its rate advantage.”

A Brexit Trade Deal is Still Possible

Despite the negative news, there was a glimpse of positivity on Thursday after the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that she remains "convinced" that an EU-UK trade deal is still possible, which helped the pound recover. Von der Leyen, speaking to the Financial Times, said: "I am still convinced it can be done. It is better not to have this distraction questioning an existing international agreement that we have, but to focus on getting this deal done, this agreement done - and time is short." Another EU diplomat said that "we should not overreact... We will continue negotiations because there are two separate tracks: one is the one which the UK has decided to violate, and the other is the future relationship."

If markets maintain a similar view that a trade deal is possible then the pound will be supported.

Bank of England’s Negative Interest Rate Surprise

After the Bank unexpectedly said that it was considering the possibility to cut interest rates to 0% or below in the coming months, to help support the economy, the pound fell.  There have never been any negative interest rates before in the UK and if the Bank moves ahead with changing the rates to record lows, this could really shake the financial system, especially due to the UK’s current account deficit. As Pound Sterling Live noted, this could leave “the UK's financial system, and Pound Sterling in particular, exposed to capital withdrawals from foreign investors.”

The shocking revelation was found within the Bank’s minutes to the meeting where it stated that it would start a "structured engagement" with the Prudential Regulation Authority in order to potentially cut interest rates to negative.

Senior market analyst at Western Union, Joe Manimbo said: "The U.K. Pound staged a swoon after the Bank of England dropped clear signals that it was edging closer to implementing negative borrowing rates. The big news was that officials were actively studying plans to push rates below zero given the ‘unusually uncertain’ economic outlook. Central bankers noted better data of late but signalled heightened concern related to Covid uncertainty, expectations of a sharp rise in unemployment and potential Brexit shocks."

However, some economists believe that the Bank will not push interest rates into negative territory and the recent news is part of the Bank’s research into negative interest rates rather than something more solid and definite.

But as Bloomberg said, a no-deal Brexit might just be the trigger for the BoE to use negative rates: “It’s becoming increasingly likely that if the economy is blown off course next year, the central bank could employ sub-zero rates.”

With the UK struggling to contain coronavirus infections, the imposition of new lockdown restrictions, unemployment and a disruptive Brexit could make the situation in the UK very difficult and push the Bank to make some hard decisions.

 

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The pound rose against the dollar on Wednesday, as the greenback was under pressure following the release of disappointing US retail sales figures for August.

The GBP/USD pair rose higher to weekly tops, despite the Brexit impasse and the latest saga with Boris Johnson’s Internal Market bill.

Wednesday's main event was the highly anticipated FOMC monetary policy decision - where rates look set to remain stable at near zero - and updated economic and inflation projections, ahead of Thursday’s BoE meeting. Due to the key FOMC event, trading opportunities and volatility around the GBP/USD currency pair might arise ahead of the event.

Brexit

The pound was also supported after Justice Secretary Robert Buckland hinted the Government could amend the Internal Market Bill in order to compromise with Tories criticising the PM for breaking an international treaty and avoid a rift within the Conservative party. The government’s change of heart could help soften the EU’s stance and resume negotiations with the EU.

Buckland said that the original plans in the Bill could be made "acceptable to all Conservative colleagues".

With investors digesting the political reality and remaining confident that a deal is still possible, the pound was lifted after the initial news of the Internal Market bill.

"Outsized moves in GBP ... have injected a sizeable risk premium in GBP. It's now trading at a decent discount on our short-term valuation, underscoring that some of the recent Brexit news has already been priced in. At the very least, this backdrop suggests that in the coming weeks GBP would benefit more from good news rather than sink further on bad news. We still expect more volatility but risk/reward favours taking profit at these levels," said Mark McCormick of TD Securities.

Bank of England Policy and Interest Rate Decision on Thursday

The Bank of England will try and assess on Thursday the UK’s economic recovery and whether it needs to adjust its policy to offer more monetary support. For many economists, now it is not the right time to make significant changes to its package. Adding to the Bank’s woes about the UK economy comes the UK inflation which fell to its lowest level in nearly five years, to an annual 0.2%, far away from the Bank’s official 2% target.

The Bank is expected to take action in its November meeting, as the economy slowly recovers. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecast released on Wednesday, UK gross domestic product would shrink by 10.1% this year, while the economy is forecast to rebound in 2021. Given the political and economic uncertainty, the BoE will possibly wait and see what kind of fiscal stimulus is necessary to support the economy. But Reuters noted that “While the central bank is widely expected to hold fire, policymakers are likely to conclude that downside risks to the economy are rising for the economy due to rising Brexit uncertainty and renewed restrictions on social activity.”

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The British Pound could strengthen against the Euro and Dollar in the coming weeks if economic data continues to beat expectations, according to the latest projections by economists. But, analysts at Bank of America have told clients on Tuesday that Sterling was more like an emerging market currency. Lead analyst Kamal Sharma said that the currency’s movements the last four years since the UK Brexit referendum have been “neurotic at best, unfathomable at worst.”

Pound: An emerging market currency

It is not the first time that the pound has been described as an emerging market currency. Last year, in September, Bank of England governor Mark Carney said that Brexit-related volatility had made the pound act like an emerging market currency.

According to this week’s reports, “Sterling’s spreads and implied volatility – the future range investors expect GBP to move in – remain far wider than other major world currencies, such as the U.S. dollar, euro or Japanese yen, and resemble something closer to the Mexican peso.” Brexit uncertainty and the possibility of negative interest rates have hurt investor sentiment, BoA analysts said.

Better than expected data could offer support for Sterling

But Pound Sterling Live stated that if UK economic data continues to come in better than expected the pound will be supported. It did note, however, that “those looking for a stronger Sterling will continue to have to exercise patience in the near-term.”

With recent economic figures beating expectations and markets underestimating how quick the UK’s economic recovery will be, there is a “decisive shift in momentum.” Tuesday’s PMI data for June were better than expected with the Markit/CIPS Manufacturing PMI at 50.1, the Services PMI at 47, and the Composite PMI at 47.6, all above forecasts.

According to analyst at DNB Markets Kjersti Haugland, things are even more positive as there is a significant rebound of the economy. He said: "A literal interpretation of the figures suggests that manufacturing activity stabilised in June while service sector activity fell further, as a reading below 50 indicates a contraction compared to the previous month. However, some of the respondents may make a pre-Covid-19 comparison instead. Therefore, the sharp increase in June suggests activity is picking up quicker than expected.”

The British Pound does well when the UK economy is growing, unlike the US Dollar which strengthens when the economy is in decline due to its safe haven status. So, if the UK economy continues to grow and economic data comes out stronger than expected, then the pound will find support. This coupled with an easing of lockdown restrictions and the opening of businesses will help the economy recover. As the PM Boris Johnson announced on the 23 June, pubs and restaurants, campsites, hotels and holiday homes will reopen on 4 July. Other businesses such as spas, nail bars, casinos and swimming pools will remain closed.

However, a stronger Pound might be a distant possibility for now, as Sterling was the worst performing currency the past month out of the G10 and was “near the bottom of the pack which reflects a short- to medium-term trend is in place against many major currencies and this will prove tough to crack.”

 

With Brexit uncertainty to continue due to the ongoing negotiations and the harsh stance of the Bank of England both on quantitative easing and interest rates, the pound will remain volatile.

If you are a business sending money abroad or an individual transferring your funds 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 and maximise the value of your money.