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 British pound is higher against the Dollar and lower against the euro on Friday, after the release of disappointing data showing that the UK economy contracted more than expected.

The UK GDP monthly release came at -20.4%% MoM in April vs. -18.4% expected, revealing that the economy contracted more-than-expected in April. This is the biggest month-on-month drop in GDP ever recorded and 10 times larger than the sharpest fall before Covid-19. The figures show that the GDP fell by 10.4% in the three months to April as a whole.

The Gross Domestic Product is released by the Office for National Statistics and is a measure of the total value of all goods and services produced by the UK. It is a broad measure of the UK economic activity and, in general, positive news such as a rising trend in economic activity can have positive impact on the pound, while a drop in numbers can be negative. 

The ONS reported that “April 2020 has experienced sharper falls than March as the negative impacts of social distancing and ‘lockdown’ have led to a significant fall in consumer demand and business and factory closures, as well as supply chain disruptions.”

 

Biggest monthly fall in UK history

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK posted the biggest monthly fall in GDP in UK history this past April. The drop represented a 24.5% decline from April 2019, as lockdowns due to Covid-19 hit the economy. 

This week the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said that the UK economy would experience the worst damage from Covid-19 compared to any other developed nation. It predicted that GDP would contract by 11.5% in 2020 or 14% if there was a second lockdown due to the return of the virus.

Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s shadow chancellor, said that the OECD forecast was “deeply worrying” and that this was due to the government’s “failure to get on top of the health crisis, delay going into lockdown and chaotic mismanagement of the exit from lockdown.” 

Rishi Sunak, said the UK economy was similar “with many other economies around the world” and that the government’s intention was to “support people, jobs and businesses through this crisis – and this is what we’ve done.”

 

The OECD explained that “The failure to conclude a trade deal with the European Union by the end of 2020 or put in place alternative arrangements would have a strongly negative effect on trade and jobs.” A no deal Brexit would “significantly damage the UK’s potentially fragile recovery from its deepest recession in almost a century,” credit ratings agency Moody’s warned.

Laurence Boone, the OECD’s chief economist, said the world economy was “walking a tightrope” and that the possibility of a second outbreak could lead to another lockdown and recession. She said: “These scenarios are by no means exhaustive, but they help frame the field of possibilities and sharpen policies to walk such uncharted grounds. Both scenarios are sobering, as economic activity does not and cannot return to normal under these circumstances. By the end of 2021, the loss of income exceeds that of any previous recession over the last 100 years outside wartime, with dire and long-lasting consequences for people, firms and governments.” 

 

With the latest GDP figures, it has been confirmed that the slump in economic activity has been severe. The pound fell against the euro but was not shocked as the disappointing numbers were expected. As Sunak highlighted, the UK is not alone in experiencing the economic contraction due to the lockdown, as global economies are deeply hurt.

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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.”

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With the coronavirus continuing to affect the UK economy and the issue of securing a Brexit trade deal persisting, the British Pound is forecast to struggle, with investors’ growing increasingly anxious.

While worries about the coronavirus pandemic overshadowed Brexit temporarily, political concerns return as the government has highlighted its reluctance for a Brexit extension.

Brexit: No extension

With the transition period due to end on 31 December and with only three rounds of trade talks remaining, the UK would need to negotiate a trade deal by December 2020, especially when the government says that an extension would only "prolong the delay and uncertainty" around Brexit.

David Frost, the UK's chief negotiator and Michel Barnier, the European Commission's chief negotiator, after their Wednesday meeting via video conference, agreed on three weeks of talks beginning on 20 April, 11 May and 1 June. In a joint statement, they recognised that their work has helped to "identify all major areas of divergence and convergence", but further negotiations were needed "to make real, tangible progress in the negotiations by June."

But the UK government has clarified that no extension would be asked from the EU, despite recent calls by International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva to extend the period for negotiations and not "add to uncertainty" as a result of the coronavirus.

However, the prime minister's official spokesman said: “We will not ask to extend the transition period, and if the EU asks we will say 'no.' Extending the transition would simply prolong the negotiations, prolong business uncertainty and delay the moment of control of our borders. It would also keep us bound by EU legislation at a point when we need legislative and economic flexibility to manage the U.K. response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

David Frost has also similarly clarified the government’s intentions: “Extending would simply prolong negotiations, create even more uncertainty, leave us liable to pay more to the EU in future, and keep us bound by evolving EU laws at a time when we need to control our own affairs. In short, it is not in the UK's interest to extend."

The Prime Minister’s confidence in striking a satisfactory trade deal by the end of the year has been criticised by the opposition, with Liberal Democrat Sir Ed Davey saying that the refusal to extend the transition was "deeply irresponsible."

Concerns have also been voiced by the financial world. Economists and strategists have warned about the risks for the pound and have noted that uncertainty typically has driven investors to sell the pound against every other currency. Analyst at Thomson Reuters Richard Pace noted: “GBP dealers should fear July 1, when it will be too late to extend the Brexit transition past Dec. 31, 2020, and GBP would rightly suffer. The UK government has been vehement about not asking for an extension, and the UK parliament won't be able to force one this time, since Prime Minister Boris Johnson's huge Conservative majority will back his decision."

“Tough Times” for UK economy

It is not only the current uncertainty with Brexit, but also the coronavirus’ effects that will deeply hurt the pound and the economy. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that the coronavirus will have "serious implications" for the UK economy, as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is expecting that the virus will shrink the economy by 35% by June. Sunak said that the government needed to be honest and that the OBR’s figures suggest that the UK is facing “tough times, and there will be more to come.”

While the government is "not just going to stand by" and will try to protect “millions of jobs, businesses, self-employed people, charities, and households," the effects of the lockdown cannot be minimised.

Robert Chote, the chairman of the OBR, said that a three-month lockdown followed by another three months of partial restrictions would see the economy declining sharply, a drop that would be the biggest "in living memory."

The International Monetary Fund has also warned that the virus would cause the UK economy to shrink by 6.5% in 2020, and the global economy to contract by 3%.

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