The improved global market sentiment and the slowing of Covid-19 case rates has helped the pound to recover, but Brexit anxieties could pose a potential threat to the currency.

Covid-19 and the NHS app

This week alone 96 deaths have been reported, the highest number since March. While on 1 June there were 0 coronavirus deaths, 1,114 deaths have been reported since then with 73 deaths being reported on Wednesday (21 July). The vaccination programme has not managed to break the link between infections and fatalities, with the total number of deaths from the pandemic reaching 128,896. However, new cases have not risen considerably, as the number of new cases that were reported on Wednesday was 44,104, slightly higher than the previous week’s 42,302. As it stands, 46,388,744 people have been vaccinated at least with the first shot in the UK. According to statistics, around 39,035 people had their first jab on Tuesday, while 161,279 people had their second shot yesterday, with 36,404,566 people now being fully inoculated.

With the ongoing self-isolation of workers due to coming into close contact with a positive coronavirus case, businesses have been affected, while the government has expressed its apologies for the inconvenience. Director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium Andrew Opie told The Times that the "pingdemic” has put pressure on retailers who found it difficult to keep stores open and shelves stocked, demanded that the government needed to act fast.

Boris Johnson, speaking at the last PMQs before the summer recess, said "everybody understands the inconvenience of being pinged". The prime minister himself had to isolate after coming into contact with Covid-positive Health Secretary Sajid Javid last week.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of the mixed messages regarding the NHS Covid-19 app and said: "When it comes to creating confusion, the prime minister is a super-spreader.” Starmer had to isolate himself following one of his children being tested positive.

According to the figures from the ONS, around 9 in 10 adults in all parts of the UK could possibly have Covid-19 antibodies with the estimates ranging from 88.6% in Scotland to 92.6% in Wales, 90.0% for Northern Ireland and 91.9% for England.

Brexit and Covid-19: How will the pound fair?

It simply depends on improved market sentiment and the management of the Covid-19 Delta variant. The near-term outlook for Sterling will be determined by concerns regarding the Delta variant and whether investors have fully priced in the news.  If they have done so, then possibly the currency and market sentiment will improve. 

Brexit remains a threat to the currency too, as the UK and EU could find themselves at the opposite end of the table over the Northern Ireland question. On Wednesday, the UK announced its intention to renegotiate certain points included in the Northern Ireland protocol, and argued that in its current form it will create problems for trading goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The release of the command paper outlining the UK government proposals about how the Protocol should be changed poses a major challenge to the EU.  This move could potentially hurt the pound, according to analysts. However, they believe that this could become a more serious concern as we move closer to 1 October with potential legal battles and EU threatening the UK with the imposition of trade sanctions.

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The British Pound has risen following comments by the Bank of England's Governor Andrew Bailey that the rate will not be cut to 0% or below in the coming weeks. With the ongoing vaccine rollout and positive market sentiment about a quick economic recovery, the Bank appears to be willing to wait and see how the UK economy fairs before taking interest rates into negative territory.

Vaccine rollout

The government has promised to vaccinate 15 million people in the top four priority groups over the next five weeks and 17 million more in the five remaining groups by spring. According to the government’s immunisation plan, fifty special vaccination centres will support hospitals and doctors to provide 2 million jabs a week by the end of January.

The inoculation plan was unveiled on Monday as the NHS announced that 866,000 people in England were vaccinated the first week of January. On Monday, seven national vaccination centres opened in England, as well as 200 hospital sites and many GP centres. 50 more special centres will open by the end of the month. Many GPs believe that the 2m-a-week target can be achieved, despite MPs’ complaints in the parliament that the supply was chaotic.

More Vaccinations, Stronger Pound

The more people are vaccinated, the sooner the pandemic will be controlled, and the economy will recover. If everyone is strong and healthy, then the body of the economy and the country will also be strong and healthy. This will ensure a robust economy and will affect whether the Bank of England changes interest rates and its quantitative easing programme. If the BoE chose to lower interest rates, this would have been with the aim of stimulating lending and injecting a flow of money into the economy during the lockdown. However, such drastic measures would have pushed the pound lower. 

The governor of the BoE highlighted that there were too many concerns about negative interest rates, and that members of the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee debated their possible benefits. He has also warned that negative interest rates may hurt economic recovery and he appeared to be against such a move followed by such countries as Sweden, Denmark and Japan. He said: there are “a lot of issues” when considering using negative interest rates as a fiscal tool: “At first glance they are counter-intuitive.” He added: “First of all, no country has really used negative interest rates at the retail end of the market.”

There is, however, growing speculation after the recent comments by Silvana Tenreyro, a member of the Bank’s rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee, that using negative rates is a possibility and can be done without depriving the banking system. Interest rates have been at a historic low of 0.1% since last March in an attempt to protect the economy from the pandemic. If the possibility of negative interest rates is slowly reduced in the coming weeks, the pound is expected to get a further boost.

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The British Pound has remained under pressure on Friday, especially after Thursday’s losses due to disappointing news that the Brexit negotiations have hit an impasse. Today’s (24/07/2020) better than expected retail sales did not help push the pound higher against its major rivals.

Brexit and Covid-19

Despite positive macroeconomic data, the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about the state of the Brexit trade negotiations have weighed on the pound. As the Guardian reported, on Friday morning the release of “the retail figures are doing little to support UK stocks with the FTSE 100 down 1.36% and the more domestically focused FTSE 350 down 0.6%.”

Positive Retail Sales’ Numbers

The easing of lockdown in mid-June helped UK retail sales beat forecasts in June. The Office for National Statistics has reported a 13.9% month-on-month rise in UK retail sales last month, marking an 8% uptick. Even for former Bank of England policymaker Andrew Sentence, the figures highlighted that the UK was on its recovery since the Covid-19 outbreak. The retail sales’ increase was the result of consumers spending for DIY and home improvement products due to the lockdown, with shops selling hardware, furniture and appliances doing particularly well, and reaching near-pre-lockdown sale levels.

With the easing of lockdown measures, consumers preferred real physical shops rather than online shopping, as the ONS noted that the proportion of online sales retreated from its record peak in May. Online spending, however, remained at 31.8%, higher than February’s 20%. UK total retail sales are now just 0.6% lower than February before the lockdown.

ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow said:

“Retail continued to recover from the sharp falls seen in April, with overall sales now almost back to pre-pandemic levels. But there are some dramatic differences in sales across the retail industry. Food sales continue above their pre-pandemic levels due to the closure of cafes, restaurants and pubs. Online sales have risen to record levels, and now count for £3 in every £10 spent. On the other hand, clothing sales remain depressed and across the high street sales in non-food stores are down by around one-third on pre-pandemic levels. The latest three months as a whole still saw the weakest quarterly growth on record.”

With the exclusion of fuel sales, due to the lockdown and limited travelling, the level of sales was 2.4% higher than in February. According to figures, Britain’s economy shrank by more than a quarter in March and April and recovered slightly in May.

Is the UK economy recovering?

Former Bank of England policymaker Andrew Sentence said that the figures highlighted the UK was on its recovery since the Covid-19 outbreak. The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, has also pointed to a V-shaped recovery with the economy growing by around 1% a week, something that many of his colleagues have questioned. The British Retail Consortium said that spending among large high-street chains was 3.4% higher this June than last year.

As investors await the release of more figures to confirm expectations of a sustained economic recovery, the pound will remain under stress with Brexit as well as the growing number of deaths from Covid-19. If you are buying a home overseas or want to transfer funds to family and friends living abroad, get in touch with our friendly  Universal Partners FX team. UPFX’s dedicated foreign exchange specialists can help you access the most competitive exchange rates and make your currency transfers stress-free.

The British Pound pushed higher after investor sentiment improved due to the positive news that a deal between EU leaders have been reached. The euro also rose higher. The deal includes €1.8tn in spending, with a €750bn rescue fund to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. €390bn out of the €750bn will be made in grants.

Brexit trade negotiations a key driver for the pound

However, Sterling continues to remain under pressure as Brexit developments can thwart sentiment, while any updates from the Bank of England in relation to negative interest rates can also create further concerns.

Brexit negotiations will take place from Tuesday to Thursday and will cover such issues as trade in goods, fisheries, energy, transport and participation in certain EU programmes. The round will end with a plenary session on Thursday. The Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier will hold a press conference and investors will be watching to see any signs of progress regarding the latest round of EU-UK trade negotiations which will significantly boost Sterling.

Brexit trade deal and Tory rebellion

Boris Johnson faces a rebellion from Tories who want to pass an amendment to the Trade Bill that will allow the House of Commons and House of Lords to vote for a trade deal agreed between the UK and any other country.

After Brexit, the UK will need to renegotiate trade deals, something that has been celebrated by Brexiteers and criticised by Remainers. For many, such trade deals with countries like the US will sacrifice certain standards that were followed while the UK was under European legislation. After leaving the European Union at the end of this year, Britain will need to be extremely cautious when striking new deals that will be beneficial to its people rather than meeting the demands of political agendas. The government’s reluctance to allow its lawmakers and the people’s representatives to have a say in the negotiations, goes against its own promise of taking back control from Europe and giving it back to the UK people. Additionally, it denies any scrutiny and seeks to pass deals without a dialogue, enforcing laws that could have repercussions on the social and political lives of its citizens for years to come.

Post-Brexit trade talks on a standstill

EU officers have complained that trade talks have been “going round in circles”, and Downing Street said that “significant differences remain on a number of important issues.” This is what is also expected to be reiterated on Thursday when Barnier appears at the press conference, as both sides are anticipating a stalemate.

Another round of talks will begin the week of August 17, but Germany said that it won’t begin to focus on the negotiations until September.

Boris Johnson does not want talks to “drag on into the autumn”, but he will need to make some concessions to see any movement forward. “We’re waiting for the UK to move,” an EU official has said according to the Financial Times. Johnson has talked of trading with the EU like Australia, but he would need to secure a trade deal that will eventually confirm his competency as a Prime Minister and avoid a disorderly Brexit that could lead to calls for Scottish Independence.

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