According to Bloomberg, traders are increasingly pessimistic about the pound as they expect the currency to post further declines. Meanwhile, weakened euro sentiment due to the new Covid restrictions has allowed the pound to remain supported, but this will be limited, as analysts have noted.

Pound pessimism

The pound pessimism is due to a range factors. On the one hand, markets are becoming pessimistic and fear that the Bank of England will not raise interest rates in December. Others are even fearing that a tighter policy will damage the economy. On the other hand, the US dollar is strong on expectations of the Federal Reserve reducing its stimulus programme. Traders are pessimistic as they are concerned about the growth outlook for Britain, with persisting issues as Covid and Brexit uncertainty. There are also concerns that a near-term rate hike will damage the economy and will be a huge policy mistake.

While markets expect an interest rate hike in December, recent comments by Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey and Chief Economist Huw Pill have cast more doubt, with traders becoming more cautious about unexpected pound volatility. The pound has fallen more than 5% in the past six months. On Monday, it fell again as the dollar rose following news that Jerome Powell was nominated to a second term as the Federal Reserve’s chair.

Analysts expect the pound to fall even further. They believe the UK is exposed to global economic forces and, while supply chain issues are starting to be resolved, there are economic obstacles ahead.

Covid restrictions and the euro

The pound is holding against the euro due to deteriorating sentiment towards the Eurozone following the reintroduction of Covid lockdown restrictions. While the impact is relatively limited, the euro could fall further if Germany introduces tighter restrictions in the coming days.

Covid cases and hospitalisations are on the rise in Germany, and if Covid concerns increase then the euro will suffer more.

The euro has been hurt by the rising cases across the bloc, which has reinforced the dovish outlook for the European Central Bank’s policy.

Germany's response has been to push for higher vaccination rates and increased restrictions for unvaccinated citizens. Germany is worried about the current situation and wants to control it with additional measures to curb a fourth wave in December.

Some economists believe that the current restrictions in the Eurozone will have a limited impact on the economy than previous ones, as the outlook in the long term is positive. Euro weakness is believed to be limited as sentiment could return once the spike in Covid cases reaches its peak. So, if the right measures are taken today to control the spread of the virus, then the potential and short-term euro weakness will be for the benefit of long-term economic recovery.

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Sterling rose on Tuesday (02/02/2021) for the first time since last spring, after the GDP report showed that the eurozone GDP shrank by 0.7% in the last quarter of 2020 and will probably keep shrinking in the current quarter. While this is not as bad as it was expected, fears of a eurozone double-dip recession have risen. Following the news, the euro fell to a nine-month low against the pound. The euro has also dropped to a seven-week low against the US dollar.

For many economists, the EU’s inability to secure a quick vaccine rollout, the prolonged lockdowns and the prospect of further ones will continue to impact on the euro. Additionally, concerns about a double-dip recession are also weighing on the euro. Due to the slow vaccine rollout and the EU’s poor vaccine strategy, commission president Ursula von der Leyen has drawn criticism and had to respond by claiming that the UK’s vaccination programme had compromised on “safety and efficacy” safeguards to get a head start. She said that “Some countries started to vaccinate a little before Europe, it is true. But they resorted to emergency, 24-hour marketing authorisation procedures.” Von der Leyen has also been criticised by Jean-Claude Juncker, but she said that she should be judged in 2024 when her term ends.

Europe’s slow vaccine rollout could affect economic recovery

The slow start to Europe’s Covid-19 vaccination programme could affect its recovery, according to economists. Sam Miley, economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research said: “The downtick in economic output in Q4 reflects the widespread reimplementation of Covid-19 contain measures across the continent, though does mask varying degrees of restriction severity across member states. This downward pressure on economic output looks set to continue in early 2021 due to the clampdown on new, more virulent strains of coronavirus, while subdued economic activity could continue for an even more protracted period in light of the eurozone’s relatively slower rollout of vaccinations.”

Other economists are also warning that the eurozone is possibly in a double-dip recession now. Christoph Weil, economist at Commerzbank, explained that eurozone GDP will continue to shrink in the January-March quarter, after the 0.7% decline recorded in October-December. “In the first quarter of 2021, the decline is likely to be somewhat steeper. However, there will not be a slump like the one in the first half of 2020. Instead, a noticeable recovery is likely to set in again from the spring.”

Global Chief Strategist at HSBC Global Asset Management, Joseph Little, said:  “The negative Q4 GDP print is confirmation of what investors already knew – a double dip recession in Europe at the end of 2020, with that weakness continuing through Q1. The live question for investors is what the delays in vaccine distribution and virus trends means for the growth outlook as we go through the year. We think the picture should improve through the summer, and that facilitates a ‘catch-up’ phase of growth for Europe in H2.”

UK vaccine rollout

Sterling rose due to optimism about the UK’s vaccination rollout and a wider positive risk sentiment.

The government is expected to vaccinate 15 million with the first dose of the vaccine by the middle of February so all who are clinically vulnerable have some level of resistance against the Covid-19 virus. If the vaccine programme goes as scheduled this, together with the strict lockdown measures will eventually allow the UK government to relax some of the restrictions. This will also help boost the currency. JP Morgan said: "We generally remain supportive of the stronger Sterling view given the impressive vaccine roll out the UK has implemented. Of course, short-term virus worries remain a headwind, particularly as UK lockdowns look set to stay for a significant amount of time.”

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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.

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