The British pound has come under pressure as there are concerns that the UK’s exit from the lockdown will be delayed. With Covid-19 cases on the rise, the government might postpone the final unlocking due on 21st of June. As Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, the government is "absolutely open" to delaying its plans to ease the restrictions, with a possible two-week delay until the 5th of July. This means that any possible delays will affect confidence in the UK economic rebound, and, consequently, hurt the pound which has had a solid performance throughout 2021.

Lockdown Easing, Indian variant and pound performance

Covid restrictions easing could be disrupted as scientists believe that the Indian variant (known as the Delta variant and B.1.617.2) could spread almost 50% faster than the previous strain in the UK, known as the Kent variant. While the Indian variant might be the cause for potential delays, many analysts believe that this is not enough reason for investors and traders to become especially concerned about the pound’s outlook, as the backdrop remains positive. As economists at ING Bank said, "a 'June pause' probably won't significantly derail the UK's recovery,” unless market confidence “goes into reverse.”

This will also be influenced by how strong business and consumer confidence will be as they will determine whether there will be the necessary funds and investment to drive economic growth. Economic data has up till now been positive with increased bookings in restaurants and pubs, as activity picks up. Economists believe that economic growth data for the second quarter of 2021 will be stronger than many have anticipated, and this will offer further support to Sterling. The potential for the UK economy to beat expectations could also increase confidence and possibly drive the Bank of England (BoE) to raise interest rates sooner than expected.

For the pound but also for other currencies, positive news that central banks will exit their pandemic support programmes will offer extra support. Already, we have seen that for those central banks which have reduced their quantitative easing programme and signalled that interest rates will rise, have seen their currencies outperform.

In general, the majority of analysts believes that the pound will benefit as the economy improves in the coming weeks and months, driven mostly by consumer savings during the various lockdowns. However, a rising number in Covid cases and further restrictions could dampen sentiment.

Short-lived pound weakness

For many economists and research analysts, a potential delay in the easing of restrictions will be damaging, but for others, such weakness will only be short-lived. It is believed the pound will be sold briefly by traders, but then renewed interest will resume.

While the pandemic will continue to affect the economy and the pound, other factors such as economic performance, vaccines, and rising UK real yields will also have an impact on the pound’s performance.

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Sterling experienced some volatility after reaching a fresh three-year high against the US dollar due to expectations for an economic recovery and positive house price data. Some analysts have attributed the surge in the pound to positive global investor sentiment about the UK economic recovery, while others pinned the pound’s gains on a retreat in the US dollar.

US dollar weakness & BoE interest rates

According to strategists at Toronto-Dominion Bank, “The whole ‘U.K. vaccine’ story is a little tired.” It’s probably less about the U.K. and more about the USD, which has been drifting lower overall.”

Beyond the prospect of unlocking the economy, the pound found support from expectations that the Bank of England will soon signal that it may start to raise interest rates next year. The UK’s economic recovery and the potential of the Bank of England ending asset purchases and hiking are encouraging traders to buy the pound.

Concerns about the new variant

However, Sterling has also been influenced by concerns over a new coronavirus strain which pushed the currency lower. The new Indian variant along with concerns about reopening the economy on 21st of June have dented some of the pound’s recent gains. The new strain appears to be more transmissible than previous ones. While the variant did not appear initially to pose a big threat, growing concerns from the government as to whether the UK will fully reopen the economy or there will be delays, have hurt the pound.

The Indian variant is spreading across the UK and the latest statistics suggest Covid-19 cases are starting to rise sharply. The strain is mostly found in England. The government is waiting for more data before it decides to relax restrictions. Politics will also play a role, especially after the criticism the government has faced regarding its handling of the pandemic. Boris Johnson’s government is under political pressure following testimony to MPs by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's former senior adviser Dominic Cummings. This might drive the government to adopt a more cautious approach to June 21.

Any delay will be seen by traders and markets as negative for the pound in the short-term as it could hurt business and consumer confidence while postponing the ability of the economy to recover fully. The fact that such concerns about the economy have also coincided with increasing public scrutiny of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, they could potentially drive the pound lower against both the US dollar and the euro.  

For this week then, the main drivers for the pound will be any signs showing that the government intends to fully lift Covid-19 restrictions on 21 June and any data regarding the impact of the Covid-19 “Indian variant”.

 

Are you transferring funds abroad?

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.