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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While investors have been preparing for a Brexit deal as early as next week, official briefings on Thursday and Friday are expected to cause volatility. On Thursday, the pound fell as global markets turned cautious after a “media report that EU leaders will demand the European Commission publish its plans for what will happen if there is no deal,” Reuters reported.

On Thursday, EU leaders will address outstanding issues like fisheries and “level playing field” provisions as they meet via a video call. Executive Vice President of the European Commission Valdis Dombrovskis said: "We're in the final push. There are still important elements to be resolved, substantial work to do. We've seen many deadlines come and go but there's one we'll not be able to move - Jan 1. We're now in the last moments."

Bloomberg News reported that a new trade agreement between the UK and Canada, could come as early as Thursday: “Reports that the UK and Canada are very close to reaching a post-Brexit trade deal are undoubtedly good news for both economies, but with time dangerously running out on a EU-UK trade deal, sterling is struggling to react positively to the news.”

Thursday and Friday to create pound volatility

The Sun newspaper’s Nick Gutteridge said that France will be determined to retain its access to UK waters post-Brexit and if it does not move on fisheries this could create more anxiety for markets. The UK is said to expect a final push from various leaders in the summit as they put more pressure on the UK for more concessions. Thursday’s summit might have a negative impact on the pound as markets reconsider the possibility of a deal.

On Friday, EU Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will brief European representatives of the EU's 27 member states, and markets will be closely watched for any signs of a deal. UK Chief Negotiator David Frost had told Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday that a deal was possible as early as next week.

How the pound will react?

“Observers still expect a deal early next week or in the first week of December. Market participants are similarly not that concerned over the risk of No Deal Brexit at this point in time,” wrote MUFG strategist Lee Hardman. “There is likely to be a much larger pound move to the downside if both sides fail to reach a deal (-5% to -10%), while we expect a modest move to the upside for the pound if a deal is finalized (+1% to +4%),” he said.

Analysts at UBS noted that there will be a "meaningful bounce" in the Pound if a deal is signed: "The latest news flow points to an agreement being struck just in time for ratification by the EU Parliament. Given markets - and hedge funds specifically - are relatively under-positioned for such an outcome, we’d expect a meaningful bounce for GBP on even a confirmed ‘skinny deal’ outcome." But a positive outcome also means good news for the pound and the UK economy which they tend to benefit if the global economy is doing well. The UBS analyst stated: "This is intuitive given the degree of openness of the UK economy and bodes well for a recovery in global growth into 2021. Naturally, the link has weakened since the 2016 referendum, but cheap valuations offer some hope of at least a partial snap-back in compensation. And the UK economy stands to benefit more than most in 2021 as it was hit particularly hard by this year’s pandemic.”

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Pound volatility is expected to be high today and on Monday as the markets await Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision on whether the UK stays or leaves the Brexit negotiating table.

In the meantime, England is dealing with the rise of new Covid-19 cases and restrictions which will come into force under the government’s new three-tier system with London facing tighter restrictions from midnight on Friday.

Under this generalised gloomy climate, investors are waiting to hear whether the UK will continue with the Brexit talks. Last month, Johnson had set a deadline for a possible deal for the 15th October, and said that if nothing had been agreed, both sides should “accept that and move on.”

At a Brussels summit on Thursday, the EU proposed “two to three weeks” of negotiations. Investors are now closely watching to see whether the PM will try and resume the negotiations or stick to his threats and walk away.

Brexit pessimism pushed the pound lower against the US dollar, while it remained flat against the euro. At the same time, the prospect of tighter lockdown restrictions could further hurt the pound and threaten economic recovery. Jasper Lawler, head of research at LCG, said that more lockdown measures could push the UK and European economies into a deep recession: “The British government is under pressure to follow scientific advice for a 2-week circuit breaker national lockdown but has so far resisted, but has raised the capital to the Level 2 tier of restrictions. That means two different families can no longer mix indoors- be that in their home or in a pub or restaurant. There is still no sign of the joint European recovery fund so in the meantime economies stand to take the hit – risking a double dip recession – from the new restrictions.”

Angela Merkel urges Boris Johnson to keep negotiating over Brexit

The German chancellor has urged Boris Johnson to continue and not to walk out of the trade and security negotiations. In her comments that were designed to calm the atmosphere, Merkel said that both sides needed to find common ground: “In some places things have moved well, in other places there is still a lot of work to be done. We have asked the United Kingdom to remain open to compromise, so that an agreement can be reached. This of course means that we, too, will need to make compromises.” Her comments also come after Thursday’s summit where French president, Emmanuel Macron, demanded that the UK accept the bloc’s conditions or face a no-deal exit.

The EU had proposed a further “two to three weeks” of negotiations as the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier is scheduled to be in London on Monday to continue negotiations. Like Merkel, Barnier also said that the EU wants to give every chance to the negotiations so they are successful: “We’re available, we shall remain available until the last possible day.”

The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, expressed his disappointment after Thursday’s summit and tweeted: “Disappointed by the conclusions on UK/EU negotiations. Surprised EU is no longer committed to working ‘intensively’ to reach a future partnership as agreed with [the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen] on 3 October. Also surprised by suggestion that to get an agreement all future moves must come from UK. It’s an unusual approach to conducting a negotiation.”

The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said that a deal was still possible: “We’ve been told that it must be the UK that makes all of the compromises in the days ahead, that can’t be right in a negotiation, so we’re surprised by that, but the prime minister will be saying more on this later today. Having said that, we are close [to a deal]. With goodwill on both sides we can get there.”

While challenges remain when it comes to the Brexit negotiations with the level playing field, fisheries, and governance, still unresolved, many are positive that there could be an agreement if significant work is done.

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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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Fears that Britain will leave the European Union without any trade agreement sent the pound to new 5-1/2-month lows on Friday, despite the UK economic recovery and a new trade deal with Japan. Businesses are as worried as ever as Boris Johnson’s government continues to defy calls from the EU to be more flexible and meet its demands. With Johnson’s latest controversial bill, businesses that export and import goods from/to Ireland are in a precarious position.

Theresa May, the former prime minister, asked: “How can the government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?”

Worst week for the pound

Reuters reported that this is the worst week for the pound both against the euro and the dollar since mid-March. The fall was the result of reports that “Brussels has stepped up planning for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government refused to revoke an ultimatum on breaking the divorce treaty which Brussels says will sink four years of Brexit talks.”

Klaus Baader, global chief economist at Societe Generale said: “The probability between a deal and no-deal are definitely shifting towards a no deal -- that is very clear. The risk of a no-deal is increasing every day.” Morgan Stanley also said that the risk of Britain exiting on “WTO terms” had risen to 40% compared to 25% earlier.

UK Rejects EU’s Demands, as Brexit Uncertainty Increases

The EU has warned the UK that the controversial elements of the Internal Market Bill are illegal and that it will need to remove them by the end of the month. Tories have also criticised Boris Johnson’s proposed Internal Market Bill, which will be debated on Monday by MPs in the House of Commons.

The new bill puts into question the Northern Ireland protocol, which is part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement approved in January. The protocol ensures that the province will come under the European Union’s single-market rules in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland. However, the new law would give UK ministers the right to change rules regarding the movement of goods if the UK and EU are unable to reach a trade deal. A government spokesman said that the bill will "ensure the government can always deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland". The bill tries to bypass the formal discussions and bend the rules to deliver Brexit at all costs.

The EU said that these new changes needed to be removed as they jeopardise the UK-EU trade talks. But the government has defied the EU saying that the PM’s proposed bill seeks to protect the “integrity of the UK and the peace process in Northern Ireland.”

On Monday, informal talks between the two sides will resume as differences remain and Brexit appears as uncertain as ever. With the UK government referring to the EU’s lack of realism, one would perhaps question whether discussions will reach any agreement or things would soon diverge even further.

The next official round of talks will begin on 28 September.

Positive News Fails to Lift the Pound

News that the UK has struck its first major “historic” post-Brexit trade deal with Japan has done little to offer substantial support to the pound. The deal will boost trade by about £15bn and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said that it would bring "new wins" for British businesses in manufacturing, food and drink, and tech industries. However, critics said that the deal will only slightly boost the UK GDP by only 0.07%, which is not comparable to the trades that will be lost by leaving the EU. Britain said that 99% of its exports to Japan would be tariff-free.

But neither this news helped support the pound, neither the fact that the Office for National Statistics reported that UK economic output grew by 6.6% in July as pubs, restaurants and other sectors reopened.

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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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Trade Secretary Liz Truss said that countries outside the EU want Britain to “get on with” Brexit in order to begin striking free trade deals. This of course does not mean that Britain is in a desperate situation, as a Bloomberg article argues. In fact, London remains the epicentre of the financial world and Brexit just cannot simply erase London's “trading allure,” according to foreign-exchange market data.

Liz Truss on Tour

During her tour of Australia, New Zealand and Japan, Liz Truss said that senior figures she met in these countries expressed their desire to reach agreements with the UK very "quickly.” She said: "They just want us to get on with it. And what they care about is deepening our relationships with them. And also they want Britain to be at the table at the World Trade Organisation making the case for free trade."  

In the process of drawing a post-Brexit trade agreement with Japan, Truss argued that Brexit would be a positive thing, attracting new businesses to Britain and she called such businesses to express their views on what the deal should contain. Truss clarified that countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the US were considered "like-minded" countries with which the UK can begin striking its trade deals after Brexit. She said: that these are “all countries who are like minded, they're democracies, they believe in free enterprise and free trade, and we want to work with them to promote those ideas across the world." This is important for Britain in order to reach bilateral trade agreements in areas such as financial services, artificial intelligence and technology.

In regards to foreign leaders’ "massive enthusiasm" to strike trade deals with the UK, Truss said: "In Australia, from the Prime Minister downwards, everybody in the government is very, very keen to move forward with the deal with the UK, and restore some of those historic ties, which may have been diminished while we were part of the EU. The way I see it is that Australia and New Zealand are old friends ... with which we've got new opportunities." She continued: "There is a real enthusiasm for getting on with it. I heard that today from ministers in Japan. They want the deal done as quickly as possible. And I heard it in New Zealand and Australia as well." 

Delivering Brexit

She noted that ministers needed to resurrect the public’s lost trust in delivering Brexit on time despite previous delays. Truss warned that voting alongside Jeremy Corbyn was "hugely problematic" and that Tory MPs needed to be "backing the prime minister to the hilt."

Truss urged that now is the time that "we need to be looking forward and looking at the opportunities of Brexit. I think there's too much navel gazing going on at the moment about what's happened in the past. The whole point of Brexit is taking control over any rules and regulations, being able to strike free trade deal for the first time in 45 years. There's a huge world out there, which is incredibly enthusiastic about that potential and possibility. And that's what we will move on to."  

She underlined that, "We simply need to deliver Brexit. And the Prime Minister is being very clear. He won't be seeking extension, we are going to leave the European on the 31st of October. And that takes the wind out the Brexit Party sails."  

London remains the “epicentre” of the financial world

For Truss, getting on with Brexit cannot be disastrous, and this is also supported by a recent article by Bloomberg columnist John Authers. According to Authers, Brexit cannot diminish London’s appeal as a global financial centre. As he writes, “The foreign exchange market remains by far the world’s largest and deepest. It is where the world’s financial imbalances are resolved. And London’s grip on that market remains stronger than ever. Amazingly, given that London’s access to the EU’s financial markets will be weakened under virtually any version of Brexit, its hold over foreign exchange trading has only tightened in the three years since the referendum.”

While many banks and investors might have arranged to move part of their operations to Paris or Frankfurt, the truth is that they have not yet done so. Authers points out to the latest findings of the Bank of International Settlements’ triennial survey of the foreign exchange and interest rate derivatives markets, published last week, and which shows the market shares of the U.K and the U.S., of all foreign exchange trading.

As the survey shows, London hasn’t lost its appeal, and this is due to certain advantages. It is, in fact, that London’s natural trading day “overlaps at least a little with the main markets in Asia and the U.S.,” as well as the use of the English language, and mainly the “huge pool of FX-knowledgeable talent,” that continue to give it an advantage. As Authers admits, against his own beliefs, is that the survey surprisingly proves that the Brexit vote has not yet caused “irreparable damage to the City of London.”

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