The British pound fell against the euro and US dollar, after the remarkable recovery it enjoyed during the first three months of the year. With the euphoria about the UK’s successful vaccination programme starting to wear off and a wider demand for the euro, the Sterling outlook is not looking as promising.

The pound performed very well against the euro in the opening quarter of 2021, but since February’s highs, it has dropped, suggesting that the Eurozone is performing comparatively better as the European coronavirus vaccination rates have increased. For many economists, further gains for the pound might prove to be difficult as most of the good news has already been priced in.

Bright Outlook for the Pound might be threatened

The UK economy managed to recover after a difficult 2020, as economists grew optimistic after the successful and rapid vaccine rollouts and the easing of the lockdown restrictions. The economy is expected to expand 5% this year, something that has boosted the pound the first quarter. The reopening of the economy has been now priced in, while the sell-off in UK government bonds, pushed yields higher and supported the pound. However, economists are questioning about how much higher the pound could possibly go. Foreign exchange analysts are warning that the UK is in a more difficult position than other economies due to the fact it was severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis earlier on, despite economic momentum accelerating. Additionally, there are worries about the potential impact of Brexit, with exports and imports with the EU having fallen dramatically in January.

The pound will find support if the UK manages to continue attracting investments such as cross-border mergers and acquisitions which are a significant part of the conditions required for continued growth.

Pound sensitive to BoE Andy Haldane’s departure

News that the Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane would be leaving the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee has also affected the pound. One of the reasons was that Haldane was a hawk on the MPC, supporting higher interest rates and being optimistic about the UK economy. A hawkish central bank is linked to a solid and strong currency, and as such his departure was interpreted as a crucial factor in the pound’s weakness. His views on the economy were seen as vital for boosting the pound in February.

With Haldane leaving, the MPC may now react to any forthcoming inflation risks a little later, but markets will need to wait and see who the new chief economist will be and reassess the new policy changes. For other economists, Haldane’s departure might not have a long-lasting effect on Sterling as there weren’t any plans of tightening the BoE policy in the coming months anyway.

The recent declines of the pound might also be short-lived as some economists expect the pound to continue its outperformance, particularly against the Euro.

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Sterling will continue to rise in the coming months, analysts are expecting, but they also warn a period of pause for the currency in the near term. Investors will be closely watching the release of crucial economic data this week as well as the next ones to find more evidence about the economy returning back to normality. With employment data out on Tuesday, inflation and PMI numbers out on Wednesday, and retail sales out on Friday, the current week will be a busy one.

Vaccination programme

With the vaccination rollout going smoothly and the UK being ahead of the rest of Europe, investors are waiting to see that the economy is improving. Any advances in Sterling during the coming months will be indicative of the country’s economic recovery and that the UK is exiting the pandemic in a sustainable manner due to the fast pace of the vaccine programme. Unlike the UK, Covid cases in Germany and France are rising and resulting in extended lockdown measures.

EU-UK trade deal

Also helping the pound is the renewed certainty in the government and Brexit after December’s trade deal. As economists noted, "We expect the Brexit deal will eventually reduce the uncertainty which has been weighing on especially UK businesses over many years now after the near-term adjustment to the new relationship is over. We believe Brexit has moved into the background now.” With less risks and more stability, the pound will continue to rise, however, analysts are cautioning that the currency might find it difficult to maintain its appreciation pace in the coming days and weeks. Especially, after the BoE kept a cautious tone and did not raise interest rates, despite recent positive data, markets might have already priced in the positive news and the pound might get stuck for a while. For many analysts, there is still hope, as the pound could move higher when it becomes clearer that it has exited the pandemic unscathed and strong.

In other words, the near-term pound behaviour will mostly depend on the economic data and whether there are strong numbers to boost market confidence. The coming weeks will be crucial in that regard.

UK economic data

Tomorrow, the release of UK employment data for December and inflation numbers on Wednesday will be closely watched by investors. After losing -114k jobs in November, the latest reading is expected to be disappointing indicating a loss of -170k jobs. These job losses are coming despite the extension of the furlough scheme into September.

The inflation numbers for February are expected to rise to 0.8% from 0.7% but the market will expect a higher move. A higher UK inflation number would then put pressure on the Bank of England to bring forward its rate hike plans when the economy reopens in June.

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The pound strengthened against the euro, due to positive market sentiment as a result of the intense and ongoing vaccination rollout programme. Goldman Sachs has speculated that the pound could even rise further against the euro.

Rishi Sunak’s Budget announcement boosts sentiment

Following the budget announcement, the Wall Street investment bank told its clients to trade in Sterling as the UK economy is expected to grow in the coming months.  UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget announcement last Wednesday revealed spending and taxation plans that were better than expected. Sunak announced that an additional £65 billion will be provided for spending, grants and tax breaks with the total additional spending and benefits reaching £352 billion. "The UK economy is well-positioned for the coming recovery," Goldman Sachs’ Zach Pandl said. "The support program laid out by the government surprised consensus expectations to the upside, and included a number of economic incentives aimed at medium-term investment." Most economists believe that supporting the economy generously during the covid crisis will help the economy grow stronger faster and avoid any long-term negative effects.  

Vaccination programme also offers support to pound

Goldman Sachs’ economist Pandl also noted that the UK’s vaccination programme has helped the economy. He said: "Solid household and business balance sheets should soon translate into robust growth, as the UK’s strategy of prioritising getting more people vaccinated with a single dose appears to be paying dividends. We are therefore keeping open the short EUR/GBP component of our long GBP/CHF cross trade.”

Britain has outperformed on its vaccination programme, especially when compared to other European countries, with more than 21 million people having received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

UK business confidence hits 12-month high

The UK’s fast vaccination programme has also had a positive effect on businesses’ confidence. According to the latest Business Trends report from accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP, service sector confidence jumped in February to its highest level since the pandemic began.

BDO’s Services Optimism Index rose to 94.13 in February from 86.60 in January, back towards the long-term average of 100. This is the highest reading in 12 months for the survey, which covers a a wide range of industries from retail and hospitality to professional services.

Also, according to polling firm YouGov, British consumer confidence has risen to its highest level since the coronavirus pandemic started, according to polling firm YouGov. YouGov reported that  consumer confidence rose to 105.4, driven by expectations for house prices, business activity, and household finances over 2022.

The governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, has also expressed optimism about the economy but also cautioned for unrealistic expectations, as life will not return to pre-Covid levels. He noted that there is a “growing sense” of economic optimism building. He said that Covid has hurt demand and supply which some of the structural changes in the last year will not really change.

Bailey said: “The best we can say is that how the output gap develops in the recovery from Covid will depend on the net effect of the two [demand and supply], both of which will need to move by more than in normal recoveries. There is another element to this part of the story which is hard to assess at present, namely to what extent the more structural changes we have seen during the Covid crisis will persist, and what effect they will have on the recovery? In general, however, economists remain optimistic and the pounds recent surge owes a lot to the government’s successful vaccination programme.

 

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If you are transferring funds overseas, contacting a currency specialist could save you time and money. Whether you are sending money to family or paying 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 personal or business’ transfer needs.

The UK’s successful vaccination rollout programme, along with the BoE’s decision not to lower interest rates, have boosted market sentiment about the UK’s speedy economic recovery and pushed the pound higher. The pound is trading almost close to a nine-month high against the euro, and at a 33-month high against the dollar. It is almost getting closer to its highest levels in over three years.

Rabobank’s Jane Foley said: “GBP bulls have been flexing their muscles since the start of the year based on relief about the EU/UK trade deal and on hopes that the relatively rapid vaccine roll-out programme will lead to a fairly fast economic recovery this year.”

Weaker dollar

The pound’s strength is a result of it capitalising on the US dollar’s losses. The prospect of a major new US stimulus package has weakened the dollar, which continued to fall lower after last week’s disappointing US payrolls report. The wider increased confidence has turned investors away from the safe haven dollar and towards riskier assets.

JP Morgan explained that "The broader USD continues to trade with a much softer tone, drivers seem to be the relentless CNH bid into Chinese New Year and the fact that US yields backed aggressively off key levels and have now calmed down." According to JPMorgan, the USD selling by Chinese traders has also push the dollar lower, a move that is highlighting the importance of the Chinese Yuan in broader market movements.

The past three days’ weakness of the dollar shows that the recent dollar rally has come to an end and that the trend of depreciation has come back into play. JP Morgan said: "We added to our modest sterling longs yesterday via GBP/USD and look for this move to keep going at least until the end of the week (Chinese New Year on Friday).”

Quick vaccinations and market optimism

The UK economy might experience its troubles, but the swift pace of vaccinations suggests that economic recovery will be stronger and faster. The vaccination programme will soon impact health outcomes and boost the Bank of England’s positive outlook. If the Bank shows further optimism and investors are upbeat about economic prospects, then the pound will rise higher.

The general positive market sentiment has helped the pound, as it has become linked to risk appetite during the crisis.

With downside risks for Sterling expected and priced in, analysts see further potential for the pound as the vaccination rollout continues strong. As NatWest Markets analysts said, a "quicker pace of vaccine roll-out will likely lend support to Sterling.” However, they expect any pound increases to be short-lived, as the UK economy struggles post-Brexit.

The Bank of England has said that a strong economic rebound is possible once the lockdown restrictions are lifted and consumers start spending again.

Are you Transferring Funds Abroad?

If you are transferring funds overseas, contacting a currency specialist could save you time and money. Whether you are sending money to family or paying 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 personal or business’ transfer needs.