October 31, 2019 / 9:49 AM / 11 days ago

Sterling on track for biggest monthly rise in a decade

LONDON (Reuters) - The pound rose above $1.290 on Thursday, heading for its biggest monthly rise in more than a decade as the combination of a weak dollar and the falling risks of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal fuelled demand.

FILE PHOTO: Some of the artwork details are seen on a large scale sample of the new twenty pound note during the launch event at the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate, Britain, October 10, 2019. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS

As the dollar was weakened by comments from the U.S. Federal Reserve after its interest rate cut on Wednesday, the pound strengthened to as much as $1.2975 on Thursday, closing in on a five-month high above $1.30 hit last week.

Against the more steady euro, the pound was up around 0.4% at 86.10 pence.

While the immediate catalyst for the pound’s gains was a cautious U.S. Federal Reserve, which kept the door open for further policy easing after cutting interest rates for the third time this year, the broader base for the pound’s rally this month was some progress on the Brexit deadlock.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has failed to deliver on his “do or die” promise that Britain would leave the EU on Oct. 31, secured agreement for an election on Dec. 12 after the EU granted a third delay to Brexit.

“It’s less sterling strength than euro and dollar weakness that’s driving the pound higher,” said Michael Hewson, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, citing some poor euro zone and U.S. economic data.

“(There are) a couple of opinion polls out which have given the Tories quite a significant lead (ahead of the UK election) - that’s prompting a bit of sterling bullishness - but I think it’s a bit premature to be counting one’s chickens just yet,” he added.

The pound rallied as much as 6% in the run-up to the EU summit at which a Brexit withdrawal deal was agreed, as investors took the risk of a no-deal Brexit off the table.

Hewson said the downside risk remains diminished because even if Johnson’s Conservatives win the election there is unlikely to be majority support within his party for a no-deal exit.

The Fed lowered its policy rate to 1.50%-1.75% on Wednesday, but dropped a previous reference in its statement to “act as appropriate” to sustain the economic expansion.

However, in the face of a worsening global economic outlook, CMC’s Hewson expects that markets will be pricing in another rate cut.

“While the Fed has taken the prospect of another rate cut off the table this year, I don’t think that perception will survive first contact with tomorrow’s non-farm payrolls report,” he said.

Graphic: GBP monthly changes - here

Reporting by Elisabeth Howcroft and Saikat Chatterjee; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Susan Fenton

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