LONDON (Reuters) - The pound rose on Friday and was set to snap a record losing streak against the euro after British Prime Minister Theresa May set out a departure date after failing to push through a Brexit divorce deal.
Trading was volatile as concerns rose that she is likely to be succeeded by a eurosceptic leader, potentially increasing the chances of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
“The pound can therefore breathe a sigh of relief temporarily, and it now remains to be seen how her successor will position himself,” said Marc-André Fongern, a strategist at MAF Global Forex in Frankfurt.
While it is not yet known who her successor will be - the process to elect a new party leader will begin next month - markets are concerned that a tougher stance with the European Union might prompt investors to turn more negative on the outlook for the pound in the coming months.
Those concerns have pulled the rug from under the pound over the last two weeks, prompting traders to sell the currency against the euro and the dollar aggressively and dialling up expectations of Britain leaving the EU without a deal to smooth the transition.
“None of this should come as a surprise to currency markets, and as such should already be priced in, with the pound already looking a little firmer in early trading,” said Michael Hewson, chief markets analyst at CMC Markets based in London.
Against the dollar, the British currency rose as much was 0.4% higher at $1.2719 after her announcement. But it gave up much of its gains in the late European session to trade up 0.1% on day.
Versus the euro, the pound climbed as much as a third of a percent stronger at 88.05 pence after 14 consecutive days of losses as traders trimmed back some of their negative bets on the pound before a long weekend.
Britain’s markets are shut on Monday for a holiday.
Recent falls in the pound have been pronounced because investors have cut back their positions on the pound to neutral, removing any potential support for the British currency. (See graphic tmsnrt.rs/2WW8QBb)
Still, derivative markets were broadly quiet with risk reversals on the pound holding near recent lows while one-month volatility indicators remained subdued.
The leading contenders to succeed May all want a tougher divorce deal, although the EU has said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Treaty it sealed in November.
Boris Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in 2016, is the favourite to succeed May. Betting markets put a 40% implied probability on Johnson winning the top job.
Strategists at OANDA, a futures brokerage, say if Boris Johnson becomes the next prime minister, the pound could fall as far as $1.20, a level not seen since the first quarter of 2017.
-- Graphic: World FX rates in 2019 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh
-- Graphic: Trade-weighted sterling since Brexit vote tmsnrt.rs/2hwV9Hv
Reporting by Saikat Chatterjee; Additional reporting by Sujata Rao and Thyagaraju Adinarayan; Editing by Janet Lawrence