October 22, 2019 / 4:49 PM / a month ago

Pound slips off 5-1/2-month high, braces for parliament Brexit votes

LONDON (Reuters) - Sterling pulled back from 5-1/2-month highs on Tuesday as markets priced in some uncertainty before crucial parliament votes on the government’s Brexit withdrawal bill that will determine whether Britain can leave the European Union on Oct. 31.

FILE PHOTO: Pound Sterling notes and change are seen inside a cash resgister in a coffee shop in Manchester, Britain, September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Files

It had earlier slipped as much as 0.5% after the BBC quoted a government source as saying the UK government planned to abandon Brexit legislation and hold an election by Christmas if parliament voted against the motion to rush the Brexit bill through in three days.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson then echoed this ultimatum to lawmakers when opening a debate before the vote.

Having touched the day's low of $1.2889, the pound then recovered to around $1.2953 GBP=D3. Versus the euro, sterling was little changed at 86.11 pence EURGBP=D3.

“(The BBC report) has made the market wary that it could see an increase in uncertainty if we head toward an election,” Lee Hardman, a strategist at MUFG, said.

He described it as a knee-jerk reaction, given the pound’s recent sharp rally.

The prime minister would need to win a vote to trigger an early election because one is not scheduled until 2022. That looks unlikely given he lacks a majority in the House of Commons.

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Lawmakers will vote at about 1800 GMT on the so-called Second Reading of Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and then on the government’s tight timetable for approving the legislation, also known as the “program motion.”

Defeat in either vote would scupper Johnson’s plans to leave the EU on Oct. 31. He is legally required under the Benn Act to accept any Brexit delay offered by the EU.

“For cable to break and sustain a level above $1.30, the bill needs to go safely through parliament. If there are any complications that’ll dampen the potential of the pound to strengthen much further,” MUFG’s Hardman said.

Markets now see the possibility of leaving without a deal as unlikely and that has boosted the pound about 6% since Oct. 10, lifting it to 5-1/2-month highs of $1.3012 on Monday.

(Graphic: Sterling near 5 month high, here)

Both the pound and British government bond yields have been lifted by fading expectations of interest rate cuts by the Bank of England.

Money markets now see only around a 60% chance of a 25 basis-point cut in December 2020. They had been fully pricing in a 25 basis-point cut next May as recently as Oct. 10, when Johnson made his Brexit breakthrough during a meeting with the Irish prime minister. [BOEWATCH]

(Graphic: Sterling short positions, here)

As the risk of a no-deal Brexit has faded, sterling implied volatility - the gauge of expected swings in a currency - has trended lower. But overnight implied volatility surged ahead of parliament’s votes to 24.3%, the highest since January 2019 GBPONO=FN.

Pound-dollar options expiring overnight lost little of their premium on Tuesday, suggesting that investors are still wary of moves in the pound after the votes.

Britain's domestically focused FTSE 250 .FTMC which has rallied in recent days, ended 0.64% lower, while 10-year Gilt yields dropped 10 basis points to 0.713% but partially retraced the move toward the end of the session GB10YT=RR.

Reporting by Tom Wilson and Elizabeth Howcroft in London; Editing by Mark Potter and Matthew Lewis

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