Sterling hits two-week low on renewed Brexit worries

Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha. [Number 10/Flickr]

Sterling slipped to a two-week low on Wednesday (1 June), while the cost of hedging against volatility over the next month rose to its highest since 2009, on worries that the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union was gaining the upper hand.

On Monday (30 May), a poll published in The Guardian showed the ‘Leave’ vote at 52% against 48% for staying.

The poll matched the trend seen in other surveys.

For example, a Financial Times survey showed the ‘Stay’ vote still ahead, but the gap between the two narrowed to three percentage points from six points a week ago.

Uncertainty over the outcome of the referendum has hit the sterling. The pound sank by 1% against the US dollar and the euro on Tuesday (31 May).

The Sterling has been weighed down since late last year by worries that a June 23 referendum on EU membership will lead to a “Brexit”. Britain’s hefty current account deficit – 7% of output in the last quarter of 2015 – makes the economy, and the currency, vulnerable to any pull-back in investment flows, feared if it votes to leave the 28-nation bloc.

Brexit worries send pound plunging near 7-year low

The pound plunged Monday (22 February) as Prime Minister David Cameron warned that a vote to leave the EU this year would risk Britain’s economic and national security.

While a YouGov poll published on Wednesday showed British voters evenly split between “Remain” and “Leave ahead of the ballot, two surveys the previous day – one online and one
conducted via telephone – showed British voters had moved towards vote to leave the EU.

Bookmakers shortened their odds on a Brexit in response, with betting website Betfair putting the chances of a vote to leave at around 26% by Wednesday afternoon, having shown around a 17% chance last week after several polls put the “In” camp comfortably ahead.

The pound fell to $1.4405, its lowest in two weeks, leaving it down 0.6% on the day.

“Two further Brexit polls have weighed on the pound, as the currency’s sensitivity to these publications seemingly increases as the referendum date approaches,” said currency broker XTB analyst David Cheetham.

Against the euro, sterling fell 0.9% to 77.565 pence, its weakest since May 18. That also dragged it to a two-week low on a trade-weighted basis.

One-month sterling/dollar implied volatility, derived from options that cover the June 23 referendum date, rose to 20.6%, its highest level since the depths of the global financial crisis in early 2009, and up from around 17% a day earlier.

The pound’s implied volatility contract also rose to around 19%, also its highest since early 2009, according to Reuters data.

“We … expect the volatility in Cable (sterling/dollar) to continue rising in the coming days, given that polls just a few days before the vote may have a bigger market impact than they did previously,” said IronFX analyst Sakis Paraskevov.

Sterling subdued by Brexit uncertainty and UK rate outlook

Sterling traded below a recent one-month high against the dollar on Monday (8 February), as uncertainty about Britain’s place in the European Union and diminishing rate hike prospects kept investors cautious.

Subscribe to our newsletters