Anybody in the UK thinking of taking a holiday overseas has had to think twice over recent months given the precipitous drop in the pound (GBP) that took place since the beginning of August 2008. At the lowest point around six months after the British pound began its decline it had lost around a third of its value against the US dollar. Against the euro, sterling has fared even more poorly over a longer period, with GBP losing around 45% of its value from the beginning of 2007.
Since then GBP has recovered but has given back some of its gains over recent weeks against the dollar but has continued to weaken against the EUR. The worsening in GBP sentiment has been particularly well reflected in CFTC data on speculative positioning which revealed a drop to an all time low in GBP speculative contracts in contrast to EUR speculative contracts reaching close to the year high.
GBP faces headwinds from expectations that the Bank of England will extend its quantitative easing especially in the wake of recent data whilst news that the Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicted that the Bank of England (BoE) will keep its base rate unchanged until at least the end of 2011 came as another blow.
Although currencies are not particularly sensitive to interest rate movements at present it is unlikely to be long before the historically strong FX/interest rate relationship re-exerts itself and if UK policy is likely to remain accommodative for a prolonged period this could be detrimental to GBP’s recovery prospects. It seems unlikely that the BoE will wait as long as the CEBR predict before raising interest rates although a rate hike anytime in 2010 also looks unlikely.
There is at least some hope that aggressive UK monetary policy will deliver a relatively quicker economic recovery than in the eurozone where policy has arguably been much less aggressive and this relatively more positive cyclical picture will eventually result in some strengthening in GBP.
Nonetheless, the interim outlook continues to look bleak and sentiment is likely to continue to deteriorate over the short term. EUR/GBP now looks on path to retest its high reached at the end of 2008 at just over 0.98 (or around 1.02 for those that prefer to look at GBP/EUR) whilst GBP/USD appears to be heading for a move back below 1.55 and back to around 1.50.
Perhaps one of the only positive things that GBP has going for it at present is that looks very undervalued and when recovery does happen it could bounce back quite quickly and aggressively as markets cover their short positions. In the meantime, the good news of low interest rates will at least benefit borrowers and mortgage holders holding GBP denominated loans but not anyone in the UK wanting to take a holiday overseas.