The UK Pound’s (GBP) performance over recent months has been dismal. The currency has failed to show any real sign of recovery, having fallen to and below the psychologically important level of 1.50 against the USD. A number of factors including fiscal/debt concerns, political worries, and uncertainties about whether the Bank of England will step up asset purchases, have accumulated to turn even the most ardent GBP bulls into bears.
The outcome of the upcoming UK general election widely expected on May 6, remains a major weight on GBP sentiment. Until the outcome is clear or unless one or other party develops a clear lead in the polls, it is difficult o see GBP sustain any durable recovery. In the near term GBP/USD is vulnerable to a test of its 2010 low around 1.4780 and then towards 1.44. The risk to this is that the market is very short GBP which could result in a sharp bounce in GBP in the wake of any good news. However, a rally in GBP will only result in fresh sellers.
Ahead of the elections will be the budget and this will be closely scrutinized for steps to reduce the size of the burgeoning fiscal deficit. Whichever party comes into power will need to convince markets that a credible and timely plan exists to reduce the size of the deficit and prevent a sovereign ratings downgrade. If not, GBP could see itself under much more pressure. In this respect it’s worth noting the Fitch ratings warning that the UK sovereign credit profile has deteriorated.
It’s not all bad for GBP, however. By some measures it’s now the most undervalued major currency, opening up the possibility of a sharper bounce back over the medium term. Moreover, UK debt markets are already trading as if a ratings downgrade has taken place, whilst arguably GBP has also priced in a lot of negative news already, as reflected in the very negative speculative positioning in the currency.
The economic news is also not as bad as the headlines might suggest and although recent housing data has been a bit mixed, both consumer spending and the housing market have held up reasonably well. Bearing all this in mind GBP is set to recover over the medium term, but it would be very brave to buy the currency any time soon, at least until UK elections are out of the way.