UK sterling takes pounding amid no-deal Brexit fears

The British sterling took a pounding yesterday as it sank to a two-year low, extending its tumble against the Singapore currency.

Analysts expect the trend to continue for a few more months.

Yesterday, one pound could buy S$1.6695, which is 4 per cent less compared with S$1.7355 at the start of the year.

Analysts foresee the slide of the sterling to continue till towards the end of the year, when it will start to rise.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said markets are reacting to the hardline Brexit approach taken by new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who assumed office on July 24.

Since then, the sterling had dropped 6.7 per cent, Mr Song noted, pointing out that Mr Johnson, who seems intent on taking Britain out of the European Union, had formed a Cabinet that is working towards a no-deal Brexit.

"The risk of a no-deal Brexit has increased. The market does not like any risk at this juncture," he added.

Mr Song said the British economy had held up better than expected since "the Brexit mess".

He pointed to low unemployment figures and stable wage growth as healthy indicators of its economy. Property and housing markets may have soft spots, but they "have not tanked", he added.

Mr Saktiandi Supaat, regional head of foreign exchange research and strategy at Maybank, said: "We expect (sterling-Singdollar) to potentially break 1.65 and head lower in the short term but eventually rise back towards 1.70 by the end of this year on the back of a weaker Singdollar and (sterling's) positive developments."

Mr Saktiandi also said the EU may be more willing to renegotiate with Mr Johnson if he could convince more British Members of Parliament of the benefits of Brexit.

"At this stage, hard Brexit fears will ease and soft Brexit hopes will possibly take over, and this will be positive for the sterling."

Mr Barakath Ali, first vice-president of the Money Changers Association (Singapore), said there has been no significant increase in the sale of the British currency.

Mr Barakath, who is also managing director of Aramex International Exchange at High Street Centre, said: "Buyers are on the sidelines, not rushing to buy. They are anticipating (sterling) rates to drop further."

The last time the British pound nosedived was in October 2016 when it shed 6 per cent to S$1.666. Possible causes of the unexpected drop included rogue computer trades, an accidental "fat finger" transaction and tough comments from then French President Francois Hollande on Brexit negotiations, said British newspaper The Guardian.

Fat finger transactions are caused by pressing a wrong computer key when inputting data.

Correction note: An earlier version of the story stated that one pound could buy S$1.6695, which is 4 per cent more than at the start of the year. It should be 4 per cent less. We are sorry for the error.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2019, with the headline UK sterling takes pounding amid no-deal Brexit fears. Subscribe