Brexit worries see sterling sink as European shares wilt
As a no-deal Brexit looms large, the pound sinks to a 28-month low, European stocks fall on grim German results and ahead of the US Fed meeting
London — Brewing no-deal Brexit worries sent the pound sinking towards a two-year low against the euro and roughed up Irish bonds on Tuesday, while stock markets wilted before what is expected to be the first cut in US rates since the financial crisis.
Europe’s markets suffered a stormy start as the pound followed its worst day of the year with another 0.5% swoon against all the major currencies.
A blizzard of fiery talk on Monday that included the new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling his predecessor’s Brexit plans dead and its new foreign minister labeling the EU “stubborn” kept the slide intact.
Sterling fell as far as $1.2120, which was its lowest against the dollar since March 2017, and to 91.85p/euro, the weakest since September 2017.
Options markets were pointing to more pain too. Three-month implied volatility, a contract that expires just before the October 31 Brexit deadline, jumped to more than 11 vols, the highest since before March 29, the original date for Britain to leave the EU.
“The pound is in a very precarious state, it is as simple as that,” said TD Securities’ European head of currency strategy Ned Rumpeltin. “We are now in a different regime,” he said, referring to Johnson’s explicit agenda of taking Britain out of the EU, whether or not transitional trading agreements are in place.
It was not just sterling reeling either. Irish government bond yield spreads over Germany hit their widest levels in more than a month at 24 basis points, on worries about the damage a no-deal Brexit would do to Ireland’s economy.
Other eurozone government bond yields were holding near recent lows ahead of the US Federal Reserve meeting, which is expected to deliver a 25 basis point rate cut on Wednesday and potentially signal more on the way.
Germany’s 10-year government bond yield was hovering near the minus 0.40% mark.
European shares slipped as grim forecasts from German chemicals and drugs giant Bayer and airline Lufthansa soured sentiment, although the weakness of the pound kept London’s blue-chip FTSE index just about out of the red.
With concerns about global growth still bubbling among investors, a GfK survey also showed German consumer morale worsening for the third month in a row heading into August as trade disputes bit in Europe’s biggest exporter.
“Most markets are down this morning,” said Simona Gambarini, a markets economist at Capital Economics. “The S&P closed lower yesterday. We have a few data releases regarding the eurozone that could push equity prices down but I think everyone is waiting for the Fed meeting.”
Asia had been a bit more positive overnight. Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.4%, showing limited reaction to the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) widely anticipated decision to stand pat on monetary policy. Shanghai rose 0.3% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng edged up 0.2%.
Australian stocks stole the glory again though with another record high, as buoyant mining shares added to tech-driven gains the previous day.
The BOJ added that it would ease policy again “without hesitation” if the economy loses momentum for achieving the central bank’s 2% inflation target.
Also drawing some attention were US-China trade negotiations which begin in Shanghai on Tuesday, although expectations for progress during the two-day meeting are low with the markets hoping the two sides can at least detail commitments for “goodwill” gestures.
Among commodities, crude oil prices extended the previous day’s gains, with the Fed’s expected easing fueling optimism that it would boost the economy and fuel demand in the world’s biggest oil consumer.
US crude futures were up 0.65% at $57.24 a barrel and Brent crude added 0.6% to $64.09. Gold was down 0.1% at $1,425 an ounce.