HONG KONG – The pound struggled at 32-year lows against the dollar in Asia on Monday, January 16, after reports said British Prime Minister Theresa May was ready to take the country out of the European Union in a so-called “hard Brexit”.
Sterling’s retreat came with losses on most Asian stock markets as investors nervously await Donald Trump’s inauguration speech on Friday, January 20, having been left disappointed at his lack of detail on economic policy at a news conference last week.
A number of Sunday newspapers in the UK said May was willing to pull out of the single market, the European customs union and the European Court of Justice, in order to regain control of immigration.
The news sent sterling plunging to $1.1986, its lowest since October’s “flash crash” that sent it to $1.1841 – a level not seen since the start of 1985.
The unit later pared some of the losses to sit just above $1.20.
“The weekend reports were undoubtedly the factor that pushed the pound down,” said Nomura forex strategist Yoshitaka Suda. “Markets are watching what Britain does.”
The reports come as May prepares to give a speech Tuesday, January 17, on the government’s strategy on leaving the EU.
The PM aims to launch two years of departure talks when she triggers the Article 50 exit process by the end of March, although a legal challenge is still pending before the country’s Supreme Court.
Eyes on Trump speech
“Even if the pound recovers somewhat in London, it seems as though the realities of a hard Brexit are still not fully priced in,” Sean Callow, senior strategist at Westpac Banking Corp. in Sydney, told Bloomberg News.
“It is difficult to make the case for the pound to avoid testing, probably breaking, the ‘flash crash’ lows in coming weeks.”
Regional stock markets were also under pressure as dealers look ahead to Trump’s inauguration Friday with uncertainty. World equities surged after his election win in November on bets his plans for big infrastructure spending and tax cuts would fire the world’s top economy, and in turn the global economy.
But the lack of any definitive plan at last week’s briefing left many scratching their heads and worrying he might not fulfill his promises.
Tokyo ended 1% lower as a pick-up in the yen against the dollar hit exporters, while Hong Kong also shed 1% in the afternoon. Shanghai ended down 0.3%.
Seoul lost 0.6%, Singapore retreated 0.7% and Taipei slipped 0.9%, although Sydney edged up 0.5%.
Key figures around 0700 GMT
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.9% at 19,111.90 (break)
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.3% at 3,103.43 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 1.0% at 22,705.14
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2038 from $1.2190
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0627 from $1.0639
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 113.70 yen from 114.53 yen
Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP 6 cents at $52.43 per barrel
Oil – Brent North Sea: UP 6 cents at $55.51
New York – Dow: FLAT at 19,911.40 (close)
London – FTSE 100: UP 0.6% at 7,337.81 (close)
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