close

News WrapGet Handpicked Stories from our editors directly to your mailbox


Sterling scarred by Brexit turmoil; Asia shares cling to trade hopes

A foreign exchange broker works in front of an electronic monitor displaying major market indices at a dealing room in Tokyo. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Sydney NSW, Australia Nov 16, 2018, 08.38 AM (IST)

The British pound lay battered and bruised in Asia on Friday after a bout of political turmoil fanned fears the country could crash out of the European Union without a divorce deal.

Asian share markets fared better as hopes for a thaw in Sino-US trade relations gave Wall Street a fillip, though there were duelling reports on the prospects for an actual agreement.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was ahead 0.26 per cent in early trade, while Japan's Nikkei added 0.2 per cent.

Still, sterling stole the limelight after a rash of resignations rocked Prime Minister Theresa May's government and threw into doubt her long-awaited Brexit agreement just hours after it was unveiled.

Fears that May's hard-fought deal could collapse sent British markets into gyrations not seen since the June 2016 referendum on EU membership.

The pound suffered its biggest one-day loss against the euro since October 2016 and was last at 88.63 pence. Against the dollar, it was huddled at $1.2777 after shedding 1.6 per cent overnight.

Joseph Capurso, a senior currency strategist at CBA, listed just some of sterling's woes.

"If and when a vote on the withdrawal agreement occurs is uncertain. Whether the withdrawal bill is passed by both houses of Parliament is uncertain," Capurso said in a note.

"Whether the Prime Minister resigns or is challenged for the leadership is uncertain. And, whether there is a second referendum and/or an election is uncertain."

All of which helped British bonds rally sharply as investors wagered the political chaos and risk of a hard Brexit would deter the Bank of England from tightening anytime soon.

Yields on 5-year paper staged the largest one-day decline since the Brexit vote at almost 15 basis points.

DID HE? OR DIDN'T HE?

Absent the British drama, investors chose to be optimistic on the chance of progress on tariffs between the United States and China.

A Financial Times report said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has told some industry executives that another round of US tariffs on Chinese imports has been put on hold.

CNBC later reported that Lighthizer's office had denied the story, but markets were cheered anyway.

The benchmark S&P 500 index gained 1.06 per cent to snap five days of losses, while the Dow rose 0.83 per cent and the Nasdaq 1.72 per cent. 

The plunge in sterling lifted the dollar against a basket of currencies to 97.06, even as the euro firmed a touch to $1.1328.

Also underwater was the cryptocurrency Bitcoin which hit a one-year trough overnight after tumbling 10 per cent early in the week when support at $6,000 gave way. It was last changing hands at $5,563.46 on the Bitstamp platform.

In commodity markets, gold was up a shade at $1,214.30.

Oil prices regained a little composure after their recent drubbing, helped by a decline in US fuel stockpiles and the possibility of a cut in OPEC output. 

US crude was trading up 3 cents at $56.49. Brent crude was yet to trade but had ended Thursday up 58 cents at $66.70 a barrel.

Story highlights

Asian share markets fared better as hopes for a thaw in Sino-US trade relations gave Wall Street a fillip, though there were duelling reports on the prospects for an actual agreement.