After flirting with the 0.75 area for a few days, EUR/GBP has pushed through on this morning’s weak industrial production data and has potential to start making real ground to the upside. Technically, there are some reasons for caution. Although last week saw a strong weekly close at the highest level for a year, we have had seven consecutive up weeks and the weekly channel top at 0.7525 hasn’t broken convincingly. But, if not now, when?
GBP has been overvalued for a long time, most particularly against the EUR, it’s largest trading partner. It is also a lot more overvalued than it looks, for two reasons. Firstly, because UK inflation has been much higher than inflation in other major economies since the financial crisis. While inflation has recently been subdued, CPI in the UK has risen 10% more than CPI in the US or the Eurozone since 2008. So 0.75 now is equivalent to 0.68 in 2008 in real terms. Secondly, the UK is running a current account deficit of 6% of GDP – the largest in the developed world – while the Eurozone is running a surplus of 3% of GDP. While the UK deficit has come about mainly because of declining UK investment income rather than a rising trade deficit, it won’t be closed by improved export performance at this level of GBP. Historically, current account positions DO matter for valuation over the long run, and the widening of the UK deficit suggests to us that long run fair value for EUR/GBP is more like 0.85 or 0.90 than 0.75.
But this has been the case for some time Why should GBP suffer now?
- The long awaited UK rate hike still seems to be disappearing into the distance as wage growth stalls, so those looking to buy GBP on yield spread grounds have little support in the short run.
- GBP has already fallen a long way against the USD, and while it may fall further, yield spreads between the US and Europe have also stalled or narrowed of late as US data has slightly disappointed since the Fed rate hike, so there seems limited downside for EUR/USD from here in the short run, suggesting at least as much GBP downside potential against the EUR
- The EU referendum question. The possibility of Brexit is clearly negative for GBP and while I personally think there will be a strong majority in favour of staying in the EU, the foreign investment that the UK needs to funds its current account deficit is unlikely to be too enthusiastic while the question is in the air.
- Policy wise, there is nothing the government or the Bank of England would like more than a weaker pound. They will never try to force it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little verbal encouragement of GBP weakness.
- A weak oil price is more supportive for the Eurozone than the UK, given the Eurozone is a much bigger net oil importer.
By the time we get to the referendum (maybe June) I expect we will already have seen the big decline in GBP, and we may see a recovery after the referendum if, as I expect, we get a vote to stay in. The recovery may start before the referendum if it looks like the “remain” campaign is going to win easily. There is no time like the present for the GBP bears to get the ball rolling.