GBP broke its amazing winning run in early February, setting it up for a potentially soft opening last Monday morning as the weekend Press was predictably negative about UK politics and the progress of Brexit negotiations. GBP/USD began at 1.41 exactly, and against a persistently stronger USD, fell to a low on both Wednesday and Thursday of 1.3850. In his appearance before a House of Lords Select Committee last week, BoE Governor Carney had hinted that the Bank was preparing to upgrade the forecasts in its Inflation Report and this is exactly what happened; albeit the language was more aggressive than had been expected. GBP/USD surged more than 1½ cents from 1.3890 to a high just over 1.4050. So far, so easy to explain…. Within the space of four hours, however, as the carnage continued in US asset markets, GBP/USD had reversed all its gains, coming back to its launching point with what we described as, “the precision of a Falcon-Heavy booster”. GBP was still the best performer of the day although its 200+ pip gains against both the AUD and NZD were more than halved.
In revising up both its UK and world growth forecasts, the Bank of England said that, “Over the past year, a steady absorption of slack has reduced the degree to which it was appropriate for the MPC to accommodate an extended period of inflation above the target. Consequently, at its November 2017 meeting, the Committee tightened modestly the stance of monetary policy in order to return inflation sustainably to the target. Since November, the prospect of a greater degree of excess demand over the forecast period and the expectation that inflation would remain above the target have further diminished the trade-off that the MPC is required to balance. It is therefore appropriate to set monetary policy so that inflation returns sustainably to its target at a more conventional horizon. The Committee judges that, were the economy to evolve broadly in line with the February Inflation Report projections, monetary policy would need to be tightened somewhat earlier and by a somewhat greater extent over the forecast period than anticipated at the time of the November Report, in order to return inflation sustainably to the target.”
In his subsequent Press Conference, the Governor was keen to play down the scale and speed of interest rate hikes and despite much probing from journalists, refused to agree that interest rates are likely to rise in May. The Statement noted, “Any future increases in Bank Rate are expected to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent”. Market pricing doesn’t yet have a May hike as a done deal, though the implied probability of a 25bp increase has increased from just under 50% to something nearer 70%. All this, of course, is predicated on two Brexit factors - that there is “a smooth transition”, and that it leads to an “average of potential outcomes”. By Friday, rate hike talk had been pushed into the background as EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier warned that a transition period immediately after Brexit in 2019 is "not a given". He outlined continuing disagreements between the UK and EU over issues like freedom of movement during the period and said the UK's decision to leave the EU single market and customs union meant border checks at the Irish border were "unavoidable". GBP/USD fell to a 3-week low of 1.3770 on Friday and the pound ended the week at USD1.3820, GBP/AUD1.7690 and GBP/NZD1.9060.