Tuesday was the day when the GBP fell to the bottom and rose to the top of our table but Wednesday it went from bottom to top then almost all the way back down again, ending the day up only against the friendless Aussie Dollar. GBP/USD hit a low around lunchtime in Europe of just 1.3910 as investors focused on Brexit uncertainties and soft-ish set of UK unemployment figures. As BoE Governor Carney and three MPC colleagues then gave evidence to Parliament on the quarterly Inflation Report, so the GBP recovered to almost 1.3990 as rate-hike headlines hit the newswires. But, on the realisation that none of this was actually fresh news, and reports emerged of further splits between the UK and Brussels, the GBP then shed half a cent into the London close.
In economic news, the UK unemployment rate ticked up to 4.4% in the three months to December, up from 4.3% (a four-decade low) and the number of people out of work rose by 46,000 to 1.47 million. But, the number of people in work also rose, by 88,000 during the quarter, to 32.147 million. The one-tenth rise in the unemployment rate was the first increase in two years but there was a 109,000 fall in the number of people classed as economically inactive, which helped lift the jobless rate. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Bank of England expectation was for an unemployment rate of 4.3%, a slight drop to “around 4.25%” up until Q3 and a further drop to 4.1% by the first quarter of 2021.
Later in the day, newspapers began to publish leaked details of a so-called ‘position paper’ which the UK Government has shared with EU member states. The document appeared to leave open the possibility of an open-ended transition. “The UK believes the period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future relationship,” the draft paper said. “The UK agrees this points to a period of around two years, but wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date”. According to the Financial Times, “The paper contradicts some key EU negotiating principles and raises the risk of failing to reach a transition deal before a March summit of EU leaders… As the fortunes of the GBP are just as closely linked to Brexit as to incoming economic data, the intra-day swings in the British Pound look set to continue for some time. It opens in Asia this morning at USD1.3965, GBP/AUD1.7795 and GBP/NZD1.8990.