Traders see trouble for U.K. pound

Stephen Beard Mar 22, 2010

Traders see trouble for U.K. pound

Stephen Beard Mar 22, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: Here’s the latest update on the Greek debt crisis for you: Nothing. At least nothing substantive today. The sniping back and forth over who needs to bail out whom does continue, though. As do worries over the future of the euro. And what might be the next speculative target — the British pound.

From London, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: Currency trading is the biggest financial market on the planet. And utterly pitiless. Traders coldly size up whole countries, looking for fatal flaws. Lately they’ve been eying the U.K., and its widening budget deficit.

David Buik of the BGC group…

DAVID BUIK: The market doesn’t believe that the U.K. government is prepared to cut the borrowing requirement substantially. And that’s why the pound’s under pressure.

Britain’s budget deficit is 12.6 percent of GDP, about as bad as that of Greece.

Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight says the country’s creditworthiness is at risk.

HOWARD ARCHER: If credible decisions are not taken as to how to reduce the budget deficit in the U.K., the U.K. could lose its triple-A rating from the credit agencies.

He says no credible decisions have been taken because the U.K. faces a general election within weeks, and neither the government nor the opposition wants to prescribe the necessary medicine.

ARCHER: Spending cuts and tax hikes are not exactly vote winners.

Now there’s an added problem.

Stefan Szymanski, professor of economics at Cass Business School, says opinion polls suggest the election will be indecisive. That no one party will win control of parliament.

STEFAN SZYMANSKI: That represents a worry to the markets because they believe that without any single party in overall control, necessary action will not be taken to reduce the public debt.

The pound is a tempting target for the traders. It’s already fallen 10 percent against the dollar this year. Some analyst say it could fall a further 20 percent. Speculators could make millions. They’ve done it before.

NORMAN LAMONT: Today has been an extremely difficult and turbulent day. Massive speculative flows have continued to disrupt…

Former finance chief Norman Lamont. The date: September 16th, 1992. A wave of speculation sent the pound into freefall. In the space of a week, Financier George Soros made $1 billion out of it. But not everyone believes the pound is now destined for a similar thrashing.

David Bloom of HSBC says the U.K. is not the only country with problems.

DAVID BLOOM: With the situation in Greece, in Portugal, in Ireland, and Spain — this is also problematic. We have a midterm election in the U.S. in November. This is also problematic. The whole world’s got problems.

Not much of a recommendation, admits Bloom, but the U.K. looks just about as bad as many of its competitors.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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