Crucial day for exchange rates: Euro, USD, AUD

Friday 9th December 2011
Good morning. It was a very choppy day indeed in the currency markets yesterday, with an interest rate cut in the Eurozone and negative comments by the ECB president weakening the Euro and strengthening safe haven currencies. We saw Sterling/Euro rates gain however Sterling/US Dollar rates dropped significantly, as the charts below show:

~Currency movements yesterday~

Bank of England leave rates and QE on hold

Yesterday the Bank of England‘s (BoE) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted to keep interest rates on hold at 0.5%, and announced no change to its Quantitative Easing (QE) programme. There was little reaction in the currency markets to the rate decision given many investors had already positioned for it to be unchanged. As the decisions were as predicted, there was no real change for the Pound, however there probably will be more QE in the coming months, putting Sterling at risk.

“There will be more asset purchases at some point next year, the UK economy is definitely fragile and needs easing,” said Ankita Dudani, G10 currency strategist at RBS.

QE is seen as negative for sterling because it involves flooding the market with pounds and reducing demand, thus lowering exchange rates.

European Central Bank (ECB) cut interest rates

The ECB yesterday decided to cut interest rates down to 1%. This was widely expected, and there was little effect on the markets, and in fact the Euro gained a little strength after the decision. This was not to last however, as the ECB presient Mario Draghi ruled out any substantial aid for any ailing and indebted eurozone states, and this had quite an impact on exchange rates. Mr Draghi confirmed that the decision was not made unanimously.

ECB President’s comments significantly weaken the Euro, strengthen the US Dollar

There had been speculation amongst analysts that the ECB may be preparing to bail out Italy, however Mr Draghi ruled this out during the post interest rate decision press conference: “We have a treaty that says no monetary financing to governments.”

The euro weakened significantly as soon as he made the comments, and fell more than a cent against the dollar, while Sterling/Euro rates rose on the news. Looking at the charts above, you can clearly see the effect of his comments around 1pm. Sterling/Euro rose as the single currency weakened, and this also drove investors to the safe haven US Dollar. When there is uncertainty, investors buy the US Dollar, and this in turn strengthens it becoming more expensive to purchase. The charts reflect this and this also explains why GBP/EUR rose while GBP/USD fell.

EU summit ends today

The moves from the ECB yesterday come ahead of a “do-or-die” Brussels summit of European Union heads to hammer out a deal on how to tackle the eurozone debt crisis, including a potential new treaty. The 2 day EU summit ending is expected to agree tough new rules and automatic fines to ensure that eurozone governments cut their borrowing to below 3% of their GDP.

There is a very good and detailed article here on the BBC website that explains the ins and outs of the summit.

So what effect will the EU summit have on exchange rates?

The short answer is nobody knows. If the summit agrees on measures that the markets think will put an end to speculation on the future of the Euro, then we could see the Euro strengthen and GBP/EUR rates falling. If however there is no consensus reached, this could leave the markets wondering what will happen with countries like Greece and Italy.

If Greece were to default and exit the eurozone the consequences could be dire; a run on Greek banks, contagion spreading to other eurozone banks and Greeks facing even worse hardship than now, with the cost of imports rocketing. The priority is to reassure investors enough to halt the rise in eurozone bond yields. The leaders believe they can do that, so long as heavily indebted countries like Greece stick with deep cuts in spending and other austerity measures.

With regards to exchange rates, tomorrows developments will likely have an effect one way or the other. Put simply, if problems are solved, GBP/EUR could fall and GBP/USD could rise. If there is continued uncertainty, GBP/EUR could remain supported and GBP/USD could fall further.

What you should do to ensure you get the best exchange rates

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