Schotse afscheiding brengt Britse pond in grote problemen

Foto AP

De koers van de Britse pond daalt nu een meerderheid van de Schotten onafhankelijk wil worden. Als de Schotten daadwerkelijk afscheid nemen, komt de pond in nog grotere problemen.

Sterling dropped the most in more than a year versus the dollar as opinion polls highlighted the risk Scotland will vote for independence next week, potentially splintering the U.K.’s 307-year-old union.

Britain’s currency slid to the weakest against its U.S. counterpart since November after a poll by YouGov Plc showed the Scottish independence campaign gained a lead for the first time this year with the referendum due Sept. 18. A “Yes” vote would raise the prospect of a more cautious approach from the Bank of England, which this month kept its key interest rate at a record low as slowing inflation reinforced the case for maintaining emergency stimulus. U.K.government bonds were little changed.

“There seems to be plenty of scope for further pound declines given the pronounced degree of uncertainty and unknowns related to a break up,” said Derek Halpenny, the head of global-markets research at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in London, said via e-mailed comments. “A ‘Yes’ victory is still hardly priced in as this only has become a focus since the middle of last week when we had the first surprise poll. I see little upside for the pound now through to” Sept. 18.

The pound slid 1 percent to $1.6171 at 9:26 a.m. in London after reaching $1.6145, the weakest since Nov. 26. It was set for its biggest one-day decline since July 5, 2013. Sterling slid 1 percent to 80.08 pence per euro. The yield on 10-year (GUKG10) gilts was at 2.48 percent.

Market Roiled

Following months of surveys that showed Scotland was unlikely to vote to leave the U.K., the latest results have roiled the currency market. One-month implied volatility, a measure of future price swings used to determine the cost of options, surged to 9.315 percent, the most since August 2013.

“The referendum is on a knife edge,” Nick Stamenkovic, an Edinburgh-based fixed-income strategist at broker RIA Capital Markets Ltd., said yesterday. “Markets have been too complacent but are now waking up to the increased risk of Scotland voting for independence.”

The question of whether a go-it-alone Scotland will be able to keep the pound in partnership with the remaining parts of the U.K. has dominated the independence debate with all the major parties in London saying they would oppose it. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has argued they would change their view once negotiations began in the event of a vote favoring independence and has said Scotland would refuse to pay its share of the U.K. national debt if they didn’t give in.

RBS, Lloyds

A “Yes” vote for independence would prompt a significant increase in the volatility of U.K. assets, while the pound would fall against the euro and particularly the dollar, RIA’s Stamenkovic said in response to e-mailed questions.

Declines in the pound may spark losses for “stocks with cross-border flows and trade,” includingRoyal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and Lloyds Banking Group Plc, according to Jeremy Stretch, the head of foreign-exchange strategy at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in London. RBS shares were 4 percent lower in London trade, and those of Lloyds were down 3.4 percent.

“The risks are even higher” of a vote for independence after the latest polls, he said yesterday.

Uncertain Verdict

The latest YouGov survey for the Sunday Times showed “Yes” voters increased to 51 percent, while the “No” side dropped to 49 percent, when undecided respondents were excluded. A separate poll, published by Panelbase, showed the independence campaign still needed to overcome a four-point deficit to triumph.

All three main U.K. parties said they would cede more control over policy making to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh after the latest opinion poll. Salmond dismissed the move as a “bribe” that wouldn’t sway voters.

Sentiment was already turning against the pound before the jump in support for Scotland’s independence. It’s tumbled about 6 percent since touching $1.7192 on July 15, which was the strongest level since 2008. Sterling dropped 2.1 percent in the past month, the worst performer among 10 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg Correlation-Weighted Indexes.

Hedge funds and other large speculators are the least bullish on the pound since January, figuresfrom the Washington-based Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed. The difference in the number of wagers on an advance against the dollar compared with those on a decline was 9,448 contracts last week, down from a net-long position of as much as 56,412 in July that was the biggest since 2007. The data was compiled before the latest YouGov poll.

‘Severe’ Consequences

A win for Scottish nationalists may have “severe” consequences in the short term and spark a pound selloff, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist Kevin Daly said in a Bloomberg Television interview last week. BNP Paribas SA said a “Yes” vote would hurt U.K. government bonds and precipitate a credit-rating downgrade, while Standard Bank Plc’s head of Group-of-10 strategy Steve Barrow said it could push the pound down toward the mid-$1.50s.

“Given the importance of the vote on Sept. 18, the narrowness of the gap between the two camps and a market that, to date, has largely assumed that a ‘No’ vote was by far the most likely outcome, the danger is that the next few days sees a rush by investors to hedge their risks,” Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon Corp. in London, wrote in an e-mailed note. It could prove a “dangerous September” for the pound, he said.

U.K. government bonds returned 7 percent this year through Sept. 5, Bloomberg World Bond Indexes show. Bunds also earned 7 percent and U.S. Treasuries returned 3.9 percent.

    • Neal Armstrong & David Goodman