The pound held its ground Wednesday and London’s FTSE opened higher after the record defeat of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan, as investors consider the next developments in the long-running saga.
Sterling tanked to a near two-year low soon after the government’s proposal on leaving the European Union was soundly beaten Tuesday evening, but it soon bounced back as traders bet there would not be a “no-deal” exit.
And while it was slightly lower in Asia, the pound managed to avoid the sort of pummelling many had predicted, and analysts say the positive news is that the options for the future are narrowing.
With May expected to win a vote of no confidence called by the opposition Labour Party on Wednesday, talk will move to what happens next.
Analysts say May could ask to delay Britain’s March 29 exit from the bloc as she looks for a more palatable agreement from her EU peers, while there is growing speculation of a general election and even another referendum.
“Momentum is shifting away from the harder Brexit route and towards a number of options ranging from postponement and second referendum. That is pound supportive,” said Gavin Friend at National Australia Bank.
But he added: “I don’t see the pound rallying much until markets are sure the (ruling) Conservatives have seen off the confidence motion.”
Meanwhile, some warned London may still leave the bloc without a backup.
“We cannot ignore the fact that it takes very little effort for no-deal, whilst it takes a vast amount of effort to avoid it,” warned Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com.
In Brussels EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned “the risk of a no deal has never seemed so high”.
Asian equity markets mostly rose after Tuesday’s rally that was fuelled by Chinese plans to cut taxes in a bid to support the stuttering economy.
However, traders are growing increasingly worried about the lack of movement in the US over the government shutdown, which is now in its fourth week, with both sides digging their heels in.
Tokyo ended off 0.6 percent, but Hong Kong rose 0.3 percent to build on Tuesday’s two percent rally while Shanghai was flat.
Sydney and Seoul each rose 0.4 percent, while Singapore added 0.3 percent and Wellington put on 0.7 percent with Mumbai 0.2 percent higher.
London’s FTSE index started 0.2 percent higher, while Paris and Frankfurt also rose.
Investors are now gearing up for the start of the corporate earnings season and some are concerned that the effects of recent soft economic data globally — as well as the China-US trade war — will begin to show up in accounts.
– Key figures around 0820 GMT –
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2864 from $1.2871 at 2140 GMT
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.6 percent at 20,442.75 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.3 percent at 26,902.10 (close)
Shanghai – Composite: FLAT at 2,570.42 (close)
London – FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 6,910.20
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1402 from $1.1413
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.64 yen from 108.72
Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP six cents at $52.17 per barrel
Oil – Brent Crude: UP 10 cents at $60.74 per barrel
New York – DOW: UP 0.7 percent at 24,065.59 (close)