Sterling reigns over euro amongst central banks

Central banks view the UK as a safer prospect for investing their currency reserves, despite the uncertainty created by the Brexit vote and Article 50.

That was the key revelation from a survey of reserve managers at 80 central banks, conducted by trade publication Central Banking and HSBC.

According to the FT, concerns over political instability, weak growth and negative interest rates mean reserve managers consider sterling as a long-term, stable alternative to the euro.

This is significant for several reasons. Firstly, reserve managers at 80 central banks are responsible for investments worth more than GBP 5.1 trillion and are tasked with ensuring the value of their domestic currency is maintained. Their decisions will be closely followed by currency traders and investment managers around the world. 

Secondly, sterling’s post referendum plunge was widely noted last June. However, it gained against the US dollar during the first quarter of 2017 – the first quarterly gain since June 2015 – and the bullish bets from central banks suggests a further upward correction is on the horizon. 71 per cent of respondents said the attractiveness of the pound was unchanged in the longer term.

The prospect of an imminent resurgence in sterling is backed by analysts at leading investment banks, which predicted an unwinding of near-record bets against sterling if a constructive tone was adopted by the UK and Brussels continued over Brexit negotiations. Japanese bank Nomura in particular, believes the pound is undervalued against the dollar by as much as 25 per cent.

Thirdly, the survey’s findings highlight concerns over the stability of the monetary union, which was identified as the greatest fear for 2017 for reserve managers. Some central banks have reportedly cut their entire exposure to the euro, unprecedented for the world’s second most popular currency, while others have reduced their holdings of investments denominated in euros to the bare minimum.

The survey found that the ECB’s negative interest rate policy was also key factor causing bearishness on the euro. The policy was designed to boost growth across the Eurozone but has impacted profits at banks and financial institutions across the Eurozone.

While these conclusions give reasons for both optimism and trepidation – it’s a matter of perspective, after all – they highlight the fluid and interlinked nature of politics and the currency markets.

More than GBP 3 trillion of currencies are traded every single day around the world, and its impact stretches far beyond the trading floors of the largest international banks. 

Currency movements affect everything from individual pensions to the cost of daily household goods, and with politicians on both sides of The Channel spinning dealing with multiple, complex challenges, currency markets will listen intently to their every word. 

Brace yourself for a period of excitement, nervousness and volatility over the next 24 months.

London’s post-Brexit future as a financial hub

UK Prime Minister Theresa May finally triggered the formal process for Britain leaving the European Union (EU) on March 29.

While the EU referendum and a post-Brexit scenario may have been something of a blow to confidence in the City, it still has plenty going for it as a financial hub. This year’s Global Financial Centres Index, an international ranking of the world’s leading financial centres, placed London top of the pile.

“London’s rating has been influenced by not knowing what will happen after the UK’s departure [from the EU],” Mark Yeandle, associate director of Z/Yen and author of the report, told The Financial Times. Despite this, London remains top of the list and, over the period which the report tracks, has even recovered some ranking points.

London also remains the world’s biggest FX market by a huge margin, according to the latest BIS Triennial report. While Brexit may result in some jobs being relocated, the industry still believes London will remain front and centre and a key financial hub.

One of the key factors which will insulate London’s FX market is its concentration of trading infrastructure and activity. “When trading becomes concentrated in a particular region and is supported by a comprehensive legal and regulatory environment it develops natural strengths that enable that particular market to function well.” says Dan Marcus, CEO of ParFX, talking to Finance Magnates. “By leaving that pool of liquidity, a firm could disadvantage themselves and their clients.”

This means that, far from vacating the city, many businesses are investing further in London’s future.

Algorithmic trading technology provider Pragma is one such company, with the New York-based firm expanding its equities and FX business to London. “Our investment in the data center at Equinix’s LD6 site offers Pragma360 clients access to state-of-the art technology and the largest ecosystem for foreign exchange trading globally,” says Pragma’s Chief Business Officer, Curtis Pfeiffer.

“Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, we are moving forward with this large capital expenditure because London, as the largest FX trading centre in the world, hosts the largest datacentre ecosystem for low-latency FX trading applications and we do not see that changing any time soon,” he explains.

While nothing in the negotiations has been determined at this early stage, the City will also weigh up the potential challenges of Brexit.

Continued access to the European single market through financial passporting and the ability to attract skilled technology professionals from across the EU to work in London top the list for many institutions.

“77% of my staff in London were born outside the UK. We need those people. People are very mobile. I just worry that tough negotiations will send the wrong signal.” Michael Kent, CEO of remittance service Azimo, told Financial News.

In addition, J.P. Morgan has reportedly spent the last nine months weighing up various EU cities as a potential new continental home for their operations, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Looking beyond the headlines, however, the picture is more nuanced. Most of the relocation plans announced over the past few months involve relatively small numbers of staff. For many banks and financial institutions this may be a hedging exercise rather than a wholesale exodus.

Going forward, the UK government is determined to ensure London remains a central part of the international financial landscape, and it’s worth remembering London has a number of strategic advantages which mean it is likely to continue to be the city of choice. It uses the global language of business, English; it is situated in the perfect timezone between Asia and America; and has a legal system that is world-renowned for clarity and reliability.

None of this will change; in fact, it will continue to ensure London remains open and attractive to business.

Business as usual for London’s FX industry post-Brexit

No signs of exodus to other financial centres as FX recruitment holds firm.

Following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, European financial centres such as Paris and Frankfurt prepared to roll out the red carpet for London’s financial institutions. But this may be more difficult than initially anticipated.

Red tape regulations, heavier personal tax regimes, governmental issues and different social norms means there is little appetite for London’s foreign exchange (FX) trading institutions to move jobs to Europe en mass, according to recruiters keeping close tabs on London’s financial district.

Despite the Brexit vote, and repeated reports about banks accelerating plans to move jobs from the UK, European cities are struggling to match the pull factors that London offers.

London has long been at the heart of the international currency markets, accounting for more than 40% of FX turnover, according to the Bank for International Settlements. With its advanced infrastructure, access to human capital, a strong legal and regulatory system and a time zone that allows London-based traders to service customers all over the world, it has not only maintained its dominance but also attracted a host of emerging fintech companies to form one of the largest technology and innovation hubs in the world – further strengthening the City’s dominance.

All of this means the number of suitable alternatives to London is limited.

In an article for Euromoney, Andrew Kitchen, internal audit manager at recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley, says there has been no increase in the number of people from the leading banks looking to leave the UK since the EU referendum vote.

This may be because transferring large numbers of FX staff to France in particular will not be a straightforward process, adds Raoul Ruparel, co-director of Open Europe. “Culturally and socially, France has taken a different approach to the UK in relation to this type of business in recent years,” he says. “It remains to be seen whether they have the appetite to offer tax or regulatory incentives.”

French employment and personal tax regimes are also likely to be a factor that counts against Paris, according to James Coiley, a partner at law firm Ashurst. “Making overtures to FX banks and traders to relocate to Paris may not play well with supporters of the socialist French government.”

However, the uncertainty seems to have stopped some banks from transferring jobs from mainland Europe to London, according to Kitchen. “What we are seeing is that several candidates based in Europe who had hitherto been looking to relocate to London are now staying put. This is in part due to the level of uncertainty around future Brexit implications, but also the current weak value of the pound,” he warns.

So while the outlook for 2017 remains unclear, London’s FX industry continues to remain resilient in the face of uncertainty and there has yet to be any knee-jerk reactions that disrupt the status quo on either side. Although it is still early days, what is clear is that fears over London losing its FX crown remain largely unfounded for now.

The City now looks to politicians with bated breath.

London’s leading position as a USD 2.2 trillion hub for FX trading would be harmed by a Brexit, according to poll of currency market professionals

London’s position as the world’s main currency trading centre would be threatened by a British exit from the European Union, with Frankfurt, Paris, New York and Dublin likely to be the main beneficiaries, according to a survey of foreign exchange (FX) market professionals.

As reported in Bloomberg and Reuters, the research team at Chatsworth Communications polled 12,000 members of the ACI Financial Markets Association, the largest global trade body representing the international currency markets, for their personal views ahead of the UK Referendum vote on 23 June.

Key findings:

  • Two-thirds (65%) of respondents believe a UK vote to leave the EU would negatively affect London’s position as the world’s largest FX trading centre, while 13% believe a Brexit would have a positive impact.
  • Of those concerned about the negative impact on London, more than 70% identified Frankfurt as the trading centre most likely to benefit from a Brexit, followed by Paris (49%), New York (40%) and Dublin (28%).
  • 80% of all respondents believe the UK will vote to remain in the EU.

London’s dominance of the foreign exchange market has grown exponentially as the size of the market expanded, and is, by far, the largest and most established centre for currency trading. Nearly 41% of global trading goes through London, more than double the market share of New York, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS)*.

Currency trading increased globally to an average USD 5.3 trillion (GBP 3.8 trillion) per day in 2013. The vast majority (75%) occurred in five jurisdictions: London (41%), New York (19%), Singapore (5.7%), Japan (5.6%) and Hong Kong (4.1%).*

 

Detailed findings:

A UK vote to leave the EU will…

  • Positively affect London’s position as the world’s largest FX trading centre: 13%.
  • Negatively affect London’s position as the world’s largest FX trading centre: 65%.
  • Have no effect: 22%.

How do you think the UK public will vote?

  • The UK will vote to remain in the EU: 80%.
  • The UK will vote to leave the EU: 20%.

Which global trading centres do you think will benefit the most if the UK votes to leave (NOTE: answered only by respondents who believe a Brexit will have a negative impact on London)?

  • Frankfurt: 71%.
  • Paris: 49%.
  • New York: 40%.
  • Dublin: 28%.
  • Zurich: 14%.
  • Hong Kong: 8%.
  • Singapore: 7%.
  • Geneva: 7%
  • Dubai: 4%.
  • Tokyo: 4%.

How long have you worked in the FX industry?

  • Less than one year: 0%.
  • 1-2 years: 9%.
  • 3-5 years: 10%.
  • 6-10 years: 16%.
  • 11-15 years: 17%.
  • 16-20 years: 18%.
  • More than 20 years: 30%.