The pound to dollar rate was firing on all cylinders yesterday as it rocketed above the 1.41 benchmark for the first time since the last week of February. Fuelling the surge in value was a mixture of fading political risk and growing economic confidence.
The pro-independence Scottish National Party won 64 of the 129 parliamentary seats north of the border over the weekend, just one short of an overall majority – causing the pound to breathe a sigh of relief. Despite failing to win a majority in Holyrood that would strengthen the party’s hand, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to press ahead with plans for a second independence referendum.
This followed a significant victory in England for the Conservative Party in the much-anticipated Hartlepool by-election – a high profile result that could reinforce Boris Johnson’s position in Downing Street.
Good news came thick and fast for the pound over the weekend, with rumours rife that Boris Johnson was set to confirm a further reopening of the economy in a week’s time – from indoor hospitality and hugging to foreign holidays. Speaking at a news conference yesterday, the PM confirmed that the further relaxation of England’s restrictions would go ahead as planned on 17 May after the government met its four tests for easing lockdown.
Mortgage lender Halifax revealed yesterday that house prices hit yet another record high in April, with the average price reaching £258,204 as buyers continue to benefit from the stamp duty holiday – up 1.4% month on month and 8.2% annually, the highest annual growth rate in five years. The average home is now worth almost £20,000 more than it was before the pandemic.
Data released overnight by the British Retail Consortium and KPMG showed UK shop prices rose in April, as non-essential retailers in England were given the green light to reopen. Total retail sales increased 7.3% in April, compared to two years earlier. The monitor uses 2019 as a comparison, because of how turbulent 2020 was for the UK retail sector. On a like-for-like basis, sales rose 46% from April 2019.
Payrolls shock continues to dent dollar
The dollar was still nursing a hangover from Friday’s much worse than expected US non-farm payrolls report, which showed the world’s biggest economy only added 266,000 jobs in April, compared to the 975,000 forecast by economists. The weak reading could add weight to calls for the US Federal Reserve to keep interests low to reinvigorate the economy in the wake of the pandemic.
An empty UK calendar today means investor attention will turn to tomorrow’s Gross Domestic product reading.
Dollar investors will be focusing on the US Consumer Price Index (excluding food and energy) released tomorrow. April’s index is forecast to report a sharp rise in inflation.