The pound weakened on Thursday as nervy investors watched voting get underway in the UK’s third general election in four years.
The dollar steadied around multi-month lows on Thursday, under pressure from a more dovish outlook from the Federal Reserve and ahead of a key deadline in US-China trade talks.
The euro was mostly flat on the day against the dollar and the pound, as traders and investors awaited the first meeting of the European Central Bank under the presidency of Christine Lagarde. She took over last month from Mario Draghi.
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In the meantime, sterling eased a touch against the dollar, edging lower by 0.2 per cent to $1.317, still just shy of its highest level since March this year.
With almost a day to go until the outcome of a general election traders and investors were twitchy.
Overnight options volatility, a measure of investor nervousness, shot to its highest since the mid-2016 Brexit vote, according to Forexlive analyst Justin Low.
“There seem to be two risks,” said Global Head of Currency Strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman Marc Chandler. “One is obvious. The polls are wrong, and it is a much tighter contest, and the Tories are denied a majority. Sterling would come off hard.
“The second is that the Tories do win, but the news has mostly been anticipated, and after what may be a quick flurry, it comes off, amid ‘buy the rumor sell the fact’ type of activity.”
Chandler added that nearly a billion pounds’ worth of options positions at $1.32 were due to expire later on Thursday, highlighting how much capital is riding on the outcome of the election.
Bloomberg reported recently that demand for call-, or buy, options for sterling had outweighed that for put-, or sell, options by 50 per cent.
The pound hit its highest level in nearly three years against the euro earlier this week. This brought gains for the past month to nearly 2 per cent and to almost 6 per cent for the year to date. The euro was last up 0.3 per cent on the day against the pound at 84.5 pence.
Against a basket of major currencies, the dollar was last around 97.15, virtually unchanged on the day, since hitting a trough of 97.04 on Wednesday (December 11), its lowest since mid-July.
The US Federal Reserve’s policy-setting committee said on Wednesday it did not foresee any rate hikes through 2020. Chairman Jerome Powell signalled he would set the bar far higher in terms of inflationary pressures for any tightening in monetary policy.
“The world's most powerful central banker has doubled down on setting a higher bar for raising rates than for cutting them,” analysts at FXStreet.com said in a daily note.
“To cut rates, the Fed would want to see a deterioration in its assessment for future economic developments. Yet for raising them, Powell said he would personally want to see past inflation persistently and significantly heating up.”
On the cryptocurrency market, the major currencies were down almost across the board, with Bitcoin and Ethereum down by around 2 per cent on the day.
Bitcoin, down 2 per cent at $7,197, has been struggling to gain any traction recently, having logged lower highs and lower lows almost continuously since late October.
Ethereum was last down 1.97 per cent at $144.13, having dropped for four days in a row. Earlier this week, the platform’s so-called Istanbul hard fork went live. The switch, aimed at cutting network costs and improving capacity, has not yet attracted buyers.