Thursday, June 1, 2017

Run on the Pound

A run on the pound refers to a situation where international investors become nervous over holding sterling and sterling assets, and so sell as quickly as possible.

A run on the pound may occur when markets feel the Pound is overvalued and likely to fall quickly. If markets expect the pound to fall, they will sell quickly before making a loss.

What may cause a run on the Pound?

  • A run on the pound is more likely in a semi fixed exchange rate. e.g. when the Government is committed to trying to keep the Pound at a certain level. If markets feel this level is unsustainable they may keep selling Pounds until the government is forced to devalue.

  • For example, in 1992, the UK tried to maintain value of Sterling in ERM, but, ultimately markets forced the UK out and we had to devalue. The graph above shows the near 20% devaluation in 1992.
  • We also had a run on the pound in the late 60s, causing the Wilson government to devalue pound. (In 1967, Wilson devalued pound by 15% after selling many foreign currency reserves trying to maintain value of Pound)
  • In 1976, there was another on the Pound as markets feared the UK's fiscal position.
  • Financial crisis depreciation. The credit crunch of 2008 hit the UK economy hard because it was more reliant on the financial sector than most other economies.

Other potential causes of a run on the Pound

  • High inflation - high inflation reduces the value of Pound Sterling. Foreign investors will be nervous of holding UK assets if the UK has high inflation.
  • Threat of sovereign debt default. If markets feel government borrowing is too high and unsustainable then there is a risk of foreigners losing their government bonds. Therefore, the market will sell bonds causing an outflow of foreign currency and fall in value of sterling. This can build up a momentum effect. As the fall in the currency can alarm other investors.
  • Large current account deficit. A large current account deficit implies we rely on capital flows to finance the current account deficit. Therefore, the UK would be more vulnerable to capital flight. In this circumstance a run on the Pound would be stronger. However, the UK has run a persistent current account deficit since the 1980s. (See: Current account deficit)

Is the UK at risk from a Run on the Pound?

No. Firstly the Pound is floating i.e. governments are not trying to keep its value high. The Pound has already depreciated by about 15% since the Brexit vote in June 2016. - This wouldn't count as a run on the pound but large depreciation. With a floating exchange rate, there is less chance of markets feeling an exchange rate is fundamentally overvalued.

UK's debt is a concern (national debt at over 80% of GDP), but, we still retain good credit rating and despite rising debt, bond yields fell - reflecting the fact markets see UK debt as a safe investment. 

Would membership of Euro protect against a run on the Pound?

If we joined the Euro, by definition we couldn't have a run on the Pound, but, it doesn't solve underlying problems like lack of competitiveness, excessive government borrowing, negative growth. Being outside the Euro, would give Greece more flexibility for dealing with their crisis.


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