Hammond urges calm over pound flash crash

  • Published
Media caption,

Chancellor Philip Hammond: "Markets will go up and down - markets respond to noises"

Chancellor Philip Hammond has responded to the flash crash in sterling saying that market turbulence is to be expected, but the UK economy is fundamentally strong.

The pound was pummelled in the currency markets in Friday Asian trading, with traders blaming concerns over Brexit and a flash crash that hit the market.

The pound briefly fell 6% to $1.1841, the biggest move since the Brexit vote.

Sterling later recovered most of those losses but remained 1.3% lower.

Analysts think a news report could have triggered automated trading systems to sell the pound heavily in a short space of time.


Mr Hammond told the BBC: "Some of what happened over night was driven by technical factors, as the Bank of England governor has explained this morning.

"Markets will go up and down - markets respond to noises off.

"We are going to go through a period of volatility, there will be lots of commentary going on and we can expect to see markets being more turbulent over this period and we should prepare for that.

"The important thing is to look through the movements of currency markets and short term movements of sentiment.... we go into this period of turbulence fundamentally strong."

The pound was down 1.7% against the dollar at $1.2421, in afternoon trading in London, with analysts blaming concern over the UK's negotiations to exit the European Union.

The flash crash aftershocks also briefly pushed sterling below €1.10, for the first time since early 2010.

It also overshadowed the latest data on the US labour market, which usually grabs the attention of the currency market.

The pound is heading for one of its worst weeks against the dollar since the financial crisis, with a loss of around 4% for the week.

"The big issue for the pound right now is that it has become detached from the economic fundamentals and politics have become king. This is where things will get dangerous for the currency going forward," said Kathleen Brooks, research director at City Index.

"Theresa May's hard-line on Brexit negotiations and her insistence that negotiations will take place in private have only increased uncertainty for the market, with traders left combing news websites for the latest headlines to try and gauge for themselves the state of play between the UK and the EU," she added.

Trigger point

Media caption,

What is a flash crash? BBC Business News Reporter Theo Leggett explains

The Bank of England said it was "looking into" the flash crash.

"It's difficult to know exactly what triggered it," Angus Nicholson, market analyst with IG in Melbourne, told the BBC.

The sharp drop came after the Financial Times published a story online about French President Francois Hollande demanding "tough Brexit negotiations".

The pound has been volatile since the UK voted to leave the European Union.

Analysts speculate that a computer may have been set to scan the news for negative Brexit stories, with the order to sell if it found any.

The trigger could have also been a simple mistake, or what's know as a fat finger trade, when a trader enters a wrong number. Analysts at JP Morgan who have analysed the flash crash think that was unlikely to be the trigger.

Image caption,
Should the talks get nasty, the pound could suffer even more

'Selling pressure'

The incident happened at a time when there is very little pound trading going on - which means that any sell-off will have a bigger impact than during busy hours.

The situation is likely to have been exacerbated by trading algorithms (sometimes know as algos) - software which is designed to trade automatically and can react much faster than human traders.

"These days some algos trade on the back of news sites, and even what is trending on social media sites such as Twitter, so a deluge of negative Brexit headlines could have led to an algo taking that as a major sell signal for the pound," said Ms Brooks from City Index.

"Once the pound started moving lower then more technical algos could have followed suit, compounding the short, sharp, selling pressure."

Ms Brooks thinks another flash crash could be on the cards for the pound.

"This highlights the drawback of machines making trading decisions, however, it is the reality, and it is only getting more popular. Thus, another flash crash is possible," she said.

Traders remain nervous about the fallout from the UK's talks with the EU over leaving the bloc.

Last Sunday, the Prime Minister Theresa May said she would trigger Article 50, the clause needed to start the exit process, by the end of March 2017.

Sterling has been "on a precipice" since then, according to Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Australian bank, Westpac.

"I think we've underestimated how many people had money positions for a very wishy-washy Brexit, or even none," he said.

'Lose-lose situation'

Analysts at HSBC are forecasting that the pound could fall to $1.10 and could be worth just one euro by the end of next year.

"The argument which is still presented to us - that the UK and EU will resolve their difference and come to an amicable deal - appears a little surreal," said David Bloom, head of foreign exchange research at HSBC.

"It is becoming clear that many European countries will come to the negotiation table looking for political damage limitation rather than economic damage limitation. A lose-lose situation is the inevitable outcome."