Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Pound sceptics turn believers in run-up to Brexit deal

Fund managers betting on a rally as volatility increases amid negotiations

An English 10 pound note. Fund managers are betting on the currency rallying in advance of the Brexit divorce deal. Reuters
An English 10 pound note. Fund managers are betting on the currency rallying in advance of the Brexit divorce deal. Reuters

Even fund managers who were once shunning the pound are now betting on a rally as the UK heads toward a Brexit divorce deal.

Allianz Global Investors, which has been consistently short the pound since the referendum in 2016, has switched to multiple long positions on the currency. Union Bancaire Privee sees volatility rising and is looking to buy sterling on conviction it is undervalued.

Sterling had been on a downtrend this year as the deadline to pull out of the European Union drew closer. The mood has changed this month, spurring a 3 per cent rally in the pound to above $1.31, with optimism building that a divorce deal can be struck as early as next week. Prime Minister Theresa May is said to have begun briefing her team on an almost-finished deal text.

“Ultimately, our view is that a deal gets done so the pound goes much higher,” said Kacper Brzezniak, a portfolio manager at Allianz, which oversees 524 billion euros ($598bn) in assets. “And if it’s voted down in Parliament, I think the more likely outcome would then be towards remaining in the EU, rather than no deal.”

Brzezniak is targeting $1.35 in the short term and $1.40 within a year against the greenback, matching a level seen in a Bloomberg survey of analysts. He has long positions against the euro and Australian dollar as well, while UBP’s currency head Olivier Doleires is also buying against the Swiss franc.

Previously, with the risk wide open for either a jump to $1.50 or a slide to $1.20 on no deal, investors were favouring bets on a move in either direction or on volatility, seen as relatively cheap even as uncertainty increased. A straddle trade, which profits on a sharp shift, has done very well, said Brzezniak.


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Money managers who put a three-month straddle on the pound-dollar pair toward the end of March would have made around 500 dollar pips on expiry, translating to a profit of $1.2 million on an initial outlay of $1m, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Yet that trade’s moment has passed for Brzezniak, with downside protection more expensive while a rally looks more likely.

UBP, which manages 125 billion Swiss francs ($125bn), is also more positive. Doleires is looking to increase his long position, especially versus the dollar and the franc, on the judgment the pound is undervalued. Sterling is still down 12 per cent since the referendum, and he thinks it could “easily” reach $1.45 on a deal.

“Volatility is set to increase as we are entering what seems to be like the final stages of Brexit negotiations,” he said. “The risk reward is skewed to the upside for the pound.”

Updated: November 9, 2018 12:23 PM