Sterling heads for weekly dive versus robust yen

By Amanda Cooper

LONDON (Reuters) – The pound closed in on its largest weekly fall against the yen in a year on Friday, driven by a strong cash flow into the Japanese currency after authorities in Tokyo hinted at a long-awaited change in monetary policy.

Sterling is also heading for its worst weekly performance against the dollar in a month, but was firm against the euro.

Trading this week has been dominated by rate expectations, with those concerning the outlook for interest in Japan providing the strongest catalyst. The yen has risen across the board, particularly against higher-yielding currencies such as the pound and the New Zealand dollar.

The next risk event for markets will be the monthly U.S. employment report later on Friday, which is expected to show 180,000 workers were added to non-farm payrolls in November.

Sterling was last down 0.3% on the day at $1.2564. Against the yen, sterling was up 0.3% at 181.15, after a fall of nearly 3% on Thursday. The pound is set for a weekly decline of 2.8% against the yen, its largest fall in a year.

The Bank of England is among the major central banks that meet next week to discuss monetary policy. Traders do not expect the Bank to make any changes to interest rates, leaving the focus on what policymakers think about the outlook for growth and inflation and what that might suggest about the timing of the first cut.

Futures markets are priced to show the first cut could materialise in June, compared with March for the European Central Bank and May for the Federal Reserve.

Based on money markets, the BoE is expected to deliver around 80 basis points in rate cuts in 2024, compared with 140 from the ECB and 122 from the Fed.

The UK economy has narrowly avoided recession and inflation is receding. But analysts say evidence is emerging that the BoE’s series of rate rises has hit consumers and businesses.

Any revision lower to the path for UK rates could result in more sustained sterling weakness, Gareth Gettinby, an investment manager with Aegon Asset Management, said.

“Whilst a lot of the weak structural backdrop is known, the key negative for sterling over 2024 is the potential for the markets to price in earlier rate cuts. Sterling will now return to trading by conventional metrics such as global risk and rates,” he said in Aegon’s 2024 outlook.

With the prospect of UK interest rates remaining higher for longer, the pound is the G10 second-strongest performing currency against the dollar this year, with a gain of 3.9%, after the Swiss franc, which has risen nearly 5%.

It is also 3% higher against the dollar this quarter, but much of this strength is a function of dollar weakness, rather than demand for the pound.

Against European currencies, sterling is essentially flat against the euro so far in the fourth quarter and up just over 1% against the Swiss franc and the Swedish crown.

Against the Norwegian crown, the pound has gained around 4%, mostly because of falling oil prices, which undermine Norway’s economy.

(Reporting by Amanda Cooper; Editing by Barbara Lewis)