Shares and sterling try to shake Brexit blues

European stocks recovered but sterling and the euro remained fragile on Friday, after some of the most dramatic 24 hours yet in the Brexit process and another turbulent week for world markets.

London, Paris and Frankfurt markets all gained around 0.4%, having been punished the previous day by the resignation of Britain’s Brexit minister roughly 12 hours after a draft agreement with the European Union was released.

Sterling also attempted to reset after what had been its worst day against the euro since the post-Brexit vote fallout of 2016 and a slump of more than 2 cent versus the dollar.

But with reports of a UK leadership coup still rife and fear that the country could crash out of the EU without an agreement, it struggled to make it much beyond 88.72 pence per euro and $1.2788.

“As long as no deal remains as likely as it is, there is a risk of a sterling depreciation spiral that is self-intensifying,” said Ulrich Leuchtmannan, an FX strategist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

UK and euro zone government bond yields also edged up as some stability returned to fixed-income markets.

Still, 10-year yields on German bonds, considered one of the safest assets in the world, were set for their biggest weekly fall in three weeks, in a sign that the Brexit uncertainty and worries about Italy’s finances, continued to support demand.

In Frankfurt, the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, said the bank still plans to dial back its stimulus at the end of the year, but acknowledged the economy had hit a soft patch and inflation may rise more slowly than expected.

“If firms start to become more uncertain about the growth and inflation outlook, the squeeze on margins could prove more persistent,” Draghi told a conference.

Asian shares had ended their session firmer, after reports the United States might pause on further China tariffs gave Wall Street a fillip, but a near 17% plunge in Nvidia’s stock tempered the mood.

The chip designer forecast disappointing sales for the holiday quarter, pinning the blame on unsold chips piling up with distributors and retailers after the cryptocurrency mining boom evaporated.

Also falling after hours were shares of Advanced Micro Devices and Intel. Losses in semiconductor shares dragged Japan’s Nikkei down 0.5%, while Nasdaq futures fell 0.5%.

“It started with Apple, then Nvidia … Since performances of these companies set the tone for the global tech and chip industries, related Japanese stocks will likely be sluggish for a while,” said Takatoshi Itoshima, a strategist at Pictet Asset Management.


Europe’s tech-linked firms were proving mostly resilient as Brexit remained the clear focus.

Fears that UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s hard-fought deal could collapse had sent British markets into gyrations not seen since the June 2016 referendum on EU membership.

“If and when a vote on the withdrawal agreement occurs is uncertain. Whether the withdrawal bill is passed by both houses of Parliament is uncertain,” Joseph Capurso, a senior currency strategist at CBA, said in a note.

“Whether the Prime Minister resigns or is challenged for the leadership is uncertain. And, whether there is a second referendum and/or an election is uncertain.”

The plunge by sterling lifted the dollar against a basket of currencies to 96.993, even as the euro strengthened a touch to $1.1333.

Also under water was the cryptocurrency bitcoin, which hit a one-year trough overnight. It had tumbled 10% early in the week when support at $6 000 gave way. It was last changing hands at $5 500 on the Bitstamp platform.

In commodity markets, gold was up at $1 214.30.

Oil prices rose, helped by a decline in US fuel stockpiles and the possibility of a cut in OPEC output.

US crude was trading up 70 cents at $57.15 and Brent crude rose roughly 1 dollar to $67.70 a barrel. It was still set for a sixth straight weekly loss, however.