Scotland vote: British pound hits 2-year high as currency traders bet on No

The polls say it's neck and neck, but currency traders who move trillions of dollars every day have placed their bets solidly on Scotland's rejection of independence in Thursday's closely watched vote.
The value of the British pound has quietly eked out a gain versus the euro over the past year, even amid Scottish separation uncertainty. (CBC)

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The polls say it's neck and neck, but currency traders who move trillions of dollars every day have placed their bets solidly that Scotland will reject independence in Thursday's closely watched vote.

The British pound gained a third of a per cent to trade at 1.2687 euros on Thursday. That's the highest the currency has been against Europe's benchmark since April 2012, and a clear bet Europe's financiers think the pound will get a vote of confidence when the ballots have been counted.

Although the numbers have seesawed in recent weeks, the last Ipsos Reid poll taken before the vote suggested some 53 per cent of decided voters said they would opt to maintain the Scottish union with England that has been in place since 1707.

With all the recent uncertainty — not to mention a strengthening U.S. economy — the pound has been heavily sold off when compared to the U.S. dollar ever since the spectre of a Yes win became plausible earlier this month. But the pound has quietly been faring well in a head-to-head comparison against the euro, the unit that many have floated as a possible currency of a suddenly sovereign Scotland.

That's a sign that money markets think the pound is likely to remain strong in the long run, regardless of what happens in Scotland when the votes are counted later Thursday evening.

Currency traders pushed the British pound to a two-year high versus the euro on Thursday, a sign that financial markets think the pound is going to get a vote of confidence when the Scottish polls are counted Thursday. (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Japanese investment bank Nomura is forecasting about a 75 per cent change that the status quo will remain after the vote — meaning Scots would decide to remain a part of Great Britain.

Should the Yes side prevail, the bank expects all British and Scottish assets, including the pound, to get battered. "This would likely cause relatively indiscriminate selling of U.K. assets as they are the liquid ones trading," the bank said. "In contrast, a vote to keep the Union would likely cause recent moves to unwind, with [the pound] in particular higher."

Others agree with that sentiment.

"A Yes vote is likely to weigh heavily on the sterling and equities," IG strategist Stan Shamu said.  "A No vote should result in a relief rally and is likely to be positive for the sterling and [stocks]," 

"Our main scenario remains a No vote, and we expect [British pound] to rebound against [U.S. dollar] and [the euro]," Nomura said.


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