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Sterling rocked by Brexit frenzy

Sterling fell to a two-month low against the U.S. dollar on Monday as concerns grew about the threat of the U.K. voting to leave the European Union in 10 days' time.

The pound traded as low as $1.412 on Monday, after polls at the weekend showed the "leave" vote in the lead. These included one conducted by the Sunday Times newspaper and market research firm YouGov that suggested 43 percent of voters wanted to leave the EU, while 42 percent wished to remain.

Later on Monday it pared some losses to trade at $1.428. Some traders attributed this to rumors that a poll yet to be published by The Guardian newspaper would show a five-point lead for the "remain" vote.

Pound Sterling Symbol
Doug Armand | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

The pound was also at a two-month low against the euro — which itself has been hit by "Brexit" uncertainty — and the Swiss franc.

"Whether these polls are accurate is irrelevant at least in currency terms, with investor confidence in the U.K. remaining in Europe being sufficiently dented as to see the pound drop immediately," Paresh Davdra, co-founder of RationalFX, a foreign exchange service, said on Monday in a note.

Analysts expect sterling to continue to underperform ahead of June 23's referendum and the Swiss franc to rally. Some also see the euro weakening ahead of the vote.

"The risk that the U.K. votes to leave the EU next week is the dominant force in the capital markets," BBH analysts led by March Chandler said in a note on Monday.

"In the week through last Tuesday, speculators piled into short sterling positions by the most in five years. Short-dated implied sterling volatility is soaring," they said later in the note.

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RationalFX's Davdra forecast June 24 would be a day of "extremes" for the pound, whatever the outcome of the referendum.

"If Britain votes to stay in the EU, I would expect the pound to spike to its highest level this year. If Britain were to vote out, all signs suggest a massive and immediate drop in the pound – in all likelihood sinking to its lowest point of the 21st century," he said.

In a report on Monday, Deutsche Bank forecast European equities could rise by around 5 percent if the U.K. voted to remain in the EU, driven by lower uncertainty and tightening spreads on European peripheral bonds.

If the U.K. voted to leave, Deutsche forecast 10 percent downside for European equities, but said this could be offset by a swift policy response.

"We think U.K. equities are set to outperform Europe in this case, given likely GBP (sterling) weakness," analysts led by Sebastian Raedler said.


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Neither the Bank of England nor the Swiss National Bank is expected to change monetary policy at this week's meetings, which come ahead of the referendum.

However, UBS said on Monday it was "plausible" the U.K. economy might continue to slow in coming quarters — and that the Bank of England might respond with a further rate cut and even possible resume quantitative easing (QE).

"We think it is highly likely that markets would start to factor in the possibility of a resumption of QE once the bank rate has been cut to 0.25 percent, or possibly to zero. While several other options for easing monetary conditions are available to the Bank of England, large-scale purchases of conventional Gilts financed by the creation of additional central bank reserves is by far the most likely initial response," UBS strategists and economists said in a report.

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