Trading GBP around the referendum

As the EU referendum approaches, it is worth taking a look at the picture for GBP/USD and GBP/JPY in the lead up to this momentous decision.  

Source: Bloomberg

With the unexpected emergence of an increasingly anti-EU theme in recent referendum polls, sterling has suffered substantial losses. However, with just nine days until the vote, it is worth looking into the current state of play for the pound and what markets might be the best bet in each scenario.

The first thing to note is that price action has been largely dictated by the change in sentiment from poll data. The IG binary is not an average of poll results, but it is certainly influenced by each one that comes out.

As such, the clear correlation between the IG binary and GBP/USD is really an indication that largely GBP/USD has been trading based upon shifting expectations for the referendum.

This makes technical analysis difficult and means the focus should largely be upon either a long-term view or a short-term view. In this, we will take the long-term view.

When looking at the possible repercussions of each decision it is worthwhile noting two things. Firstly, we have seen a substantial amount of ground lost recently which would likely be made up relatively swiftly should we go back to business as usual next Friday.

However, on the flip side, we have already seen a great degree of selling prior to this vote as risks are increasingly baked into price. However, when looking at the current account differentials between the UK and other major economies, it is clear that perhaps there is an argument for sterling to be weak. Standing at over five times GDP, the UK has the worst current account deficit of any developed nation.

This highlights that perhaps the pound’s valuation is also reliant upon the inflows and outflows from the economy and not simply sentiment surrounding a potential Brexit.

The chart below shows that typically there is a lag of two-three years between a current account peak and the value of sterling against the euro and dollar. With this in mind, it makes sense to look for longs against currencies from an economy with a large (and growing) current account deficit, or shorts against those with a large (and growing) surplus.

The dollar is one major economy running a decent sized deficit, whereas Japan has a large surplus.


For a potential long situation in the event of a ‘remain’ vote, we have chosen GBP, given the fact that the US, like the UK suffers a relatively sizeable trade deficit. The long-term picture of GBP/USD clearly shows that the pair is hugely cheap by historical standards, with the $1.35-$1.42 zone generally only reached fleetingly over the past 30 years.

Clearly, the shift towards a greater chance of a Brexit in recent weeks has driven a sharp move back into this zone. However, many will see this as a strong long-term buying opportunity should they believe the UK is likely to remain in the EU. There is a good chance that the only way we break to a new 31-year low (below $1.3504) would be in the event of a Brexit.

Given the significant risk associated with a Brexit, it is likely that the selling we have seen over the past year will have increasingly factored in this risk. Thus should we see a ‘remain’ vote, there is good reason to believe that GBP/USD will begin a recovery phase, with $1.600 a likely target over the long-term.

Of course, this is dependent upon the UK remaining in the EU, where a Brexit would likely carry a significantly sharper and more prolonged sell-off rather than a gradual move.

The lack of major support levels below $1.35 means that targets would be hard to come by, yet a move down towards $1.25-$1.27 levels arguably seems possible.


Arguably, the most at risk currency pair in the event of a Brexit would be GBP/JPY. The expectations of substantial GBP weakness would be coupled with yen haven flows and overall GBP/JPY weakness owing to current account differentials. Given the gains we have seen in the yen over recent weeks, coupled with the substantial losses in sterling in recent months, we could see some sizeable and long lasting moves off the back of next week’s result.

The monthly chart highlights the fact that sterling has already seen significant outflows in anticipation of a possible Brexit, with the pair at a 32-month low. However, in the eventuality of a Brexit, there is reason to believe we could see a substantial move lower, where ¥140.00 and ¥116.84 represents the most significant support levels.

 However, given the depreciation we have seen of late, there is reason to believe we could see a strong bounce should the current worries prove unfounded. In which case the most obvious levels to watch are ¥163.00 and ¥195.90. 

This information has been prepared by IG, a trading name of IG Markets Limited. In addition to the disclaimer below, the material on this page does not contain a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. IG accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result. No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. Consequently any person acting on it does so entirely at their own risk. Any research provided does not have regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and needs of any specific person who may receive it. It has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and as such is considered to be a marketing communication. Although we are not specifically constrained from dealing ahead of our recommendations we do not seek to take advantage of them before they are provided to our clients. See full non-independent research disclaimer and quarterly summary.

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CFD’s zijn complexe instrumenten en brengen vanwege het hefboomeffect een hoog risico mee van snel oplopende verliezen.