Sterling could still test Irish exporters

Sterling could still test Irish exporters

There has been a marked swing in business sentiment with regard to the UK market. Many believe, like Patrick Coveney, the chief executive of Greencore, that political certainty and stability is slowly returning despite the looming UK general election on December 12.

The views of a company that relies on the demand of about half the UK population who eat at least one of their sandwiches each week —that’s about 30m of them — gives comfort to many exporters looking into the UK market.

The currency markets seem to support this view: They have been remarkably calm recently, with most analysts expecting a Conservative majority.

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson came back with his surprise deal, sterling shot up from 90 pence to around 86 pence against the euro. It has remained there ever since, even though Westminster failed to ratify the deal and Brexit did not happen at the end of October as it was supposed to.

However, with less than two weeks to go before the polls, much can change, and this will keep Irish exporters and importers on high alert.

Most Irish exporters can trade comfortably at 86 pence but can struggle when sterling trades at 90 pence which it did for many weeks in July and August at the height of Westminster squabbling.

The polls show Mr Johnson has a strong lead. One way or another, it looks as though he is going to have the majority he needs to make Brexit happen along the lines of his deal. Details may change, but some version of Mr Johnson’s deal now looks probable.

The currency markets like these prospects because for the first time in a long time, the outlook seems fairly clear. A comfortable majority, followed by a good Brexit deal, opens the doors to a strong sterling rally, which would give a boost to Ireland’s exports to the UK.

Some analysts suggest windfall profit gains for Irish exporters.

However, many remain sceptical that Mr Johnson will secure a majority, pointing to a potential coalition of Remainers, which could bring back a hung parliament and a rapid fall in the value of sterling.

Of the various outcomes that might flow from the December 12 vote, this is the most damaging for sterling.

A hung parliament could well prove that the Brexit question cannot be answered by a general election, and a hung parliament might presumably not offer a clear route to a second referendum either. Sterling is widely expected to plummet in this case — and entail losses piling up on Irish exporters to the market.

However, both the Labour Party and Conservative Party have committed to opening the purse strings should they win, with both looking to put the past 10 years of austerity behind them in order to coax voters to back them.

And, based on its manifesto, it is clear the Labour Party will outspend by many billions their political rivals if they get a hold over the levers of power.

Infrastructure is an important battleground in the general election and both the main parties are competing on the amount they will invest in infrastructure and on the depth of their support for projects.

The Conservative manifesto commits to an infrastructure “revolution” if the party is returned to office.

The manifesto reaffirms the party’s support for high-profile projects such as the so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail and highlights investment in the Midlands Rail Hub. The Conservatives point to a €100bn investment plan across roads, rail and, ports, and Labour seeks to launch a so-called National Transformation Fund with £400bn (€470bn).

Neither political party is currently campaigning for a no-deal Brexit but remains a possibility and would be a complete game-changer for the future of the UK and Irish traders.

On the other hand, if the UK strikes a deal, suddenly politics is taken out of the equation and business confidence and investment could grow as the UK economy expands.

John Whelan is managing partner at trade consultancy The Linkage-Partnership

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