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Friday 7 August 2009

Sterlings climb will help overseas property investors

It was a rewarding week for sterling, climbing from below €1.16 last Monday to open at €1.1750 in London this morning. There was moment's panic at the very beginning of the week when the pound dipped briefly to €1.15 but thereafter the only way was up. For overseas property purchasers and investors the exchange rate is an important consideration in Spanish Real Estate.

Nationwide reports a third successive monthly rise for house prices. Sterling close to eight-month high against the euro.

After the sell-off at the end of the previous week the market's first instinct was to buy the pound, although nobody was quite sure why. Hometrack's housing survey was vaguely helpful, inasmuch as it showed prices not falling, but investors found it difficult to get excited because prices were not going up either. It was a similar story with the CBI's retail sales report for July: At -15 the figure was better than the previous month's -17 but did nothing to motivate buyers. Money supply data on Wednesday were another net "don't care" for the market. The number of mortgage approvals went up, true enough, but as Reuters put it; "British financial institutions lent less money to households last month than at any time in the past 15 years." Gfk's index of UK consumer confidence survey produced another utterly useless figure when it remained unchanged at -25.

Investors at last woke up on Thursday morning when Nationwide's house price index came out. For a third successive month the building society saw a rise in the average price, this time by an entirely respectable +1.3%. The annual decline eased from -9.3% to -6.2%. The firm's chief economist offered an impressive hostage to fortune, saying "there is now a reasonable chance that prices could end the year slightly higher than where they started.

"Sterling's performance over the week obviously had something to do with the UK economic data - few thought they were - but mainly it was the by-product of another quiet week during which the mood of investors became more upbeat. As one of the allegedly riskier currencies it is more likely to find buyers when the market is less nervous.

The euro's profile last week was so low as to be almost subterranean. An almost complete absence of pan-euro-zone economic data meant just three useful statistics. Consumer confidence improved slightly from -25 to -23. Inflation - make that deflation - went down from -0.1% to -0.6% in the year to July and unemployment ticked up from 9.3% to 9.4%. Individual national figures did not add much to the proceedings. German consumer confidence was higher and German unemployment was steady at 8.3%. As with sterling, the euro's main claim to fame was to provide investors with an alternative to the US dollar, which was under pressure throughout the week.

Sterling starts August looking more potent than it did in July. It appears to have punched out of the €1.15-€1.17 range that held it for the previous three weeks, helped by its upward break against the US dollar. The high in June at €1.19 was sterling's best level since the beginning of December and that must be its next target. The pound has the potential to test €1.21 but, up here close to an eight-month high, buyers of the euro should take the opportunity to pick up a few more.

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