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Searing UK inflation is driving pound near a 37-year low

The currency is trading around $1.18, less than 4 US cents away from its weakest level since 1985 against the dollar, underscoring the challenges facing the British economy

With talk about inflation surpassing 18 per cent next year and families across the country likely to be pushed into energy poverty this winter, the UK’s economic woes are getting worse by the day. The consensus among traders is that the Bank of England will have no choice but to force the economy into a severe recession and cause widespread job losses to rein in price pressures.


It’s put historic lows for the pound within reach. The currency is trading around $1.18, less than 4 US cents away from its weakest level since 1985 against the dollar, underscoring the challenges facing the British economy and the next prime minister. The BOE is already forecasting a five-quarter recession starting later this year.


“Is there more downside? Yes, absolutely,” said Geoff Yu, senior currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon Corp. “Even if things improve, sterling can’t return to where it was in the past of $1.40 or $1.45. That’s going to be very hard to achieve.”


Theoretically, higher rates should lead to a stronger currency. But for the UK right now, it’s the opposite. The belief among investors is that further aggressive hikes in borrowing costs -- needed to bring down price growth -- would deepen Britain’s economic malaise, leaving the country worse off compared with the US and the euro region.


“Rates aren’t always going to be enough to support a currency when the growth-inflation trade off is this bad,” said Kit Juckes, chief currency strategist at Societe Generale SA in London.


UK inflation hit a 40-year high of 10.1 per cent year-on-year last month, and Citigroup Inc. has said it could surge past 18 per cent in January. More than half of UK households risk being pushed into energy poverty this winter by soaring bills, according to consultancy Baringa Partners.


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