03:37 GMT04 April 2020
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    The Bank of England has cut interest rates to 0.1 percent in an attempt to support the UK economy in the coronavirus crisis. Earlier in the day a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson ruled out a lockdown in London. Sputnik looks at how the crisis could affect the UK economy.

    Britain is facing the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic and the City of London is trembling at the thought of how the worst-case scenarios could affect UK businesses.

    There have been 137 deaths from coronavirus, with almost 3,000 confirmed cases.

    ​On Wednesday, 18 March, Boris Johnson announced the closure of all schools and 20,000 members of the British armed forces have been put on standby to help the police keep the peace.

    With Britain having left the European Union and trying to sort out a new trade agreement with the bloc, how will all this affect the economy?

    The Pound

    Sterling has fallen alarmingly in the past few days and on Thursday morning stood at £1 to US$1.15.

    That is its lowest level against the greenback since 1985 - when the Plaza Accord was signed by Britain, France, Japan, West Germany and the US to weaken the dollar in an attempt to boost American exports and drag their economy out of recession.

    The pound hit a new 11-year low of 93 pence to the euro on Thursday, 19 March.

    ​Sterling has been one of several currencies which have dipped as investors switch to the US dollar, which tends to be a magnet in times of crisis.

    Morten Lund, senior FX strategist at Nordea, said worries over Britain's current account deficit and uncertainty over trading relations with the EU had hit the pound.

    "I've been very negative on sterling throughout all this and I don't think this general market sell-off is over. There are not many out there that want sterling as a reserve currency, and at the moment everyone wants to be long safe assets including dollars," Mr Lund told Reuters.

    The weak pound is bad for British tourists but seeing as nobody is travelling anywhere right now, that is not a big issue.

    On the upside, it means British exports to the US and many other countries are cheaper than their competitors, so it could actually boost the economy when global trade picks up when the worst of the crisis is over.

    Last month Ross Clark, in The Spectator, wrote: “Living standards might fall in the short term, as foreign holidays and imported goods become more expensive, but in the longer run it should help to boost the economy.”

    Gold

    In times of crisis many investors rely on gold but that axiom is being tested this week.

    Ronan Manly, a precious metals analyst with Singapore-based Bullion Star, wrote in November last year: “While physical gold is a well-known safe haven asset which investors flock to in times of market turbulence as a way of protecting their wealth, gold is also the ultimate asset to own and possess in times of crisis and emergency.”

    ​In February the price of gold surged to a six-year high as the coronavirus outbreak hit China, but last week it fell by five percent.

    It has continued to fall this week and currently stands at US$1,498 per ounce.

    But this is not unprecedented.

    In 2008, after Lehman Brothers collapsed, gold plunged 15 percent in the first half of October.

    When the excrement hits the fan, many investors sell their gold - which is easy to do - help their cashflow or to buy shares at a discount.

    Duncan MacInnes, of investment manager Ruffer, told the Daily Telegraph: “It harks back to the old adage ‘in a crisis people sell what they can rather than what they want to’.”

    Fluctuations in the price of gold have not had any significant effects on the UK economy since 1931, when Britain stopped using the gold standard.

    Stock Exchange

    The FTSE-100 index - which climbed to 7,644 after the General Election in December finally delivered a workable majority for Boris Johnson and some certainty on Brexit - has fallen dramatically since the turn of the year.

    On 19 February it stood at 7,457 but it has plunged in the last month and on 19 March it reached 4,995.

    When corporations’ share value falls they will have find it harder to raise funds from investors and this is bound to hit investment.

    ​The loss of value in shares in the country’s top 100 companies does not just affect the City of London and corporate investors.

    It also has a knock-on effect on people with pensions.

    Around £600 billion worth of UK pension funds is invested in the Stock Exchange and if the FTSE falls that will hit individual pensions.

    Financial experts point out pensions are a long-term investment and in time the FTSE should recover to the 7,000 or 8,000 level.

    Post-Brexit Trade

    On Tuesday, 17 March, the post-Brexit trade negotiations between the UK and the EU were cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.  

    A face-to-face meeting on Wednesday between Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Europe adviser, David Frost, and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier had already been called off because of the COVID-19 crisis, but the UK announced the two sides "will not formally be convening.”

    ​There have been suggestions Britain will ask for the transition period to be extended beyond the end of December as a result of the crisis but that would be hugely embarrassing politically for Mr Johnson.

    Britain remains in the single market and customs union until the end of this year but there are now just nine months left to negotiate a new trading relationship with  the EU.

    Brussels is demanding the UK accept EU regulations in order to remain tariff-free but Mr Johnson, under pressure from the European Research Group (ERG) wing of the party, has insisted Britain will not be tethered with EU red tape, which would make it difficult to draw up new trade agreements with countries like the United States.

    The alternative is a “no deal Brexit” but leading economists, including the Bank of England’s former governor Mark Carney, have consistently warned against it.

    ​If it did happen Britain would fall under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and would find tariffs imposed on its exports.

    UK banks, insurers and asset managers have moved an estimated £1 trillion in assets overseas since the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

    A quarter of the City of London’s £200 billion a year revenue comes from EU trade

    British finance services firms fear they will lose their EU “passporting” rights - which allow them to work anywhere in the bloc - in a no-deal scenario.

    Unemployment

    The US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has warned unemployment in America could reach 20 percent if action is not taken to help firms hit by the coronavirus crisis.

    The same concerns exist in the UK, where unemployment fell to 3.9 percent last year, its lowest level since 1975.

    ​Social media is full of stories of people having been redundant from jobs in the entertainment and leisure industries and there are concerns that people on “zero hours” contracts will be unable to keep up with rent and other payments as their employers reduce their hours.

    ​Rising unemployment will increase government spending on welfare benefits and reduce its tax revenue. 

    Inflation

    Inflation is fairly low in the UK - 1.8 percent in January - but forecasters expect it to jump rapidly as supply fails to keep up with demand.

    With factories in China, Italy and many other parts of the world closed because of the coronavirus outbreak there will be a shortage of key products and this will push prices up.

    Panic-buying of groceries in the UK might also push up prices of goods like bread, rice, pasta, milk and toilet rolls.

    While inflation will rise it is unlikely to reach the levels seen in the 1970s, when it reached 24 percent at one point.

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    Boris Johnson, Brexit, coronavirus, COVID-19
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