The world’s most famous currency speculator has warned a vote on Thursday for Britain to leave the EU would trigger a bigger and more damaging fall for sterling than the day he forced Britain out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism almost a quarter of a century ago.
George Soros, writing in the Guardian, said that a Brexit vote would spark a “black Friday” for the UK, but the devaluation of sterling would bring none of the benefits to the economy that it enjoyed after it dropped out of the ERM on 16 September 1992 – Black Wednesday.
He said that, as in 1992, there would be big financial gains for speculators who had bet on the UK leaving the EU but that such an outcome would leave “most voters considerably poorer”.
Soros said that unlike after Black Wednesday, there was little scope for a cut in interest rates, the UK was running a much larger current account deficit, and exporters would be unable to exploit the benefits of a cheaper pound due to the uncertainty caused by a vote to leave the EU.
“Sterling is almost certain to fall steeply and quickly if leave wins the referendum,” Soros said. “I would expect this devaluation to be bigger and also more disruptive than the 15% devaluation that occurred in September 1992, when I was fortunate enough to make a substantial profit for my hedge fund investors at the expense of the Bank of England and the British government.”
In the months following the UK’s departure from the ERM, interest rates were cut from 10% to 5.5% – easing the financial burdens facing consumers and businesses. However, with official borrowing costs currently at 0.5%, Soros said rates were already at the lowest level consistent with the stability of British banks and meant there was little the Bank of England could do in the event that Brexit led to a recession.
A vote to leave would force the pound to slide towards parity with the euro – “a method of joining the euro that nobody in Britain would want” – and plunge more than in September 1992 when his $10bn (£6.9bn) bet against the pound broke the Bank of England.