Brexit turmoil hammers pound as challenges mount

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The pound fell sharply Thursday as a string of British government resignations appeared to put Prime Minister Theresa May and her draft Brexit deal in serious jeopardy, dealers said.

The UK currency was pummelled as four ministers, including Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, quit in protest against the EU exit deal which was mauled by all sides in Parliament.

Prime Minister May held firm, telling the house it was the best deal on offer, but it looked increasingly likely she could soon face a leadership challenge after leading Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg formally called for a vote of no confidence.

The pound plunged more than 1.5 percent against the dollar to a one-month low at $1.2777 and was trading around $1.28 in mid-afternoon.

It fell by about the same amount against the euro.

"The performance of the pound seems to perfectly reflect the mood in parliament and everywhere else right now. Even the weather is grey and gloomy," Oanda analyst Craig Erlam told AFP.

"This departure (of Raab) could put at risk the Brexit deal and traders are selling the British currency due to growing uncertainty about the future of the UK," said ActivTrades analyst Carlo Alberto De Casa.

- 'Dead duck' -

"The pound is under heavy pressure... as the UK-EU deal begins to look like a dead duck," noted IG analyst Chris Beauchamp.

"As the steady drip of resignations hits the government, the UK's deal with the EU appears to be dead in the water already."

The pound was also hit by news that retail sales slid 0.5 percent in October compared with September.

There was some early support for London stocks as the weaker currency benefits the major exporters on the FTSE-100 index but the market then reversed direction as the political crisis deepened in the afternoon.

Elsewhere in Europe, the stock main markets were all in the red, undercut by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and Italy's fiscal troubles.

In the US, New York was down 0.5 percent in early trade, as was the S&P 500, while the NASDAQ was little changed.

Asian equities mostly rose Thursday, with Hong Kong and Shanghai rallying on hopes for an easing of the China-US trade war, while energy firms also enjoyed a much-needed bounce as oil prices stabilised.

Elsewhere, bitcoin extended sharp falls to below $5,400 as the crypto markets continued volatile.

- Key figures around 1440 GMT -

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2803 from $1.2977 Wednesday at 2200 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 88.00 pence from 87.05 pence

Euro/dollar: FLAT at $1.1311

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 113.19 yen from 113.63 yen

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.42 percent at 7,003.92 points

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.45 percent at 11,360.84

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.93 percent at 5,021.51

Milan - FTSE MIB: DOWN 1.36 percent at 18,819.11

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.71 percent at 3,182.55

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.48 percent at 24,959.42

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 percent at 21,803.62 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 1.8 percent at 26,103.34 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 1.4 percent at 2,668.17 (close)

Oil - Brent Crude: UP 46 cents at $66.55 per barrel

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 11 cents at $56.39

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© 2018 AFP

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