Brexit 'Deal or no deal?': Three scenarios and what they could mean for investors

Having threatened to quit TV if he won 'I'm a celebrity' recently, many Noel Edmunds fans were no doubt relieved he made an early exit – perhaps even voted him off in an effort to keep him on our screens.

If only things were so clear cut for politicians. With just 73 days left until the UK is set to leave the European Union, time is fast running out for Theresa May to get her own deal agreed.

Deal or no deal?

On 15 January, MPs will vote on whether or not to accept her Brexit deal – unless the vote is once again delayed – but at the time of writing it is looking unlikely this will happen.

So what are the possible scenarios, and what would each mean for investors? Here, Darius McDermott, managing director of Chelsea Financial Services, gives his views.

Scenario 1: Parliament agrees some form of Brexit deal and we leave the EU on 29 March

In this scenario, the pound could possibly rally by around 10-15% on the increased certainty and relief a deal would bring (note this rally in sterling won't happen all in one go, it would happen more steadily as it becomes clearer that the prime minister's deal will pass). Companies that earn profits in US dollars and overseas stocks could be hit heavily simply due to the changes in currency strength. Domestic UK stocks, such as those in the house building sector, are also likely to rally. Gilt yields would probably rise, as risks subside.

Scenario 2: Parliament can't agree a deal, but the UK is able to secure an extension on its notice period to leave the EU while a new government (Tory or Labour) tries further exit negotiations or announces a second referendum.

These are actually multiple scenarios. A simple extension of a few months of article 50 by the current government is unlikely to have a huge impact, as it won't put an end to the uncertainty, but it does give negotiators more time to come up with something more acceptable.

However, a general election followed by a Labour government is one of the stock market's greatest fears. This outcome would likely result in a very heavy fall in the value of the pound (even the Labour party has admitted as much) and it is likely we would see parity between the pound and the dollar (£1 would be worth $1). Overseas holdings could benefit from the fall in sterling, as would UK stocks that derive their profits from overseas. In contrast, domestic UK companies could suffer.

A fall in the pound would also cause a big increase in inflation and probably result in an increase in Gilt yields (despite the fact that UK government bonds are usually being seen as a safe haven).
A second referendum could result in the pound rallying by as much as 15% on the expectation the UK will decide to remain in the EU. Again, this could be very negative for overseas stocks and UK overseas earners. UK domestic stocks may rally strongly in relief. Gilt yields would probably rise on increased confidence.

Scenario 3: Parliament can't agree a deal, and the UK leaves the EU on World Trade Organisation terms on 29 March.

In the case of a no deal, sterling may fall as much as 20%. In this event, UK investors could make 20% overnight on their overseas holdings (much like they did after the referendum in 2016). However, domestic UK stocks could be hit extremely heavily. Business and consumer confidence would likely fall further. It is difficult to know what Gilt yields would do in this scenario, but it is probable the Bank of England would keep interest rates low and ride out any temporary increases in inflation caused by the weaker currency (as they did after the financial crisis in 2008).

Keep calm and carry on

While we can surmise what may happen in the coming weeks, no one knows exactly, so the best course of action may be for investors simply to stay put and leave their portfolios unchanged.

As long as you have a diversified portfolio, any big movements one way or another in the pound, or the UK stock market, should be tempered to a degree. And ISA and pension allowances will remain valuable.

Past performance is not a reliable guide to future returns. You may not get back the amount originally invested, and tax rules can change over time. Darius's views are his own and do not constitute financial advice.
Published on 09/01/2019