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Sterling gets a boost from COVID-19 vaccine progress

LONDON (Reuters) - Sterling strengthened on Monday as global risk appetite rose on news of progress in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trials, as well as Democrat Joe Biden’s U.S. election win, but ongoing Brexit negotiations still weighed on the UK currency.

Sample polymer five and ten GB pound banknotes are seen on display at the Bank of England in London September 10, 2013. The Bank of England is moving closer to ditching paper pounds and switching to plastic banknotes instead. The central bank said on Tuesday it would ask the public its opinion before taking a decision in December on whether to adopt polymer pounds which also would be smaller than current notes. REUTERS/Chris Ratcliffe/pool (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY)

Global equities have risen as investors turned optimistic that a Biden presidency would result in a bigger fiscal stimulus package for the United States and calmer global trade.

Market sentiment got a further boost on Monday when Pfizer Inc said that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective.

Along with other risk assets, the pound was lifted by the news, gaining around 0.5% versus the dollar in the 10 minutes after the announcement.

Ned Rumpeltin, European head of currency strategy at TD Securities, said the pound was trading along with the broader market.

“Clearly, the big news is, of course, pricing in the Biden presidency, which I think is more about pricing out risk premia than pricing Biden in,” he said, adding that a lot of the market-positive news had already been priced in.

“The Pfizer news is a good thing for the world in general. If the vaccine is as safe and effective as these headlines might suggest, that might be another game-changer,” he added.

At 1554 GMT the pound was at $1.3134, down around 0.1% on the day versus a strong dollar . Versus the euro it was up around 0.4%, at 89.98 pence .

Deutsche Bank strategists wrote in a note to clients that sterling would be a major beneficiary of a vaccine “not only because the UK government has good exposure to Pfizer in its broad and deep vaccine portfolio, but also because the UK has perhaps struggled the most with managing the pandemic without a vaccine.”

“In other words, a vaccine could make the biggest difference to the economic outlook in the UK, relative to its peers in G10,” they said.

Investors remained focused on Brexit negotiations as a new round started in London on Monday.

Britain left the European Union in January, but the two sides are trying to clinch a trade deal before the status-quo transition period ends on Dec. 31.

“It’s keeping people mostly sidelined with respect to the pound in the sense that there are easier things to do elsewhere,” said TD Securities’ Rumpeltin.

“There’s a clearer trade in say, the Aussie or Norway, dollar-CAD, for example ... as opposed to getting involved in sterling where you have still an unquantifiable degree of uncertainty,” he said.

Britain said it was open to a “sensible” compromise on fishing - a key sticking point in negotiations so far.

Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft, editing by Larry King and Nick Zieminski

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