The much-hyped severe Brexit recession does not, so far, seem to be materialising – which really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, the actual economic case for such a recession was surprisingly weak. But we are seeing a large drop in the pound, which has steepened as it becomes likely that this will indeed be a very hard Brexit. How should we think about this?
Originally, stories about a pound plunge were tied to that recession prediction: domestic investment demand would collapse, leading to sustained very low interest rates, hence capital flight. But the demand collapse doesn’t seem to be happening. So what is the story?
From the trade side, imagine a good or service subject to large economies of scale in production, sufficient that if it’s consumed in two countries, you want to produce it in only one, and export to the other, even if there are costs of shipping it. Where will this production be located? Other things equal, you would choose the larger market, so as to minimize total shipping costs. Other things may not, of course, be equal, but this market-size effect will always be a factor, depending on how high those shipping costs are.
In Britain’s case, we think of financial services as the industry in question. Such services are subject to both internal and external economies of scale, which tends to concentrate them in a handful of huge financial centres around the world, one of which is, of course, the City of London. But now we face the prospect of seriously increased transaction costs between Britain and the rest of Europe, which creates an incentive to move those services away from the smaller economy [Britain] and into the larger [Europe]. Britain therefore needs a weaker currency to offset this adverse impact.
The weakening of the pound should achieve this.