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Pound soars as court demands parliament Brexit vote
[LONDON] The pound jumped against the US dollar and euro on Thursday after the High Court in London ruled that parliament must approve the start of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.
Sterling - which has tumbled to multi-year low points against its main rivals since Britain voted June 23 for Brexit - surged above US$1.24.
However the pound's big jump weighed on London's benchmark FTSE 100 index which has won strong support since the referendum outcome as the weak currency benefitted exporters. It closed down 0.8 per cent.
The court ruling has "made triggering Brexit a lot trickier and has given sterling a massive shot in the arm", said Neil Wilson, markets analyst at ETX Capital.
"The news sent the pound roaring through US$1.24 before gains were pared as markets digest the news - the fact is no one really knows what the implications of this decision are yet."
Downing Street said it was "disappointed" at the decision and would appeal, with the case now likely to go to the Supreme Court before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the Bank of England on Thursday hiked its economic growth forecast for next year, as it froze its key interest rate at a record-low 0.25 per cent and left stimulus unchanged.
The BOE raised its prediction for 2017 GDP expansion to 1.4 per cent from 0.8 per cent as early fears of a sharp slump due to the shock of the June Brexit vote failed to materialise.
Ahead of the decision, a closely-watched survey Thursday showed output in Britain's key services sector rose last month despite costs rising at the fastest rate in more than five years.
The Markit/CIPS services purchasing managers' index (PMI) hit 54.5 in October, up from 52.6 in September and above analyst expectations of 52.5. A reading above 50 indicates growth.
Meanwhile, markets elsewhere struggled with uncertainty over next week's presidential election sending investors rushing for the sidelines, pushing safe havens such as the yen and gold higher.
Frankfurt shed 0.4 per cent while Paris dipped 0.07 per cent. Wall Street was also in the red in midday trading, with the Dow off 0.01 per cent.
"Markets have reacted with cautiousness to political uncertainty that is seemingly flying in on multiple fronts," said CMC Markets analyst Jasper Lawler.
"Investors are not panicking but have been paralysed into inaction over the endless possible outcomes of the US election and Brexit."
With just days to go until voting on Nov 8, maverick tycoon Donald Trump has narrowed the gap with market-favourite Hillary Clinton, whose lead had once been considered unassailable, upending early confidence.
The former secretary of state is considered by most investors to be a safer, more stable bet than Mr Trump, who is seen as a loose cannon.
"The move to take risk off the table continues," said IG analyst Chris Weston in Melbourne.
"We have reached a point where there is a buyers' strike, where money managers have reduced their risk."
The rush for safety saw gold prices climb back above US$1,300 an ounce Wednesday for the first time since the start of October.
Fears of a Trump presidency has led to speculation the Fed could hold off a December rate increase - which has been largely priced into markets - owing to fears about his impact on the economy.