The pound sterling held its own against the U.S. dollar while the euro fluctuated against both currencies as the European Central Bank followed yesterday's news that it would extend its bond buying program with word that the of those purchases would drop, leaving investors to interpret a mixed message.
The ECB bond buyback was set to end on March 2017, the date, coincidentally, that Great Britain is set to begin its exit from the European Union. The ECB will maintain its monthly bond buys of €80 billion ($85 billion) per month until April, when they will be cut to €60 billion.
December Pound Sterling contracts on the CME Globex opened at 1.2632, reaching a high of 1.2708 and a low of 1.2594. June 2017 contracts opened at 1.2750, also an intraday high. The low of 1.2727 was still up .0047 over Wednesday's close.
The euro was off against the pound 0.00865, opening at 0.85200, with a high of 0.85730 and a low of 0.84320. The euro opened against the U.S. dollar at 1.0878 but dropped below 1.07 in intraday trading to a low of 1.06235.
ECB president Mario Draghi stopped short of calling the cutback a taper, or a gradual end to ECB bond buybacks. "Tapering has not been discussed today," he said at a Dec. 8 press conference in Frankfurt. "The presence of the ECB on the markets will be there for a long time."
Still, some observers say the ECB has introduced uncertainty to an already uncertain situation, with recent spikes in the euro being an outcome.
"Even by the volatile standards of the currency markets, the euro's spike was a 'blink and you'll miss it' affair," said David Lamb, head of dealing at Fexco Corporate Payments. "News of the QE [quantitative easing] taper prompted an immediate rash of euro-buying," he added, which quickly reversed and caused the euro to slump to levels below the ECB's announcement that the bond buyback would continue. The reversal, Lamb said, came as traders began to digest the longer-term picture.
"Coming so soon after the chaos of the Italian referendum result," he said, "the announcement is an odd hybrid of hawk and dove. Above all it shows that the ECB remains acutely aware of the need to keep the eurozone economy in intensive care for at least another year."
"None of this will boost the euro's appeal to investors," he added, "leaving the single currency to flail against both sterling and the dollar in the medium term."
Questions about weakness in the Italian economy and whether it would spread to other members of the eurozone have had some investors on edge for a while.
Exchange-traded funds with exposure to Italy have contracted 38% since the end of 2015 to less than €4 billion, according to global financial services firm Markit. Traders have fled sovereign Italian debt and bet on derivatives as the cost of default protection has also jumped.