Appreciating a depreciating pound (update)

In light of the recent sharp decline in the British pound, this blog is an updated version of Appreciating a depreciating pound which was published in early December 2012. The significance of the depreciation should be seen in the context of the UK as an island-economy which makes trade an important determinant of our economic performance.

The competitiveness of our exports is, in part, affected by the exchange rate. Floating exchange rates are notoriously volatile. However, since the autumn of 2007 we have observed a significant depreciation of the UK exchange rate – a depreciation that seems to have found new momentum of late. A depreciation helps to make our exports more competitive abroad which might help to compensate for weak demand here in the UK.

Rather than look at the British pound (or any currency) against the many foreign currencies separately we can look at the average exchange rate against a whole bundle of currencies. The average rate is calculated by weighting the individual exchange rates by the amount of trade between Britain and the other countries. This trade-weighted exchange rate is known as the effective exchange rate.

The chart shows the nominal (actual) effective exchange rate for the British pound since 2002. The chart shows clearly how from the autumn of 2007 the effective exchange rate began to fall sharply. Over the period from September 2007 to January 2009, figures from the Bank of England show that the nominal effective exchange rate fell by 25.3 per cent. In simple terms, the British pound depreciated by close to one-quarter. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

If we move the clock forward, we observe an appreciation of the British pound between July 2011 (when its value was only 1.6 per cent higher than in January 2009) and September 2012. Over this period, the British pound appreciated by 7.2 per cent. Its value remained relatively stable through much of the remainder of last year. However, we appear to be on another downward path. If we compare the average value in February 2013 with the ‘high’ back in September 2012 we observe a depreciation of 5.4 per cent.

The British pound continues on its roller-coaster ride. Most commentators expect the British pound to fall further. Some see this as an important ingredient for a revival in British economic fortunes. If we compare September 2007 with February 2013, we find that the nominal effective exchange rate for the British pound is 23 per cent lower. This constitutes a major competitive boost for our exporters. However, an important question is whether there is a demand for these goods and services abroad however more attractive the depreciation makes them.


Statistical Interactive Database – interest and exchange rate rates data Bank of England
BIS effective exchange rate indices Bank for International Settlements


Pound depreciates Vs dollar to lowest level since Aug 16 Bloomberg, Emma Charlton (5/2/13)
Pound advances against euro on Italy speculation; Gilts decline Bloomberg, Lucy Meakin and David Goodman (4/3/13)
Pounding of sterling risks a currency war Scotland on Sunday, Bill Jamieson (17/2/13)
Credit ratings, the pound, currency movements and you BBC News, Kevin Peachey (25/2/13)
The Bank of England can’t just go on doing down the pound Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (21/2/13)
Sterling will continue to go down BBC News, Jim Rogers (25/2/13)


  1. Explain how the foreign demand for goods and assets generates a demand for British pounds. How will this demand be affected by the foreign currency price of the British pound, i.e. the number of foreign currency units per £1?
  2. Explain how the demand by British residents for foreign goods and assets generates a supply of British pounds. How will this supply be affected by the foreign currency price of the British pound, i.e. the number of foreign currency units per £1?
  3. What factors are likely to shift the demand and supply curves for British pounds on the foreign exchange markets?
  4. Illustrate the effect of a decrease in the demand for British goods and assets on the exchange rate (i.e. the foreign currency price of the British pound) using a demand-supply diagram.
  5. What is the difference between a nominal and a real effective exchange rate? Which of these is a better indicator of the competitiveness of our country’s exports
  6. What factors are likely to have caused the depreciation of the British pound in 2013?