Market participants are anxiously waiting for tomorrow's Bank of England monetary-policy meeting and announcement for any sign that it can put an end to uncertainty caused by the June 23 vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
Most observers expect the bank to cut its interest rate to a new record low of 0.25%, down from the current record low of 0.5% that they've been at since 2009. Observers also predict the BoE will restart its bond-buying program, which the central bank hasn't used for around four years.
But this will not address the main problem that the markets face after the Brexit vote. There's uncertainty stemming from the fact that investors do not know what a Brexit would look like, what new conditions the EU will impose on the United Kingdom and what costs these will entail for businesses.
The latest data speak volumes about the slump in U.K. investor confidence. The powerful services sector -- the U.K. economy's engine -- contracted in July at a pace not seen since the depths of the global financial crisis in March 2009, according to data IHS Markit released on Wednesday.
The Business Activity Index for U.K. services fell to 47.4 in July from June's healthy-looking 52.3. It was its first contraction since December 2012. This comes on the heels of previous data showing the construction sector's deepest contraction since mid-2009 and manufacturing output shrinking at the fastest pace since late 2012.
"At these levels, the PMI data are collectively signaling a 0.4% quarterly rate of decline of GDP," Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said in a statement.
This dismal data virtually confirm that the Bank of England will go ahead and cut interest rates tomorrow, and even perhaps start buying bonds again. This will weaken the pound even more. Investors hoping this will open up some opportunities in the United Kingdom should look for companies that could benefit from the weaker currency.
Back at the time of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum (Remember that one? It seems such a distant memory now), Societe Generale put together a basket of U.K. stocks that would be sensitive to any pound weakness. The pound was softening against the U.S. dollar before that referendum, too, and the stocks in the basket consistently outperformed the FTSE 100 whenever the British currency fell.
There are 13 stocks in the basket: BAE Systems (BAESY) , Barclays (BCS) , ARM Holdings (ARMH) , British American Tobacco (BTI) , Experian (EXPGY) , HSBC (HSBC) , Standard Chartered (SCBFF) , SABMiller (which does not have an ADR, but trades on the London Stock Exchange under the symbol SAB), Smiths Group (SMGZY) , Unilever (UL) , Reckitt Benckiser (RBGLY) , Burberry (BURBY) and WPP (WPPGY) .
HSBC and Standard Chartered reported results on Wednesday, and their profits fell dramatically.
In an update about the basket two days ago, Societe Generale said that the pound's weakness since the EU referendum (the currency fell by more than 11% vs. the dollar) has helped the FTSE 100, which is heavily skewed towards companies that get revenues in dollars. This means the sterling-sensitive basket has outperformed the main U.K. index by just 1.6%. But the strategists said "we expect more to come."Investors should take a look at the stocks in the basket before tomorrow's Bank of England monetary-policy meeting. Most of these companies could offer good growth prospects (apart from the banks, for which lower interest rates will mean more pain).