By Dion Rabouin
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sterling hit its highest level of the year against the dollar on Thursday after opinion polls in recent days favored Britain staying in the European Union and bookmakers’ odds indicated a further shift toward the “Remain” camp.
The British pound and the euro were off their highs in late trading, but held onto gains against the greenback and Japanese yen as voters in the United Kingdom took to the polls to decide whether they would exit the EU.
An Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard carried out on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as an online Populus poll, showed over 50 percent support for staying in the EU.
Earlier polls by ComRes and by YouGov also showed a last-minute rise in support for remaining.
In addition to the murder of pro-EU British lawmaker Jo Cox last week, the increasing likelihood of a “Remain” vote was largely the result of campaigns by British and international politicians, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who lobbied Britons to stay, said Juan Perez, currency strategist at Tempus Inc in Washington.
“Even though 9-10 percent of those surveyed are undecided and that’s where things are hanging in the balance, it seems like there is a majority for remain,” Perez said.
Sterling <GBP=> rose to $1.4946, its highest against the dollar since Dec. 31, in early trading. The pound was last up 1.05 percent at $1.4852.
The euro <EUR=> touched a six-week high of $1.1421 against the dollar, also on the back of increased odds that Britain will remain in the 28-member European bloc. The currency was last up 0.5 percent at $1.1349.
Both the euro and pound also rose against the safe-haven yen, which took a beating as traders favored riskier assets. The euro <EURJPY=> was last up 1.8 percent against the Japanese currency, moving to 120.01 yen. Sterling <GBPJPY=> added 2.2 percent to 156.91 yen.
Analysts said the big moves in sterling and the euro were the result of bets from large institutions that had hired top polling firms to measure sentiment ahead of Thursday’s referendum.
The dollar hit its highest level against the yen <JPY=> in more than a week on Thursday. It was last up 1.4 percent at 105.80 yen.
Voting in the British referendum will end at 5:00 p.m. EST, with results expected early on Friday.
(Reporting by Dion Rabouin; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Andrew Hay)