Britons stock up on foreign currency

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The Independent Online
The queues suggested the summer sales had started, but the weekend bargain- hunters were after francs and pesetas rather than clothes or stereos.

Demand for foreign currency was so high that travel agents and banks had to turn people away empty-handed. With the tourist rate for the French franc breaking through 10 to the pound on Thursday, holiday- makers exhausted supplies.

Even people without anywhere booked stocked up on currency, looking ahead to the Christmas break. Richard Grummitt, a spokesman for Thomas Cook, the biggest retailer of foreign exchange with 600 outlets, said: "Usually currency will be bought two or three days before departure. But lately people are buying weeks beforehand and some haven't even booked a holiday yet. Skiers and those thinking of a Christmas jaunt abroad are coming in ready for December.

"There seems to be no end to the demand. Overall, business is up 35 per cent and currency note sales are up 7 per cent on last year."

The strength of the pound is buying Britons 25 per cent more holiday than last year in resorts across the Continent and in the United States. In Turkey, the pound has more than doubled in value.

In France, the pound has reached 10 francs on the money markets for the first time in six years after plummeting to 7.3 francs in 1995. But the biggest bonanza appears to be Spain - a pound now buys 249 pesetas.

A cashier at Thomas Cook's Oxford Street branch in London said: "On Friday we ran out of pesetas and ran around like lunatics trying to get some more. It's incredible when you think last year it was as low as 180 pesetas to the pound."

Keith Betton, head of corporate affairs at the Association of British Travel Agents which represents 7,000 travel agents and 600 tour operators, said: "Demand for holidays, particularly self-catering, has been very buoyant. The biggest in fluence is the exchange rate.

"But there are other factors, like the building society windfalls, the economy which is racing along and the unpredictable British weather. Overall the industry is up by 10 per cent and independent travel to France is probably up more than that."

On Saturday, Barclays Bank in Ealing Broadway, west London, ran out of French francs by just after 10am. One person in the queue said to his neighbour: "We're all turning into George Soros now, aren't we?"

The world's most famous speculator was widely blamed in 1992 for launching an attack on the pound that sent it tumbling out of the European exchange rate mechanism.

In recent summers the rate has been so prohibitive that British holiday haunts across the Channel have seemed like ghost towns. But the rising temperature of the economy has increased interest rates and made the pound one an currency for international investors.

What pounds 1 is worth

France Francs 10.05

Germany Marks 2.98

Italy Lira 2929.00

Spain Pesetas 250.30

Turkey Lira 253420

US Dollars 1.64