The pound collapsed to a 31-year low and there was pandemonium on currency, equity and oil markets Friday as Britain voted to leave the European Union, fuelling a wave of global uncertainty.
Sterling crashed 10 per cent to $1.3229 at one point, its weakest level since 1985, while the greenback itself slumped below 100 yen for the first time in two-and-a-half years as traders fled to safety.
In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s historic vote, there had been widespread warnings that a “Brexit” would cause a rout across global markets that would wipe trillions off valuations, just months after a painful China-fuelled sell-off.
The doomsday scenario appeared to be playing out as markets suffered one of their worst days since the 2008 financial crisis after final results confirmed one of the EU’s big three economies would leave the bloc after four decades.
Fears are also growing that other EU members will push for referendums, posing the biggest threat to the future of the group since its inception almost 60 years ago.
The pound had earlier topped $1.50 following predictions the “remain” group would win, but as the Brexit camp posted early victories around the country, traders stampeded to put in sell orders. In Asian afternoon trade it was at $1.3387.
“Leave’s victory has delivered one of the biggest market shocks of all time,” said Joe Rundle, head of trading at ETX Capital. “The reverberations of the vote will be felt around the world.
The extent of the damage on asset prices is hard to gauge but it’s likely to be bigger than anything since Lehmans at the very least,” he added, referring to the Wall Street bank whose collapsed precipitated the global financial crisis.
The dollar slumped briefly to 99.02 yen, the first time it has gone below 100 yen since November 2013, before edging back up above 101 yen. The Japanese unit is considered a safe bet in times of uncertainty and turmoil.
The Bank of Japan said Friday it was ready to work with other central banks to pump cash into financial markets to combat wild swings, while the Bank of England said it would take “all necessary steps” to avert a full-blown crisis.
Earlier Japan’s Finance Minister Taro Aso vowed a “firm response” to volatility if necessary.
A flight to safety also saw higher-yielding and emerging market currencies slump, with the Australian dollar down 3.4 per cent, South Korea’s won diving 2.4 per cent and the Indonesian rupiah shedding 1.7 per cent.
Malaysia’s ringgit was down 2.7 per cent, one of its worst days since 1998.
There were also heavy losses for India’s rupee, the Canadian dollar and the Singapore dollar.
Gold, another safe investment asset, surged six per cent.
As the shock results rolled in, equity markets went into meltdown, wiping hundreds of billions of dollars off shares.
Tokyo plunged nearly eight per cent, Sydney shed 3.3 per cent and Seoul was 3.1 per cent off. Mumbai lost 3.6 per cent and Shanghai sank 0.8 per cent in the afternoon, while Taipei, Wellington, Manila and Jakarta all saw sharp losses.
Hong Kong tumbled more than five per cent at one point in the afternoon with British banking giants HSBC and Standard Chartered both losing more than a tenth of their value.
London stocks are likely to plunge around seven per cent when trading gets under way at 0700 GMT, futures trade suggests, while Frankfurt is headed for a six per cent fall. And the yields on German bonds, considered ultra-safe, turned into negative territory.
“It’s scary, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” James Butterfill, head of research and investments at ETF Securities, said in London. “A lot of people were caught out, and many investors will lose a lot of money,” he told Bloomberg News.
Before the result was called, in the early hours in Britain Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-Europe UK Independence Party, declared victory, saying it was the country’s “independence day”.
The prospect of a severe hit to the global economy also hammered oil prices, with both main contracts slumping more than six per cent.
“We are seeing oil swept up in the general market nervousness to the vote,” said Ric Spooner, a chief analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney.