UK vote to leave EU hits shares and pound

By Andrew Walker
BBC World Service economics correspondent

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image copyrightAP
image captionAt one point Frankfurt's Dax index was down 10%

For once, that overused word turmoil is justified.

The financial markets have reacted very strongly to the British referendum decision.

At bottom it is because investors view leaving the EU as likely to be bad for the UK economy, especially in the near future.

The International Monetary Fund warned just last week that, in the more adverse scenario it considered, the economy could contract next year.

Many other official economic organisations and independent economists also concluded that leaving would damage the British economy.

That view is disputed by many Leave supporters and some economists, especially over a longer-term horizon, but it is widely believed in the markets.

Sterling turbulence

When the likely result became apparent, it was the pound that took the brunt of the storms, though there were also some sharp falls in Asian share prices. The Nikkei index in Tokyo ended down 8%.

Sterling was at one point 10% lower against the dollar.

image copyrightAFP
image captionInvestors have been selling off Italian and Spanish bonds because of the result

When European markets opened, the turbulence spread. In London the FTSE 100 share index dropped by 9% before recovering partly. House builders and banks were especially hard hit with falls well in excess of 20% at the open.

They are exposed to the ups and downs of the domestic British economy. Many other companies in the index are more international and less at risk from UK developments and so they were more moderately affected.

The wider FTSE 250 index was down more sharply - the companies included in it are more UK focused.

The sharp declines also affected share prices in the eurozone, which is seen as especially susceptible to any economic fallout from the vote. Germany's main index was down 10%. In Greece the initial fall was 15%.

Safe havens

There has also been a wider move among investors away from assets that are seen as relatively risky towards what are known as safe havens. That's especially apparent in the market for government debt.

They have been selling the debts, or bonds, of countries with stressed government finances, such as Italy and Spain, which can have the effect of increasing their borrowing costs.

The reverse has been happening with Germany, which already pays very little to borrow money. In fact it could borrow at an interest rate of less than zero in some circumstances.

The UK government's borrowing costs have also declined. The debts, known in the market as gilts, are still seen as a very safe investment despite the concerns about the economic outlook.

There has also been a rise in the price of that oldest refuge in a financial storm - gold.

Swiss currency move

Risk aversion has also been a factor in the currency markets.

The Swiss franc is a favoured safe haven, a status that has often tended to push its value higher.

That is unwelcome to the Swiss authorities.

It makes the country's exporters less competitive. It has been happening again since the UK vote and the Swiss National Bank has intervened in the currency markets, buying foreign currency such as euros with Swiss francs.

image copyrightReuters
image captionMuch of the screen was red for investors in Swiss-listed shares in Zurich on Friday

Some of these moves in the markets have been partly, though not fully reversed.

And that has prompted London consultancy Capital Economics to pose the question: "Has the Brexit storm already passed?"

In a note to clients, the firm described the initial reaction as "knee-jerk" and wrote: "It has dawned on investors that a long period of negotiation, rather than sudden upheaval, now lies ahead."

It does nonetheless suggest that a further decline in the value of sterling may be on the way, mainly because of the response it anticipates from the Bank of England - some combination of cuts in interest rates and extra quantitative easing, both of which would tend to make sterling less attractive to international investors.

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