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Pound, Asia markets dive as Brexit fans safety flight

HONG KONG (AFP) – The pound slumped to a fresh 31-year low against the dollar Wednesday while Asian equity markets tumbled as the negative effects of the Brexit vote sent traders fleeing to safety.

With last week’s global rally — inspired by promises of central bank stimulus after the poll — consigned to history, high-risk assets such as emerging currencies and oil have also been sent tumbling as fears begin to kick in.

The pound sank to $1.2819 at one point, its lowest level since mid-1985, before edging back slightly.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index closed down 1.9 percent — having shed more than three percent at one point — while Hong Kong lost 1.7 percent in the afternoon. Seoul shed 1.9 percent and Sydney eased 0.6 percent but Shanghai bounced in the afternoon to end up 0.4 percent.

“Investor sentiment soured over the July 4 long weekend,” said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA Asia Pacific, in a note.

“Just when you thought it was ‘safe to go back in the water’, the pound got pounded as speculation around Brexit forms into something more concrete.”

Hefty selling began in Europe on Tuesday afternoon when the head of the Bank of England said there was “evidence that some risks have begun to crystallise” following the shock June 23 vote for Britain to leave the European Union.

A biannual report from the bank’s Financial Policy Committee said the outlook for the country’s financial stability was “challenging”.

The BoE also relaxed commercial banks’ capital requirements to boost lending, which analysts said indicated it was prepared to further loosen monetary policy to support the British economy.


Yen rallies


The measure provided support to London stocks, but was unable to prevent a sell-off across the rest of Europe and New York.

Adding to the sense of panic was news that three commercial property funds worth billions of dollars had suspended trade and blocked client redemptions.

The moves come as fears grow that the vote will lead companies — particularly banks in London — to shift operations from Britain, fuelling a surge in selling and a slump in prices.

Europe’s financial sector is already under pressure after the European Central Bank warned Italy’s number-three lender Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, it had dangerously high levels of bad debt.

Mitsuo Shimizu, deputy general manager with Japan Asia Securities Group, told Bloomberg News there are “fears the global economy will worsen due to Europe.

“The UK’s economic outlook is blurred with uncertainty and the pound’s recent weakness is likely to encourage speculative buying in the yen.”

The flight to safety saw the dollar fall towards 100 yen but pared the losses in the afternoon to 101.00.

Emerging market currencies floundered with South Korea’s won losing 0.8 percent against the dollar, while the Indonesian rupiah shed 0.2 percent and the Malaysian ringgit 0.7 percent. Australia’s dollar also sank 0.9 percent.

And the yield on Japanese 20-year government bonds dipped below zero for the first time, while other maturities also fell to new lows.

The drop underscored that investors were willing to sacrifice earnings to keep their money in rock-solid government debt.

On oil markets, Brent and West Texas Intermediate each fell while gold, which is a go-to commodity in times of uncertainty, climbed 1.3 percent to $1,366.


Key figures around 0700 GMT


Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.9 percent at 15,378.99 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 1.8 percent at 20,389.48

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.4 percent at 3,017.29 (close)

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2916 from $1.3028 Tuesday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1055 from $1.1075

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 101.00 yen from 101.75 yen

New York – DOW: DOWN 0.6 percent at 17,840.62 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.4 percent at 6,545.37 (close)