Brexit turmoil: Global stocks and the pound plunge, gold rises

A trader from global brokerage company BGC in London's Canary Wharf reacts during trading (Reuters)
A trader from global brokerage company BGC in London's Canary Wharf reacts during trading (Reuters)

European and US stocks have been heavily sold off following the Brexit vote as investors rushed for the safety of investments like the US dollar and gold.

European markets plunged by around 7 percent, while stocks on Wall St slumped by 3 percent.

The panic on financial markets has also seen the British pound fall to a thirty-year low against the U.S. dollar. But it has pushed gold prices to a two-year high as investors rush to find "safe haven" investments.

Financial markets were caught completely off-guard as the votes started to come in and it became clear the Leave camp would win. A majority of hedge funds and other investors had been convinced that there would be a win for the Remain campaign.

The final results revealed Britain had voted 51.9 percent in favour of leaving the European Union, with 48.1 percent wanting to remain a part of the EU. Younger voters and Londoners were more in favour of staying in the EU -- so too were Scottish voters.

Wall St was not immune from the sell-off.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 600 points. It finished the day down 3.39 percent, or 610 points lower, at 17401.

The broader S&P500 index fell by 3.60 percent, closing 76 points lower at 2037.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq shed 4 percent of its value, falling by 202 points to 4708.

Financial stocks had their worst day in five years, with investment bank Goldman Sachs falling 7 percent in value.

Investors hate uncertainty and that prompted some to look for "defensive" stocks. Retailer Wal-Mart almost managed to finish in positive territory, falling by just 0.19 percent.

The sell-off will have likely been exacerbated by the stop-loss orders used by many investors. They automatically trigger when indexes or individual stocks fall by amounts pre-selected by investors or computer trading systems.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 7.9 percent yesterday while Australia's ASX200 fell three percent and New Zealand's NZX50 lost 2.3 percent.

The European STOXX 600 index fell seven percent, with bank stocks particularly hard hit.

The British FTSE 100 did better, falling 3.15 percent. It actually managed to close almost two percent higher than where it had started the week.

But the FTSE250, which is considered a better representation of the UK economy, fell by seven percent and at one point it had been down by 12 percent.

The FTSE 100 is dominated by mining giants and international companies, whereas the FTSE 250 contains smaller British companies.

British retailers and travel companies were sold off by investors who are worried the Brexit result could harm consumer confidence and reduce spending.

Germany's DAX index closed down 6.8 percent, after being down by ten percent earlier in the day.

France's CAC closed 8 percent lower and the Italian and Spanish markets both fell around 12 percent.

There are now questions about whether the result could prompt other nations to want to leave the EU.

It was the financial stocks that were a particular concern for many investors. Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland both lost 18 percent of their market value.

Deutsche Bank fell around fourteen percent.

The pound plunged to its lowest levels since 1985 against the U.S. Dollar. It also fell by ten percent from its high to low point during the trading day, trading at US$1.367 compared to US$1.50 before the panic set in.

The surprise result saw investors opting for "safe haven currencies" like the U.S. Dollar and the Japanese Yen.

The New Zealand dollar has risen 6.38 percent to 51.88 pence.

However the "flight to safety" has seen the kiwi fall against the U.S. dollar. It was down 1.7 percent by 6am Saturday New Zealand time, trading at 71.40 U.S. cents.

That compares to 72.40 cents 24 hours earlier and 70.19 US cents on Friday afternoon.

Gold was a winner from the turmoil.

It rose by around five percent to a two year high of US $1,318.

It is trading at $1,841 in New Zealand dollars by 6.30 am Saturday New Zealand time. That was a fall of 0.21 percent overnight, due to the movement of the New Zealand dollar against the US currency.

Fixed interest bonds were also bought by investors looking for safe haven investments.

Ten-year German government bonds rose in value, pushing their yield to negative 0.14 percent.

This means that investors are essentially paying the German government to look after their money because they think that is a safer option than investing in shares or other assets.