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Brexit jolt: Asian markets sink

By Denny Thomas Howard Rebecca, Elzio Barreto, Umesh Desai
Last updated on: June 24, 2016 11:49 IST
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A Chinese stock trader


With Britain leaving the European Union has markets across the asset classes on edge.

Asian currency, bond and equity traders kicked off an early day of choppy trading as the growing likelihood of a British vote to leave the European Union sent shivers across trading floors and kept many investors glued to their television screens.

Trading desks at most foreign banks from Hong Kong to Singapore started on Friday nearly two hours before their normal start to take in early orders and address investor concerns.

But the market meltdown and volatility pushed many traders to the sidelines as they waited for the final vote tally, before taking fresh positions.

"I am getting slightly seasick from the fluctuations between in and out," Michael Blythe, chief economist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

"I haven't heard this much noise from the dealing room in a very long time," he added.

Britain's bitterly contested referendum on whether to quit the EU began too close to call early on Friday, with partial results showing a deeply divided nation, but the pound was hammered as the numbers slowly tipped in favour of a vote to leave.

The threat of Britain leaving the European Union has had markets across the asset classes on edge.

The British pound fell about 10 per cent, while shares in British bank HSBC plc tumbled 8 per cent, while the FTSE futures pointed to a 7.5 per cent slump at the UK stock market open.

"Volatility has been the theme of the year, and people are getting used to it," said Danny Bao, chief investment officer at HJY Capital Advisors (HK) Ltd.

"The big unknown is the complication that a Yes vote (to leave) will create for EU. We are sitting tight for now," he added.

Asian markets were first to open and react as the results vote count tricked in.

With results declared from 282 of 382 voting districts plus parts of Northern Ireland, Leave was ahead by 51.6 per cent to 48.4 per cent.

"Liquidity generally is very light. Even before coming into the voting day, liquidity was generally light.

"The problem is the market was generally pricing in a 'remain', so obviously you're seeing the pound and currency markets generally recovering back to any risk-off level," one Hong Kong-based fund manager said.

"I don't think it's Armageddon day, but definitely it's a short-term surprise if they voted for a leave," the fund manager said.

Tight liquidity has widened the bid and offer gaps in the Asian credit markets, with very small lots going through in low volume trade.

In the CDS market the iTraxx benchmark is trading at 142/145 bps, wider by about 8bps, and traders said it was one of the most volatile days of the year.

One bond taking a big hit was the HSBC 6.875% perpetual, down 4 points in price at 97.5/99. But some high-yield bonds are outperforming as it has caught bids from risk seekers.

"We are seeing some support in high yield from investors rotating out of stocks,” said a Singapore based trader.

Image: An investor watches an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage office in Beijing, China, July 9, 2015. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters/File Photo

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Denny Thomas Howard Rebecca, Elzio Barreto, Umesh Desai in Wellington
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