The pound sank to three-decade lows and Asian share markets fell on Wednesday as fears over Brexit and instability in the European Union returned with a vengeance.
Sterling was again a major casualty, sinking under psychological support at US$1.30 in fast-moving trade. It hit its lowest since 1985 when it got down as deep as $1.2565.
In wild trading reminiscent of the fateful Friday when Britain voted to abandon the EU, sterling shed a full US cent in a matter of minutes on Wednesday to sink to $1.2798 at one point.
Concerns about the impact on already fragile global growth spread to commodity markets. After oil prices shed 5% on Tuesday, Brent crude futures fell further on Wednesday to $47.57, with US crude at $46.21 at one point.
Investors rushed to safe-haven sovereign debt and took markets deeper into unknown territory.
Yields on US Treasuries, the benchmark for bonds worldwide, hit record lows out to 30 years. Investors had to pay Japan 0.27% to lend it money for 10 years.
“There’s no inflation prospects, there’s no strong growth. The only thing we have is uncertainty,” said Hiroko Iwaki, senior bond strategist at Mizuho Securities.
The sudden mood swing saw Japan’s Nikkei skid 3%, while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.6 percent.
Since Britain’s shock vote to exit the EU two weeks ago, investors have been consoling themselves with the expectation of yet more policy easing from the major central banks.
Yet analysts, and many at the banks themselves, have warned that the scope for manoeuvre is strictly limited and any new steps could prove counter-productive.
“Financial markets appear to have taken a more realistic view around the complexity and uncertainty characterising the global political background and its impact on already lacklustre economic growth,” wrote analysts at ANZ in a note.
“This suggests the tug-a-war between more central bank support and economic fundamentals is going to increase, driving market volatility.“
Against the yen, sterling fell below 131 for the first time since late 2012, while the euro scored a two and a half year high of 85.30 pence.
The yen benefited broadly as a traditional safe harbour and climbed to 100.94 per US dollar. Likewise, spot gold hit its highest since early 2014 at $1,370.60.
Dealers said there was no one event behind the moves but rather an accumulation of negative factors.
Three British commercial property funds worth about £10bn suspended trading as asset prices plunged, while the Bank of England had to take action to ensure local banks kept lending.
Across the channel shares in Italy’s banks tumbled, shaking the financial foundations of the eurozone’s third-largest economy.
“Italy faces a severe crisis that is exponential. This is not gradual and not linear,” said Francesco Galietti, head of the Policy Sonar risk consultancy and a former finance ministry official. “The immediate trigger is the banking crisis.”