Central banks move to calm jittery markets after Brexit shock
By William Schomberg and Joshua Franklin
LONDON/ZURICH (Reuters) – Some of the world’s biggest central banks offered financial backstops to soothe plunging markets on Friday after Britain voted to leave the EU with some even intervening in currency markets on worries that volatility could hit growth.
The Bank of England offered to provide more than 250 billion pounds ($347 billion) plus “substantial” foreign currency liquidity and it was ready to take additional measures if needed, Governor Mark Carney said after markets went into a tailspin.
The European Central Bank said it was ready to provide additional liquidity and would protect euro zone financial stability. The People’s Bank of China pledged to keep the yuan basically stable and said it would maintain ample liquidity.
As the vote raised far-reaching questions about Britain’s future economic growth prospects, the pound fell by as much as 10 percent to a 31-year low against the dollar in early trade and European shares were down close to 10 percent before recovering some ground.
Central banks, with the memories of the 2007-09 financial crisis still fresh, are concerned that market liquidity could quickly up dry from extreme swings, depriving the real economy of access to cash and financial instruments.
“The Bank (of England) will not hesitate to take additional measures as required as those markets adjust and the UK economy moves forward,” Carney said, warning that economic volatility can be expected as the UK adjusts.
Britain’s economy was already slowing ahead of the referendum and Carney earlier warned that the economy could go into recession in the event of a vote to leave the EU.
Indeed, ratings agency Fitch warned on Friday that the UK now faces weaker growth and investment prospects while its status as a major international banking hub could be damaged as some businesses shift to the EU.
ECB Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said that markets were already stabilising after the initial surprise and panic was not justified.
Indeed, 10-year yields in Spain and Italy, up around 40 basis points in early trade, recovered most of their losses by midday.
Deputy finance ministers from the Group of Seven rich economies were due hold a conference call at 1130 GMT to discuss the situation, a source familiar with the matter said.
In a rare move for a major central bank, the Swiss National Bank openly intervened in currency markets to weaken the safe-haven franc, promising to do even more if needed.
“Following the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, the Swiss franc came under upward pressure,” the SNB said in a statement. “The Swiss National Bank has intervened in the foreign exchange market to stabilise the situation and will remain active in that market.”
Major Asian central banks were also said to be intervening, with traders suggesting that the Bank of Korea was seen to have sold dollars to curb the won’s fall while the Reserve Bank of India likely sold dollars through state-owned banks to prevent the rupee from falling further.
The biggest central banks in the world, including the Fed, the BoE, the ECB, the SNB and the Bank of Japan have standing swap facilities, an unlimited backstop to exchange currencies in case of market disruption.
First used after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the swap lines were made permanent after the global financial crisis and can be activated by any of the banks.
(Writing by Balazs Koranyi Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)