Union Jacked: Pound plunges to 30-year low against dollar, yen surges as leave takes lead in Brexit poll count

Union Jacked: Pound plunges to 30-year low against dollar, yen surges as leave takes lead in Brexit poll count

The pound plunged to a more-than-30-year low against the dollar on Friday and the safe-haven yen surged as results of the referendum on whether to stay in the European Union (EU) showed the UK was on course to leave, according to the latest media projections.

Both currencies gyrated with each updated count. The pound capitulated to a session low of US$1.3224 after both the BBC and ITV projected the totals would land in favour of leaving the trade bloc. Senior leave campaigners have called victory.

That sent the British currency to its lowest levels since at least 1985, and came just hours after the pound tapped a year-to-date high of US$1.5018, in what may be the currency's most volatile session since at least 1986. At 12:37 p.m. SIN/HK, the pound was fetching US$1.3324, an over 10 per cent drop over the previous session.

At the same time, the dollar was fetching just 101.30 yen after falling as low as 99.08 yen, its lowest since 2013. That's down from the dollar/yen currency pair's 106.81 earlier, when the remain camp had appeared to be headed for a win.

The pound's tumble against the yen was also stark. The UK currency was fetching as little as 133.18 yen around 12:27 p.m. SIN/HK, off from levels around 160 yen early in the Asia session.

The euro also tumbled, falling as low as $1.0909, its lowest since May, with the common currency off a session high of US$1.1432. At around 12:29 p.m. SIN/HK, official results showed that with 355 out of 382 areas having reported, the remain camp had 48.2 per cent of the vote, or 14.75 million votes, while leave had 51.8 per cent, or 15.88 million votes. Voting turnout was as high as 70 to 80 per cent in many local areas.

Early results at one point had shown the leave camp had as much as nearly 53 per cent of the vote. The pound took a particular hit from early results from Sunderland, which showed the city voted 61.3 per cent in favour of leave, a stronger than expected outcome.

Sunderland is seen as a bellwether of whether the leave campaign has managed to sway a blue-collar demographic, according to the think tank Open Europe.

That roller-coaster action followed an earlier surge in the the pound to as high as US$1.5018 from around US$1.48 on Thursday after an initial exit poll from YouGov showed 52 per cent of respondents favoured staying in the EU, while 48 per cent preferred leaving. The survey of 4,772 people involved the polling firm going back to voters it had spoken to previously to ask how they voted.

Key Brexit campaigner, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage declared "independence day" as media outlets began calling the outcome for leave, having initially said he believed the remain camp had "nicked it."

The pound could fall even further, with some analysts having forecast prior to the voting that it would drop to as low as US$1.20 in a Brexit scenario.

Before the Sunderland results came in, Jim Rickards, editor of Strategic Intelligence, told CNBC's "Rundown" that "the market was priced for remain, but if leave wins, there's going to be an earthquake."

The outcome projected by media outlets did send traders running for the exits, with Japan's Nikkei 225 index plummeting as much as 8 per cent at one point.

Fear of a Brexit has been driving currency trade recently. Some foreign-exchange traders noted that over the past week or so, customers were "panic buying" euros and dollars to protect themselves in the event t leave camp won the referendum.

Sakthi Ariaratnam, global director of Thomas Exchange Global in London, said that volume had been exceptional over the past couple of days, with many customers buying other currencies ahead of their vacations in case a possible Brexit sent the pound lower.

Some customers had told him other exchanges had run out of euros.

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