June 26, 2016
“Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” was a 1982 song by the Clash. For months, Brits have debated the question of whether to stay in the European Union (EU) ahead of a referendum vote held just this past week and nicknamed “Brexit,” a mashup of British Exit. Germany and Britain are the two strongest members of the EU and the loss of either from the union would weaken it’s political and economic ties. In the U.K., the campaigns turned vicious and sparked the murder of an MP (story) earlier this month. In the British Parliamentary system, an MP is similar to a Congressperson in the U.S. House.
In recent polling the advocates of separation, or Leave, appeared to be gaining momentum so that the outcome of the referendum vote seemed deadlocked at 50-50. A poll in the last days before Thursday’s vote reassured many that cooler heads would prevail and Britain would remain with the EU. Leaders from both the right and left belonged to this coalition, appropriately named “Remain.”
At about 3-4 AM London time, 11 PM New York City time on Thrusday night, a third of the vote had been counted and it was eerily close, with the Leave group having a teensy-weensy lead. Then half of the vote was counted and the Leavers were up 1% over the Remainers. As the vote tally continued, it became apparent that – surprise, surprise – the Remainers had won the vote.
Asian markets were active at that time and responded with a severe sell off of risky assets like stocks and rushed into the safe haven of bonds, cash and gold. Stocks were down as much as 12% initially on some Asian exchanges. Gold shot up 6%. Neither the U.S. or European markets were open but the Futures markets in the U.S. sank 6% and European futures plunged 9%.
While most Americans were sleeping European markets opened about 8- 9% down. Market makers in Italy could not establish an opening price for a number of Italian bank stocks, which had already been under pressure in recent weeks. When they did, these stocks had lost a third of their value. Everyone was selling, few were buying.
The referendum vote still needs to be codified into law before the Brits formally notify the EU that the country is leaving. After that negotiations begin over the trade and diplomatic terms of exit, a process that could take two years. A rational person might wonder why the panicked selling? The worry is that this vote may provoke similar votes in other EU countries, which might lead to the eventual dissolution of the EU. When in doubt, get out. Traders did.
Earlier this month the WSJ reported that legendary (and semi-retired) investor and billionaire George Soros had returned to his trading desk to make a series of bearish bets on global markets in anticipation of both political and economic turmoil. Soros became a household name when he made a $1 billion on a bet against the British pound in 1992. In several hours Thursday night/Friday morning, the British pound lost 10% of its value. Was this also another killing for Soros? Soros thinks the break-up of the EU is inevitable (Story)
What should the long term investor do? January’s dip of 5% was a good time to make an IRA investment. This may be an equally good opportunity.