By Anirban Nag
LONDON (Reuters) – The safe-haven yen soared to a 3-1/2 year high against the struggling British pound on Wednesday on growing fears about the broader impact on financial markets and the global economy of Britain’s vote to quit the European Union.
Sterling was down 1.8 percent against the yen, hitting its lowest level since late 2012, as investors sought safe-haven assets such as highly rated government bonds.
The pound also hit a 31-year low against the dollar at $1.2798 as fears of foreign outflows and Bank of England rate cuts hit the currency hard. It recovered from those lows, but was still down 0.5 percent at $1.2960.
The dollar fell 1.2 percent to 100.49 yen, moving close to the June 24 trough of 99 yen, struck in the wake of the Brexit referendum vote when nerves were still raw.
“Risk sentiment is bad and that is seeing the yen, the traditional safe-haven, gain,” said Yujiro Goto, currency strategist at Nomura. “We think the momentum is towards a lower dollar/yen given all the Brexit worries.”
Expectations that the Federal Reserve will keep U.S. rates lower for longer was also weighing on the dollar, especially against the yen. Influential Fed policymaker William Dudley suggested on Tuesday that broad contagion through financial markets was a risk, particularly if the vote leads to instability in the European Union.
Fears of contagion intensified after three UK property funds stopped redemptions, which spooked investors and sent them scurrying into the safety of government bonds. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield sank to a record low of 1.3210 percent on Wednesday while German Bund 10-year yields went deeper into negative territory.
EURO ALSO STRUGGLING
It was just not the British pound that was struggling, with the euro also under pressure as investors worried that a Brexit would dampen fledging growth prospects in the euro zone.
Adding to a growing sense of market instability, shares in Italian banks, which are suffocating under a pile of non-performing loans, extended losses. Other European bank shares also fell, pulling down the broader stock index.
The euro retreated below 111 yen for the first time in over a week, to a low of 110.96 and holding just above its June 24 low of 109.30. It was last down 1.4 percent at 111.05 yen and 0.15 percent lower against the dollar at $1.1058.
“We suspect the dollar and yen should benefit the most from the euro-centric nature of the Brexit shock, leaving European currencies to underperform these safe havens but also other currencies with stronger credit ratings,” said Ned Rumpeltin, European head of currency strategy at TD Securities.
The euro climbed against the Swedish crown after the Riksbank kept interest rates unchanged, as expected, and flagged considerable economic uncertainty from the British referendum. It inched up to 9.4665 crowns, having traded at 9.4400 beforehand.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Twaronite; Editing by Catherine Evans)