Traders, analysts brace themselves for market turmoil

Singapore will be one of the first major markets to respond once the Brexit result starts to trickle in from early morning.
Singapore will be one of the first major markets to respond once the Brexit result starts to trickle in from early morning. PHOTO: EPA

The talk in the financial community of war rooms and shockwaves might sound like overkill on most days but analysts and currency traders here are bracing themselves for a Brexit climax today, which could mean major turmoil for markets.

Traders and analysts here are on the front line as Singapore, the region's biggest foreign exchange hub, will be one of the first major markets to respond once results start to trickle in from early morning (Singapore time).

The main pressure point will be in currency markets with sharp movements tipped for the British pound.

Settling nerves has been the main game for the past few days ahead of the expected turmoil today.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry said Britain leaving the European Union would have only a "modest impact". "Its full impact on the UK, the EU or the global economy will be heavily dependent on the UK's subsequent trade arrangements with the EU and other markets", said the ministry.

Local economists said a Leave vote would have limited impact on Singapore but warned that financial markets will face volatility.

Local economists said a Leave vote would have limited impact on Singapore but warned that financial markets will face volatility. Financial players are also well aware that they will be the "first responders".

Mr Nizam Idris, Macquarie Bank's head of forex strategy, said trading yesterday was very quiet, the quiet before what he tips will be "shockwaves" today. He warned that "nervous markets and illiquid markets do not make a good combination", adding that there is volatility ahead even in the case of a vote to remain.

He did not think there would be many sharks making big bets as "the volatility in between might kill you". Banks have been warning traders to manage risks, he added, as the event was so unprecedented.

Most traders will start work earlier than usual today. Mr Stephen Innes, a senior trader at forex trading firm Oanda, plans to start with his team at 3am to be more "psychologically prepared". "In my experience going into high-risk events, it's better to pick up the momentum and trends early. You have some time to speak to your colleagues and strategise."

It is not just the traders who will be in for a long slog today. Lawyers, fund managers and consultants will be working overtime.

Mr Paul Landless, a Singapore partner at Britain-headquartered law firm Clifford Chance, said the firm had set up a round-the-clock "war room" in London. "We will have a dedicated 24-hour EU referendum operations room in London. We will be monitoring the vote, the financial markets and responding to clients' urgent questions and issues."

Mr Nicholas Wilcox, European equity executive director at JP Morgan Asset Management, said: "There will be a lot of noise on Friday, but I don't expect many people to be making investment decisions until the final results are out."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Traders, analysts brace themselves for market turmoil'. Print Edition | Subscribe