NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are plunging in the U.S. and worldwide Friday after Britain voted to leave the European Union. The result stunned investors, who reacted by rushing to the safety of gold and U.S. government bonds as they wondered what will come next for Britain, Europe and the global economy.
U.S. stocks gave up all their gains from earlier in the year and are on track for their biggest losses since August. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 627 points, or 3.5 percent, to 17,383 as of 3:25 p.m. The S&P 500 dropped 78 points, or 3.7 percent, to 2,035. The Nasdaq composite was set for its biggest loss since mid-2011, down 206 points, or 4.2 percent, to 4,703. Indexes in Europe and Asia took even larger losses.
The vote brought a massive dose of uncertainty to financial markets, something investors loathe. Traders responded by dumping riskier assets that appeared to have the most to lose from disruptions in financial flows and trade: banks, technology companies and makers of basic materials.
Britons voted to leave the EU over concerns including immigration and regulation. It’s far from clear what that will mean for international trade or for Europe, as the EU, which was formed in the decades following World War II, has never before lost a member state.
“This vote is a step away from free trade,” said Bob Doll, chief equity strategist Nuveen Asset Management. “When you add to it the specter of the last couple of years of terrorism it causes the average individual … to be more nationalistic, more populist, more protectionist.”
Bond prices surged and yields fell. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note dropped to 1.57 percent from 1.75 percent on Thursday, a large move.
Banks took the largest losses by far. Citigroup plummeted $4.06, or 9.1 percent, to $40.40 and JPMorgan Chase fell $4.54, or 7.1 percent, to $59.51. Banks have the most to lose in Britain’s departure from the EU as they do a lot of cross-border business in Europe based from their offices in London. They also become less profitable when bond yields fall, since that lowers interest rates on many kinds of loans such as mortgages.
Chemicals companies and technology stocks also took hefty losses. Microsoft fell $2.28, or 4.4 percent, to $49.63 and IBM gave up $8.64, or 5.6 percent, to $146.71. DuPont gave up $3.19, or 4.6 percent, to $66.02 and LyondelBassel Industries lost $4.04, or 5.1 percent, to $75.01.
In addition to bonds, other safety assets also soared. Gold jumped $59.30, or 4.7 percent, to $1,322.40. That’s its highest price since July 2014. Silver rose 44 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $17.79 an ounce, its highest in more than a year. The moves sent mining stocks higher. Newmont Mining rose the most in the S&P 500 index. It climbed $1.80, or 5.1 percent, to $37.19.
High-dividend utility and phone companies took smaller losses than the rest of the market. Consolidated Edison gained $1.12, or 1.5 percent, to $77.98.
The pound fell dramatically, to $1.3638, its lowest level since 2009. At one point the British currency hit a 31-year low.
Oil prices fell sharply. Benchmark U.S. crude declined $2.47, or 4.9 percent, to close at $47.64 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell $2.50, or 4.9 percent, to $48.41 a barrel in London.
The vote will start years of negotiations over Britain’s trade, business and political links. Observers wonder if other nations will follow in Britain’s footsteps by leaving the EU.
“This is a negative in economic terms for the UK,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. “The EU will be very tough negotiators with them.”
Investors had sent stocks higher this week as they gradually grew more confident, based on polls and the changing odds in the betting market, that Britain would stay in the E.U. They sent the pound to its highest price of the year and sold bonds, pushing yields higher. Those gains were rapidly undone Friday.
Britain’s FTSE 100 dropped 3.1 percent. At one point it was 8 percent lower. The German DAX index sank 6.8 percent and France’s CAC 40 index tumbled 8 percent.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 finished a wild day down 7.9 percent, its biggest loss since the global financial crisis in 2008. South Korea’s Kospi sank 3.1 percent, its worst day in four years. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index tumbled 4.4 percent and stocks in Shanghai, Taiwan, Sydney, Mumbai and Southeast Asian countries were sharply lower.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline sank 8 cents to $1.53 a gallon. Heating oil fell 7 cents to $1.46 a gallon. Natural gas lost 4 cents to $2.66 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In other currencies, the dollar fell to 102.24 yen from 104.47 yen while the euro weakened to $1.1121 from $1.1351.
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