Central bankers in Europe and Asia swung into action within hours of British voters' shock decision to yank Britain from the European Union after 43 years of membership.
The Bank of England, led by Mark Carney, Friday morning announced an extra £250-billion of liquidity for the British banks as they got walloped by the market turmoil that spread around the world after the referendum results went 52-48 in favour of Britain's exit from the EU (Brexit).
The European Central Bank, for its part, said it "stands ready to provide additional liquidity, if needed, in euro and foreign currencies," adding that it "prepared for this contingency [Brexit] in close contact with the banks that it supervises."
A few economists think that massive sell-off of sterling, stock markets, bank shares and oil, among other asset classes, may trigger more aggressive moves by central bankers, depending on the market turmoil in the coming days and weeks.
Megan Greene, chief economist in Boston at Manulife and John Hancock Asset Management, said that Brexit could be a "game changer" for central banks and their market stability operations. "I have long expected the Bank of Japan to be the first to implement helicopter money, but I now think the Bank of England may be the first," she wrote in a morning note.
Helicopter money is a permanent transfer of money from central banks to households and could take the form of a one-time deposit of cash into bank accounts, in essence free money. The idea is to boost demand, stoke inflation and stimulate the economy. The ECB has said repeatedly that it is not considering helicopter money but some economists have said it may have to resort to the cash injections since its massive quantitative easing program has yet to return inflation to target levels of close to 2 per cent.
Mr. Greene said that the Bank of Japan was probably going to ease monetary policy later this year even if the British referendum had endorsed EU membership.
The central banks' response came as markets, save gold, fell around the world. At one point, sterling lost about 10 per cent against the dollar – its biggest one-day drop ever – before recovering somewhat later Friday morning, when it was down about 7 per cent. The euro lost about 3 per cent against the dollar.
All the European stock indexes were down sharply. The FTSE-100 had lost about 5 per cent by mid-day trading. In Europe, the Milan bourse got hit hardest, losing 11 per cent at one point. Oil was down almost 5 per cent, even though some traders and analysts had expected a neutral response to Brexit.
Various central banks and financial authorities in Asia announced liquidity measures in an attempt to calm the markets, though most provided few details. South Korea's finance minister, Choi Sang-mok, said on Friday that the government is considering fresh currency swap arrangements. The Singapore central bank said the Monetary Authority of Singapore "will provide additional liquidity to the banking system if needed" and the Bank of India said it was on alert and would provide liquidity support if the markets became unruly.
While the central banks in Europe had to prepare for a Brexit scenario, they are weary of crisis fighting and had hoped that their rescue efforts were largely over. The ECB has been in crisis management mode since 2008 and has launched support programs ranging from quantitative easing to the provision of unlimited amounts liquidity to the banks.