The pound shed almost three U.S. cents in hectic trade, or close to 2 percent, while futures for the FTSE lost 0.5 percent on speculation the left-leaning Labour Party might actually be able to form a coalition government.
The damage was limited elsewhere, with E-mini futures for the S&P 500 off 0.1 percent. Japan’s Nikkei .N225 added 0.3 percent and MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was barely changed.
The rot started when an exit poll showed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party could fail to win a clear majority, a shock result that would plunge domestic politics into turmoil and delay Brexit talks.
Early results were mixed and left the outcome very much in doubt, with the BBC reporting that 76 seats appeared too close to call.
The exit poll predicted the ruling Conservatives would claim 314 seats in the 650-member parliament and the opposition Labour Party 266, leaving no clear winner when markets had assumed May would easily increase her majority.
Betting agencies were already taking wagers on whether May would lose her job, and one even had Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as favorite to become PM.
“It’s clear that the election is a humiliation for the Tories, who blew a massive poll lead in just a few weeks,” said Sean Callow, senior currency analyst at Westpac.
He predicted a hung parliament would strip the pound of all the gains made since the election was called and leave it wallowing around $1.2500.
“But given the patchy history of exit polls, this time we will have to wait for the seat by seat results, setting the pound up for a volatile day,” he added.
By 0040 GMT sterling had shed 1.9 percent to $1.2713 GBP=, having carved out a two-month trough of $1.2693. It was also down 1.6 percent on the euro at 87.90 pence.
British 10-year gilts gained in price, nudging yields down 4 basis points to 0.994 percent.
The safe-haven Japanese yen edged higher on risk aversion to reach 109.90 per dollar JPY=. Highly rated sovereign bonds were also in demand with U.S. 10-year Treasury futures gaining 6 ticks.
The euro had less luck on the U.S. dollar, easing 0.3 percent to $1.1182 EUR= and testing support under $1.1190.
It had already slipped overnight when the European Central Bank cut forecasts for inflation and said it had not discussed scaling back its massive bond-buying campaign, sending bond yields to multi-month lows.
NO SMOKING GUN
Overnight, Wall Street had seemingly judged the testimony of former FBI director James Comey was not life-threatening to the administration of President Donald Trump.
Comey accused Trump of firing him to try to undermine the investigation into possible collusion by his campaign team with Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 election.
“I think the market is taking less of an alarmist review of this situation because there is no smoking gun here,” said Jefferies & Co money market economist Thomas Simons.
“So it’s not particularly impactful for thinking about… Trump’s economic agenda to go through.”
In commodity markets, spot gold was a whisker higher at $1,278.80 an ounce.
Oil prices remained subdued with Brent having settled at its lowest since Nov. 29, the eve of an OPEC production cut deal.
U.S. crude futures were off 20 cents at $45.44 a barrel, with Brent crude down 19 cents at $47.67. – Reuters