LONDON – Financial markets may never get used to bombings and other attacks in major cities, but with Madrid and other experiences behind them they have developed a certain resilience.
There was a flight to safety after bombs exploded across London's crowded transport system on Thursday — killing more than 33 people — with investors dumping stocks for bonds, gold and the Swiss franc.
But there was no apocalyptic meltdown or destabilizing spiral of selling. Market moves were sharp, but nothing that a vociferous central banker or a bit of poor economic data might nor in the day. The same trend occurred with other assets.
The pound was down about a half a percent against the dollar and euro, but off its deeper losses. The September Bund future (search), which shot up a point at the time of the attacks, gave up most of its gains.
"It's possible the market will be back to normal within a couple of days," said Derek Stewart, a director at Mellon Global Alternative Investments (search).
One reason for the relatively muted response is experience. Similar events, particularly the Madrid train bombings (search) last year that killed more than 190 people, have shown markets what to expect.
Investors react sharply, then markets recover their composure.
"People are clearly looking back at the experiences of Madrid and while, on a human level it was an appalling occasion, from an economic perspective the economy managed to recover quite quickly," said Robert Talbut, chief investment officer of Royal London Asset Management (search).
"People's expectation is that a similar outcome will be the case this time," he said.
New York investors seemed equally sanguine. Wall Street opened down around 1 percent but then halved its losses as the session went on.
Steven Andrew, chief economist at F&C Asset Management, also noted that Britain had been the target of bombings before — by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) — and that the economic impact had been muted.
"Though IRA targets were mostly political or financial, there were several large bomb attacks in shopping centers on busy days of the week and without effective warning being given," he said in a note.
"The UK consumers' response to this threat was to carry on as normal: There was no lasting impact whatsoever on retail sales."
There are, however, some concerns about both the impact on consumer sentiment and the more localized fallout if the city's transport system is disrupted for a long time.
Perhaps with this in mind, both in Britain and abroad, major central banks discussed the situation after the bomb attacks on Thursday.
European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet (search) said the ECB saw no significant economic impact from the attacks but said bankers would step in if need be.
The Federal Reserve (search) is widely given credit for providing huge dollops of liquidity to investors after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, helping markets keep afloat.
Any such help in Britain was evidently deemed unnecessary on Thursday.
Nowhere was the "don't panic" mantra clearer than at the Bank of England (search), which chose to hold its scheduled monetary policy meeting despite the bombings.
The bank kept interest rates unchanged, signalling at least for now that it does not see any need to pump emergency cash into Britain's financial system.