Brexit Puzzle Piece Getty
Image source: Getty Images.

If you're confused as to why U.S. and global markets are plunging this morning, you're not alone.

The U.K. Referendum, more commonly referred to as the "Brexit" vote, determined last night whether or not Britain would stay within the European Union -- and the result came as a complete shock to much of the world.

On one hand, supporters of the "remain" campaign had suggested that pulling out of the EU would damage Britain's economy. A leave vote would require Britain to rework a number of its trade agreements, which many economists said could lead to short-term economic disruption in the U.K. Some analysts went so far as to predict a recession.

On the other side were the "leave" supporters, who relied on British sovereignty as the selling point. Being bound by EU decisions didn't sit well with these voters, who were more than willing to trade short-term economic stability for the freedom to develop long-term economic and social policies of their choosing.

Britain chooses the path less traveled

The U.K. vote showed a decisive victory for the leave campaign by a margin of 51.9% to 48.1%. Not only does this vote ensure that Britain is leaving the EU to forge its own path, but it opens the door for other nations, such as the Netherlands, to consider following suit. If stronger nations choose to leave the EU, then it could spell disaster for some of the weaker EU nations, such as Spain, Italy, and Greece, which have come to rely on the strength of the EU to support their high debt levels and economies.

In the wake of the vote, Prime Minister David Cameron, who had led the "remain" campaign, announced that he would step down as prime minister to allow a member of the winning "leave" campaign to guide Britain's policy moving forward.

Polling prior to the Brexit vote showed a high likelihood that the U.K. would remain in the EU, so the decision to leave caught global investing markets completely off-guard. As of 8:35 a.m. EDT, European markets were getting hammered, with the FTSE 100 in the U.K. off 4.7%, the CAC 40 down 8.4% in France, and the German DAX off 6.8%.

Man Worried About Sinking Stock Market Chart Getty
Image source: Getty Images. 

U.S. markets shaping up for a rough day

But it isn't just European markets getting slammed. U.S. futures are being clobbered, too, albeit to a slightly lesser degree. Dow Jones Industrial Average, Nasdaq Composite, and the S&P 500 are all down between 2.5% and 3.5% in premarket trading an hour before normal trading is to begin.

The financial sector is looking as if it'll be hit particularly hard, with numerous global banks overseas dipping by double-digit percentages. Within the U.S., banks that have higher exposure to European markets, such as Citigroup (NYSE:C), are expected to feel the brunt of the blow. If the U.K. dips into recession, or the EU sees weakened growth prospects as it deals with the transition of the U.K. out of the EU, it's possible that Citigroup's international-focused business model could struggle.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) is also taking it on the chin in premarket trading. Goldman Sachs' first-quarter report was weak as a direct result of its struggles to make a market in bond trading due to exceptional market volatility. With that volatility and uncertainty looking as if it will continue at least for the near future, the investment bank's willingness to stick by its fixed-income strategy could hinder its profitability.

Smart ways to protect your money

Of course, the Brexit isn't all bad news, especially for investors who've been hedging their bets leading up to this vote.

Gold Bars Getty

Image source: Getty Images.

Safe-haven investments such as gold and silver are soaring. As of this morning, gold was up better than $67 an ounce from its prior-day closing price to nearly $1,330 an ounce, while silver was up by more than 3% to $18.02 an ounce. Spot gold actually traded north of $1,360 briefly after the Brexit vote was called in favor of the leave campaign, marking its highest value in two years.

These gains in metal prices come at a time when gold and silver miners have also been carefully paring back their expenditures to focus only on high-ore-grade mines and acquisitions. In other words, we're seeing rising commodity prices and falling costs, which could lead to a deluge of profits among gold and silver miners.

Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX) was up about 10% in premarket trading on account of rising spot gold prices. This year alone Barrick Gold is forecasting a midpoint for its all-in sustaining costs of just $785 an ounce. This would mean there's a more than $500 an ounce buffer between its all-inclusive production costs and the current spot price for gold. It's also been aggressively reducing debt in order to cut its interest payments. Long story short, precious-metal miners will probably be one of the few bright spots in the market today and in the near future. 

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Image source: Duke Energy.

Today's drop could also be a good time to consider defensive names in the utility sector. Electric utilities often underperform during bull markets, when investors jump ship in favor of companies with faster growth opportunities. However, during times of uncertainty, the steady cash flow and dividend yield of a utility stock can come in handy. Not to mention that with yields on U.S. Treasuries falling in step with the market, income investors could do quite well with utility stocks over the long term.

A name to consider here might be Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK), which currently has a delectable 4% yield and serves some 7.4 million customers. The Brexit won't affect what this regulated electric utility is charging its customers, and it won't affect the electricity demand of Duke's consumers. If anything, its dividend yield acts as a beacon to attract income seekers who are looking for a safe-haven investment.

In short, today won't be a pretty day for stock market bulls, but there are ways to make and preserve money during turbulent times if you're willing to dig around. Perhaps today is the day to give utilities and the mining sector a closer look.

Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

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