Trader work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Reuters
Share markets and the dollar whipsawed while bonds gained on Wednesday as results from the US presidential election proved far closer than polls had predicted, potentially leaving the outcome in doubt for days or even weeks.
Democratic contender Joe Biden took to the air to declare he was optimistic about winning and called for all votes to be counted, no matter how long it took.
President Donald Trump responded in trademark combative style, saying he had won, that “they” were trying to steal the election, and that he would go the U.S. Supreme Court to fight for victory.
Investors had initially wagered that a possible Democratic sweep by Biden could ease political risk and provide a boost to fiscal stimulus.
But the mood quickly changed as Trump snatched Florida and Ohio and ran much closer in other battleground states than polls predicted.
US equity futures went on a wild ride, climbing as the voting seemed to favour Trump, dropping when he vowed to make a Supreme Court challenge, before clawing higher and steadying again as betting markets leaned back in Biden’s favour.
Europe’s main bourses were also choppy on the prospect of a long and bitter fight. London, Paris and Frankfurt had all fallen as they opened, but turned modestly positive ahead of US trading having also shrugged off data showing the region heading for a ‘double dip’ recession.
Amundi’s Head of Global Views Didier Borowski said “prudence” was needed with the US election result firmly in limbo.
“We expect an 85% likelihood of knowing the winner within ten days.” However, there is a “real possibility” it could take until January, including the Senate. “This environment is conducive to volatility and a retreat towards safe havens.”
Dealers said investors may consider a status quo result would lessen political uncertainty and remove the risk a Biden administration would roll back corporate tax cuts.
The technology sector saw reason to gain, with NASDAQ futures jumping 2.8%. E-Mini futures were last up 1.2%, a more than 2% swing from the 1% drop seen when Trump vowed to go to the Supreme Court.
Andrew Brenner, head of international fixed income at NatAlliance Securities, said the move in techs appeared to be a play on the Senate potentially staying Republican.
Brenner said that under a Biden win tech stocks were seen faring worse, as Democrats would be expected to tackle the sector in hearings and because a potential rise in capital gains tax would hit tech stocks harder.
Stéphane Monier, CIO at Lombard Odier said a divided Congress would have “far-reaching implications for markets, mostly because it means that any kind of pandemic recovery package is still tough to approve”.
In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei finished 1.7% higher, while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.4%.
Chinese blue chips rose 0.7%, with markets uncertain how Sino-US relations would develop.
Some investors hedged against the risk of a contested election or at least a drawn-out process as mail-in ballots were counted.
“It’s a wait-and-see,” said Matt Sherwood, head of investment strategy at Perpetual in Sydney.
“I think the odds of a clean (Democrat) sweep are diminishing, almost by the minute. That reduces the possibility, or the likelihood at least of a large stimulus programme being agreed to in the first days of a Biden administration.”
That saw 10-year Treasury yields fall back to between 0.79% and 0.82, having been at a five-month top of 0.93% before the vote.
The US dollar also had a roller coaster session, falling, then rising, before easing back again to sit up 0.2% against a basket of currencies at 93.392. The euro bounced back to $1.1717 from a hard overnight that had taken it as low as $1.1602.
The Mexican peso recovered from a 2% tumble taken when the sudden chance of a Trump victory sparked nerves about US trade policies continuing to favour tariffs.
Norway’s crown, Australia’s risk-sensitive dollar and Britain’s pound were all fighting back too, China’s Yuan spun to hit a 2-week high while the Russian rouble, which had been one of the hardest fallers in the election run-up, gave back overnight gains.
Investors await the outcome of US Federal Reserve and Bank of England meetings this week, which are expected to at least give a nod to further stimulus following the latest acceleration of coronavirus infections in Europe and the U
The Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday cut interest rates to near zero and boosted its bond-buying programme, adding to the tidal wave of cheap money flooding the global financial system.
Gold had been buoyed by the extensive liquidity but ran into profit-taking on Wednesday, losing as much 1% to $1,887 an ounce.
Oil prices overcome their own wobbles to reclaim gains made after industry data showed crude inventories in the United States dropped sharply.
Dealers said a returned Republican administration would likely be more positive for the oil industry than the Democrats that favour renewable technology.
US crude futures were up 96 cents, or 2.6% at $38.62 a barrel, Brent crude futures gained 2.9% cents to $40.86, while U.S.-listed solar shares of Enphase, Sunpower, Sunrun and First Solar and Invesco’s solar ETF, which have all been boosted by Biden’s climate change concerns dropped up to 7% in pre-market trade.