Markets rise despite US election uncertainty

Financial markets are higher despite continued uncertainty over the outcome of the US election.

In the US, shares bounced back after an overnight sell-off as it became clear the vote would be closer than expected.

Tech and health firms, now seen as less likely to face regulation, led the gains. Facebook shares rose more than 7%, while several major health insurance firms saw double-digit gains.

In mid-day trade in New York, the Dow was up more than 2.5%.

The S&P 500 climbed roughly 3% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained more than 4%.

Indexes in Europe closed higher too, reversing after a sharp fall following incumbent President Donald Trump’s premature victory declaration.

Asian markets also mostly closed higher on Wednesday, but that came before Mr Trump’s speech.

With millions of votes still to be counted, Mr Trump and his Democrat challenger, Joe Biden, are neck and neck in key swing states.

Early predictions of a possible landslide win for Mr Biden failed to materialise as the contest proved tighter than many had expected. In his speech, Mr Trump vowed to challenge the results.

“With Donald Trump already claiming victory even though millions of votes are still uncounted, investors may have to belt up and brace themselves for some volatile sessions of trading ahead,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Investors had predicted a major spending package would follow a decisive victory for Mr Biden and Democrats in the Senate, driving share prices higher in the short term. With Republicans holding key seats in the Senate, that prospect has faded – even if Mr Biden prevails in his quest for the White House.

Other changes feared by investors, however, such as an increase in the corporate tax rate backed by Mr Biden or tougher regulation, are also less likely.

“Divided government makes sweeping legislation inherently hard,” said economist Michael Pugliese of Wells Fargo. “We are sceptical that outside of COVID relief much other major economic policy legislation would become law.”

Without a major stimulus, however, investor attention will eventually return to the economy and its recovery from the hit triggered by the pandemic. With coronavirus cases rising, markets could be in for a bumpy ride, warned Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“The bottom line … is that we are now much less bullish on growth in the first half of next year, though we remain of the view that pent-up demand will generate a massive wave of post-vaccine spending on discretionary services later in the year,” he said. “The next few months likely will be tough going for the stock market; much will depend on how quickly vaccines can be approved and rolled out; that’s unknowable at this point.”

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