Financial executives worldwide are waiting for a clear winner in the US election after President Donald Trump without evidence claimed foul play in the fight for the White House, stoking fears of a drawn-out count that will keep markets on edge.
While the Republican incumbent has handed the financial industry huge tax breaks and deregulatory wins, Trump’s first term has also been marked by volatility and unpredictability, particularly in international trade.
Wall Street has leant to the left this election, with Democratic challenger Joe Biden outstripping Trump in financial industry fundraising.
Many executives said they did not support all Biden’s policies, but said they believed he would be more predictable and better for the country.
“There was a lot of trepidation for this election. There were people expecting violence. The White House was fenced up,” said David Bailin, chief investment officer of Citi’s private banking arm.
“Guess what? We now have something to worry about. Had there been a clear election outcome, there would have been one day of activity. A prolonged struggle, given the sort of tensions, could be something uglier,” he said.
Global investors on Wednesday began reversing some Biden trades that had prompted a jump in Wall Street’s main indexes on Tuesday.
“People are mostly talking about banks today: they are the worst performing sector, as the likelihood of a blue wave and big Biden stimulus plan recedes,” said Paul Leech, co-head of equities at Barclays.
Several financial markets, including U.S. equity futures and the U.S dollar, gyrated as voting projections for swing states appeared to favour Trump.
Bank stocks in Europe fell, with the STOXX index of European lenders down 2% while the main bourses in London, Paris and Frankfurt rose by 0.2% to 0.3% by 1130 GMT.
London-based banks that staffed trading floors overnight reported a long night of talking to nervous clients. The greatest trading activity was in the early hours of Wednesday before volumes tailed off sharply before dawn.
Jim McCormick, global head of desk strategy at British investment bank NatWest Markets, said it would be “all hands on deck” with the outcome so uncertain.
Analysts said it could be days before all votes were counted.
The experience was very different from Nov. 9, 2016, when, with no pandemic raging, New York city and other financial centres hosted informal watch parties in bars, and Trump’s victory was called at around 2.30 a.m.
While there were few signs of disruption or violence at polling sites on Tuesday, Trump’s assertion of election cheating without citing evidence left some finance executives wondering if it was too soon to rule out civil unrest.
“There are no problems right now but that’s only because there’s no answer right now,” said Billy Weber, CEO of Checkpoint Capital, a fixed-income platform.
Others said financial firms could cash in on the volatility.
“You start seeing customers increasingly looking to hedge either positions, so you start seeing volumes picking up on risk management products,” Johann Scholtz, an equity research analyst at Morningstar said.
The S&P 500 Index has risen 48.8% during Trump’s tenure, which he has frequently cited as a measure of success. But Trump has not been uniformly loved by the financial industry.
He has attacked corporate leaders, including JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO Jamie Dimon, and Wall Street chiefs have distanced themselves from Trump as he drew criticism for his handling of the pandemic and of racial justice protests.