Inventory futures whipsawed as election consequence hangs in stability

Stock futures fluctuated between gains and losses early Wednesday morning as investors took in the flow of results for the 2020 election, which has so far produced no clear signs of a victor for the White House.

As of approximately 5 a.m. ET, the S&P 500 was higher by 0.6%, and the Nasdaq outperformed with a gain of more than 2.7%. The Dow declined by about 50 points.

The results so far point to a presidential race that remains too close to call, with a number of consequential battleground states, including Pennsylvania, still unlikely to produce results for the next couple of days.

As of 4:45 a.m. ET, former Vice President Joe Biden had 238 electoral votes and President Donald Trump had 213, according to the Associated Press. Candidates require 270 electoral votes to be named the winner of the election.

  • States called for Trump: Ky., W. Va., S.C., Ala., Miss., Tenn., Okla., Ark., Ind., N.D., S.D., Wyo., La., Neb., Kan., Mo., Idaho, Utah, Ohio, Iowa, Mont., Fla., Texas

  • States called for Biden: Vt., Va., Conn., Del., Ill., Md., Mass., N.J., R.I., N.Y., N.M., D.C., Colo., N.H., Calif., Ore., Wash., Hawaii, Minn., Ariz., Maine (3 of 4 electoral votes)

The flurry of incoming results stirred up volatility during the overnight session. Contracts on the major equity indices opened higher as overnight trading began, but gains in the Dow and S&P 500 futures flattened as the race tightened, including when the Associated Press projected Trump would win the swing state of Florida, which a number of pundits believed would go to Biden. Other states that had been viewed as toss-ups ended up tilting in Biden’s favor, including Arizona, which Trump had won in 2016.

Contracts on the Nasdaq, however, have held decidedly higher. At about 10:15 p.m. ET, Nasdaq futures surged nearly 4% to trigger a circuit breaker to cap further gains. The index held higher by more than 2.5% around 4:45 a.m. ET, with traders piling into tech shares that throughout much of the pandemic had served as a safe haven sector amid uncertainty over the economic outlook.

In the bond market, U.S. Treasury yields tumbled across the long end of the curve to unwind much of their advance from their past couple weeks. The 10-year yield dipped back below 80 basis points, as investors pulled back their expectations for a Democratic sweep that would likely have brought about bigger government spending.

Overseas, European stocks also traded with volatility and slid at the open before cutting losses and pushing higher, after Trump prematurely claimed to have won the election in a late-night address in the White House.

“This is a fraud on the American republic. This is an embarrassment to our country,” Trump said. “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”

Trump, who has previously challenged the veracity of mail-in voting, said he would be “going to the U.S. Supreme Court” over the results of the election, opening up the possibility of a drawn-out, contested election market participants had braced for heading into the results. Biden’s campaign, for its party, has suggested it would be willing to fight Trump in court.

Markets so far, however, have been “remarkably calm and are surprisingly not really pricing much risk, or concerns around a long contested battle ahead,” said Deutsche Bank analysts including Jim Reid in an overnight note. “Fiscal stimulus looks a longer way off at the moment than it did last night,” they added.

But other experts warned that the lingering uncertainty over the election result could spark ongoing volatility in markets for the days to come.

“A conclusive result could take a few days or more, potentially spurring market volatility and leaving open the possibility of a contested result,” analysts from BlackRock Investment Institute wrote in a note Wednesday morning. “We prefer to look through any volatility and stay with high-conviction positions amid any selloffs in risk assets. Likely low trading volumes in this period could magnify market moves.”

The election came against an increasingly dire pandemic situation in the United States. More than 93,000 cases were reported across the country on Monday, for the second-highest daily total since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to data cited by the New York Times. Well over 9 million cases in total have been recorded since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., and more than 230,000 deaths have resulted across the country. And the economic consequences of the virus have been severe: About 11 million jobs have been lost since the start of the pandemic, and the unemployment rate has held at an elevated near-8%.

4:50 a.m. ET Wednesday: Stock futures fluctuate with election results uncertain

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 4:50 a.m. ET Wednesday

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 3,382.75, up 21.25 points or 0.63%

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 27,342.00, down 34 points or 0.12%

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 11,552.00, up 286.25 points or 2.54%

  • Crude (CL=F): +$0.58 (+1.54%) to $38.24 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): -$17.50(-0.92%) to $1,892.90 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -8.5 bps to yield 0.796%

The White House is seen at sunrise during the election day, in Washington, U.S., November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The White House is seen at sunrise during the election day, in Washington, U.S., November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

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