Global stocks jump, dollar down as Americans head to polls

Globe with digital tablet, laptop and smartphone showing international markets.
Globe with digital tablet, laptop and smartphone showing international markets.
Andrew Brookes

Global stock markets jumped and the dollar weakened Tuesday as polls opened for the US election, with Republican President Donald Trump seeking to defy forecasts and defeat Democrat challenger Joe Biden.

Polling stations have opened in the eastern United States, marking the start of an election day seen by Trump's opponents as a referendum on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the world's worst-hit nation - which is now also experiencing a deadly resurgence.

Asian, European and US equities rallied, with traders betting on a Democratic sweep of both the White House and Congress that would likely herald a huge new economic stimulus package to fight the coronavirus crisis.

The dollar slid against the euro and pound, while oil prices jumped higher, clawing back some of their recent losses.

Markets tempting fate?

"The markets tempted fate on Tuesday, forgetting the lessons of 2016 as they preemptively celebrated a Joe Biden victory," said Spreadex analyst Connor Campbell, referring to Trump's surprise victory over Hillary Clinton four years ago.

"Choosing to ignore the slim - but not slim enough - likelihood of Trump winning a second term, the markets continued to aggressively rebound," Campbell said.

"The main reason why a Biden win is so sought after from a market perspective, is that a 'blue wave' - ie the Democrats crucially taking the Senate - would see a stimulus plan far greater than anything Republicans would be willing to go for."

Traders nevertheless remain fearful that a contested result could spell fresh market turmoil, legal chaos and even violent unrest in a nation already bitterly divided.

"The risk is that investors are getting ahead of themselves, given the potential for a long, drawn-out battle over the result of the US election in coming weeks should no obvious result appear by this time tomorrow," warned analyst Chris Beauchamp at trading firm IG.

While Tuesday is formally Election Day, in reality Americans have been voting for weeks. With a huge expansion in mail-in voting to safeguard against the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 100 million people had already cast their ballots.

The United States is in dire need of a fresh rescue package as the disease flares up again, threatening a stuttering recovery in the world's top economy, with lawmakers having failed to agree anything despite months of haggling.

"Another potential uncertainty for markets would be the Republicans hanging onto the Senate in what would allow them to block some of the more contentious parts of the Democrats' plans for the US economy," noted CMC Markets UK analyst Michael Hewson.

"The ideal scenario would be a clear-cut outcome," he added.

Oil prices meanwhile rebounded on news that Russia was considering extending a production cut agreed with OPEC this year by another three months.

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