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US investors are placing strong bets on stocks that could benefit from a Joe Biden victory, despite a presidential election result that is far from certain and the risk that Donald Trump contest it should he lose.
Shares in stockbroker Charles Schwab rose about 5 per cent to their highest since June, as investors wager on a Democrat win and fiscal stimulus that could embolden wealthy Americans to top up their trading accounts.
Belief a Biden victory could spark a rebound for the pandemic-stricken US economy is also propelling bank shares higher. JPMorgan, seen as a bellwether of the health of the US financial system, rose 4 per cent, with rivals Morgan Stanley and Citigroup posting similar gains.
Another potential beneficiary from a Democrat win, according to analysts at JPMorgan, is energy drink maker Monster Beverage, trading around 3 per cent higher this morning. The seller of extremely caffeinated drinks, according to JPMorgan, would be boosted by higher minimum wages.
The mood on stock markets was not altogether complacent about the month ahead, however.
The Vix, Wall Street’s so-called fear gauge that measures expected volatility on the S&P 500, remained elevated at a reading of 35, nearly double it’s long-run average. For retail investors, that could mean a scary ride ahead.
The “worst case scenario”, said Barclays co-head of global equities Paul Leech, “would be a contested outcome with some kind of legal challenge. Then not only do we see an end to this market rally, but volatility will increase.”
In other words, perhaps think twice before phoning Charles Schwab.
Republicans in Pennsylvania have filed a lawsuit in federal court asking for certain votes in Montgomery County to be thrown out.
The lawsuit claimed that Montgomery County, which is next to Philadelphia, illegally pre-canvassed ballots before November 3 and allowed some voters to fix issues with their ballots.
Pennsylvania state law prohibits processing ballots before 7am on election day, one of the reasons that it could be days or longer before it is clear who has won the battleground state.
The lawsuit was filed by Kathy Barnette, a Republican candidate for Pennsylvania’s 4th congressional district, and Clay Breece, a local Republican party official. It asked for any ballots that had been pre-canvassed and changed to be thrown out.
A spokeswoman for the Montgomery County elections board did not immediately return a request for comment.
Washington’s biggest business lobby has set out its post-election priorities, saying it will not wait for the inauguration of a new US president next January to press for more progress on a second stimulus bill.
If President Trump wins reelection, Republican and Democratic leaders “must immediately return to the negotiating table and work through their differences”, Suzanne Clark, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, wrote on Monday.
Similarly, if a “blue wave” gives Joe Biden the White House and Democrats a Senate majority, business will not be content to wait until next year to secure fresh support for business. “The Chamber will put maximum pressure on our leaders to pass an aid package as quickly as possible,” she warned.
US business has called for patience as all votes are counted, and voiced concern about possible unrest and market volatility should election results be contested.
But Ms Clark made clear that corporate America’s priorities would be similar whoever won: relief for companies hit by the pandemic would be “the first order of business” but the Chamber would then “double down” on its lobbying for infrastructure spending, a priority it believes has been held up by partisan gridlock.
The dollar weakened substantially against trading partners’ currencies as investors wagered on a Joe Biden victory that would unleash a huge borrowing and spending package to revive the pandemic-stricken US economy.
The dollar index, which measures the performance of the US currency against six major global currencies, fell almost 0.7 per cent, its biggest drop in more than a month. Against the euro, it fell 0.6 per cent, to purchase 85.4 euro cents.
“The dollar, in the likely event of a Biden victory, will weaken,” said Tihana Ibrahimpasic, a multi-asset analyst at fund manager Janus Henderson.
This, she explained, was not only because more borrowing by a Biden administration would increase the US deficit. A fiscal stimulus that revived the world’s largest economy would also prompt investors to buy stocks and retreat from haven assets such as the reserve currency.
US stock markets opened higher on Tuesday, with the blue-chip S&P 500 gaining 1.6 per cent and the tech-focused Nasdaq adding 1.4 per cent, following on from a rally in European shares.
Financial and industrial stocks were the best performers on the S&P, as bets on an economic rebound under Mr Biden encouraged buying of value shares – those that trade below their fair value and tend to do well as recessions end.
Ms Ibrahampasic added, however, that an unexpected or contested result could swiftly end the stock market rally and reverse the dollar’s fall.
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Christopher Krebs told reporters on Tuesday morning that the agency, which monitors for election interference and hacks, was “confident the vote is secure”.
But he added: “We are not out of the woods yet…Today in some sense is half time.”
Federal authorities have seen attempts in recent weeks by foreign actors such as Iran and Russia to interfere with the vote, but those threats were dealt with “quickly” and “comprehensively”, he said. Two weeks ago, US intelligence authorities revealed that both countries had obtained voter registration information and that Iran had sent emails posing as a far-right group designed to sow chaos and intimidate voters.
Mr Krebs also noted some “early indications of system disruption” on Tuesday due to technical issues at polling stations, rather than hacking by outside actors. Mr Krebs added that there are “paper back-ups” for systems in the case of issues. Voting systems in Spalding County, Georgia, are currently experiencing a countywide glitch, according to local media reports.
Californians will not only cast their ballot for president on Tuesday but will also be asked to make a choice pivotal to the future of the so-called gig economy.
Proposition 22 seeks to exempt these app-based groups from California employment law, and is backed by more than $200m from a coaltion of Uber, Lyft, Doordash and others, making it by far the most expensive ballot measure race in the state’s history.
Passing the Prop 22 vote will mean the companies will be allowed to continue classifying their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, avoiding benefits such as minimum wage, sick pay and healthcare.
Prop 22 would instead put in place a limited number of benefits based on how many hours have been worked: a driver putting in more than 15 hours a week driving for Uber would start to build up a stipend that could be used to pay for healthcare coverage, for example, or paid time off.
They would receive an “earnings guarantee” of 120 per cent the local minimum hourly wage, though how that is calculated is one of the many bones of contention in this debate.
Uber doesn’t count the time during which a driver is waiting to be matched with a rider, which can amount to around 33 per cent every hour, according to one Uber-disputed study.
Opponents of Prop 22 say gig economy companies have been abusing their drivers for the past decade, building multibillion-dollar companies on the back of low income workers subsidising costs. If Prop 22 fails to pass, a recent court ruling would most likely mean Uber and Lyft are forced to make drivers employees by in about the new year. The companies say it would be impossible without reducing the number of drivers greatly, and significantly raising prices, particularly in rural areas.
Either way, California, the state in which the gig economy was invented, will determine the controversial sector’s future.
A win for “yes” will see Uber’s stock price soar — with the expectation that the company will go state-to-state, and possibly country-to-country, to set up similar agreements on its terms.
A “no” would give energy to the outspent labour movement to build its fight for employment classification nationwide, adding complication and expense to the gig business.
Polls suggest a tight race. The most recent, which polled about 5,000 Californians in October, suggested 46 per cent supported the measure. That’s short of the 50 per cent needed for it to pass. It was however a seven-point increase on the same poll a month earlier.
Donald Trump expressed confidence in his chances of winning another four years in the White House, saying on the morning of election day that his campaign “took off” following the last presidential debate.
The president dismissed claims from critics that he might declare victory before the race can be called. An announcement would be made “only when there’s victory”, he said in an interview on the Fox News show Fox & Friends. He added: “There’s no reason to play games.”
Mr Trump spent the final days of the campaign barnstorming in battleground states, as polls showed a tight race in states that could decide the outcome of the election.
Rallies in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida and other states drew thousands of onlookers. On Monday, his campaign stops included Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, the blue-collar town where Democratic candidate Joe Biden was born.
“It’s been a great three weeks,” Mr Trump said. “The second debate in particular I think was something that worked out very well.”
Mr Trump believes that returning to the campaign trail with his trademark rallies also helped build momentum. “You add it all together and I think we really took off,” he said, adding that holding those rallies “translates into a lot of votes”.
“I think we have a very solid chance of winning. I think a lot of that has to do with the tremendous crowd sizes,” Mr Trump said. “There was no small event, every place, no matter where we went.”
After attending mass in Wilmington, Delaware, his home for decades, Joe Biden flew to Scranton, the industrial city in Pennsylvania where he was born. After landing in Scranton with two of his grandchildren, he said the pair were the only two who had not been there. “We’re going home,” Mr Biden told his travelling press pool.
In the final weeks of the race, Mr Biden and Mr Trump both campaigned more in Pennsylvania than in any other swing state. With 20 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House, the rust-belt state is one of the most critical battlegrounds. Mr Trump became the first Republican to win the state since 1988 when he beat Hillary Clinton there by drawing a big share of white, working class Pennsylvanians four years ago.
Polls in Pennsylvania close at 8pm eastern time. But the state has decided to allow absentee ballots that arrive by post within three days of the election – a measure that has drawn the ire of Mr Trump. Republicans have already lost one battle in the Supreme Court to block the extension, and are threatening further legal action.
The legal battle over “drive-through” voting in the Houston area last night led to a change to election day in Texas.
Although a federal appeals court rejected a Republican challenge to the legality of the drive-through venues late on Monday night, Harris county election officials decided to shut most of them down out of an abundance of caution.
Nearly 130,000 ballots cast in the Democratic-leaning county remain at risk.
Read Kadhim Shubber’s account of the legal challenges that are still open on election day here.
Expected volatility in US government bonds has ticked higher as Americans head to the polls to cast their ballot for the next president, reflecting jitters that the outcome could usher in a period of market turbulence.
This week, the Bank of America MOVE index, which tracks expected volatility in the Treasury market implied by option pricing, climbed to its highest level since April – a period of huge stress for the world’s largest bond market.
Cracks first emerged in March, prompting immediate action from the Federal Reserve. It cut interest rates to zero and pledged to buy an unlimited quantity of Treasuries, helping to soothe markets.
Investors fear that calm may be disrupted in the event of a messy election outcome. Market participants say a contested election could help to reverse a weeks-long sell-off in longer-dated Treasuries, which have sent yields to their highest levels since June.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year note now hovers at 0.88 per cent, having started October below 0.7 per cent.
Traders have been preparing themselves for big moves in China’s national currency in the aftermath of the US election,
One measure of hedging activity – implied overnight volatility for the renminbi offshore exchange rate against the dollar – hit a record on Tuesday.
Investors have sought to protect against, or bet on, the prospect that a victory by either candidate may drive major swings in the currency.
The renminbi has strengthened in recent weeks on expectations of a victory for Democrat Joe Biden – with some anticipating that this would help ease US-China trade tensions.
Expectations that the polls will spur greater volatility have escalated across other major currency pairs.
Overnight implied volatility, which tracks options trading, rose more than four times higher for the euro. It moved more for the Japanese yen, which some consider a haven currency.
Read the full story on traders’ preparations for FX volatility here
Some pundits have quietly written off Donald Trump’s hopes of recapturing the White House after his Democratic rival Joe Biden opened a large lead in the opinion polls, writes Demetri Sevastopulo, the FT’s Washington bureau chief.
But Mr Trump still has a path to victory because Mr Biden’s polling leads are smaller in swing states such as Pennsylvania, where the Democrat is up by 1.2 per cent, narrowed down from a 5.7 per cent lead last week.
Most but not all of the paths to another victory for Mr Trump run through Pennsylvania, a state where the incumbent president has campaigned heavily in recent months.
Mr Biden has made more visits to Pennsylvania than any other swing state, highlighting the importance of its 20 electoral college votes.
Read more on the vital swing state of Pennsylvania here
Americans are bracing themselves for what could be a long night – and possibly days or weeks – before learning who won the presidential election.
A surge in early and mail-in voting during the pandemic has added new complications to the vote-counting process, as many states are not accustomed to handling large numbers of postal votes. Some states got a head start in counting votes, but results in other states could be delayed.
Three important swing states, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, will begin counting early votes today, making it less likely that final results or projections will arrive by the end of the night. Florida, another battleground state, has already begun tallying ballots.
For more on what to expect tonight, read this story by the FT’s Lauren Fedor and Christine Zhang.
We’re off in the 2020 US election, as Americans have begun casting their votes at polling stations across East Coast states, such as New York and Maine, in one of the most critical days in the country’s history.
Vermont was the first to open at 5am local time, with voters braving the dark and cold to queue to have their say on whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden should occupy the White House for the next four-year term.
States further west are beginning to open their doors to voters, with the world’s gaze fixed on the US election and in particular large battleground states that could swing the election, such as Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Democrat candidate Joe Biden “owes much, if not all, of his poll lead to Donald Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic”, said the Financial Times’ editorial board in a leader column last week.
“It would be good to say that America had soured on Mr Trump after having weighed his overall record since 2017: the Ukraine pay-for-play schemes that resulted in his impeachment last year; the wrecking ball Mr Trump has taken to US alliances; his stoking of white nationalist militias; his withdrawal from the Paris accord on climate change; his corrupt misuse of the presidential pardon; and his self-harming trade war with China,” the FT View said, adding that most Americans still trust him more on the economy.
Mr Biden’s promise of managerial competence was “revolutionary”, it said, but that, if he wins, he should not forget the frustrations that gave Mr Trump the presidency in the first place.
Pinellas county in Florida, along the Gulf Coast to the west of Tampa, is a particularly accurate political bellwether: it has picked the winner of each presidential election since 1980, with the exception of George W Bush in 2000, writes James Politi.
Four years ago, Donald Trump won it by little more than 1 percentage point. With Florida exceedingly close this year, Joe Biden will probably have to show solid gains in Pinellas, rather than narrowly flip it, to prevail in the rest of the state.
Florida remains very much up for grabs, with Mr Biden leading by just 0.9 percentage points, the latest Realclearpolitics.com polling average shows.
Signs suggest that voter dissatisfaction with the economy is combining with Mr Biden’s nationwide gains among seniors, women and the young to give the Democrat an edge in Pinellas.
Mr Trump’s most valuable weapon on the road to clinching a second term — his economic stewardship — has been blunted by the downturn that gripped America this year, pushing the overall US jobless rate up to the highest level for any incumbent president seeking re-election since the second world war.
In Florida the political fight over the economy has been particularly raw because the state depends on services such as leisure, tourism and hospitality, which were hit by the early lockdowns and the second peak of infections in the summer.
If there is one thing investors appear to be sure of, it is that the next few hours and days are going to be a long slog.
The unprecedented surge of postal voting in the US has compounded the sense of uncertainty in the lead up to one of the most hotly contested elections in American history.
The Vix index, one of the most closely watched measures of expected equity market volatility, is trading at 37, around twice its long-term average. Currency traders have stepped up their hedging activity, especially relating to China’s renminbi.
Still, markets are looking sanguine as polling centres begin opening on the US East Coast. Futures tracking the S&P 500 index are up 1.3 per cent, echoing broad gains in Europe and Asia. US government debt, particularly with maturities long into the future, is under pressure, signalling a sense of calm as election day kicks off.
Investors say markets have largely priced-in a victory by Democrat Joe Biden against the incumbent Donald Trump. The spectre of a blue wave, where Democrats also take control of Congress, has pushed-up the price of stocks that would benefit from Mr Biden’s plans for a vast infrastructure spending programme. This has also pressured the price of US Treasuries as investors expect it would stoke stronger growth and inflation in the future and prompt a deluge of issuance of US government debt to fund the fiscal stimulus.
But investment strategists are quick to note that Mr Biden favours higher corporate taxes. Mr Trump’s tax cuts were one of his hallmark first-term achievements and were a significant boon to the earnings of US companies. In turn, public companies used some of their enlarged profits to buy back shares, which helped propel Wall Street stocks to record highs.
All of these competing dynamics mean it could get choppy. The FT’s markets team will be writing dispatches on this blog and on the homepage as assets react – so stay tuned.
Americans – those who haven’t cast their ballots – are heading to the polls on Tuesday.
But how has their perception of the economy changed during the final stages of Donald Trump’s presidency? The FT-Petersen US Economic Monitor has traced voter sentiment in the lead-up to the election.
Better off? Just under a third of US voters feel that they are better off financially than they were in 2016, according to data gathered between October 8-11 and analysed by Christine Zhang and Lauren Fedor. That’s the lowest total since the poll started a year earlier.
Responses were split along party lines: more than half of Democrats said that they were worse off under President Trump, compared with just under a tenth of Republican voters.
Economy: helped or hindered? At the last count, 46 per cent of respondents said that Mr Trump’s policies have hurt the economy. 44 per cent said that his policies had helped. This marked the first time that a greater percentage of people said Mr Trump had hurt rather than helped the economy.
Prioritising healthcare US voters’ main concern is a potential global slowdown. But rising healthcare costs are a close second. The latest data showed that more than a quarter of respondents named this as their top concern – a significant step-up from the previous month.
Discover the FT-Petersen US Economic Monitor here
Almost 99m Americans had cast ballots either in person or by post by Monday evening, equivalent to 72 per cent of the entire 2016 vote and putting the country on track for a record turnout.
The majority of early votes have been cast by Democrats, according to the US Elections Project, meaning Donald Trump must convince Republicans to turn out in big numbers on Tuesday if he is to overcome their advantage.
Fewer undecided voters will be up for grabs on election day this year, owing to the surge in early voting by Americans who did not want to risk contracting coronavirus at polling stations.
Mr Trump has threatened legal action to block the counting of ballots in critical battlegrounds if they arrive after election day. However, those efforts suffered a blow after judges in two battleground states rejected lawsuits intended to stop the counting of ballots.
The final result could be delayed by days if not weeks as Democrats fight expected legal efforts by Republicans to prevent some mail-in votes from being counted.
Discover essential reading on the US election here
As election day dawns in the US, Joe Biden is ahead in the polls as he has been throughout the campaign.
FT analysis of the latest polls shows that Mr Biden has solid support in 18 states which would give him 203 electoral college votes. President Trump, by contrast, has solid support in 15 states which would give him 77 votes in the electoral college.
There’s a lot to play for in between that though, and to win either of the candidates needs 270 electoral college votes.
Big battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas will be particularly important. The race is also close in Iowa, North Carolina and Georgia with the candidates polling within two percentage points of each other.
Welcome to the Financial Times’ live coverage of the US election.
As the US votes for its next president, we’ll be keeping you up to date with all the latest developments, from voter turnout to comments from the candidates, before bringing you all the results as they come in.
We’ll also have reaction from around the world as the election progresses, and the latest news from the financial markets as investors and traders digest the speculation and the results.
For a round-up of the FT’s coverage of the election, including dispatches from battleground states, profiles of the main personalities, analysis of key voter groups and commentary from the likes of Ed Luce, Janan Ganesh and Simon Schama, visit the FT’s presidential election home page