U.S. Election Uncertainty Panics Markets as Early Results Show Close Race

A tight race in the U.S. presidential election has caused market volatility as futures swing wildly between gains and losses.

S&P 500 futures were deeply in the red during after-hours trading as investors waited tentatively for ballots to be counted. They later swung into positive territory, and back again, as no clear winner had emerged and prospects of a contested election increased.

Dow futures also remain around 1 percent lower, at the time of publishing, after a similar rollercoaster journey. Futures on the tech-heavy Nasdaq are 1 percent higher, however, losing some steam after they surged by almost 3 percent earlier on.

It comes after Wall Street posted strong gains on Tuesday, with the Dow recording its best percentage gain since mid-July.

An extended battle between Reuplican president Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden is ultimately the worst outcome for traders, as markets hate uncertainty.

Stocks in Europe have also sold off on the back of the news as the result remains on a knife edge.

Biden was ahead of Trump in most national polls released in the month leading to the election, according to FiveThirtyEight data, with betting odds largely in his favour last week.

However, the election is now closer than the polls ever suggested, having underestimated the depth of support for Trump. The race for control of the Senate also remains undecided.

Stuart Clark, portfolio manager at Quilter Investors, said we are in "a state of electoral paralysis", as neither candidate is ready to concede and the contest could wind up in the courts.

"With the global COVID-19 situation weighing down on market sentiment we should expect more volatility until at least we have a better sense of the result of this election," he said.

"What markets will be disappointed with should this end up being a dragged out affair is the lack of a swift stimulus package that would inevitably buoy share prices. We are going to have to wait to see what all this means for the economic recovery, but in the short-term it is not the scenario investors wanted."

In the 2016 presidential election, futures nosedived 5 percent as Trump took the surprise win against Hillary Clinton. Futures rebounded hours later in the morning in similar fashion to today's events.

Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Trump declared an unsupported victory and claimed a fraud was being committed.

"This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our county," he said. "We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election."

He also said that he plans to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight election results, adding to the current market uncertainty. Millions of votes are yet to be counted.

Neil Wilson of Markets.com said: "Donald Trump just declared war by declaring victory in the election before all the counting is over. He's played the voter fraud card and this has undoubtedly unsettled markets as a long protracted battle in the courts is precisely what investors do not want."

Donald Trump election 2020
Donald Trump said that he plans to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the election results. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images