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What investors are watching for the election - and what could go wrong

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Frankfurt
FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Frankfurt

(Reuters) - The stakes are high for financial markets as Americans go to the polls on Tuesday in U.S. elections that have already made history with a record number of early votes cast.

From potential major policy changes to huge election night volatility and post-election swings, this is what investors are watching out for on and after Nov. 3:

* Trading on the night. Stocks have been rocky in the run-up to the election and the CBOE Volatility Index <.VIX>, Wall Street's "fear gauge," has risen in recent weeks. Traders will be glued to screens following how U.S. futures <EScv1> react to every twist and turn on election night, as well as U.S. Treasury futures <TYv1> and the dollar <=USD>.

* U.S. Treasuries. The $20 trillion U.S. Treasury market has been asleep for months but recently showed signs of life as opposing bets on how the economy will perform clash amid jitters over the election.

* Currencies. Election-induced volatility may give a short-term boost to the dollar, though many investors believe the currency is set to weaken over the longer-term.

* How robust exchanges are. Exchanges and retail brokers, under scrutiny after recent outages, have spent months planning for the U.S. election. Now their preparations for what could be a highly volatile trading period are about to be put to the test.

* Market safeguards. Price limits and circuit breakers are safeguards meant to stop a market from moving too far or too fast over a specific period of time. Here is how they would work if markets tumble post-Election Day.

* Liquidity crunches. Large Wall Street banks have been running "war game" drills in their trading businesses and preparing clients for unexpected scenarios, hoping to avoid liquidity crunches or technical errors as markets react to news.

* Credit rating scrutiny. Some of the more influential observers of the election process will be the agencies that determine the country's credit rating.

* Major policy shifts. Investors could confront dramatically different paths for the country on taxes, government spending, trade and regulation, depending on who wins.

* Stocks to watch. Various stocks and sectors could see dramatic swings, and investors have spent months trying to identify potential winners and losers.

* A bullish stock market. For those looking for stronger gains ahead, a Trump win may be a favored outcome according to one measure.

* Should Biden win, as polls suggest, his cabinet picks will receive close scrutiny from investors gauging how the new administration's policy could impact markets.

* Big Tech. If Biden wins, technology companies could face higher tax rates and tax-motivated selling as well as increased regulation.

* Green funds. Fund managers have been betting that green-type stocks with environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials would benefit from a Biden win.

* Healthcare stocks. A Biden victory and a potential Democratic takeover of the U.S. Senate could clear the way for prescription drug price and healthcare coverage reforms, generally seen as potential negatives for companies in the sector.

* Retail investors, meanwhile, will be among those looking to take advantage of post-election volatility.

(Compiled by Megan Davies and Ira Iosebashvili; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Dan Grebler)