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Finance executives fret as U.S. presidential vote too close to call

Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Lawrence Delevingne and Anna Irrera
·4-min read
FILE PHOTO: Wall Street sign is be seen outside the New York Stock Exchange
FILE PHOTO: Wall Street sign is be seen outside the New York Stock Exchange

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Lawrence Delevingne and Anna Irrera

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Financial executives worldwide are waiting for a clear winner in the U.S. election after President Donald Trump without evidence claimed foul play in the fight for the White House, stoking fears of a drawn-out count that will keep markets on edge.

While the Republican incumbent has handed the financial industry huge tax breaks and deregulatory wins, Trump's first term has also been marked by volatility and unpredictability, particularly in international trade.

Wall Street has leant to the left this election, with Democratic challenger Joe Biden outstripping Trump in financial industry fundraising.

Many executives said they did not support all Biden's policies, but said they believed he would be more predictable and better for the country.

"There was a lot of trepidation for this election. There were people expecting violence. The White House was fenced up," said David Bailin, chief investment officer of Citi's <C.N> private banking arm.

"Guess what? We now have something to worry about. Had there been a clear election outcome, there would have been one day of activity. A prolonged struggle, given the sort of tensions, could be something uglier," he said.

Global investors on Wednesday began reversing some Biden trades that had prompted a jump in Wall Street's main indexes on Tuesday.

"People are mostly talking about banks today: they are the worst performing sector, as the likelihood of a blue wave and big Biden stimulus plan recedes," said Paul Leech, co-head of equities at Barclays.

Several financial markets, including U.S. equity futures and the U.S dollar, gyrated as voting projections for swing states appeared to favour Trump.

Bank stocks in Europe fell, with the STOXX index of European lenders <.SX7P> down 2% while the main bourses in London <.FTSE>, Paris <.FCHI> and Frankfurt <.GDAXI> rose by 0.2% to 0.3% by 1130 GMT.

London-based banks that staffed trading floors overnight reported a long night of talking to nervous clients. The greatest trading activity was in the early hours of Wednesday before volumes tailed off sharply before dawn.

Jim McCormick, global head of desk strategy at British investment bank NatWest Markets <NWG.L>, said it would be "all hands on deck" with the outcome so uncertain.

Analysts said it could be days before all votes were counted.

The experience was very different from Nov. 9, 2016, when, with no pandemic raging, New York city and other financial centres hosted informal watch parties in bars, and Trump's victory was called at around 2.30 a.m.

While there were few signs of disruption or violence at polling sites on Tuesday, Trump's assertion of election cheating without citing evidence left some finance executives wondering if it was too soon to rule out civil unrest.

"There are no problems right now but that's only because there's no answer right now," said Billy Weber, CEO of Checkpoint Capital, a fixed-income platform.

Others said financial firms could cash in on the volatility.

"You start seeing customers increasingly looking to hedge either positions, so you start seeing volumes picking up on risk management products," Johann Scholtz, an equity research analyst at Morningstar said.

(For the latest results and news on U.S. election, click: https://www.reuters.com/world/us-election2020 )

'PERFECT STORM'

The S&P 500 Index has risen 48.8% during Trump's tenure, which he has frequently cited as a measure of success. But Trump has not been uniformly loved by the financial industry.

He has attacked corporate leaders, including JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N> CEO Jamie Dimon, and Wall Street chiefs have distanced themselves from Trump as he drew criticism for his handling of the pandemic and of racial justice protests.

But the U.S. financial industry is also worried about higher corporate taxes, a fresh enforcement crackdown and an emboldened consumer watchdog under Biden. [L1N2HD1OK]

The former vice president has cast himself as someone who will unify the country and has aligned himself with progressives fiercely critical of Wall Street.

Regardless of the winner, the global financial community prefers a decisive outcome.

"If we get a Biden victory and a split in terms of the Senate remaining with the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress, I think markets would take that probably worse," said Devan Kaloo, global head of equities at Aberdeen Standard Investments. <SLA.L>

Still, some young Republican finance executives said they were anticipating gathering to celebrate a Trump victory.

Charles Kolean, a 25-year-old investment industry worker who spent months raising cash to re-elect Trump, said he had reserved a section of a Dallas bar, where he and some 100 friends planned to toast another four years for the president, albeit wearing masks.

"The perfect storm is coming together to make Donald Trump a two-term president," he said.

(Reporting by Imani Moise, Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Lawrence Delevingne and Anna Irrera; additional reporting by Suzanne Barlyn, Iain Withers, Lawrence White and Simon Jessop, Writing by Lauren LaCapra and Sinead Cruise; Editing by Michelle Price, Peter Cooney, Peter Graff and Barbara Lewis)