With the US presidential election turning into a nail-biter, bankers, traders and financial analysts told Reuters on Wednesday that Wall Street was worried the ultimate winner could have tough sledding working with a divided Congress to fight the coronavirus pandemic and pass a quick economic stimulus package.
They spoke as several key states were still reporting tight margins between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Though Biden has the lead, millions of votes still need to be counted and the outcome may not be certain for days.
Meanwhile, Congress looked to remain divided. Democrats maintained a firm grip on the House of Representatives which means Trump would probably have to compromise to pass legislation. Republicans looked likely to keep control of the Senate, which would make it harder for a Biden administration to get legislation passed or cabinet members or judges approved.
“Now having (a stimulus package) done in early January or February becomes a big feat,” said a bank lobbyist who was not authorised to speak publicly. “That’s where the minds of bank managements are going to be next and that is certainly what the markets are focused on.”
Major US stock indexes opened 0.1 per cent to 2.5 per cent higher on Wednesday, not the relief rally some had expected, but also not a terrifying plunge. Investors who wanted to make daring bets largely put those positions on ahead of the election and want certainty before taking further action, sources said.
JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, one of Wall Street's emissaries, urged people to be patient for the final election results and said he had faith in the systems that will decide the outcome. Other prominent financiers took to Twitter to joke about the situation or express personal feelings.
"I was wrong. It hurts," wrote Mike Novogratz, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N partner who is now active in cryptocurrency and donates to Democrats. He had expected voters to hand Biden a more decisive win.
Ahead of the election, the financial industry’s biggest worry was soaring taxes and tough regulation if a “blue wave” on election day put Biden in the White House and Democrats in control of both the Senate and the House.
This scenario sparked worry that pressure from progressive Wall Street critics like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could push Biden further from his historically moderate positions on the economy and regulations.
Concerns receded with election tallies showing Biden ahead and Republicans almost certain to hold the Senate, Wall Street sources said.
“The concept that Elizabeth Warren would be running Treasury and Bernie Sanders would be running the Department of Labor is a lot less likely this morning than it was if we have had that ‘Blue Wave,’” said Fred Cannon, research director for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
Still, big financial companies remain anxious that the federal government will struggle to pass meaningful legislation to control the pandemic or help consumers and businesses struggling through lockdown measures, he said.
David Boies, a prominent corporate lawyer who represented former Vice President Al Gore in a US Supreme Court case that put Republican George W. Bush, in the White House, said his Wall Street contacts prefer a divided government that makes it hard to pass laws that make extreme changes in the status quo.
This unusual election say historically high turnout in a politically polarised population and a much larger than usual number of mail-in votes during a deadly pandemic, which slowed down vote counting in key states. The divide between Biden and Trump narrowed from about 200,000 votes to just 6,000 within hours, he noted. He believes the uncertainty could last several days.
“Everyone, whether it’s the man in the street or the man on Wall Street, is fascinated and focused on how this is changing,” Boies said.