US stocks tick lower as midterm results come in

US stocks fell on Wednesday as investors digested the results of tighter than expected midterm elections and looked ahead to a closely watched inflation update on Thursday.

Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 was 1.6 per cent lower in mid-afternoon trading, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slid 2 per cent.

Many pollsters had predicted a “red wave” of Republican victories before Tuesday’s vote, but early results showed Democrats performing better than expected with control of Congress still hanging in the balance.

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, said his party was on track to regain control of the lower chamber, where it needs a net gain of five seats for a majority. The battle for the Senate remained in the balance, with races in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada on a knife edge.

A divided government is often seen as positive for US stock markets, as gridlock between Congress and the White House reduces the likelihood of passing disruptive new regulations or tax rises.

Mike Zigmont, head of trading and research at Harvest Volatility Management, said Wednesday’s declines partly reflected the fact that markets had pre-emptively priced in a more convincing Republican victory.

“If you asked a bunch of hedge funds yesterday, they thought there were going to be [more Republican wins] and a nice pop today. A lot of that money front-ran the election last week and some of that money has now come back out,” he said.

Despite the short-term effect of the midterms, however, most investors believe this week’s inflation data will have a bigger bearing on markets’ longer-term trajectory.

David Donabedian, chief investment officer at CIBC Private Wealth, said “the big picture probably won’t change very much” as a result of the midterms. “If the Republicans gain even a small majority in one house or another then certain policy issues would be off the table . . . we know how that looks, so then think let’s get back to inflation and the Fed and corporate earnings.”

The Federal Reserve last week lifted its main interest rate by 0.75 percentage points for the fourth meeting in a row, and chair Jay Powell warned the US central bank still had “some way to go” in its efforts to bring down inflation.

Data released on Thursday is expected to show the consumer price index’s core measure of inflation, which strips out volatile energy and food costs, remains close to its highest level in four decades.

The dollar index strengthened 0.8 per cent on Wednesday. In government bond markets, the yield on the 10-year Treasury added 0.03 percentage points to 4.16 per cent. Yields rise when prices fall.

Elsewhere, bitcoin fell a further 10 per cent to less than $17,000 after the near collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX, one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges, prompted a broad sell-off in crypto assets.

Line chart of prices for bitcoin showing that it plunged 17 per cent on Nov 9 2022

In China, the CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks dropped 0.9 per cent, while Japan’s Topix shed 0.4 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 1.2 per cent.

The Hang Seng Mainland Properties index rose almost 4 per cent after Beijing expanded a programme to support bond sales in the sector, which had been hit by a liquidity crisis.

Europe’s Stoxx 600 retreated 0.3 per cent, trimming earlier losses, and London’s FTSE 100 fell 0.1 per cent.

Additional reporting by Jaren Kerr in New York

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