U.S. Stock Futures Edge Up With Election Outcome Still in Limbo

U.S. stock futures opened little changed after unbridled investor demand for technology and health-care stocks sent benchmark indexes to some of the strongest gains of the year.

American equities have surged despite a U.S. presidential election whose outcome remains uncertain, with Wednesday’s session dominated by groups whose relative immunity from the economic cycle have made them defensive havens all year. Facebook Inc., Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. each rose more than 4% during exchange trading, while drug-developerBiogen Inc. soared more than 40%.

Contracts tied to the S&P 500 added 0.1% as of 6:01 p.m. in New York Wednesday, while Nasdaq 100 futures rose 0.4%. During the cash trading session, the S&P 500 rose 2.2% as the Nasdaq 100 surged 4.4%, the best day for the tech-heavy benchmark in seven months. An measure of the S&P 500 that treats Apple Inc. the same as Norwegian Cruise Lines ended the day little changed, highlighting the strength of the index heavyweights.

While increasingly contentious vote counts in the presidential election made for a nervous backdrop, equity markets have remained buoyant thanks to appetite for technology megacaps, befitting a year when that group pushed the Nasdaq 100 up almost 35% even as a pandemic and recession raged. With Democrat Joe Biden declared the winner in Michigan and Wisconsin Wednesday, some investors saw prospects for an end to the political stand-off.

“We’re slowly learning the outcomes in some of the key battleground states,” said Ben Axler, chief investment officer at Spruce Point Management. “That’s helping to mitigate some of the uncertainty.”

After a wild election night sowed confusion across markets, investors remained on high alert Wednesday for developments across a handful of states that have yet to finalize their ballot counts. Close contests in key states could mean results won’t be known for days, though Bidenopened a clearer path to the White House over Donald Trump with the Wisconsin andMichigan wins.

Still, investors were forced to recalibrate their election-related bets after it became clear a Democratic takeover of the Senate wouldn’t materialize, thus lessening chances for the large fiscal spending bill the market had been hoping for. That’s made tech stocks more appealing than companies heavily dependent on a strong economic rebound.

The yield on 10-year Treasuries fell Wednesday as investors pared back growth expectations, and economically sensitive shares of smaller firms underperformed. The Nasdaq 100 had its best day relative to the Russell 2000 gauge of tinier companies since March.

“What today and yesterday shows us is we don’t really care who wins as long as it’s not all or nothing,” said Kim Forrest, chief investment officer at Bokeh Capital Partners LLC. “The divided government is the best possible scenario for markets. If it gets that, it’s happy.”

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In the overnight trading session Tuesday, exchange-mandated rules led to a two-minute trading halt after contracts tied to the Nasdaq 100 surged 3.5% within a 60-minute window. Such guidelines would come into play again should stock index futures rise or fall more than 3.5% in an hour. Hard upside and downside limits stand 7% from a Chicago Mercantile Exchange reference price calculated at the end of the trading day Wednesday.

Meanwhile, trading volume soared in Tuesday’s overnight trading session, with both futures contracts tied to the Nasdaq 100 and Russell 2000 registering record turnover. Micro e-mini Nasdaq 100 futures traded a record of close to 550,000 contracts during the overnight session, CME data show. To put that in perspective, average volume for a full day of trading in the contract this year was roughly 670,000 through October.

Besides the American presidential election, traders have plenty else to contend with this week. Federal Reserve officialsconclude a two-day meeting Thursday, and though the tight election puts pressure on them to deploy even more monetary stimulus to support the economy, the central bank is not expected to announce a shift in its stance. Then, on Friday, the government’s monthly jobs report isforecast to show private payrolls increased by about 700,000 after an 877,000 gain in September.

— With assistance by Claire Ballentine

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