Dow poised for largest post-election rally in 120 years

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK — Stocks were set for historic gains on Wednesday, after spinning through an election night dominated by surprises and sharp swings.

The S&P 500 was up 3.3% and on pace for its best day in seven months, in midday trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 737 points, or 2.7%, at 28,217, and the Nasdaq composite jumped 4.3%.

Analysts said the gains came as markets saw the upside of political control in Washington remaining split between Democrats and Republicans. But it followed up on a tumultuous overnight session where U.S. stock futures and bond yields swung up, down and back again as results showed a race  that’s still too early to call between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. It’s unclear when a winner for the presidency can emerge.

Markets are focusing just as much on control of the Senate, where prospects for a Democratic takeover appear to be dropping after Republicans held onto seats considered vulnerable. That in turn lowered the prospects for the tax increases and tighter regulations on businesses that investors saw coming in a potential Democratic sweep, even if it also hurts the likelihood of a big stimulus effort for the economy.

“The first information that people are digesting is that a split government is OK, and we can deal with this,” said Melda Mergen, deputy global head of equities, Columbia Threadneedle. “No big changes are expected anytime soon on the policy side.”

She cautioned, though, that the initial moves for the market may not last. “It’s a very quick reaction without knowing the final results,” she said. “It’s emotional rather than rational.”

Much of Tuesday’s strength for Wall Street was due to big gains for technology stocks. Investors have increasingly seen these stocks as some of the safer bets in the market, able to grow their profits even in a pandemic as more of daily life shifts online.

They don’t need a big stimulus effort for the economy as much as other companies, and the likelihood of Washington approving such a package dropped with the chances of a Democratic sweep. That led to the much better performance for the tech-heavy Nasdaq over other indexes. Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google’s parent company all rose at least 5%

Other areas of the stock market, where profits are more dependent on the strength of the economy, lagged behind. Financial stocks in the S&P 500 rose 0.3%. Companies that make construction materials and could have benefited from a big infrastructure plan under a Democratic sweep were falling. .

Some of the market’s sharpest moves overnight were in yields for U.S. government bonds, which had earlier risen on growing expectations for big economic stimulus.

The 10-year Treasury yield swung from 0.88% late Tuesday up to 0.94% as polls were closing. It then sank as low as 0.75% after Trump made premature claims of victories in several key states, Republicans held onto Senate seats and a couple economic reports came in weaker than expected. It sat at 0.78% in early afternoon trading.

All the swings are a bit reminiscent of four years earlier, when Trump surprised the market by winning the White House. Markets initially tumbled after polls and the market’s expectations proved to be so wrong in 2016, but they quickly turned around on expectations that Trump’s pro-business stance would be good for corporate profits.

The difference this time is that the uncertainty seems set to linger. It may take days for a winner of the White House to emerge, and professional investors say they’re bracing for sharp market swings in the meantime. Trump said early Wednesday that he’d take the election to the Supreme Court, though it’s unclear exactly what he means by that as states continue to tally all their votes.

A drawn-out court battle “just adds more and more uncertainty, and the last thing the market needs is that,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial.

In the end, though, many fund managers suggest investors hold steady through the tumult in large part because one person can’t singlehandedly move the economy and stocks tend to rise regardless of which party controls the White House. What happens with the coronavirus pandemic will have a much greater effect on markets than this election’s results, many fund managers say.