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Financial Markets Plunge As Trump Emerges Victorious

Money traders watched computer screens at a foreign exchange brokerage in Tokyo on Wednesday as U.S. presidential ballots were counted.
Shizuo Kambayashi
Money traders watched computer screens at a foreign exchange brokerage in Tokyo on Wednesday as U.S. presidential ballots were counted.

Updated 10:28 a.m. ET

On Tuesday night, as the presidential election's outcome headed toward an unexpected Trump victory, stock futures plunged. Investors had bet heavily Monday on Democrat Hillary Clinton. As Republican Donald Trump picked up many more votes than polls had predicted, markets reacted violently to the change in expectations.

But then on Wednesday morning, U.S. investors reassessed – and calmed down. After the opening bell on Wall Street, stocks rose across the board by a slight 0.2 percent, then drifted down about 0.2 percent. That minor seesawing did not reflect how tough the night had been for equities and currencies around the world.

In the immediate aftermath of Trump's victory, Japan's Nikkei index closed down more than 5 percent. The Hang Seng Index was down more than 2 percent. European stocks fell too, though less dramatically.

In general, global investors were shifting money out of stocks and into safe havens. The Japanese yen shot up against the U.S. dollar while the Mexican peso fell. Gold prices rose. Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasurys initially fell sharply.

But after Trump's victory speech, the dollar regained some strength and other "fear" gauges seemed to quiet down as it became clear there would be no drawn out battle over electoral college votes.

By Wednesday's start of trading in this country, investors seemed to adapt to the election surprise and turn more positive. Initially, indicators suggested U.S. stocks could lose 5 percent of their value. But the huge losses did not materialize as investors began spotting opportunities to make money.

"Throughout the campaign, biotech and pharmaceuticals were terrified of a Democratic victory; this should ease. Defense names should do well," Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial, wrote in an analysis.

The initial shock of this presidential race hit global markets just months after voters in Britain stunned the world with their Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, U.S. markets were relatively quiet as investors became confident that Clinton would win. Then in late October, when it appeared the FBI would reopen an investigation into questions about Clinton's email, stocks began a steady fall.

For nine straight days, the S&P 500 drifted down. But that sentiment turned around when the FBI said it had found nothing new that would trigger further action. On Monday, markets rebounded, with investors again becoming confident of a Clinton victory.

Investors generally saw her as a well-known figure whose economic policies would be similar to President Obama's. In contrast, Trump's positions are less clearly spelled out, and businesses generally oppose his key position — tearing up existing trade agreements.

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Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.