US election fears pummel Wall Street

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Wall Street sold off on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 closing at the lowest level since July 7, amid growing concern over the impending US presidential election and prospects for higher US interest rates.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Nov 1, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - A new poll that favoured Republican candidate Donald Trump injected fresh anxiety into US and European equity markets on Tuesday (Nov 1), on week before Americans choose their next president.

In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index led most major regional markets higher after China's closely watched purchasing managers index hit its highest level in more than two years, indicating that the important manufacturing sector - and the world's number two economy - was levelling out.

But as the trading day moved to Europe, early gains for stocks petered out after an ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll found Mr Trump edging ahead of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by one point for the first time since May.

Mr Trump's 46-45 per cent lead in the White House race, while well within the margin of error, possibly reflected the renewed controversy over Mrs Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while serving as US Secretary of State.

Frankfurt lost 1.3 per cent, Paris fell 0.9 per cent and London finished 0.5 per cent lower.

In New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.6 per cent while the broader S&P 500 declined 0.7 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 0.7 per cent.

Globally, investor confidence remains fragile after Friday's bombshell news that the FBI was investigating additional e-mails connected to Mrs Clinton, Wall Street's preferred candidate.

"The market is pricing in a somewhat reduced likelihood of a Clinton victory, but it's not down all the way to pricing in a Trump victory," said Mr Karthik Sankaren, director of global strategy at Eurasia Group.

Election jitters also overshadowed the Federal Reserve's meeting, which is expected to leave US interest rates untouched on Wednesday but could signal an intention to raise them next month.

The VIX volatility index, which is seen as a measure of the US market's fears, briefly climbed above 20 for the first time since Britain voted in June to pull out of the European Union. It finished at 18.35, still sharply higher than Monday.

Gold prices continued to climb, jumping more than 1 per cent to US$1,293 an ounce.

"Gold appears to be being accumulated as a hedge against equity market declines before the US election," said CMC Markets analyst Jasper Lawler.

The better-than-expected economic data from China also buoyed the mining sector because the Asian powerhouse is a leading consumer of many metals.

"The commodity space remains supported by rising metals prices and positive China data," said Mr Mike van Dulken, head of research at trading firm Accendo Markets.

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