Asia stocks, dollar wrestle with US election risk
Asia shares joined the US dollar on the defensive on Thursday as the nail-biting US presidential race saw the S&P 500 suffer its longest losing streak in five years as investors sailed to safer harbours.
Sovereign bonds, gold, the yen and Swiss franc were all in favour, and even the prospect of a December rate increase from the US Federal Reserve could not save the dollar.
Oil prices steadied for a moment after taking a beating on data showing a record weekly build in US crude inventories.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was flat with only minor moves across the region. Shanghai and South Korea barely budged.
Tokyo markets were closed for a holiday, which was likely just as well as the Nikkei would have been hard pressed by the rising yen.
Narrowing polls have led markets to price in more risk Republican Donald Trump might defeat his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, perhaps remembering the turmoil that followed the surprise Brexit vote.
An average of polls compiled by the RealClearPolitics website showed Clinton just 1.7% ahead of Trump nationally on Wednesday. A Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll released late the same day showed Clinton ahead by 6% points among likely voters.
Investors generally view Clinton as a known quantity, but there is deep uncertainty about what a Trump win might mean for US economic policy, free trade and geopolitics.
"We are not quite at the point where we need to think about canned food and underground wood bunkers, but we are being schooled in understanding the dynamics politics plays on financial markets," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at broker IG Research.
"Despite all the thoughts about central bank policy changes, improving inflation trends and ever-changing economics, politics dominates markets above all else."
The baleful effect was all too apparent on Wall Street where the Dow ended Wednesday down 0.43%. The S&P 500 lost 0.65% and the Nasdaq 0.93%.
Another session of losses for the S&P would match the record for consecutive down days set in 2008.
Slow Motion Fed
Politics also overshadowed the Fed's November policy meeting where it kept rates steady as expected and opened the door a little wider to a rate rise next month.
"Barring a shock to the global economy and/or upheaval in financial markets, we continue to anticipate a 25 basis point rate hike at the December 14 meeting," said Peter Dragicevich, a senior currency and rates strategist at CBA.
"We, and the FOMC, are looking for the tightening cycle to continue to be slow and limited," he added, predicting just two more rate increases over 2017.
The prospect of such a glacial tightening did little to aid the US dollar which hit its lowest level in more than three weeks against the euro, yen, Swiss franc and sterling.
The euro firmed to $1.1106, while the dollar faded to 103.31 yen. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index was pinned at 97.298 well down on last week's peak of 99.119.
The Mexican peso slid to a more than one-month low at 19.4667 pesos per dollar, on fears a Trump victory would hurt the local economy.
In commodity markets, spot gold was firm at $1,299.36 an ounce, having hit its highest since October 4.
Oil pared some losses after sliding on Wednesday when data showed weekly US crude inventories rose 14.4 million barrels, far above forecasts.
West Texas crude bounced 51 cents to $45.85 a barrel on Thursday, though that followed a near 3% drop overnight. Brent added 59 cents to $47.45.