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Nikkei drops more than 5%, gold rallies as US poll results eyed

Asian stock markets tumbled and investors scrambled into assets perceived to be safe on nervousness over the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

Japan's Nikkei 225 tanked 5.36 percent, or 919.84 points, at 16,251.54, as the yen, regarded as a safe haven currency, strengthened amid nervousness over the vote. Dollar/yen was trading at 102.65 as of 3:08 pm HK/SIN, after climbing as high as 105.46 earlier. At the yen's strongest level in Wednesday's session, it was fetching 101.15 per dollar.

Australia's ASX 200 closed down 1.93 percent, or 101.23 points, at 5,156.55. The index was initially up 0.8 percent at the open, before the projections came in. The benchmark index saw broad losses across all sub-indexes, except for gold which was up 9.61 percent.

It was also a historic day for Australia's stock exchange which saw a record of 1.71 million trades on Wednesday. The previous record was 1.53 million on 24 June when the U.K. referendum result was announced.

"Markets are in all out panic mode that President Trump could become a reality. Trump has taken the key battleground states of Ohio and Florida. If Trump does win this election then the pollsters may have wrong-footed the markets once again," said Kathleen Brooks, research director at City Index, in a note on Wednesday.

According to NBC News, Donald Trump was the projected winner in several states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, West Virginia, South Carolina, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Hillary Clinton was the projected winner in eight states: California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. She is also projected to win in D.C.

In South Korea, the Kospi finished down 2.25 percent, or 45 points, at 1,958.38. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 2.44 percent by mid-afternoon.

Chinese shares were moderately lower compared to the rest of the region, with the Shanghai composite ended down 0.61 percent, or 19.12 points, at 3,128.77 and the Shenzhen composite closed 0.575 percent lower, or 11.97 points, at 2,068.47.

Dominic Schnider, head of Asia Pacific currency and commodities at UBS Wealth Management in Hong Kong, told CNBC that all eyes were on the U.S. polls.

"The general mode is just wait," Schnider said. "For the time being everything's on hold."

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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U.S. indexes closed higher, with the Dow Jones industrial average up 0.4 percent at 18,332.74. The S&P 500 gained 0.38 percent to 2,139.56 and the Nasdaq composite erased earlier losses to ended 0.53 percent higher.

U.S. markets had a rocky few days after some polls last week showed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump pulling ahead of rival Hillary Clinton, in the wake of a surprise FBI probe involving the Democratic nominee. But after the agency cleared Clinton on Sunday and stock markets bounced back on Monday, with all three U.S. indexes posting their best trading day since March 1.

"U.S. elections don't normally elicit major market volatility but the problem in 2016 is that for better part of this year, market participants did not consider a Trump victory realistic and now that the election is too close to call they are bailing out of U.S. assets and rushing to protect their portfolios," Kathy Lien, managing director of FX strategy for BK Asset Management, in a late Tuesday note.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies, was down 1.43 percent at 96.46 as of 3:12 pm HK/SIN.

The Mexican peso, which has swayed throughout the election cycle in tandem with Trump's electoral fortunes, was weaker against the dollar. The dollar/peso was trading up 9.31 percent at 20.03 as of 3:13 pm HK/SIN, after trading as low as 18.148 in the same session.

Spot gold strengthened 3.16 percent to $1,316 an ounce, following three straight days of losses.

During Asian trade on Wednesday, U.S. crude futures fell 1.69 percent to $44.22 a barrel, after settling in the U.S. at $44.83, while Brent futures were down 1.63 percent, at $45.30. The benchmark index last settled at $46.04 in the U.S. session.

"Trump winning would have negative consequences on the price of oil. Forget about the ongoing OPEC drama, the threat of growth forecasts being downgraded at least over the short-term due to investor uncertainty in theory weakens demand for commodities like oil," Jameel Ahmad, vice president of market research at FXTM, said in a note on Wednesday.

Some of the biggest losers in the region were oil majors. Australia's Santos which was down 7.53 percent and Oil Search was 4.89 percent lower, Japan's Inpex slipped 4.15 percent while South Korea's S-Oil was down 0.96 percent, China's Shanghai Pechem and China Petroleum fell 1.19 percent and 0.6 percent respectively.

Oil prices slipped after-hours on Tuesday, after the American Petroleum Institute reported that U.S. crude stockpiles grew 4.4 million barrels, compared to a Reuters poll estimating a 1.3 million-barrel build-up.

In other news, the Bank of Thailand kept its benchmark rate unchanged at 1.5 percent. Meanwhile, China's October consumer inflation rate rose 2.1 percent year-on-year, while producer prices were up 1.2 percent from the previous year, the highest in nearly five years.

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