It might be easy to look at today's 312-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) and assume it to be a wholesale rejection of President Obama's re-election, but there's more at play here. After all, the Dow gained 1% yesterday, when polls showed Obama was likely to win.
So what's behind today's massive sell-off that also saw the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) dive 2.4%, the Nasdaq (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) slide 2.5%, oil drop 4.6%, and 10-year Treasury yields fall 6.3%, a sign that investors were rushing into the safety of bonds?
Two major factors: The fiscal cliff has now taken center stage with the election out of the way, and concerns over Europe have surfaced once again. Major indexes in Europe all fell near 2% after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said he expected continuing weakness in the European economy for the foreseeable future, and that the debt crisis is weighing on the bulwark German economy, by far the eurozone's biggest. Elsewhere on the continent, Greece narrowly approved more austerity measures tonight, despite widespread protests. The vote paves the way for the next round of bailout funds, this time worth $39.5 billion, though another important vote on Sunday for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's 2013 budget awaits. Markets should respond positively to tonight's Greek vote, as most investors hope to avoid a Greek exit from the euro, which would likely lead to greater turmoil on the continent.
Stateside, concerns about the fiscal cliff are rattling investors. The sequestration promised by Congress if a new plan isn't worked out includes $7 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases over the next 10 years. The measures would go into effect at the start of the new year if nothing's done, but House Speaker John Boehner late today said he would accept revenue increases as part of larger budget deal to avert the fiscal cliff, an important step toward compromise.
Looking at individual stocks, it's no major surprise that the financials were the biggest losers on the Dow as Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) lost 7.1% and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) fell 5.6%. Uncertainty is particularly bad for the big banks, and the turmoil in Europe combined with the fiscal cliff has investors running scared. Fitch Ratings also warned it would downgrade its U.S. credit rating if the government doesn't act soon on the fiscal cliff, a move that could add a further strain on financial markets.
Every stock on the Dow lost at least 0.7% on a day where there were few winners in the entire market. Some sectors, such as for-profit education and coal, took the news of Obama's victory particularly hard, with double-digit losses. Look for news out of Europe and on the fiscal cliff to continue to shape markets in the coming days.
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Jeremy Bowman has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.