Dollar spooked in Asia as U.S. polls too close to call

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian markets were on tenterhooks on Wednesday as early state exit polls in the U.S. presidential election showed wins for both candidates and no clear trend as yet, causing an immediate shift back to safe haven assets.

A monitor (top) displaying the Japanese yen's exchange rate against the U.S. dollar (top) and Japan's Nikkei average is seen in front of another monitor showing U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (R) on TV news, at a foreign exchange trading company in Tokyo, Japan, November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Equities were still generally firmer, with U.S. stock futures up 0.3 percent in choppy trade, but the dollar slipped on the yen and euro as investors hedged against the risk of a shock win by Republican Donald Trump.

Markets have tended to favor Democrat Hillary Clinton as a status quo candidate who would be considered a safe pair of hands at home on the world stage.

“In contrast, a Trump victory would trigger massive uncertainty that would likely undermine risk assets at least initially, which in turn could preclude a Fed rate hike this year,” warned Michelle Girard, chief U.S. economist at RBS.

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Much of the action was in the currency markets where the Mexican peso has become a touchstone for sentiment on the election as Trump’s trade policies are seen as damaging to its export-heavy economy.

The dollar rose 0.6 percent on the peso MXN=D2 as the early results were reported, after hitting its lowest in two months overnight.

The dollar backtracked 0.3 percent on the safe haven yen to 104.80 yen JPY=, while the euro EUR= rose to $1.1031. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was off 0.1 percent at 97.766.

In share markets, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific stocks outside Japan was still up 0.2 percent, while the Nikkei .N225 added 0.7 percent. E-mini futures for the S&P 500 rose 0.1 percent.

Betting exchanges and online trading platforms had shown Clinton held a higher probability of becoming the 45th President, with many giving her a better than 75 percent chance of victory.

Clinton led 44 percent to 39 percent in the last Reuters/Ipsos national tracking poll before Election Day.

Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury yields held at 1.860 percent, after touching a high of 1.876 percent.

Wall Street had added somewhat to Monday's stellar gains with the Dow .DJI ending up 0.4 percent. The S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.38 percent and the Nasdaq 0.53 percent.

Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at fund manager AMP Capital, said the most positive outcome for U.S. equities would be a Clinton win with a split Congress.

“Historically, since 1927 U.S. total share returns have been strongest at an average 16.7 percent per year when there has been a Democrat president and Republican control of the House, the Senate or both.”

The return only averaged 8.9 percent when the Republicans controlled the presidency and Congress.

In commodity markets, gold edged up to $1,276.40 an ounce.

Oil took a knock from data showing a surprisingly large rise in crude stocks. U.S. crude eased 22 cents to $44.76, while Brent was untraded early in the Asian day.

Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Eric Meijer and Kim Coghill