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Election Over, US Stocks Dip On Challenges To Come

"Obama's re-election does not change the bigger economic or fiscal picture," Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics, an economic research company, said in a note to clients.

Fitch Ratings offered a warning Wednesday about the perils facing the U.S. If Obama does not quickly forge agreement with Congress to avert the fiscal cliff, the credit rating agency said, it may strip the U.S. of its sterling AAA credit rating.

The government's failure to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit led Standard & Poor's to cut its rating of long-term U.S. Treasury securities last year from a sterling AAA to AA+. It was the first-ever downgrade of U.S. government debt.

Tobias Levkovich, a financial analyst at Citi Research, told clients Wednesday that a compromise on taxes and spending was likely in mid- to late January, but that stocks will probably fall in the meantime.

A deal early next year is much more likely "once the political class begins to negotiate realistically and as the consequences ... are too costly for either party to ignore," he wrote.

European markets closed sharply lower, with benchmark indexes in France and Germany losing 2 percent. Italy lost 2.5 percent; Spain lost 2.3 percent.

As traders streamed into lower-risk investments, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note plunged to 1.64 percent from 1.75 percent late Tuesday. A bond's yield declines as demand for it increases.

Most industries reacted to the election much as analysts had expected.

Big, publicly traded hospital companies soared because of expectations that they will gain business under the health care law, known as ObamaCare. HCA Holdings leapt 9.4 percent, Tenet Healthcare 9.6 percent, Community Health Systems 6 percent and Universal Health Services 4.3 percent.

Not all hospital companies are expected to benefit. Many serve patients who will be covered by Medicaid plans that generally do not cover the full cost of care provided by hospitals.

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