By Riva Gold and Corrie Driebusch

A late afternoon slump dragged the S&P 500 to its ninth consecutive decline, its longest losing streak in nearly 36 years.

October employment data signaling solid momentum in the labor market and a bounceback in biotechnology shares had buoyed stocks for most of Friday's trading session. Ultimately, however, caution prevailed in the final hour of trading. The tight U.S. presidential election has dragged down stocks and pushed up Wall Street's "fear gauge" since early last week.

The S&P 500 declined 3.5 points, or 0.2%, to 2085, putting its nine-day decline at roughly 3%.

The last time the S&P 500 index fell for nine days in a row was the period ending Dec. 11, 1980 -- when it lost 9.4%.

The election has unnerved many investors, causing them to either sit on the sidelines or move to products they perceive as less risky, such as gold or shorter-duration bonds, as polls have tightened between the candidates.

"There's general market anxiety driven by the election," said Megan Greene, chief economist at Manulife Asset Management. "In the past we talked about bulls and bears. Now I think there's a big group of investors who are just unsure."

The CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, has surged in the past nine trading sessions -- its longest-ever stretch of gains -- and has risen above its 10-year average. The "fear gauge" is based on S&P 500 options prices. Investors who buy VIX futures contracts are making a bet that stock-price volatility will go up in the next 30 days.

Craig Hodges, portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management, said his fund raised cash over the past couple of weeks in anticipation of stock-market swings.

"It's happened, but it's been more severe than even I looked for," he said. He's preparing for even more volatility. "You could still see another 5% selloff if there were a surprise election result," he added.

The price of gold has gained more than 3% over the past nine trading sessions, rising 0.1% Friday to $1,303.30 an ounce. Demand for haven debt sent the yield on the two-year Treasury note down to 0.796% from 0.84% on Oct. 24.

"There's a flight to safety," said Mohit Bajaj, director of ETF trading solutions at broker WallachBeth Capital LLC.

Oil has come under pressure as well. U.S.-traded crude fell 1.3% to $44.07 a barrel on Friday, marking a six-day losing streak in which prices slid 11%.

As money has moved into these havens and as the price of oil fell, investors have also stepped back from stocks.

Write to Riva Gold at riva.gold@wsj.com and Corrie Driebusch at corrie.driebusch@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 04, 2016 16:27 ET (20:27 GMT)

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