What they're tuning in to, he said, is the failure of a major European summit last week and minimal progress on the issues that are holding the region back.
"People can only digest one or two stories at a time, and people had put Europe on the back burner" before the election, he said.
Obama's win followed a costly campaign that blanketed markets with uncertainty about possible changes to tax rates, government spending and other issues seen as crucial to the prospects of some industries and the broader economy.
As jitters about the election subsided, traders confronted an ugly reality: The so-called fiscal cliff, which will impose automatic tax increases and deep cuts to government spending at the end of the year unless the president and Congress can reach a deal.
That's no easy task for a deadlocked government whose overall composition has barely changed — a Democratic president and Senate and a Republican House.
If Congress and the White House don't reach a deal, the spending cuts and tax increases could total $800 billion next year. Some economists say that could push the economy back into recession.
"Obama's re-election does not change the bigger economic or fiscal picture," Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics Ashworth, an economic research company, said in a note to clients.
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.
About two hours into trading, the Dow was down 345 points at 12,921, dipping below 13,000 for the first time since Sept. 4. The S&P 500 was down 37 to 1,391. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 75, or 2.5 percent, to 2,937.