Looks like investors, voting with their wallets, seem to think that another Bush term is a much better prospect, economically, than a Kerry Presidency:
As Bush Goes, So Goes Market
Major Indexes Are Up in Month
That Historically Is the Weakest,
Echoing Bets on a Re-Election
By E.S. BROWNING
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
September 20, 2004; Page C1
A “Bush Rally” is buoying stocks in the market’s historically weakest month, underscoring the increased attention investors are paying to politics and terrorism.
Looking past corporate profits and interest rates, some investors have begun tracking data on an Irish betting Web site, TradeSports.com, that takes wagers on, among other things, who will win the presidential election. In recent weeks, a chart of President Bush’s re-election chances based on TradeSports odds has looked surprisingly like the chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The two have been moving more or less in tandem for months, and the link seems to have kicked in most strikingly around the start of June – about the time the election battle lines began to firm up. The TradeSports data show that expectations of a Bush re-election were rising until mid-January of this year, when they topped out at about 75%. The betting then turned against Mr. Bush, and his odds fell to just less than 50% around the end of July. Then the betting swung back his way, hovering at about 70% yesterday.
The stock market has seemed to follow in Mr. Bush’s wake. The Dow industrials and Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index began their slide in mid-February, a few weeks after Mr. Bush. They pulled out of that slide in mid-August, and the Dow industrials are up 1.1% in September – a month that has had an average loss of 1.23% since their inception in 1896.
“It’s eerie,” says John Caldwell, chief investment strategist at McDonald Financial Group, a brokerage arm of Cleveland financial group KeyCorp. “It is a pretty strong relationship.”
Last week, the stock market and Mr. Bush’s odds showed little movement. The Dow industrials eased 28.61 points, or 0.3%, over the week, including a gain of 39.97 points, or 0.39%, to 10284.46 Friday, breaking its winning streak of five weeks.
The betting Web site isn’t driving the stock market, of course. And polls predicting the outcome of the presidential race are far more ambiguous.
What the interest in the Web site reflects is that investors this year have begun to attach an unusually strong importance to the election outcome. Tracking Mr. Bush’s odds is one way for them to quantify the risks involved.
TradeSports isn’t the same as a poll. It is run as a futures market, similar to one operated by the University of Iowa, in which speculators can buy or sell contracts that pay off depending on who wins. It reflects not just opinions, but the willingness of people to put money at risk, much as investors do in more-standard futures trading.
The interpretation seems obvious: When investors think Mr. Bush is going to win, stocks tend to rise. When the market sees Democratic challenger John Kerry’s chances rising, it tends to fret. Even on Wall Street, it would seem, “all politics is local.” Mr. Kerry wants to raise taxes on people who make more than $200,000 a year – including their dividends and capital gains – and many of those people control Wall Street.
Investors “like Bush because he would encourage risk-taking and capital creation through lower dividend and capital-gains rates,” Mr. Caldwell of McDonald Financial says.
Yet, historically, stocks have done better under Democratic presidents – something experienced investors also know. So the relationship may not be as simple as it seems. For example, though stocks have done better under Democrats over the long term, they have tended to prefer incumbents just before elections. Part of the reason is that Wall Street doesn’t like uncertainty or disruption.
An even simpler explanation is that Wall Street and the election are responding to the same outside factors: the rising and falling hopes for the economy and the world situation. Both Wall Street and political incumbents simply tend to do better when the economy and the world situation are strong. Mr. Bush and the stock market tend to benefit if there is confidence in the economy and in the government’s ability to deal with international threats. If there is economic or political trouble, Mr. Bush and the stock market suffer. Mr. Bush’s outlook is weakest – and Mr. Kerry’s is strongest – when the world is uncertain, which also happens to be when people are nervous about stocks.
It turns out that Mr. Bush’s standing at TradeSports correlates even more closely with the price of oil than with the stock market, says Howard Simons of Chicago-based Bianco Research, which has been following the link between stocks and Bush futures.
“If people tend to vote their pocketbook, it shouldn’t really be all that surprising that this relationship would exist,” he says. When oil prices are rising, so are economic worries. At such points, stocks tend to fall, and so does confidence in Mr. Bush.
Indeed, in recent days, as the price of oil jumped amid threats to oil production from Hurricane Ivan, the stock market and Mr. Bush’s TradeSports rating both leveled off. Mr. Bush and the stock market appeared to be affected by the economic outlook.
In any case, the presidential election outcome “is TradeSports.com’s most actively traded contract,” notes a report by Mr. Simons and Gregory Blaha, also of Bianco Research. Since Jan. 6, the correlation between the TradeSports numbers and the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has been more than 60%, the report says, and the relationship seems to be even stronger lately.
For most investors, however, how stocks perform between now and the election is a lot less important than how they do in the months and years after that. That is likely to depend less on Washington than on the issues that normally drive stocks – profits and interest rates.
Still, it is true that stocks do well after a Republican has been in office, regardless of whether he wins or loses. In the year after an incumbent Republican president is re-elected, the Dow industrials have risen 11% on average since 1899, according to Ned Davis Research in Venice, Fla. And in the year after an incumbent Republican president is defeated, the average gain has been even better, 14%.
Some investors are hoping for gridlock, with a president from one party and Congress controlled by the other. Since 1901, stocks have done best with a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, rising nearly 10% a year, twice the overall average.
There are limits to this kind of analysis. According to Ned Davis Research, only three Democratic presidents in the past 100 years have operated with Republican-controlled Congresses: Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and Bill Clinton. It is hard to conclude anything from three cases.
Some analysts caution that, in the longer run, business and economic fundamentals are more important than politics.
Says Eric Bjorgen, senior analyst at Leuthold Weeden Research in Minneapolis: “Who is in office always is going to play a secondary role to what policies and market cycles are already in place.”
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