WFIT

Analysts Blame Declining Financial Markets On Political News

Nov 5, 2016
Originally published on November 6, 2016 12:57 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're going to spend a few minutes talking about the presidential election, but from a different point of view - that of the financial markets. Yesterday, the S&P 500 posted the ninth consecutive day of declines. That's the longest stretch of downward movement since December 1980, and analysts are convinced that this is a reaction to political news. We wanted to hear more about this, so we brought in Marilyn Geewax. She's NPR's senior business editor. Hi, Marilyn.

MARILYN GEEWAX, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So what is the stock market telling us? Is this a window into how big investors see the coming election?

GEEWAX: It really is a pretty clear story, actually. Two weeks ago, there was conventional thinking on Wall Street, and that's that Democrats would win the White House and probably the Senate but Republicans would hold on to the House. So that would mean the economy would stay on pretty much the current path. And that was based on the idea, too, that Clinton wouldn't change things very much from Obama policies. She would stick with the Affordable Care Act, she'd push for a higher minimum wage and so forth. But that assumption changed on Friday, October 28 when the FBI said that they were looking at emails again. That surprising announcement, it seems to have triggered some changes in the polls. People became more uncertain, and they're worried about the outcome of this election. And that started this beat-down in the markets.

MARTIN: I think that would be a surprise to many people because I think that people traditionally think of big investors as represented in the stock markets of being more favorable to the Republican Party.

GEEWAX: Well, I think it would be fair to say that investors prefer certainty. And with Clinton, they feel like they know where she's coming from. And actually, you know, there are a lot of fond memories of the Clinton years - that is, in the 1990s. If you look back on that, there was a lot of job growth, the stock prices really shot up. So the brand name Clinton actually conjures up some positive thoughts among a lot of investors.

With Trump, there's uncertainty. He's never held political office, so he has no voting record, and his statements on economic issues can actually be pretty confusing. Let's just take the minimum wage. Trump is - he's switched his opinion. First he said that he was against a higher wage. Then he said he was for it. But he's also said he thinks it should be up to the states. I went on his website. I couldn't find an official position on it. So it's not entirely clear where he stands on that.

But, you know, there are things where he's also very clear, and those positions can be opposed to what Republicans typically believe. For example, on trade, he really talks down NAFTA and TPP. These trade deals - Republicans in general favor those. So my point is that big investors either don't really know what his positions are or the ones they do know, in many cases, they don't like.

MARTIN: Has this market preference for a Clinton victory actually been tracked? Or are there other factors that could be affecting the market?

GEEWAX: There are economists who are tracking this. And what they've found is that bad news for Clinton has been bad news for investors. Their work suggests that actually there would be quite a large differential. If Clinton wins, it could be a rally in the market. If Trump wins, it could be a pretty big plunge. So that's just the short-term outlook.

MARTIN: Is there any precedent to guide how long something like this might last?

GEEWAX: Well, this is a very unusual election, so I don't know that we can look at any past elections to determine what'll happen. But the Trump campaign would certainly argue that these will be very short-lived jitters, and that eventually the investors will realize that Trump would help the economy, and that that would actually make the stock prices rise over time. But, you know, Michel, the thing is nobody really knows what happens with markets in the long term. If we knew that, we would all be Warren Buffett and we wouldn't be working for nonprofit public radio. We'd be millionaires somewhere.

MARTIN: So in the short term, the volatility that people are seeing right now is real.

GEEWAX: Yes.

MARTIN: And it seems to be rooted in uncertainty about what would happen...

GEEWAX: Yes.

MARTIN: ...After next week.

GEEWAX: I read an awful lot of analysts and look at what's happening, and the phrases fear gauge, jitters (laughter) those are the phrases that people are using right now. There really is this short-term effect.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Marilyn Geewax. Thanks, Marilyn.

GEEWAX: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.