We still have a long way to go until the 2020 election cycle really heats up but the investing takes are already in mid-season form. Allowing politics to seep into your decision-making process is never a good idea when it comes to your portfolio but that’s not going to stop others from trying to do so.
Expect plenty of talk about how certain politicians will be better or worse for the economy and the markets in the months ahead along with “analysis” to back up those claims. This is a piece I wrote for Fortune that explains why you can ignore these predictions.
Some prominent investors are worried about a potential Elizabeth Warren presidency and the impact her policies would have on the stock market. Hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones recently predicted a 25% market crash if Warren were to be elected.
Fellow hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman made a similar forecast, joking to CNBC, “They won’t open the stock market if Elizabeth Warren is the next president.”
Warren’s plan would break-up big tech firms, separate commercial and investment banking, ban fracking, and re-make the healthcare system. According to The Economist, nearly half of all publicly-traded corporations and private equity-owned firms would be broken up. Then there’s the fact that she wants to add a tax on those whose wealth exceeds $1 billion.
So should we heed the warnings of the Warren doomsayers? Not so fast. Market crash predictions surrounding new presidents is nothing new. But even the wealthiest investors can succumb to political bias in their investment forecasts.
When it became apparent Donald Trump would beat Hilary Clinton on election night, the futures market sold off hard. The Dow was down 750 points or around 4% overnight.
The next day Paul Krugman from the New York Times made the following prediction:
Still, I guess people want an answer: If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.
The disaster for America and the world has so many aspects that the economic ramifications are way down my list of things to fear.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made a similar statement before Trump was elected:
In the event Donald wins, I have no doubt in my mind the market tanks. If the polls look like there’s a decent chance that Donald could win, I’ll put a huge hedge on that’s over 100% of my equity positions… that protects me just in case he wins.
Stocks didn’t stay down for long, recouping the majority of those overnight losses the very next day. Since Trump was elected president on November 9, 2016, the S&P 500 is up more than 50%.
Barack Obama faced similar scrutiny about how his policies would impact the stock market. Michael Boskin of Stanford’s Hoover Institution wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on March 6, 2009 with the following headline: “Obama’s Radicalism Is Killing the Dow.”
Boskin further elaborated:
It’s hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president’s policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis.
That same day, Bloomberg would declare Obama responsible for a bear market in stocks since he took over the presidency:
President Barack Obama now has the distinction of presiding over his own bear market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 20 percent since Inauguration Day, the fastest drop under a newly elected president in at least 90 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The publication date of these pieces was prescient in that it was one trading day before the market hit a generational bottom. Stocks would go onto quadruple from those levels.
Obama didn’t deserve all the blame for stocks being down during the first few months of his presidency nor did he deserve all the credit for the rise in stocks ever since. Trump equally didn’t single-handedly cause the stock market to rise by coming into office. And if stocks had cratered after Trump was elected, that wouldn’t have been all his fault either.
Investors love bringing politics into the mix when discussing the markets because it provides good fodder for creating narratives. Stock market returns are often so random that it makes us feel better to have an explanation for what might happen next. But politics and markets go together about as well as WeWork and a successful IPO at the moment.
Markets already invite a range of emotions into the equation when making forecasts and investment decisions. Bringing politics into the fray only further exacerbates those emotions because we often confuse cause and effect when it comes to politicians and economic outcomes. Elected officials always get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things go poorly.
It’s also important to remember that it’s a long road from campaign trail promises to enacted policies. This may come as a shock to some of you, but politicians don’t always deliver on the promises they make to get your votes. Predicting a crash in the stock market is never an easy proposition but doing so using politics as your main catalyst is nearly impossible.
Politics and investing make for a terrible combination.
This piece was originally published at Fortune. Re-posted here with permission.