Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris defend the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump at a candidate forum in Las Vegas. (Oct. 2) AP, AP
The trade war with China. Growing fears of recession. A feeble global economy.
And now – impeachment?
The Sept. 24 launch of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump tosses another wild card into a volatile stock market that lost ground last week on the deepening troubles of American manufacturers.
“It’s part of the cocktail that gets everybody on edge,” says Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist for LPL Financial. “The market hates uncertainty.”
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of an impeachment inquiry, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 0.8% but partly recovered the following day. Detrick says the investigation likely contributed to the initial dip. But other news also may have played a role, including a pullback in consumer confidence and Trump’s United Nations speech, which adopted a tougher stance on a U.S.-China trade deal.
Since then, stocks tumbled early last week on signs that U.S. manufacturing has slumped amid Trump’s trade war with China and sluggish growth overseas. The market climbed back Friday after a report revealed slowing but still solid job growth in September while preserving hopes the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates again this month to head off a recession.
“What’s going on with the president doesn’t seem to be affecting markets,” says Art Hogan, chief market strategist for National Securities. “It’s the economy” that matters.
Yet will the specter of impeachment become another downer for stocks as the House investigation and hearings play out in the coming months?
If the two most recent impeachment investigations of U.S. presidents offer a guide, the answer is probably not. In both cases, the economy – one dismal, one robust – steered markets.
Yet this time may be different because Trump has rooted his agenda in pro-business policies that could be rolled back if he’s removed from office or if impeachment damages his reelection chances, says Michael Reynolds, investment strategy officer for Glenmede, an investment and wealth management firm.
There have been three impeachment inquiries of U.S. presidents – Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1973-74 and Bill Clinton in 1998-99. Both Johnson and Clinton were impeached by the House but not removed from office by the Senate. Nixon resigned before his near-certain impeachment and removal.
Stock data from 1868 is sketchy and, in any case, show little impact from Johnson’s impeachment in February, according to Stock Trader’s Almanac and Schroders, an asset management firm.
So let’s focus on the Nixon and Clinton scenarios:
At first blush, the Nixon impeachment proceedings appear to have moved markets. The inquiry, tied to the break-in of the Democratic national headquarters at the Watergate hotel, was announced Oct. 30, 1973. The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 11% the next month, 15.6% in six months and 33.4% over 12 months, according to LPL Financial.
But wait. The Arab oil embargo also began in October, driving crude and gasoline prices higher. Inflation was rampant. A recession began in November. And the Federal Reserve was sharply raising interest rates to rein in inflation – a surefire wet blanket for markets.
“The economy was just dreadful,” Hogan says. That, he says – not the travails of Nixon, who resigned in August 1974 – is what sent stocks lower.
Clinton’s troubles, based on charges that he lied under oath to hide an affair, similarly seemed to douse stocks. In the two months leading up to independent counsel Ken Starr’s report to Congress in September 1998, the S&P 500 fell as much as 20%. But again, other forces were roiling markets in that period, particularly a Russian currency meltdown and the near-collapse of Long-term Capital Management, a massive hedge fund whose demise could have set off a global financial crisis.
Those developments, not the Clinton scandal, were the culprits, Hogan and Reynolds say.
What’s more, after the Clinton impeachment inquiry began on October 8, 1998, the S&P 500 rose 18.9% within a month, 41.6% in six months and 39.2% in a year, LPL figures show. Don’t credit Clinton’s acquittal by the Senate on February 12, 1999. Rather, stocks were riding a long bull market juiced by the late-1990s technology and productivity booms, the analysts say.
Markets today have swung wildly in response to developments in the trade war, Federal Reserve interest rate cuts and the prospects of a recession. That dynamic is likely to persist, Detrick says, with the impeachment drama adding to some market volatility on certain days but playing a relatively minor role.
Reynolds believes the effect of the Trump impeachment inquiry could be bigger because his tax cuts and sweeping deregulation have had a significant impact on the economy and corporate earnings. Investors could worry that some of those changes may be reversed if Trump is removed from office, paving the way for a Democratic victory in the 2020 election.
Even if Trump is impeached but acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate, the proceedings could doom his reelection bid, Reynolds says. That prospect, he says, may spook some investors, particularly if the Democratic nominee is Elizabeth Warren, who has called for tax increases on businesses and the wealthy as well as “Medicare for All” and free tuition at public universities.
“You have to start pricing in that an alternative political paradigm could be a real possibility,” Reynolds says.
At the same time, an impeachment viewed by Republican and independent voters as unfair could help propel Trump to victory.
Overall, Hogan and Detrick are less concerned about the impact a Democrat in the White House may have on markets. Investors dreaded the possibility of a Trump presidency until he won and ignited a market boom, Hogan says. And Warren’s agenda likely would be tempered by a politically divided Congress, the analysts say.
Hogan, however, worries that a Trump impeachment may further embolden China to stall trade negotiations and hope for a less combative U.S. president in 2021, a scenario that would hurt stocks in the medium term.
“That’s my greatest fear,” he says. “That (impeachment) has a deterrent effect on our ability to negotiate with China.”
Trump accused China of “gaming” the global trade system in a speech Tuesday at the United Nations as he defended tariffs that his critics say have put the U.S. economy at risk of a recession. USA TODAY
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