Don’t Fear Change

By, 02/07/2008

Story Highlights:

  • There are market myths aplenty about what will happen to stocks depending on which political party wins the US presidency.
  • Historically a party change in the White House is benign for stocks in election years. So, whatever the outcome, there's no need to fear a change in leadership.

[Editor's Note: As always, MarketMinder remains agnostic to political affiliation. We believe siding with one party or another creates harmful biases clouding investing judgment. Thus, we favor neither side in our analyses and attempt to be as objective as possible.]


Some fear a Donkey in the White House next year; others, another Elephant. Either way, stocks are unlikely to flinch based on an executive leadership change alone.

There have been a lot of US elections. Some had wacky results; some were predictable. Looking back at elections and how markets react to them reveals important clues for interpreting today's situation and how it may affect stocks for the year.

We'll have a great deal more to say about the elections in the months ahead. For today, let's start with one of the most common fears: What might happen with a leadership change in the White House?

Regardless of party, a change in executive leadership isn't historically bad for stocks. If you fear a Democrat taking the White House, you shouldn't. From 1928 to present, White House changes from Republican to Democrat averages a 5.8% return for the S&P 500 in the election year and 20.7% in the inauguration year. Obviously, we can't have a change from Democrat to Republican this time around, but in cases where it did happen, the shift still averages a 13.2% return in the election year, and a slightly negative -6.6% return in the inauguration year.

Note that in election years where Democrats take the White House from the Elephants, stocks tend to do ok, but better in the inauguration year. Conversely, when a Republican seizes the Oval Office from a Donkey, stocks do well in the election year and fall into negative territory in the inauguration year. But in either case, presidential election years where there is a party change have fine stock returns on average.

Why might this be? It probably has something to do with how folks perceive the winning candidate's party. It's stereotypical to believe "Democrats will be bad for business and be free spenders," while "Republicans will restrict the budget and be friendly to business." Neither ends up true in practice. The fact is neither donkeys nor elephants make good on campaign promises very often. Nevertheless, folks worry over Democrats ruining business in the year of the election (so stocks produce tepid returns), only to find in the inauguration year it won't be as bad as feared (stocks then do better). Conversely, folks believe a Republican will be good for business (stocks rise nicely in the election year), only to find out in the inauguration year it won't be as good as hoped (the disappointment produces negative stock returns).

In sum, a simple view of history shows the common market hopes and fears generated from new party leadership in the White House are usually misplaced. So don't fear a change. It's one less thing to worry about in an already eventful year.

*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.

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*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.


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