Q- Bob, how much credit should Americans give President Obama for today’s improved equity values?
BBBB – Our research reviewed American economic performance since President Roosevelt installed the first Federal Reserve Board Chairman – Republican Marriner Eccles. We observed that even though there are multiple impacts on the economy, it was clear that policy decisions within each administration, from FDR forward, made a clear difference on performance. And relatively quickly.
Presidents universally take credit when the economy does well (such as Reagan,) and choose to blame other factors when the economy does poorly (such as Carter.) But there was a clear pattern, and link, between policy and financial market performance.
Although we hear almost no one in the Obama administration taking credit for record index highs, they should. Because the President deserves attention for how well this economy has done during his leadership.
The auto rescue plan has worked. American car manufacturers are still dominant and employing millions directly and in supplier companies. Wall Street reform has been painful but it has re-instated faith amongst investors. The markets are far more predictable than they were four years ago, as VIX numbers demonstrate greater faith and less risk.
Even for small investors, such as those limited to their 401(k) or IRA investments, the average annual compound return on stocks under President Obama has been more than 24% since the lows of March, 2009. This is a better result than either Clinton, Reagan or FDR – who were the prior winners in our book.
Q- Bob, what policies do you think were most important toward achieving today’s new highs?
BBBB – Firstly, let’s review just how bad things were in 2009. In 2000 America was completing the longest bull market in history. But by the end of President Bush’s tenure the country had witnessed 2 stock market crashes, and the DJIA had fallen 58%. This was the second worst market decline in history (exceeded only by the Great Depression,) and hence the term “Great Recession” was born.
In 2000, at the end of Clinton’s administration, the Consumer Confidence Index was at a record high 140. By January, 2009 this index had fallen to an historic low of 25.3. Comparatively, when Reagan took office at the end of the economically weak Carter years the Confidence Index was still at 74.4! Today this measure of how people feel about the country is still nowhere near 2000 levels, but it is almost 3 times better than 4 years ago.
Significantly, in 2000 America had a budget surplus. By 2009 surpluses were long gone and the country was racking up historic deficits as taxes were cut while simultaneously outlays for defense skyrocketed to cover costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, banks were on the edge of failing due to unregulated real estate speculation and massive derivative losses.
Today the Congressional Budget Office is reporting a $200B decrease in the deficit almost entirely due to increased revenue from a growing economy and higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. The deficit is now only 4% of the GDP, down from over 10% at the end of Bush’s administration– and projections are for it to be only 2% by 2015 (before Obama leaves office.) America’s “debt problem” seems largely solved, and almost all due to growth rather than austerity.
We can largely thank a fairer tax code, improved regulation and consistent SEC enforcement. Also, major strides in health care reform – something no other President has accomplished – has given American’s more faith in their future, and an increased willingness to invest.