On January 20, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the S&P 500 stood at 2270. Six months later, it is roughly at 2470, or almost 10% higher.
The significance to give to this fact (if any) is of course a politically charged question.
By way of context: the increase in the value of the S&P index between Barack Obama’s second inauguration day (in January 2013) and a six-month’s-later point was almost exactly the same in absolute terms, larger in percentage terms.
Four years before that? Well, Jan. 20 2009 was near the bottom after a historical Wall Street debacle. The S&P was close to 800 points. Six months later it was at about 950. A lesser increase in absolute terms than the recent one, but in percentage terms the 2009 increase has the two post-inauguration bull runs since then beat all hollow.
That’s a small sample, but it is enough to indicate that a post-inauguration bull run is not an unusual event. Perhaps the uncertainties of an election campaign, followed by the uncertainties of a transition period, make it inevitable that there should be, at the very least, a post-transition relief rally.
Should the stock market be seen as a running referendum on policies, or the people implementing them, or on neither of those?
Right Wing View
Conservatives do see the recent bull run as a referendum, as the smart money’s vote of confidence that there America is becoming “great again.”
THIS IS #MAGA
— God Bless America (@GBU_2X) July 21, 2017
Some have used this as a sardonic commentary on what they see as liberal quibbles about the Trump administration:
Wall Street continues to hit record highs .
DAMN RUSSIANS !!! pic.twitter.com/dy5puqWo3z
— Dash Riprock (@PhilMcCrackin44) July 21, 2017
One incidental development is a renewal of confidence in bitcoin after a period of doubt. But it isn’t clear how that cuts, politically. From one point of view, bitcoin (like gold among more old-fashioned sorts) serves as a sort of safe harbor should some apocalyptic event cause the U.S. dollar to lose value. From another point of view, bitcoin isn’t a substitute for gold at all, but something new, a sail out of harbors (safe or otherwise) into underexplored blockchain oceans. An expression of confidence, in short.
Leandra Bernstein, of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, has cited unnamed experts who have “linked the stellar performance on Wall Street to Donald Trump’s promises to roll back regulations, reform the tax code and get a new health care law on the books.” But she also noted that “very little of Trump’s policy agenda has materialized.” So if there is a “make America Great again” rally underway, it is an expression of two different acts of confidence: confidence first that Trump will be able to achieve his declared policy goals and, second, that the achievements will prove healthy.
Left Wing View
From some on the left, good news for Wall Street is bad news for Main Street, and the rise in the S&P is itself a bad sign rather than a good one for what matters.
Thus, on twitter, activist Kaivan Shroff calls the present administration the “Goldman Sachs White House.”
This is a significant jibe. In an important sense, Donald Trump ran against Goldman Sachs. During the primary campaign Trump benefited from the fact that Heidi Cruz, the wife of his rival Senator Ted Cruz, was an investment manager at Goldman. In January 2016, Trump tweeted that Ted Cruz was “in bed w/ Wall St. & funded by Goldman Sachs/Citi….”
In due course, Trump included Hillary Clinton as among the politicians who were puppets of Wall Street, and himself as Wall Street’s general-election foe.
Among what one may call the “center left” in U.S. politics, the Clinton rather than the Sanders left, it is generally accepted that increases in stock prices are a good thing. But there is little inclination to give the administration credit for them. A common response is to praise the head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen (an appointee of President Obama) and to credit her money-supply dovishness for the stock market rise.
Slate describes Chairwoman Yellen as “a liberal Democratic grandmother who has spent a lifetime in public service at the highest levels of government.” That grandmother gets a lot of credit in some quarters, and should President Trump seek to replace her next year, the politics over that change could be bruising.
What Trump has said about it? “I don’t want to comment about reappointment, but I would be more inclined to put other people in.” That sentence is an admirably quick pivot, with the second half accomplishing what the first half forswears.