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How will the Election Affect the Market and your Retirement Plan?

How will the Election Affect the Market and your Retirement Plan?

September 15, 2016

There will be lots of claims from presidential candidates between now and November 8th about how the U.S. economy would benefit if he or she wins the election. But which candidate is better for your Retirement Plan and financial future - Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? What about Gary Johnson or Jill Stein? Lots of Americans could be asking these type of questions right now. Here’s some historical insight that might help.

Since 1833, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained an average of 10.4% in the year before a presidential election, and nearly an average of 6% in the election year. By contrast, the first and second years of a president’s term see average gains of 2.5% and 4.2%, respectively.

Recent years have been an exception to those averages. “Given that the past three years are so out of sync with the normal cycle, we’re not certain what 2016 will bring,” says Jim Stack, a market historian and Publisher of InvesTech Research. The current cycle is anything but average due to the Market crash in 2008 and the Dow going up 27% in the first year of President Obama’s second term. Then last year, which was supposed to be the strongest of the cycle, saw the Dow Industrials drop 2%.

Since 1928, the Standard & Poor's 500 has dropped an average of 2.8% in presidential election years without an incumbent seeking reelection, notes Stephen Suttmeier, Technical Research Analyst at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research. Of the eight years in a two-term presidential cycle, the final year of the second term is the only one that has averaged negative market returns, Suttmeier says. By contrast, in years when the sitting president is up for reelection, the S&P 500 has averaged returns of 12.6%, he adds.


S&P 500 Stock Market Returns in Election Years

Year         Return     Candidates

1928         43.6%      Hoover vs. Smith

1932         -8.2%       Roosevelt vs. Hoover

1936         33.9%      Roosevelt vs. Landon

1940         -9.8%       Roosevelt vs. Willkie

1944         19.7%      Roosevelt vs. Dewey

1948         5.5%        Truman vs. Dewey

1952         18.4%      Eisenhower vs. Stevenson

1956         6.6%        Eisenhower vs. Stevenson

1960         0.5%        Kennedy vs. Nixon

1964         16.5%      Johnson vs. Goldwater

1968         11.1%      Nixon vs. Humphrey

1972         19.0%      Nixon vs. McGovern

1976         23.8%      Carter vs. Ford

1980         32.4%      Reagan vs. Carter

1984         6.3%        Reagan vs. Mondale

1988         16.8%      Bush vs. Dukakis

1992         7.6%        Clinton vs. Bush

1996         23.0%      Clinton vs. Dole

2000         -9.1%       Bush vs. Gore

2004         10.9%      Bush vs. Kerry

2008         -37.0 %    Obama vs. McCain

2012         16.0%      Obama vs. Romney

2016         ???          Clinton vs. Trump


Election results may not be so great at forecasting stock market returns. But history shows that the stock market can be an indicator of who might win a presidential election. If the stock market is up in the three months before an election, the incumbent party is favored to win. Losses over the three months before an election tend to favor a new party. 22 presidential elections have occurred since 1928. 14 of those 22 elections were preceded by gains in the three months before Election Day. In 12 of those 14 elections, the incumbent (or the incumbent party) won the White House. In seven of eight elections preceded by three months of stock market losses, a new party won the election. Exceptions to this correlation occurred in 1956, 1968 and 1980. According to Jim Stack, the S&P 500 has an 86.4% success rate forecasting presidential elections.

It will be interesting to watch what happens this year and see if the Market and the election results show a correlation. This election year is out of sync with other cycles so maybe it won’t.

In conclusion, most likely when it comes to the Stock Market - presidential elections make little difference in the long-term. “Focusing on which party wins the White House is unwarranted (at least from an investing standpoint)”, says Russ Koesterich, Chief Investment Strategist at BlackRock. Generally speaking, most investors can be prepared for whoever wins the election if they have a long-term perspective. Continuing to focus on your personal goals and your retirement plan is a good idea regardless of political cycles and elections every four years.

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