How seriously should people take Donald Trump’s claim that stocks would crash if he were kicked out of office? As you mull over an answer, consider what someone in the other party would say.
Maybe there’s a less subjective way to judge — with earnings estimates, perhaps, which have changed a lot during his presidency. Or maybe valuation. Neither is perfect, but nor is any quest for science in the stock market.
Before digging in, acknowledge that stocks have enjoyed unusually strong gains since Election Day, with the S&P 500 rising at an annualized rate of 20 percent, crushing the historical return of 9.4 percent since 1927.
At the same time, note the Trump return is only about 1 percentage point higher than the yearly gain since March 2009, an era mostly overseen by Barack Obama.
Changes in earnings forecasts under Trump have been stark, compared with history. Last December, analysts were predicting S&P 500 earnings of about $146 a share for 2018, forecasts that, thanks largely to the president’s tax cuts, soared over the next two months, rising four times as fast as any period Bloomberg tracks.
And companies made good: S&P 500 operating income jumped 24 percent in each of the last two quarters and analysts see combined EPS of $159 a share for all of this year.
Predictions for 2019 profits also soared, going from $163 a share at the start of the year to $177 a share now, an upward revision that dwarfs any since at least 2012. Add to that a small bump in valuations: the S&P 500 fetched 20.07 times annual earnings on Election Day 2016 and 20.7 times now.
So say what you will about intangibles, if you believe corporate earnings and valuation call the stock market’s tune, it’s hard to say the equity market doesn’t owe at least some of its altitude to the president.
Still, looking at earnings in isolation ignores a dozen other factors in speculating on how impeachment would affect stocks, from policy to sentiment to potentially catastrophic consequences for the country’s social fabric.
Any one of those could easily eclipse anything having to do with corporate profits. But without an obvious framework for gauging those outcomes, the income lens is what’s left.
In examining Trump’s claim about a crash, investors might reasonably ask how much of the policy benefit would be rolled back if his presidency were threatened.
Analysts were mostly skeptical the president is in any real danger and not sure there’d be any major impact should he be.
Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco Ltd.: