NEW YORK – The last four years have been good for stocks, with the S&P 500 climbing more than 50% and many 401(k) balances looking healthier, as President Donald Trump likes to point out so often.
But a look at the market’s winners and losers since Trump’s surprise win in 2016 also shows how hazardous it can be to set your investments based on election results.
The stocks that Wall Street initially thought would benefit most from a Trump administration have since fallen back, sometimes sharply. And stocks that were afterthoughts have become market leaders.
Trump’s stunning victory on Nov. 8, 2016, soon gave way to a consensus that his pro-business policies would be a boon for stocks. Stocks of smaller companies and bank stocks got an extra boost, part of what was coined the “Trump trade,” tied to expectations for Washington to deliver lower tax rates and lighter regulation for businesses. Meanwhile, tech stocks lagged the market at first.
Things eventually switched around, the result of several huge shifts in the market’s momentum, including worries about Trump’s punishing trade war with China, despair about the coronavirus-caused recession and relief that the Federal Reserve once again came to the market’s rescue.
The technology sector has been the big winner under Trump, but tech stocks initially lagged behind the S&P 500 after the election. Investors worried that an “America First” White House would threaten the big revenue tech companies get from China and other countries overseas. And the thinking was tech companies stood to benefit less from a U.S. tax cut because of their extensive international operations.
Tech stocks eventually regained their momentum from the Obama years, thanks to consumers’ desire for smartphones and ongoing trends such as cloud computing and online shopping. Shares of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google’s parent company have climbed much more than the rest of the market on expectations their profits will keep piling up.
Now, the pandemic is accelerating work-from-home and other trends beneficial to the tech industry. Apple jumped nearly 60% this year through the market’s close on Tuesday. It’s part of a 320% surge since Trump’s election, more than quintuple the S&P 500’s gain.
Regardless of what happens with the pandemic, people around the world are likely to continue going online, using data and playing games, which all play into the tech industry’s hands.
The initial “Trump trade,” meanwhile, has disintegrated. Washington did cut taxes and lessen regulations as expected, but the economy is now hobbled by the pandemic and the outlook remains cloudy.
After initially soaring 30% in less than four months, an index of big bank stocks gave up all but 2% of its gain since Election Day 2016 by Tuesday on worries about loans going bad due to the recession. Treasury yields, meanwhile, plunged to record lows earlier this year amid panic about what the pandemic would do to the economy.
Such swings shouldn’t be a big surprise to investors who have studied politics and its effect on markets, said Rich Weiss, chief investment officer of multi-asset strategies at American Century Investments.
“It’s been tested every which way to Sunday,” he said. “Whether it’s a Democrat or Republican in the White House, whether it’s a first term or a second term, you can find some instances that were good for certain industries, such as health care, oil and others. But there is no statistically significant relationship between the two, nothing that is reliable.”
So, for those experts who predict that a victory by Democratic challenger Joe Biden would be good for solar and other clean-energy stocks, the four years under Trump are a testament to how fortunes can change for companies and whole sectors.
THE BEST PERFORMERS UNDER TRUMP
Among individual companies, Etsy is the big winner in the S&P 500 since Election Day four years ago, soaring more than 1,100% to nearly $146 per share on Tuesday from less than $12.
It wasn’t because of any policy that Trump exhorted. Etsy’s big burst from $32 this March was largely because, in the midst of a pandemic, people needed to buy facemasks, and many wanted the more colorful ones available on Etsy’s online marketplace.
While Big Tech grabs most of the attention, chipmakers have racked up some of the biggest gains in the S&P 500. Advanced Micro Devices soared more than 1,000% and Nvidia gained nearly 650%.
THE WORST-PERFORMING STOCKS
For all of Trump’s love of fracking and touting of the country’s energy independence, the energy sector has been the only one in the S&P 500 to fall since his election. Energy stocks in the index have lost nearly 57%.
The sector’s trouble started before Trump, when the price of oil plunged in 2014 and 2015 largely due to increases in U.S. production. Oil, which often crossed $100 a barrel earlier in the decade, traded in the $50 to $70 per barrel range for much of Trump’s term.
That is, until demand plummeted with the pandemic. Airplanes are parked, and people are driving fewer miles as they have fewer places to go.
The five worst-performing stocks in the S&P 500 since Trump’s election are energy companies, led by Occidental Petroleum with a loss of 86.1% through Tuesday.
And despite Trump’s pledge during the 2016 campaign to revitalize the coal industry, coal stocks have sputtered as power plants switch to cheaper natural gas and other energy sources, all while the pandemic weighs on demand for electricity.
Arch Resources has lost nearly 49% since Election Day 2016. Peabody Energy has seen its stock drop 95% since its shares began trading in April 2017 after emerging from bankruptcy protection.
THOSE IN BETWEEN
Even for stocks in the middle of the polar ends of performance, the ride hasn’t been smooth the last four years. Consider Caterpillar, which doubled between Election Day and early 2018 as it benefited from a resurgence in sales around the world.
Trump then launched his trade war with China, which is a major customer for Caterpillar’s equipment. The stock lagged behind the S&P 500 for more than two years before turning it around earlier this year.