Listening to some in the press, one gets the sense that Barack Obama, and he alone, has presided over the most precipitous drop in economic productivity of any president in recent history.
On the March 9 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, the CNN host ominously declared that the president "has his own bear market." Reflecting on the absence of a plan to shore up the banks, Dobbs went on: "That's the definition of a bear market, a 20 percent decline. This is now the Obama bear market." On Tuesday, Dobbs lightened his tune, saying that the Obama bear market had turned into a rally.
Surely the situation is bleak, with unemployment levels rising and GDP at a quarter-century low. Obama himself has said as much. But one of the chief indicators of where the stock market stands tells a much more nuanced story, one actually a bit favorable to the president.
The S&P 500, which is the value-weighted index of 500 most actively traded large cap common stocks in the United States, ended the day on Thursday higher than when Obama took office: 832.86 to its 805.22 closing on January 20, 2009.
This is, of course, just one index. But there are others. The Nasdaq, which lists more than 3,000 companies, has gone from 1,440.86 on the day of Obama inauguration to 1,587.00 on Thursday. (The Dow Jones Industrial Average, meanwhile, closed on Thursday at 7,924.56, just 25 points under where it was when Obama took office, 7,949.09.)
To be sure, Obama and his staff have long insisted that they are not measuring their progress on the whims of the markets. One day's gains can be tomorrow's losses. But for those in the commentariat who are down on what has happened under the current president's watch, it's worthwhile putting recent developments in historical context.
The S&P 500 dropped under George W. Bush between his inauguration on January 20, 2001 and March 26 of that year (one day more than Obama has been in office), from 1,342.54 to 1,152.69. It would take 11 months to finally see the index rise to where it stood when Bush took office -- closing February 1, 2002, at 1,373.73. But by October 9, 2002, it had hit a low of Bush's presidency -- 776.76 -- and wouldn't break the 1,300 mark again until March 15, 2006.
Ultimately, with a market boom driven in large part by the housing bubble, the S&P 500 would peak on October 9, 2007 at 1,565.15 before plummeting to 952.77 the day of the 2008 election and the aforementioned 805.22 when the new occupant entered the Oval Office.