Shortly after the first presidential debate, former Obama adviser David Axelrod said on CNN that the commander in chief “can send armies marching and markets tumbling.”
Investors, it seems, are being reminded of this as polls show Hillary Clinton’s numbers dropping. The S&P 500 was down Friday for the ninth straight day, something that hasn’t happened since 1980. “The U.S. elections are the elephant in the room for markets,” Julius Baer’s head of research Christian Gatticker told Bloomberg. Donald Trump is still a long shot, consistently trailing Clinton in key swing states, but the stock market seems to be evaluating his odds for what they are: a low, if real, chance of economic harm.
Deporting some 11 million undocumented immigrants, building a wall along the border with America’s third biggest trading partner, starting a trade war with Mexico and China that would destroy 4 million U.S. jobs: These are all deeply harmful economic policies.
Moody’s says Trump’s policies would throw the U.S. economy into the longest recession since the Great Depression. Citigroup thinks a Trump win could cause a global depression. By a different measure, Trump in the White House would cause the American economy to shrink by $1 trillion over five years, according to British research firm Oxford Economics.
That a campaign based on those ideas still has by some estimates a 35 percent chance of winning should scare markets.
As Trump’s chances of winning have risen and Clinton’s chances have fallen, the stock market has reacted with the most prolonged sell-off since the financial crisis, as this chart compiled by the Financial Times’ John Authers shows:
This has pushed the index that measures stock market volatility, referred to on Wall Street as the “fear gauge,” to its highest point since right after the UK’s Brexit vote rocked financial markets.
And it’s not just falling stocks. Investors moved more money into cash-like money market funds last week than any week in the last three years.
Beyond public markets, concern about a Trump win is already affecting the fundraising plans of some startups. Companies are raising new capital earlier than they had planned in order to have a cash cushion in case Trump wins, according to a source whose company is currently doing just that, and who is familiar with several other companies’ plans.
The source, who asked to remain anonymous because he did not want competitors to know he is raising money, said that his concerns won’t evaporate if Clinton wins. Trump’s base is so angry and resentful of Clinton that he predicts the possibility of significant economic harm even if Clinton wins because Republicans may prevent any Democratic-backed legislation or appointments from passing. That’s only anecdotal, of course, but if reflects broader concerns that legislative paralysis and niggling economic harm are built-in costs of a Clinton win.
The recent drop in the stock market, research firm Capital Economics argues, “is not just because the stock market is nervous about Donald Trump’s more over-the-top claims about starting a global trade war and restricting immigration. It also reflects the reality that even if Clinton now wins, her authority and mandate will be damaged by the series of probes into her past conduct.”
The value of the Mexican peso has also been swinging wildly over the last three months, tracking Trump’s electoral prospects. That could do real damage to the U.S. economy; one banker told The Huffington Post that the intense volatility of the peso forced him to shelve a currency swap deal he was working on.
It might be hard to sympathize with a banker over that, but it is a reason to be worried. These sorts of deals allow huge companies to ship goods around the world with locked-in exchange rates. It’s incredibly important to have that kind of predictability when you’re operating a multibillion-dollar company in the real economy. That type of activity becoming more difficult is exactly the sort of scenario that shows Trump’s rhetoric ― not to mention his actual policies ― can hurt the economy in significant ways.
And indeed, if in a losing effort his campaign sets the stage for four years of rancor and intransigence in Washington, D.C., he may already have hurt it.