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Politics? Who Needs It?

By Nick Lanyi on September 6, 2016

If you haven’t seen one of the 3,000 headlines proclaiming Labor Day is the real start of the presidential campaign, congratulations. You’ve been spared a potentially painful palm slap to your own forehead.

It’s only starting now?

This endless campaign has lasted so long that political junkies are starting to host nostalgic reunions for the Jeb! and Sanders campaigns.

Don’t get me wrong (and don’t send me abusive emails): I realize it’s an important election. The next two months will help decide not only the next president but the majority party in the Senate and potentially the House. Major fissures in the Democratic and Republican parties have emerged, and the election results will help redefine their direction. The two major-party presidential candidates present a choice of strikingly different governing styles, political philosophies and conceptions of America.

So this election will be more significant than most. That said, as investors we need to take the breathless political headlines with a big grain of salt. The same goes for the outcome on Nov. 8.

The U.S. economy is like an aircraft carrier. Its current direction was decided by factors already in place, it has its own momentum, and it can’t be steered sharply left or right by anyone, even the president. That’s especially true when the climate in Washington can best be described as contentious, with few policy debates resulting in consensus.

So even as economists stay busy this fall, scoring Donald Trump’s promises to cut the estate tax or Hillary Clinton’s proposed infrastructure spending program, the chances of either of these campaign pledges becoming law next year in their proposed forms is about equal to the Minnesota Twins’ chances of winning the World Series next month.

When a presidency’s effect on the economy is judged, hindsight tends to differ significantly from the predictions made during the campaign.

And that’s even truer of stock market performance.

The fact is investors made a lot of money in certain stocks during the Reagan administration, when the average annualized return of the Dow was 11.3%.

During the George H.W. Bush administration, the return was 9.7%.

The Clinton administration: 15.9%.

The George W. Bush administration: -3.5%.

And the Obama administration: 14.5%.

You get the idea. Regardless of which way the political pendulum swings, investment opportunities will abound if you know where to look.

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