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2024 Investment Outlook

Capitalizing on today’s market opportunities to meet your financial goals.

Key takeaways

  • As Democrats and Republicans look ahead to their nominating conventions this summer, election season will soon be heating up in earnest.

  • President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are on track to accept their respective political party’s nominations.

  • It’s important to maintain a proper perspective when assessing the potential impact elections can have on capital markets and your investments.

The likely Democratic and Republican Presidential nominees have been clearly defined for many months, yet the 2024 political season is, in many ways, just getting started. Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump are expected to secure their respective party’s nominations at this summer’s national party conventions.

Along with the headline Presidential race, one-third of the seats in the U.S. Senate (currently under narrow Democratic control) and all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives (currently under narrow Republican control) are also on the ballot this fall. Here, too, a small margin may determine control beginning in 2025, with winners in many closely contested seats difficult to predict. It is conceivable that the election outcome could result in one-party control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency, or a split between the two parties, as exists today.

As the November election nears, investors are likely to be more attuned to the potential ramifications of the election for businesses, the economy and capital markets. “Even though candidates expected to be at the top of the ticket are well known, there are a number of unanswered questions about how policy could impact markets based on election outcomes,” says Rob Haworth, senior investment strategy director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “Right now, at the Presidential level, the differences between the candidates, from an investor’s perspective, are not as significant as many would expect, but that could change.”

For example, as President, Trump implemented tariffs on China. President Biden maintained most of those tariffs and recently added more, reflecting a move away from previous free trade policies. Both are likely to pursue fiscal stimulus policies to boost the economy, although likely with different combinations of tax incentives and higher spending.

Haworth says party control may have more impact at the sector level. “For example, if Republicans win, there is likely to be more of a push for development of fossil fuels, while a Democratic win might further promote renewable energy development.” Yet Haworth says such policy tendencies don’t always translate into investment outcomes. “Ironically, businesses tied to renewable energy saw their stocks perform better under the Trump administration, while stocks of oil companies and other traditional energy companies have performed better under the Biden administration,” notes Haworth.

An old saying goes that “elections have consequences.” But how do those results influence capital markets? And what are the potential ramifications for you as an investor? To better address this question, U.S. Bank investment strategists studied market data from the past 75 years and identified patterns that repeated themselves during election cycles.

The analysis points to minimal impact on financial market performance in the medium to long term based on potential election outcomes. The data also shows that market returns are typically more dependent on economic and inflation trends rather than election results.

What may be more important to investors is what the parties represent. “Party platforms, which are hammered out at this summer’s national conventions, often tell the markets more important information than the name of the winner or loser of the general election,” says Haworth. “Investors will try to determine which party is likely to be in power, and how that will benefit particular industry sectors of the market.”

Current polls indicate that, not unlike the elections of 2016 and 2020, we can expect a tight presidential contest ahead. Keeping in mind that the race is decided by electoral college votes, Trump currently holds a modest lead over Biden in most of what are considered “battleground” states, the ones that could tip the balance of the election, with the candidates in a virtual dead heat in several of those states.1 However, it’s important to keep in mind that electoral dynamics could change prior to election day on November 5, 2024.

How have election outcomes affected market performance in the past and how might potential scenarios play out in the 2024 presidential election?

 

A historical look at presidential elections’ impact on the stock market

U.S. Bank investment strategists reviewed market data going back to 1948. Using average 3-month returns following each election outcome—and comparing those with the average 3-month return during the full analysis history—strategists calculated the statistical significance of the relationship between political control and market performance using a calculation called a t-statistic, or t-test.

A t-test determines whether one group of variables (in this case, the political composition of the White House and Congress) has a measurable effect on another variable (in this case, average three-month S&P 5002 returns during the control period).

The analysis also looked at the exact periods of time when parties took control of different branches of government (rather than starting from election dates themselves), although this analysis resulted in similar outputs and conclusions.

Results of the analysis contradict conventional wisdom that a Republican or Democratic “sweep” of the presidency and Congress is most likely to cause market disruption. In fact, historically there has not been a statistically significant relationship between single-party control of both the White House and Congress and market performance.

Rather, the data uncovered three divided-government outcomes with a statistically significant relationship to market performance.

Two scenarios corresponded to positive absolute returns in excess of long-term average returns:

  • Democratic control of the White House and full Republican control of Congress.
  • Democratic control of the White House and split party control of the Senate and House.

One scenario corresponded to positive absolute returns modestly below long-term average:

  • Republican control of the White House and full Democratic control of Congress.
Visual highlighting how Democratic control of the White House and either a full Republican control of Congress or split control of Congress corresponded with positive absolute returns in excess of long-term average returns. Alternatively, Republican control of the White House and full Democratic control of Congress corresponded to positive absolute returns modestly below long-term average returns.
Source: U.S. Bank Asset Management Group.

Historical economic and inflation trends and market performance

While investors may closely monitor election results for their potential effect on stock market performance, it’s important to recognize that other factors that may have greater impact on their portfolios. The historical data suggests that economic and inflation trends, more so than election outcomes, tend to have a stronger, more consistent relationship with market returns.

The historical data suggests that economic and inflation trends, more so than election outcomes, tend to have a stronger, more consistent relationship with market returns.

In general, rising economic growth and falling inflation have been associated with returns that are considered above long-term averages, while falling growth and rising inflation have corresponded to positive but below average market returns. For investors, staying focused on these patterns is probably more insightful than potential election outcomes when it comes to forecasting market performance.

Visual highlighting how rising growth and falling inflation have been associated with returns that are considered above long-term averages, and falling growth and rising inflation have been associated with below average market returns.
Source: U.S. Bank Asset Management Group.

Stock market performance in midterm election years

When looking at midterm election data (elections held in between presidential elections), U.S. Bank investment strategists found that the S&P 500 consistently outperformed in the year after midterms compared with non-midterm years. Just like presidential elections, which party controls Congress generally was not a factor in projecting overall equity market performance.

These equity and bond market trends were consistent over time unless there was a dramatic disruption. Read more about how midterm elections affect the stock market.

 

Specific stock market sectors and key policy issues to watch in election years

While the analysis doesn’t point to elections having a meaningful medium-to-long-term market impact, they could affect individual sectors and industries. Different election outcomes have the potential to affect proposed policies, regulations, or global conflicts.

The following are policy issues to monitor throughout the presidential nomination and election process:

  • Individual and corporate tax policies, including state and local income tax (SALT) deductions
  • Spending priorities, such as energy, infrastructure and defense
  • The future of programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
  • Healthcare policy, including the future of the Affordable Care Act
  • Regulation
  • Immigration policy
  • China, including the potential for additional tariffs on Chinese-made goods
  • Geopolitical conflicts (Russia/Ukraine, Israel/Hamas)

In any election, there’s also the potential for delays in verifying an election victor, particularly in closely contested races. At the presidential level, this occurred in both the 2000 election (settled with a Supreme Court verdict) and 2020 election (when the result was challenged by one candidate). In these instances, ensuing delays could lead to more uncertain election outcomes, in which case riskier asset classes might decline until clarity emerges.

 

Looking to the 2024 presidential election and post-election period

The Biden-Trump presidential rematch appears set, awaiting final confirmation that will occur at the Democratic and Republican party conventions this summer. The composition and control of Congress resulting from the 2024 election is still up in the air but is another aspect of this year’s election cycle that bears consideration. It also makes sense to keep an eye on which sectors are most likely to be affected by the potential for key policy changes. Despite the constant headlines revolving around elections, investors are well served to remain focused on factors such as economic growth, interest rates, inflation and corporate earnings when making portfolio decisions.

Download our white paper for more detailed analysis on the 2024 presidential election and stay up to date on the latest market news and activity.

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Disclosures

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  1. Real Clear Politics, polling averages, as of May 22, 2024.

  2. The Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) is a well-known, broad capitalization weighted index of U.S. stocks. The index has one of the longest histories amongst U.S. indexes.

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