How midterm elections affect the stock market

March 4, 2022 | Market news

Every four years, midterm elections for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have the potential to shift control of Congress. This can have a significant impact on policy, laws and foreign relations. But how do these elections affect the stock market? And how does that affect you and your investments?

To better understand, U.S. Bank analysts studied Bloomberg market data from the past 60 years (and the 15 midterm elections held during this period) to identify midterm election cycle patterns. While past market performance is no guarantee of future results, analyzing historical data offers insights into how midterm elections might affect the market and your investment portfolio in the coming year and beyond.

Stock market performance in midterm election years

Stock market performance during midterm election years can be separated into two categories: pre-midterm election and post-midterm election.

  • Pre-midterm election stock market performance. The S&P 500 Index has historically underperformed in the year leading up to midterm elections. The average annual return of the S&P 500 in the 12 months before a midterm election is 0.3%—significantly lower than the historical average of 8.1%.1
  • Post-midterm election stock market performance. The post-midterm election period is a very different story. The S&P 500 has historically outperformed the market in the 12-month period after a midterm election, with an average return of 16.3%. This is especially true for the one- and three-month periods following midterm elections, which historically have significantly outperformed years with no midterm election.2

Debating the causes of stock market changes before and after midterm elections

Why does the market underperform in the 12 months leading up to midterm elections and overperform the 12 months after midterm elections? One factor might be policy uncertainty. Without knowing which political party will hold majorities in Congress, it’s unclear which social and economic policies will take priority. This uncertainty resolves after the midterm election.

The problem with this theory is that the outcome of midterm elections has no noticeable impact on overall equity market performance, according to our analysis. The party or parties controlling Congress—and whether they change after a midterm election—is historically not an indicator of market performance.

The biggest stock market performance influence in midterm election years

Our analysis shows that the health of the economy is a much more important factor than midterm election results. The last time the S&P 500 Index produced negative returns during the 12 months after a midterm election was 1939—a time of tremendous economic contraction and uncertainty as the U.S. battled the Great Depression and World War II began in Europe.

This also explains why negative pre-midterm market returns dominated the 1960s and 1970s, pulling down the overall pre-midterm average. The late 1960s and 1970s were a time of slow economic growth marked by high unemployment, rising energy prices and significant inflation. If you exclude the five midterm elections in the 1960s and 1970s, the average S&P return for pre-midterm election years is 8.1%—roughly in line with average annual S&P 500 performance.

Since then, the economy has grown steadily, with accommodating central bank policy keeping inflation low. This suggests that a healthy overall macroeconomic environment carries greater weight than any policy uncertainty.

Analyzing the factors going into the 2022 midterm election

The 2022 midterm election results are unlikely to affect broad equity market performance, but we could see effects on specific sectors or industries.

If Republicans gain control of either body of Congress, we’ll see relative legislative gridlock. If they gain control of both the Senate and House, President Biden’s agenda will face a strong headwind. That said, the White House could pursue some executive orders and rule-making, which has industry-specific impacts. If Democrats retain both the Senate and House, we’ll likely see significant changes to taxation and spending, plus further passage of Democrats’ policy agenda, including unpassed components of the Build Back Better proposal.

How to structure your investment portfolio to weather the 2022 midterm election and beyond

While it’s tempting to speculate which party or parties will control the House and Senate after the 2022 midterm elections, the midterm elections shouldn’t have a significant impact on your investment portfolio or the investment strategy developed in partnership with your financial professional.

U.S. fiscal policy may change after the 2022 midterms, but it’s economic fundamentals—not election results—that historically play the greatest role in equity market performance both before and after midterm elections.

Our analysis shows that the health of the economy is a much more important factor than midterm election results.

What we do know is that the Federal Reserve is reducing monetary stimulus, which could create greater market volatility. We also know that underlying economic fundamentals, including consumer and corporate balance sheets, are strong. If strong fundamentals persist, this likely limits the impact of greater policy uncertainty.

Reach out to your wealth management professional if you have questions about your unique situation.

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This information represents the opinion of Wealth Management of U.S. Bank and U.S. Bancorp Investments. The views are subject to change at any time based on market or other conditions and are current as of the date indicated on the materials. This is not intended to be a forecast of future events or guarantee of future results. It is not intended to provide specific advice or to be construed as an offering of securities or recommendation to invest. Not for use as a primary basis of investment decisions. Not to be construed to meet the needs of any particular investor. Not a representation or solicitation or an offer to sell/buy any security. Investors should consult with their investment professional for advice concerning their unique situation. The factual information provided has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed as to accuracy or completeness. Any organizations mentioned in this commentary are not affiliated or associated with U.S. Bank or U.S. Bancorp Investments in any way.

Based on our strategic approach to creating diversified portfolios, guidelines are in place concerning the construction of portfolios and how investments should be allocated to specific asset classes based on client goals, objectives and tolerance for risk. Not all recommended asset classes will be suitable for every portfolio. Diversification and asset allocation do not guarantee returns or protect against losses.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The S&P 500 Index consists of 500 widely traded stocks that are considered to represent the performance of the U.S. stock market in general.

Equity securities are subject to stock market fluctuations that occur in response to economic and business developments. International investing involves special risks, including foreign taxation, currency risks, risks associated with possible differences in financial standards and other risks associated with future political and economic developments.

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