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How The Election Might Affect Stock Prices

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The stock market has done very well under President Trump. It hit record highs before the pandemic. The market crashed as the pandemic arrived, but then recovered. And it has only lost some of those gains in the last couple of days. Needless to say, the president promotes this and makes baseless predictions about the market's future if Joe Biden is elected.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You're going to have a depression. And your 401(k)s - does anybody have a 401(k)?

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: Throw them away. They're not going to be worth it.

INSKEEP: There is no basis to predict a depression under either president. But the market now may offer clues to what investors think about the future. So NPR's Jim Zarroli has been talking with investors. Hey there, Jim.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do people with money in the market say about the possibility of a Biden presidency?

ZARROLI: I think Wall Street's kind of ambivalent about it. I mean, you know, on the one hand, Biden is a Democrat. He's talking about raising taxes on corporations and rich people. He wants to see more regulation on businesses. These are things Wall Street doesn't like. On the other hand, you know, you have this pandemic that's just ripped a big hole in the economy. And Biden has made clear that if he's president, he's going to - he wants to see strong, immediate action to try to stop the bleeding.

He's talked about, you know, a lot of government spending to aid - to schools and city budgets and small businesses. I spoke yesterday with Mark Zandi, who is chief economist at Moody's Analytics. And he says a lot of people now think this is really necessary what Biden's talking about. Now, of course, President Trump also wants to see the government spend money to get the economy moving, just not so much. So Zandi says Wall Street sees good and bad in both.

MARK ZANDI: Biden is, you know, a lot of growth, but higher taxes. Trump is a lot less taxes, but slower growth.

ZARROLI: So I have to say here that all bets are off if we have a contested election. I mean, the markets - stock market just hates uncertainty. That would be a lot of uncertainty on the table.

INSKEEP: Is this maybe the strongest card the president has to play for reelection - the stock market is still doing well even if the economy is not doing so well.

ZARROLI: Yeah. I mean, I think he would - Trump would love to see this become a big issue. He's talked about how if Biden becomes president, the stock market's going to crash. You know, but the truth really is that Biden has been leading in the polls basically throughout this campaign pretty steadily. The odds have favored him winning for a while. And more recently, it's looked like the Senate could be controlled by Democrats.

I mean, we could be looking at a Democratic sweep next week, and yet the stock market hasn't really flinched. Even after the pandemic hit and the economy just fell off a cliff, you had stocks hitting record highs this summer. So the stock market, you know, it's always a bet on the future. Right now, there doesn't seem to be evidence that investors are especially worried about the election. Wall Street just seems to be shrugging off this idea of a Biden presidency.

INSKEEP: Oh, interesting. So the strong market this summer and fall suggests investors are not that worried. However, the market has plunged more than 900 points just on Wednesday. What's that about?

ZARROLI: Yeah. I think that's more about the pandemic. We've seen a surge in new cases in the U.S. and Europe. Lockdowns are getting reimposed in some places. People aren't going to restaurants and bars. You know, I think there was a lot of optimism that things would get back to normal before. I think investors aren't so sure right now. And that goes back to how important this pandemic is. It's absolutely the most important challenge the economy faces right now.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jim Zarroli. Thanks.

ZARROLI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.