After a marathon campaign season, nearly two-thirds of Americans have finally spoken with their ballots. Election day is now in the rear view, although results may not be official for hours or perhaps weeks.
We sat down this morning with Northwestern Mutual Chief Investment Officer Ron Joelson and Chief Investment Strategist Brent Schutte to discuss some key themes for investors to think about going forward.
Here are some of Ron’s and Brent’s thoughts the morning after the election.
DIVIDED GOVERNMENT CAN BE A POSITIVE
While we may not know who the president will be, it looks like Republicans will remain in control of the Senate and Democrats will control the House of Representatives. First, that’s been the state of play for a few years, so markets don’t have to price in a big change. Second, having some checks in government can also be a positive.
“The key thing right now is that no matter what happens with the presidency, it appears we will continue to have divided government,” says Schutte. “I think the market likes divided government in the intermediate term, which means potential tax hikes are likely to be pared back or even off the table entirely.”
“We’re feeling pretty good, frankly, that we’ve got divided government in either scenario,” says Joelson. “A check on any party is typically a good thing.”
STIMULUS IS LIKELY ON THE WAY … AND SOON
For weeks, markets have fluctuated in lockstep with the prospects for another round of stimulus. While lawmakers didn’t get to a deal before the election, a deal is probably coming soon.
“I think we’ll also see some immediate stimulus. Biden wants it to happen if he wins, and Trump wants it to happen,” says Joelson. “I think we’ll see some stimulus coming right out of the blocks, which should boost things a little bit.”
CHINA STILL IN THE HOT SEAT
Trade tensions across the Pacific are probably going to continue in some shape or form.
“Even with a White House shift, there isn’t going to be much in the way of trade tensions changing. Either way there are going to be trade tensions with China,” says Joelson. “Still, it’s not something that should prompt you to make a radical shift in your portfolio.”
Schutte added that, under a Biden presidency, the pressure will still be on China, but tariffs probably won’t be the go-to tool used to gain leverage in negotiations. That could result in a slightly less uncertain global economic backdrop.
THE FED AND A VACCINE
There are still several positive trends to help support markets through the rest of the year and into 2021. The Federal Reserve will continue to pull out everything in its arsenal to help markets and the economy — no matter who is president.
Joelson said the likelihood of new sweeping lockdowns to contain the coronavirus is remote, as the efficacy of these policies has been debated, and lawmakers want to balance economic outcomes and public health. What’s more, there are several vaccine candidates nearing the finish line, and we could be hearing a lot more about them in the coming weeks. The U.S. is hitting key benchmarks to a recovery, which we outlined at the beginning of this crisis.
“If you add all of these up, you have a pretty positive backdrop for markets,” says Schutte.
PREPARE FOR MORE VOLATILITY … BUT RESIST SELLING
The results show this is a very close election. Even if a winner is announced, there will likely be court challenges from both sides. Keep in mind, the legal machinations here could drift all the way into December, when key deadlines for canvassing votes and nominating electors kick in.
“This is likely to move into the courts because both sides are likely to contest results in several states,” says Joelson. “What does it all do? One thing we can expect to see is volatility as news comes in, as results potentially shift and legal battles get under way.”
However, short-term volatility driven by election tensions may be an opportunity for investors who want to put money to work in the market.
“If there is volatility, please don’t sell. But for those who have money on the sidelines, this may be an opportunity if there is a downturn,” says Schutte.
TAKE A BREATH
Lastly, it’s important to keep the emotions of the moment in check and focus on long-term investment outcomes as part of your financial plan.
“I want to remind people once again that emotions and your portfolio are not a good combination,” says Schutte. “Donald Trump and Barack Obama elicit very different emotions from people. But despite their many differences, the S&P 500 rose 13 to 14 percent under each of their terms.”
We’ve analyzed the numbers, and they have shown that presidents and their administrations are never a pure positive or negative for markets and the broader economy. The U.S. economy is big and complex, and it’s hard to disrupt its long-term trend rate of growth. Plus, whoever becomes president will oversee an economy that appears to be early- or mid-cycle, and that historically bodes well for future market returns.
“So far it’s been orderly, and the market seems to be taking all of this in stride,” says Schutte.
The opinions expressed are those of Northwestern Mutual as of the date stated on this material and are subject to change. There is no guarantee that the forecasts made will come to pass. This material does not constitute investment advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any investment or security. All investments carry some level of risk.