Wall Street Isn’t That Worried About Elizabeth Warren, But They’re Watching
As Wednesday night’s Democratic debate stretched on well beyond bedtime, Wall Street uttered a resounding “meh.”
There were very few surprises, said analysts, and even those were generally pleasant.
Billionaire boogeyman Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who sells coffee mugs labeled “billionaire’s tears” was met with fierce resistance when she argued in favor of new taxes on wealth, corporations, and the financial sector. “I don’t agree with the wealth tax the way that Elizabeth Warren puts it,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a breakout star of the evening. He said he would focus instead on targeting “tax loopholes” and “tax cheats.”
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (on the moderate end of things, and often considered by Wall Streeters to be a smart hedge for former Vice President Joe Biden) also had a good night. It was widely expected that other Democrats would gang up against the 37-year-old former McKinsey & Company consultant because of his recent rise in primary polls. Instead, Democrats came together to attack Republicans and left Buttigieg largely unscathed.
“I don’t think any performances changed the outlook very much,” said Rich Sega, global chief investment strategist at Conning. “I don’t think this changes the trajectory. The market isn’t responding at all to these kinds of politics…It seems to exclusively respond to the prospects of trade talks.” He added that despite some CEO’s very public objections to Warren, she hasn’t made very much of an impact on markets.
Sega doesn’t think Wall Street has a Warren problem, after all. He points out that if she wins the big race, she’ll still have to pass a wealth tax through Congress, which would be a highly difficult and drawn out process. He also thinks Warren will temper her rhetoric in a general election, pointing to her recent walk back of Medicare for All as an example of what might change.
“People discount what politicians say while they’re campaigning,” said Sega. “Warren is strident now, but the people I talk to don’t find it threatening and feel like she’ll move more towards the middle.”
Brian Rose, senior economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, said that while questions about 2020 are the number one topic investors ask about, markets don’t really respond to the debates.
“I don’t think there were a lot of dramatic new proposals,” he said. “At this point we already know what candidates stand for, but don’t know who’s going to win and that’s the main point of concern right now.”
Investors fear change and unpredictability. The 2020 elections are a perfect storm for fearful finance-types, but both Sega and Rose warn that attempting to make financial predictions based on politics or the optics of a debate is a bad idea.
During the last election there were a number of dire predictions about what would happen to markets if President Donald Trump won, said Rose, but the S&P is still reaching record highs.
The bottom line, said Rose, is that “it’s good to be informed,” but most people on Wall Street don’t feel the need to watch the full debates. Still, it’s “important to keep an eye on these debates because they give some idea of what might happen if a Democrat wins in 2020, especially for business owners because it will have a big impact on sentiment.”
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