Wall Street is watching for the results of next week's congressional elections almost as carefully as groups of Capitol Hill aides sitting at Jenkins Hill or any other Pennsylvania Avenue bar.
Not that any jobs are at stake on Tuesday at the banks and investment houses whose collective judgments move financial markets. Nevertheless, many Wall Street seers are worried that the recession and the growing body of unemployed voters will pull Reagan administration allies from office, upsetting hopes for a congressional consensus on budget cutting.
In Wall Street's view, the biggest threat to reduction of budget deficits is the election of liberal Democrats, who likely would seek increased spending on social programs. Others off Wall Street believe that President Reagan's intransigence on military spending and tax cuts are more of an obstacle to budget balancing.
"If 30 or 40 seats changed hands in the Democrats' favor , I would be concerned about whether Reagan would be in a position to effectively lead," said Leon Cooperman, chairman of the investment policy committee at Goldman, Sachs & Co. "The critical issue is whether there is the political will to deal with the deficit problem."
"If there is a dramatic swing to the left, the capital markets have to be nervous," said Richard Schmaltz, principal and co-director of research at Morgan, Stanley & Co. It is Schmaltz's view, however, that it is increasingly difficult, on issues of interest to investors, to tell some of the more popular young Democrats from their Republican counterparts. "It is our hope that the future of the left is in the Bill Bradley camp, people who are concerned about private-sector stimulus," he observed, referring to the Democratic senator from New Jersey.
For the investment community, the concern is not really an ideological one. After all, much of Wall Street is only marginally concerned with anything longer term than the next corporate quarterly profit-and-loss report and its impact on stock and bond prices. There is, however, great concern that political gridlock will make it impossible to cut either the defense budget or entitlement programs.
And despite the stock market rally, there are still several major fears heard in the investment community here. One is the possibility of "reflation," and some investment managers maintain that inflationary expectations have not yet been shaken from the system.
The second fear is the prospect that the Reagan administration is still too caught up with defense hardware to make significant reductions in the planned growth of the Pentagon budget.
Finally, there is the accompanying fear that any hope of cutting federal entitlement programs, and, therefore trimming ballooning budget deficits, could just as easily be shot down by liberal Democrats as defense programs may be saved by gun-happy generals.
But Wall Street's fear of the left is not universally held. For example, Edward Yardeni, chief economist at Bache Halsey Stuart Shields Inc., noted that, in his view, the stock market surge that began in August took place only after the president reluctantly accepted the tax-raising measures passed by Congress to help reduce the deficit.
"If the Democrats wind up sweeping this thing, after the election, the administration will be under pressure to move away from strict hard-core ideology to something more like a program to bring unemployment down," Yardeni said.
"This administration is too pragmatic and savvy politically to fall into a gridlock situation," Yardeni said. "For that reason, if the Democrats do win this thing, initially, the stock market will do well."
James Balog, the director of research at Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., agreed that the dramatic election results, if nothing else, are likely to alter the administration's political strategies. The results "will determine what kind of game plan the old Gipper plays in the second half," Balog said.
But Cooperman, for one, does not share the Yardeni view of the election and calls the possibility of dramatic Democratic congressional gains "a short-term negative" for the stock market. But, according to Cooperman, such a "correction" in stock prices is due anyway in light of the one-third rise in stock prices over the past two months, a gain that even in firm bull markets usually takes a full year.
Balog's major concern is the prospect that emboldened Democrats are apt to push forward with legislative efforts to rein in the Federal Reserve Board, proposals that he said would be "disasterous for the financial markets."
The congressional election is only the first of two pieces of November news from the nation's capital that one financier calls "the double whammy." The second is the release of proposals for dealing with the Social Security funding crisis, by an administration task force headed by economist Alan Greenspan. The Social Security dilemma is among the harshest facing Congress and the political response to the Greenspan report will be watched just as carefully as Tuesday's tally.