Wall Street analysts and brokers anticipate little market reaction if Ronald Reagan wins a second term today, asserting that his reelection has been predicted too widely to have much of an impact on stock prices.
"Markets react to surprises," said David A. Lefeve, senior vice president at one of Merrill Lynch's Washington offices. Other analysts said only an upset victory by Walter Mondale or a GOP capture of the House of Representatives would be dramatic enough to shake the markets.
The markets, traditionally closed on Election Day, will be open today for the first time during voting.
During Reagan's first term, the markets went from bearish to bullish to baffling, with the Dow Jones industrial average going as low as 776.92 and reaching an all-time high of 1287.20.
High unemployment and economic malaise in 1981 and 1982 were followed by the greatest bull market in history. Beginning on Aug. 13, 1982, the Dow soared 471 points in 10 months, adding some $603 billion to the value of stocks on the New York Stock Exchange.
With the aid of computers, stock market records fell like autumn leaves. The New York Stock Exchange broke the 100-million-share mark on Aug. 18, 1982, trading 132.7 million shares. By the end of 1983, NYSE trading was up 82 percent in two years. The current record day is Aug. 3, when 236.6 million shares were traded.
The increases in trading amazed brokers, who recalled that for six months in 1968 brokers had Wednesdays off while back offices caught up on the paperwork from 13-million-share trading days.
Beyond Election Day, market watchers see 1985 as a year in which:
*Stock prices, as measured by the Dow Jones industrial averages, will move slowly upward toward the 1,300 to 1,400 mark.
*Interest rates will trend downward, prompting a further increase in bond prices.
*Inflation will hover at a 3 percent to 5 percent level, causing problems for businesses that in the past have counted on inflationary price increases.
Prudential Bache analyst Greg A. Smith's outlook is for a "Woody Hayes stock market," defined as "three yards and a cloud of dust." Despite an unexciting running offense characterized by small yardage gains, the Ohio State football coach had a win-loss record of 205-61, Smith wrote.
Robert Farrell, chief market analyst for Merrill Lynch, said "I expect '85 to be an up year. Stocks will make new highs and bonds will do well."
He said that the months immediately following the election might produce setbacks because of uncertainties over what can be expected from the new administration and Congress. But Farrell said he believes the Dow will go to 1400 by the end of 1985 and to 1800 or 2000 in the next two to three years.
The impact on business -- and on the stock market -- of a low-inflation climate was much on the minds of several analysts.
Economist David M. Jones, senior vice president of Aubrey G. Lanston, said "there is a lot of pain going from a world of high inflation to a world of low inflation. The stock market is trying to sort it out."
Most seriously affected are companies with high costs, low productivity and large debt burdens, he said, citing energy firms as examples of companies hurt by falling inflation rates.
Farrell said corporations find they no longer can raise prices the way they once did and spend more time cutting costs than increasing sales. They are selling unprofitable divisions, negotiating savings with unions, adding technology to improve efficiency and buying back stock at an annual net rate of $60 billion.
"One of the benefits of this period is that the whole economy is going to get more efficient and there will be greater profitability down the road," Farrell said.
Fred Fraenkel, Prudential Bache's director of investment strategy, said that his firm is viewing the market "much more positively" than during its bearish days from the summer of '83 to the summer of '84. Part of the optimism is based on "the continued environment of low inflation" and a trend toward lower interest rates, he said.
Fraenkel said that he does not expect Reagan to make an effort to raise taxes next year, because "he wants to grow his way out of the deficit." Fraenkel predicted that long-term government bonds, now about 11 1/2 percent, will fall to about 10 1/2 percent by the end of 1985.
Leslie J. Silverstone, senior vice president at one of Dean Witter's Washington offices, said of the stock market, "I'm bullish." But he added that he encounters widespread investor fears that interest rates still may go back up to the 15 percent area.
A poll last week of 130 securities analysts by Investors Intelligence found that 53.6 percent were bullish on stocks, 21.4 percent were bearish and 25 percent were looking for a dip in prices that might provide buying opportunites.