On Wall Street, few expect the process will lead to Trump’s removal from office. Pelosi appears to be inching closer to the votes for an impeachment in the House, but it looks highly unlikely at this point that two-thirds of the GOP-controlled Senate would go along with it.
“Markets have seen this Impeachment movie before,” said Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group in Richmond. “So what if the House impeaches, if the Senate will never remove the president from office? Markets are way more interested in a trade deal with China.”
A quick look at history shows why markets are shrugging this off. President Bill Clinton faced an impeachment process starting in October 1998. He was impeached by the House two months later but ultimately acquitted by the Senate in February 1999. The stock market rose during that period — and so did the all-important consumer confidence barometer. (Consumer spending drives 70 percent of the economy.) The University of Michigan consumer confidence Index dipped to 97.4 that October but climbed to 108.1 by February.
The market situation was grimmer during President Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment process. Stocks briefly rose after the February 1974 proceedings began and then declined all the way through August 1974, when Nixon resigned.
As JPMorgan wrote in a note to clients, it’s hard to attribute much — if any — market movement in those prior eras to impeachment proceedings. Markets were a lot more focused in 1973 and 1974 on skyrocketing oil prices that tipped the U.S. economy into a recession. And in 1998, markets were a lot more fixated on the fact that the Asian financial crisis and the collapse of a hedge fund called Long-Term Capital Management were not spilling to the rest of the world.
The same effect is playing out now: What Wall Street really cares about is the trade war.
Trump told reporters Wednesday, “If you notice, the stock market went up” after the release of a rough transcript of the Ukraine call that has drawn so much scrutiny. But even Fox Business pointed out that what really drove the market up Wednesday was Trump’s comments that a China deal “could happen sooner than you think,” not the transcript.
The bigger debate among traders and economists is whether impeachment proceedings move the dial at all on U.S.-China trade negotiations. A week ago — before news broke of a whistleblower’s concerns about Trump’s call — there were a lot of prominent voices in finance, such as JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon and DoubleLine Capital head Jeffrey Gundlach, telling people that they did not think a deal will get done before the 2020 election. Why would China want to hammer out a deal when it’s not clear who will be in the Oval Office after the vote?
Has that changed a lot because of impeachment proceedings? Some say it tips the scales slightly in favor of a deal. The thinking goes like this: The Chinese could perceive Trump as weak, making this a moment to try to push for something quick and puny. Trump’s words Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly were aimed at fueling that thesis and pushing the market higher.
“There’s still political upside to Trump and China to de-escalate the conflict, even if it’s not a full deal,” said Steve Pavlick, head of policy at Renaissance Macro Research and a former official in Trump’s Treasury Department.
But it’s also easy to argue that the impeachment show changes little and that the scale is still tipped in favor of China holding out, meaning trade uncertainty remains through the election (and potentially beyond it, since a number of Democratic candidates also want to go after China and have even said they would initially keep tariffs in place). Trump has flip-flopped many times on China, tweeting or saying lines that sound optimistic one day and then slamming the Chinese the next.
It remains to be seen how impeachment affects other issues Wall Street is watching, such as the push for Congress to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and a budget deal that needs to get done by Nov. 21 to prevent a government shutdown. The early read is that impeachment creates more gridlock, but Democrats appear aware that it’s not good politics to head into the 2020 election as the party that shut down the government because they were fixated on impeachment.
Beyond China, the focus is Election 2020, especially as the possibility of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as the Democratic candidate rises. As Tory Newmyer outlined Tuesday in The Post’s Finance 202 newsletter, there is a lot of concern among investors about a President Warren and the regulation she wants to bring for banks, traders and more.
“The market will get more worried if over the next handful of months Bernie [Sanders] or Warren rises significantly in the polls,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief economist at Natixis.
It’s too early to tell how this will play out for the 2020 election. Public opinion has been against impeachment, but Pelosi made this decision after hearing from Democrats who represent swing districts, which seems to indicate some sense among Democrats that public opinion is shifting.
The main takeaway for the economy and markets is that there will be more uncertainty at a time when the uncertainty fire is already burning brightly. There’s Brexit, Hong Kong protests, a slowing China, a Middle East flare-up and no end in sight to Trump’s unpredictable trade war. But countering that, the Federal Reserve has promised to do whatever it takes to keep this expansion going.
The global economy is in trouble, and the U.S. economy is slowing. Impeachment probably won’t alter that unless there is a dramatic turn of events. The key is the U.S. consumer. If American consumers shrug this off and continue spending, as they did in 1999, then the economy can keep growing and avoid a recession.