Usually when a major public figure says something about the stock market — even something carefully phrased and subtly worded — everyone listens up. The views of politicians and public officials can have a real effect on the markets. Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen, for instance, intimated she thought the biotechnology sector was overvalued in 2014. People were still talking about that a year later.

When Donald Trump has offered investment advice, though, his recommendations have been so far out of the mainstream that investors and markets generally have ignored them. The Republican presidential nominee has been predicting economic calamity for months.

Trump issued the same forecast again in an interview on Tuesday, warning ordinary people not to invest their money in stocks. Although Trump's predictions about a looming stock-market crash were far afield, the reasoning he gave for his pessimism pointed to an important question. Trump offered his view on one of the fundamental issues that economists are debating today: Are interest rates artificially low, or has a fundamental shift in the economy made low rates the new normal?

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Stocks and bonds

"The small investor, the average guy right now — would you say, 'Yeah, put your 401(k) money into stocks?' " Fox Business Network's Stuart Varney asked Trump on Tuesday.

"No, I don't like a lot of things that I see," the New York businessman replied, repeating a warning he made in March when he predicted a "very massive recession."

Recessions are difficult to forecast. Rather than trying to anticipate busts, personal finance experts recommend that savers should hold onto their investments regardless of conditions in the market, ignoring what they hear from politicians and commentators on television.

Sometimes, to be sure, these portfolios will lose money — but the markets make up their losses eventually, and investors can put their money in broadly diversified index funds, combining stocks and bonds to protect themselves from losses in the short term.

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Only a few extremely talented investors have been able to make consistently more money than investors following this basic strategy. Trump acknowledged he's not a part of that elite group — "I've never been a big investor in the stock market," he told Varney. Even in real estate, though, Trump's investments have performed poorly compared to other investors in the industry.

Had his portfolio kept pace with the real estate market over the past 40 years, he would be worth about three times as much today, according to independent estimates.

"He's an underperformer relative to his peers," said John M. Griffin, a real estate investor and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in a recent interview with The Post.

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Interest rates

After answering Varney's question Tuesday, Trump went on to suggest that interest rates have "a natural level" that is well above their current rate.

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"I don't like what I'm seeing at all, and look, interest rates are artificially low," Trump said. "If interest rates ever seek a natural level, which obviously would be much higher than they are right now, you have some very scary scenarios out there."

The premise of Trump's argument seemed to be that the Federal Reserve is maintaining interest rates too close to zero, which will soon produce inflation by allowing Americans to borrow money too cheaply.

If Trump is right, the Federal Reserve will be forced to increase interest rates to keep prices stable, and if those increases came more quickly than investors currently anticipate, the consequences for the stock market could indeed be serious.

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Worldwide, though, investors believe that interest rates are likely to remain near zero for a long time. As of Wednesday, futures markets implied a 96 percent chance that the interest rate would remain below 1 percent through the end of next year, according to data from Bloomberg.

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The question of why such persistently cheap interest rates have produced neither inflation nor a vigorous recovery has vexed the country's leading economists.

Former treasury secretary Lawrence H. Summers has argued that fundamental changes in the global economy are discouraging investment, and that because of the reduced demand for money to invest, interest rates will naturally remain closer to zero than in the past.

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Yellen has recently shown an interest in Summers's arguments. "All of us are involved in a process of constantly reevaluating where is that neutral rate going,” she said in June. “Maybe more of what’s causing this neutral rate to be low are factors that are not going to be rapidly disappearing but will be part of the new normal.”

Trump apparently does not agree. As president, he could appoint officials to the Federal Reserve who would take monetary policy in a different direction. Trump has said he would seek to replace Yellen if elected.

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