Of course, not every year was as good as 2019. In the first six months of 2018, for example, the S&P gained less than 2 percent, less than in six of the eight years that President Barack Obama was in office.
It’s worth pointing out that this is a sort of weird metric to seize upon. Granted, Trump’s tweets don’t often show signs of detailed forethought. But stock growth over the first half of the calendar year? What does that tell us?
Especially given that the market’s performance over Trump’s entire presidency has been a bit more mundane. The change in the S&P over the first two-and-a-half years of Trump’s presidency is roughly in line with figures from the George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Ronald Reagan years. The outliers among recent presidents’s records are George W. Bush’s miserable first few years — a function of a recession that kicked in right after he took office — and the strong growth under Obama.
That growth, too, was a function of a recession. Obama came to office during a grim time for the economy, but by June of 2009 the economy was growing regularly, month after month. The S&P grew a lot over the first few years of Obama’s presidency precisely because it was so low during the recession. Growth is relative to the starting point; that the S&P actually declined over the course of 2018 made it easier for Trump to claim victory when it surged again in early 2019.
This link to recessions is notable particularly because Monday gave us another bit of economic data that would seem to be more worthy of celebration than a short-term success on Wall Street. June marked the 121st straight month in which the economy expanded — that is, 10 straight years since the expansion began in June 2009. That’s the longest expansion on record, surpassing the 120-month expansion that ended right as George W. Bush took office.
So why isn’t Trump celebrating that, particularly since it, unlike stock growth, affects all Americans? Well, the most obvious answer is that Trump didn’t happen to see it in the Journal (or, perhaps, on Fox Business Network) Monday morning.
But it may also be because so much of that growth — 91 of the 121 months — happened under the predecessor he routinely disparages.
We’ve seen Trump elide Obama’s economic success in the past, hailing drops in the unemployment rate that continue a trend from Obama or, on the 2016 campaign trail, deriding job growth under Obama as unnecessarily slow.
There’s some irony to that latter point, in fact. As Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal noted on Monday, the expansion may have lasted as long as it has precisely because it’s been slow. While other recent expansions have collapsed along with bubbles that spurred them along, an ongoing set of questions about global economic health may have kept bubbles from emerging in the first place.
On Monday we also got other new numbers related to the economy in the form of polling from the Associated Press and its partners at NORC, an independent social research organization at the University of Chicago.
More than six in 10 respondents told the pollsters that they saw the economy as doing well, with half saying the economy was at least somewhat good. That’s up from January by 10 points.
Over that same period, though, approval of Trump’s handling of the economy shifted only slightly upward, a change that’s not statistically significant. Americans think the economy is doing better — but that’s not connected to also thinking Trump is doing a good job handling it.
Given that about half of Americans don’t own any stock, gains on the S&P — even if they were all directly related to Trump, which is dubious — wouldn’t necessarily have as robust an effect on voters as the president seems to think. (Trump’s apocryphal 401(k)-owning police officer is an exception.) Ongoing growth of the economy might, but Trump isn’t getting as much credit for that as he would probably like.
There is, of course, another reason that Trump is celebrating good stock numbers: It’s the sort of number that he’s long used to evaluate his personal economic success. With the economy playing a significant role in his 2020 campaign rhetoric, though, it might be time to buckle down and promote economic achievements that land a bit nearer to the average American.