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Stock Market: Wall Street Watches and Waits

The stock market continues its steady, if unspectacular, progress. Despite long-term results that should have investment analysts applauding, the rally that continues to get no respect trudges along. The presidential debates and upcoming election plus the flap surrounding the Deutsche Bank were the dominant issues in September, with the Federal Reserve adding no surprises to the mix as Chairwoman Janet Yellen announced no changes to interest rate policy.

Donald Trump’s onslaught on both the stock market and the Federal Reserve provided pundits with some talking points. His major premise that the market is in a bubble did not gain traction with the investment community. It’s hard to sell a doom and gloom perspective when a bull market has rallied for more than seven years – albeit with some pullbacks along the way. His bubble analogy was alarmist, and many commentators called him on it. The energy sector may be struggling while lower oil prices continue to prevail, but technology and many consumer companies are performing well. Overall, Wall Street’s response to his florid prose was flat. Likewise, his allegation that Federal Reserve policy was crafted to bolster the Obama administration’s economic record earned a rebuke from Chairwoman Yellen and very little interest from anyone else.

Echoing public sentiment that Hillary Clinton won the debate, Wall Street shook off some earlier losses in the week to trade higher. Prior to Monday evening’s debate, sell-offs in the stock and bond markets showed that Wall Street was a little nervous – perhaps daring to acknowledge that the race for the White House is up for grabs with no sure winner on the scene. It is no secret that Wall Street favors a Clinton presidency. The markets have proved capable of weathering a variety of economic storms over the past decade but are spooked by unchartered territory.  Uncertainty was, and still remains, a primary factor in any downward slide. Whether Republican or Democrat, investment gurus are more comfortable – in general – with a former senator and secretary of state whose policies are known, than a real estate mogul with no track record in domestic policy and international trade.

In general, when Trump does well, the stock market tends to dip. His anti-immigration and NAFTA policies also ensure that the peso moves lower against the dollar. For Hillary Clinton, her stance on drug pricing has generated some nervous selling in the pharmaceutical sector. Some analysts see Trump’s tax policies as a potential shot in the arm for the corporate bottom line. No surprises here. Investment analysts seem to share the same wait and see attitude that consumers hold, and some anticipate plenty of opportunities for market volatility as the candidates enter the last six weeks of campaigning.

As a not-so-gentle reminder that there is a world beyond Capitol Hill, shares in Deutsche Bank fell to their lowest levels in decades, precipitating a sell-off in Europe that rippled through exchanges worldwide. Germany’s biggest lending institution is still mired in crises emanating from the earlier subprime mortgage lending debacle, and has been targeted by the U.S. Justice Department for a $14 billion payback in claims. This is a staggering amount, which dwarfs the $6.2 billion the bank is said to have set aside to deal with the legal battles it continues to face. Deutsche Bank’s pivotal role in the European banking system underscores the interconnectivity of major banks worldwide and investors’ sensitivity to any trace of heightened risk.

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