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My Tuesday column looked at how the economy has fared so far under President Trump, who has made claims such as the following:
And so on. If you actually look at the data, the economy is doing well, but you’d be hard-pressed to describe it as “booming” or “raging,” particularly if you never characterized the Obama economy that way. That’s because it hasn’t been “many years” since we have seen the kind of numbers we’re seeing today; gross domestic product, jobs and wage growth are pretty consistent with what we experienced under President Barack Obama.
The stock market is not the economy, and presidents of course control neither. But when markets go up, Trump nonetheless claims credit, and declares market gains to be evidence of his “raging” economy.
But as I’ve said before, these gains are not “unprecedented.” Here’s a look at the performance of the S&P 500 index from inauguration to April 30 the following year, under Obama vs. Trump:
Stock prices rose about three times as much under Obama during this period as they did under Trump. And that’s despite the fact that Trump oversaw enormous corporate tax cuts, which more or less automatically boost stock prices. (Stock prices are a claim on the after-tax profits of a firm; by definition, then, lower taxes should increase the after-tax profits of a firm even if that firm does literally nothing to expand or become more competitive.)
Now, Obama came into office during the depths of the Great Recession, so arguably it makes sense that markets went up a lot during his tenure. Let’s try another comparison then.
The chart above shows MSCI’s index of securities in developed countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific (that is, excluding North America), and how it has performed relative to MSCI’s comparable index for the United States. As you can see, the U.S. index was up 16.72 percent as of Monday; the international index was up 18.85 percent.
I’m not arguing that our stock market (or our economy) is doing badly. It has done well. Its growth is just not unprecedented, or for that matter particularly anomalous. And it’s hard to attribute the market increase almost everywhere Trump, particularly if you buy his zero-sum view of the global economy.
Note also that both measures for U.S. stock markets (the S&P 500 and MSCI’s U.S. index) show us down slightly year-to-date. As I said, presidents don’t control stock markets, but Trump’s trade-war rhetoric likely isn’t helping things.