In the 10 months Trump has been in office, he hasn’t actually implemented many of those policies—the Affordable Care Act remains in place and with it, the mandate that employers provide coverage for businesses that top 50 employees; tax reform is still in its nascent stages, and though Trump is pushing forward successfully with his deregulation agenda in some areas, some major financial and business reforms, such as Dodd-Frank, remain largely intact for now. And yet, the stock market continues its upward trajectory. Part of the explanation may be that the promise of change at the hands of a pro-business president is enough to keep companies and investors buying.
As my colleague Annie Lowrey has written, a lot of the uptick has been in the works for the past decade, starting when the recovery finally kicked in during 2009. The stock market has, more or less, been climbing ever since. The president knows this: In a presidential debate during the 2016 election, Trump actually used the fact of the continuously climbing stock market to criticize Democrats. He insisted that the gains seen during Obama’s tenure were leading to “a big, fat, ugly bubble.” And he warned Americans that “we better be awfully careful.” In the past year, there’s been little radical change to the broad policies that can impact the market, including fiscal and monetary policy—and yet Trump has radically altered his opinion on what the booming market means. He’s tweeted praise and self-congratulation for the upward trajectory of the market again, and again, and again. Gone are the days of the market’s rise being an ominous sign.
Presidents, in general, do not have much control over the behavior of the markets. They help construct broad economic guidance, which can, in turn, shape how confident companies and investors are about their ability to turn a profit—sending the stock market up or down. But those changes are hard to directly attribute to his actions—that is unless the president says or does something especially extreme. And most presidents try pretty hard to avoid precipitating major market movements, though Trump has bragged about his perceived ability to tank stocks more than once, such as a tweet last week where he cheered a slump in health-insurance stocks on the news that the government would stop paying subsidies for low-income individuals.
For example, though the stock market rose significantly during the Obama years, it’d be hard to make the case that those gains were the result of Obama specifically and not the policy decisions by the Federal Reserve, which kept interest rates low, pushing investors toward the stock market instead of bonds. Those rates remained historically low through the end of Obama’s tenure and the start of Trump’s.
Trump’s claims that his presidency is responsible for the market’s trajectory is further complicated by what occasionally seems to be a misunderstanding of the relationship between the stock market and the federal government. In an interview with Sean Hannity, the president suggested that the $5.2 trillion gains in the stock market could help chip away at the national debt, “You can say in one sense we’re really increasing values; and maybe in a sense we’re reducing debt.” But growing corporate profits have very little to do with the amount of money owed by the federal government. In theory, increased profits could mean more tax revenue coming in from thriving businesses—but Trump also has plans to cut the corporate tax rate. The White House went on to clarify, saying that Trump “was simply making the point that we’ve seen enormous growth in the stock market since his election, that means more money in the pocket of everyday citizens, and more circulating in our economy as a whole,” according to several outlets.