November 8, 2012

Assessing election's economic impact

All elements of the U.S. economy and financial system will be affected by Tuesday's outcome.

The Associated Press

Luke Scanlon
click image to enlarge

Luke Scanlon of MND Partners Inc. watches stock prices during a volatile day on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, the day after President Obama was re-elected.

The Associated Press

BIG PROBLEMS AT HOME, ABROAD CAUSE STOCKS TO TUMBLE

Wall Street greeted a second Obama term the way it greeted the first.

Investors dumped stocks Wednesday in the sharpest sell-off of the year. With the election only hours behind them, they focused on big problems ahead in Washington and across the Atlantic Ocean.

Frantic selling recalled the days after Obama's first victory, as the financial crisis raged and stocks spiraled downward.

Four years later, American voters returned a divided government to power and left investors fretting about a package of tax increases and government spending cuts that could stall the economic recovery unless Congress acts to stop it by Jan. 1.

In Europe, leaders warned that unemployment could remain high for years, and cut their forecasts for economic growth for this year and 2013. The head of the European Central Bank said not even powerhouse Germany is immune.

The Dow Jones industrial average plummeted as much as 369 points, or 2.8 percent, in the first two hours of trading. It recovered steadily in the afternoon, but slid into the close and ended down 313, its biggest point drop since this time last year.

"It does look ugly," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners LLC. He said it was hard to untangle the impact of Europe-related selling from nerves about the nation's fiscal uncertainty.

"It's a combination of all that, quite honestly," Pavlik said.

The Dow closed down 312.95 points, or 2.4 percent, at 12,932.73 -- its first close below 13,000 since Aug. 2.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 33.86 points, or 2.4 percent, to 1,394. That was the broader index's first close below 1,400 since Aug. 30.

The Nasdaq composite index lost 74.64 points, or 2.5 percent, to 2.937.29.

-- The Associated Press

Upper-income Americans may face a tax increase. Auto fuel economy standards might be raised. Stocks of construction and engineering companies could benefit.

America's decision to re-elect President Obama over Mitt Romney will affect all that and other elements of the U.S. economy and financial system -- from the health care law to the overhaul of financial rules.

At the same time, a gridlocked Congress will limit Obama's influence. Tuesday's election kept Republicans in control of the House. Democrats still control the Senate, but without a commanding majority.

Here's how Obama's re-election could affect key sectors:

ECONOMY

Obama has laid out some key themes for rejuvenating the economy: Extend Bush-era tax cuts for low- and middle-income Americans. Spend more to build and repair roads, bridges and other public structures. Provide targeted tax breaks to businesses.

Most immediately, Obama needs to persuade congressional Republicans and Democrats to reach a budget agreement to prevent the economy from falling off a "fiscal cliff." Without a deal, deep spending cuts and tax increases will start to kick in next year.

The combination of those measures could send the economy back into recession and drive the unemployment rate back up to 9 percent next year, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. The rate is now 7.9 percent.

Analysts warn that Congress must break its stalemate for the economy to sustain its recovery.

"There will be a lot of brinksmanship, and that will hurt the economy and likely upset the financial markets," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, said Wednesday.

Still, the urgency of the crisis could "generate the political will necessary to get the deal done," Zandi said. And that could mean "much, much stronger growth" by 2014.

Others caution that even if the fiscal cliff is averted, the economy may continue to be hampered by slow growth, stagnant pay and modest job gains.

"Obama's re-election does not change the bigger economic or fiscal picture," Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, said in a research note. "Over the next couple of years, the U.S. economy will remain saddled with an uncomfortably high unemployment rate and will struggle to grow by more than 2 percent a year."

The president has pledged to cut projected deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years. He says he'd do so in part by raising the tax on investment gains. He would also raise income tax rates for individuals who earn more than $200,000 and married couples who earn more than $250,000. And a minimum 30 percent tax would be imposed on incomes above $1 million.

STOCKS

Stock prices plunged Wednesday in the aftermath of the election. Investors appeared rattled by the impending U.S. tax increases and spending cuts and Europe's deepening recession.

Over the long run, though, the stocks of construction and engineering companies might get a lift during Obama's second term. The president has said more spending on roads, bridges and public buildings will boost the economy. If Obama's victory helps Democrats gain seats in Congress, he'll have more support for such spending.

Other categories of stock might stumble. Financial companies had hoped to weaken rules imposed after the 2008 financial crisis. Obama's victory may ensure that the rules will remain intact. Companies will have to keep spending to make sure they comply with them.

Obama also wants to tax dividends at a higher rate. That could make financial stocks, which often pay high dividends, less appealing to investors.

Defense stocks might suffer because Obama wants to limit the growth of military spending. And some energy companies may fall because some investors think his administration will tighten pollution regulations that affect energy extraction and coal-burning power plants.

(Continued on page 2)

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