What a lousy job, being the president. You're obligated to live in a stuffy old mansion with no view, the press scrutinizes your every twitch, and you're responsible for a real stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. For your trouble, you earn less than a third-tier Wall Street bond analyst.
And now, in a few days, comes the worst insult of all for presidents: a three-day holiday that generates all the excitement of a congressional hearing. No parades with Rutherford B. Hayes balloons, no James Garfield Days Sales at Macy's, no Lyndon Johnson chocolate-candy boxes on sale for delivery to favorite teachers. Just a day off from work without so much as a bowl game to watch. Humbug.
As a public service, therefore, SuperModels proposes to commemorate our country's chief executives this year with our first annual Presidents' Day Stock Portfolio contest.
Here's how it works: I have compiled a list of the most presidential stocks in America. Not ones that the current candidates endorse, or ones in sectors that their policies would benefit. Been there, done that.
My list, with three exceptions, offers 43 stocks containing all or part of the first, middle or last names of most of the American presidents.
43 'Electable' Stocks
It turns out that a bipartisan list of presidential stocks is overweight financials, as many banks, thrifts and insurance companies like to emphasize their steadfastness by aligning their names with George Washington and Abe Lincoln.
Some stocks were a bit of a stretch: I leveraged Harry Truman's hometown of Independence, Mo., for his entry; a Vermont teddy bear company for the first Roosevelt; middle names Wilson and Jefferson for Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton; and an oil company of which George W. Bush was director. And there's more to the
-Millard Fillmore connection than just four letters. Fillmore was from Buffalo, N.Y., where General Mills makes the breakfast cereals Wheaties and Cheerios.
Some presidents simply failed the test: There are no companies named for Nixons or Milhouses, and I also struck out with James A. Garfield, James Buchanan, William McKinley, Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. Is it ironic that the two presidents most responsible for the Great Depression have no stocks associated with them?
Despite an utter lack of focus on the financial strength or value of any of my presidential contenders, I actually have high hopes for their success over the remainder of the year. Random lists have higher potential than most professionals will concede.
Some of the presidential contenders look pretty good on their own:
- Jefferson-Pilot (JP) - Get Report is one of the many insurance stocks that have done great lately amid the expectation for higher interest rates. The dividend-payer has risen slowly and steadily from around $35 to the mid-$50s in the past year with no histrionics along the way.
- Tyler Technologies (TYL) - Get Report is a profitable IT services company focusing on local governments and court systems that has gone from $3 to $11 in the past year, and recently backed off to the $9 area.
- Johnson Controls (JCI) - Get Report is one of the many medium-sized suppliers to the automotive industry that have improved in machine-like fashion over the past year. The dividend-paying, relatively inexpensive stock has advanced from $40 to $60.
I'll keep an eye on all 43 campaigners over the rest of the year, and we'll see if they rise or fall in the most brutally honest poll -- the capital markets. Just for fun, I'll also conduct an experiment similar to a recent contest run by
The Seattle Times
. Pick the 10 stocks you think will do best and send them to me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll see how many can beat the market, and how readers' top 10 and a random sample compare to the broad market.
Whose Stock Is Rising?
The week in which our nation pauses for reflection on the history of the executive branch seems an appropriate time to ponder how the current presidential election intersects with stocks. The Republicans and Democrats offer radically different economic visions, after all. And a race between President Bush and Democratic frontrunner John Kerry is increasingly hard to call.
You have to expect the incumbent to win, as he has so many ways to pull fiscal and monetary levers to boost the perception of a strong economy for the benefit of his campaign. But to the extent the outcome becomes more uncertain, the market may need to price in, or discount, the 30% possibility of a Democratic win. That discounting process might not be fun for investors, though in a moment we'll propose a way to game it.
Without meaning to turn this into a political science term paper, the major difference in a second Bush-Cheney administration vs. a potential Kerry-Edwards administration is in tax policy. Bush has vowed to push for Congress to make his first administration's tax cuts permanent, while the Democrats have vowed to reverse them. That's a gigantic overhang for investors.
A second key difference is in health care. The Democrats appear to want to roll back the clock to the first Clinton administration and rein in drug, medical and hospital costs via government fiat, while the GOP has been so friendly to the drug companies that big pharma was virtually allowed to write the new Medicare drug-benefit program. The Democrats would be less friendly to big energy companies, more hostile toward utilities, more prone to protectionism and more stingy with the Pentagon.
Bush has boxed himself in by depleting tons of financial capital on Iraq, Medicare drugs and the tax cuts. To the degree that the widening deficit prevents him from proposing even bigger new government entitlement programs to win over various groups of fence-sitting independents in swing states, he loses ammo in the battle for votes. (His budget proposal, submitted last week, already shows one glaring change from prior years: There are no new tax cuts proposed.)
And to the degree that U.S. employment fails to meaningfully strengthen, he also loses critical ground in industrial states to the democratic slate. As market players weigh these possibilities, the sort of high-beta, high-P/E cyclical and financial stocks that did so well last year could suffer.
The most meaningful number facing the Bush administration at this time -- and, by extension, investors -- is 8.2. That was the number, in percentage points, of the year-over-year growth rate of U.S. GDP in the third quarter in 2003. GDP growth has to be
than that blistering pace in the third quarter of 2004 for economic headlines to be positive for Bush a month before voting day.
How can Bush make the economy print a good number? Somehow the administration needs to encourage consumers, businesses and the government to spend as much in the third quarter this year as possible. That could be through lower interest rates, sparking another round of home mortgage refinancing, as well as government hiring and a new round of Pentagon spending.
My column on small natural-gas and oil exploration companies, which was promised for today in
last week's column, will run next week.
Jon D. Markman is publisher of
StockTactics Advisor, an independent weekly investment newsletter, as well as senior strategist and portfolio manager at Pinnacle Investment Advisors. While he cannot provide personalized investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes column critiques and comments at
email@example.com. At the time of publication, Markman did not have positions in any securities mentioned in this column.