During President Obama's first 100 days in office, the major U.S. averages slipped to multiyear lows amid a global meltdown in financial markets, leading investors to fear the worst. But despite that, stocks are essentially unchanged from where they sat on Inauguration Day. Sure, it's hard to judge the new president after a short time in office. Even Obama acknowledged that while the first 100 days are going to be important, "it's probably going to be the first thousand days that makes the difference."
For now, though, investors can examine what has occurred in the different sectors of the market and judge how Obama's first major decisions and policies affected trading. At first glance, it's easy to spot nearly a perfect V-shaped chart for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Composite, all of which hit a low point in March before rising sharply to where they currently stand. "After the first 100 days we're back where we started," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist with Windham Financial. "We're right back to the level where we were on the day he took office. It's hard to say whether what we've seen is due to him becoming president or that things couldn't get any worse than they were. The fact that we're right where we were shows the market is satisfied, although it's not a ringing endorsement." Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist with Banyan Partners, said that he was initially surprised by the early weakness in the market after Obama took over the White House. "I didn't think we were going to be as weak as we were, and I'm equally surprised by this recovery so far," he said. "There's a lot of anticipation for growth for the rest of year."
Much like the move in the major averages, a handful of sectors are essentially unchanged over the last 100 days. Many exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, are trading at nearly the exact spot they were on Jan. 20. For instance, the PowerShares Dynamic Financials ( PFI) ETF, the Telecom HOLDRs ( TTH) ETF, and the ProShares Ultra Industrials ( UXI) ETF were among several trading at nearly the same price as they did on Inauguration Day. Surprisingly, aerospace and defense names were also flat after Obama's first 100 days. The PowerShares Aerospace & Defense ( PPA) ETF and the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Aerospace & Defense ( ITA) are unchanged from late January after rebounding from the March lows. That's puzzling to market watchers who expected defense stocks like General Dynamics ( GD), Northrop Grumman ( NOC) and Lockheed Martin ( LMT) to sink after Obama took office. "The biggest surprise to me is the aerospace and defense sector," Mendelsohn said. Pavlik agreed that "these stocks should be down," although he's not completely surprised as the U.S. is still engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pavlik added that "you wouldn't have that early cyclical comeback without the stimulus package." For instance, the Retail HOLDRs ( RTH) ETF is up about 8% from Jan. 20, thanks to big gains in Amazon.com ( AMZN), Best Buy ( BBY) and even Walgreen ( WAG). "Early on, I was skeptical about a recovery in the retail area," said Pavlik. "It was hard to believe that it would happen, but the market has seen a confirmation that personal spending has improved and consumption is up. Maybe that's wishful thinking." Meanwhile, materials have performed extremely well. The Materials Select Sector SPDR ( XLB) has added more than 10% since Jan. 20 as individual names like Monsanto ( MON), DuPont ( DD) and Freeport-McMoRan ( FCX) have all seen strong rallies. Obama's ambitious $75 billion plan to keep as many as 9 million Americans from losing their homes to foreclosure, as well as other initiatives undertaken in order to help stabilize the housing market, have made homebuilders among one of the top performing sectors in the administration's first 100 days. The SPDR S&P Homebuilders ( XHB) ETF is up roughly 15% over that time. Among individual housing names, D.R. Horton ( DHI) has rallied more than 90%, KB Home ( KBH) has added 38%, and Lennar ( LEN) is up 29%. Meanwhile, technology has seen quite a rally. Since Jan. 20, Advanced Micro Devices ( AMD) has surged 62%, Apple ( AAPL) has jumped 47%, IBM ( IBM) has added 25%, Cisco ( CSCO) is higher by about 20%, and Dell ( DELL) is up 12%. "Technology had been really beaten up, and I think it was due for an early cycle comeback," Mendelsohn said. "Demand for computers dropped to nothing and now is starting to come back. That's part of the normal recovery cycle."
Obama's apparent support for nuclear power has helped related stocks, as the Market Vectors Nuclear Energy ( NLR) ETF has added more than 8% since Jan. 20. In fact, lots of energy stocks are doing well. For instance, the Oil Service HOLDRs ( OIH) is up 25%.