Markets are fickle, yet they’re also surprisingly simple.
News emerged late last week that U.S. President Donald Trump, along with more than a dozen key members of his staff and a handful of U.S. senators, had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
In the president’s case, the diagnosis was serious enough that he checked into Walter Reed medical center last Friday to receive treatment from what we can only assume is the best medical team in the world.
Upon the news of his diagnosis, global stocks did pretty much what you’d expect, selling off. At one point over the weekend, the Nasdaq futures were down as much as 2.5%, and even overseas stocks took a shock-induced step back.
Markets don’t much care for extreme volatility, and the U.S. president being diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease was, if nothing else, a shock for the markets to absorb.
But by Sunday, with news the president’s condition was improving, and with Trump’s usual bravado leading the way as his presidential limousine rode out of the hospital to wave at well-wishers outside, markets had recovered. By Sunday evening, futures markets were higher, and the market opened with a roar on Monday morning.
The market has continued higher since then. But people aren’t looking at just stock market numbers. They’re looking at poll numbers, too.
U.S. political polling has become a tricky proposition. Just ask how most pollsters feel about their failure to correctly predict the outcome of the 2016 election. That was, in part, because fewer and fewer Americans have landlines, and many people simply won’t take part in polls anymore.
But that hasn’t stopped the polling. A poll this week from The Wall Street Journal/NBC News seems to indicate a strong shift in the national attitude toward Biden. One story from Yahoo Finance cites several market analysts this week concluding that the market’s responding favorably to Trump’s bout with COVID-19 is an indicator investors would support Biden as president.
That means the market is not only comfortable with Biden, but it’s also increasingly confident of a clear Biden win in November.
However, things may not be that clear-cut. The poll from NBC News oversampled Democrats significantly compared to prior NBC News polling. So showing a Biden surge related to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis seems fairly iffy.
Furthermore, reading into the details of the NBC News poll, the poll was fielded between last Tuesday and last Friday, before the public release of the president’s diagnosis. So there’s little chance, if any, Trump’s diagnosis ended up impacting the primary poll analysts now cite as proof of a “shift” toward favoring a Biden win.
Of course, this is all guesswork. We’ll know exactly what voters and investors want in just a few weeks, when Americans cast their ballots at the election. Until then, we’ll go where the market takes us.
Despite what the mainstream news outlets seem to think, the election outcome isn’t settled yet. Four weeks is a long time in politics… ample time for President Trump to make a positive impact on voters, and for Joe Biden to do the opposite.
And let’s not forget the polls didn’t exactly get the result right last time. So betting or investing on an assured outcome for either side is, as far as we’re concerned, still a risky move.