New York (AFP) – As the Dow nears 20,000 amid a Trump rally, longtime financial insiders see a difference compared with prior Wall Street landmarks: very little interest from the general public.
Other milestones, such as when the Dow hit 10,000 in 1999, were accompanied by wide public discussion and celebration in the national media and at cocktail parties.
“You’re not seeing that now,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategic at TD Ameritrade. “At that time, it was almost pure euphoria at everything going on in the market.”
The difference in mood reflects the fact that, compared with past bull markets, the average American is less invested in the stock market and therefore not privy to — or a beneficiary of — the impressive gains in the Dow since election day.
“You’ve got to have money to be in the market in the first place and if you have been in the market, you’ve done extraordinarily well,” said Benn Steil, director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“This is part and parcel of the wider of issue of inequality.”
Middle class investors miss out
Participation in the stock market fell to an all-time low of 52 percent in 2016 from a peak of 65 percent in 2007, according to a Gallup survey released in April.
Gallup attributed the drop to the Great Recession which dented the public’s ability to invest, as well as its confidence in the stock market as a worthwhile place to put funds.
The biggest hit was in the middle class, those with earnings between $30,000 and $75,000, whose participation plummeted to 50 percent from 72 percent.
“Fewer Americans — particularly those in middle-income families — are benefiting from the recent gains in stock values than would have been the case a decade ago,” Gallup said.
Low-income Americans are even less invested. Americans making less than $50,000 represent 51 percent of the population, but make up just 25 percent of the investor population, according to a report by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
The Dow’s flirtation with 20,000 marks the latest psychological milestone in the multi-year bull market since the index bottomed out in September 2009 at under 6,600 points.
The latest rally was spurred by the Republican sweep on election day which brought with it expectations for tax cuts, regulatory reform and massive public works investment expected to boost the economy and corporate profitability.
The Dow has risen 8.2 percent since election day. But on Friday, the index retreated slightly to 19,843.41, due in part to profit taking in banking shares and some other sectors that surged after the election.
Further profit-taking could derail or at least delay the Dow’s march to 20,000. But some analysts think a “Santa Claus” rally could lift the index above that level, as the holiday season brings good cheer, and low trading volume that make big moves more likely.
Cabinet of CEOs
The market believes “there is now an ability to affect change like there hasn’t been in many years,” said Briefing.com analyst Patrick O’Hare.
Investors are enthusiastic about the likelihood of a pro-business agenda after President-elect Donald Trump’s appointments of a host of business executives to key roles.
The picks include former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary, ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and fast food executive Andrew Puzder as labor secretary.
But the market is ignoring lingering questions about potentially adverse outcomes under Trump, such as a trade war with China, or an inter-party war with congressional Republicans who may balk at aspects of Trump’s economic agenda, analysts said.
“I can understand why people who own most of the stocks are optimistic based on a businessman president appointing mostly businessman,” said Richard Sylla, a professor of the history of financial institutions and markets at New York University Stern School of Business.
“I don’t think the euphoria is going to extend much beyond the beginning of the year.”
Josh Bivens, research director of the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, said the stock rally was troubling because it was based not on broadly enjoyed economic growth, but on expectations of policies that will benefit large banks and other moneyed interests.
“Corporate owners and managers have done really well over the last 30 years, whereas the vast majority of workers have not and I would like to see policy weigh in on the other side of that,” Bivens said.
Steil, of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the composition of Trump’s appointments “doesn’t seem to be consistent with his rhetoric during the campaign,” which was centered on a populist message that resonated with the less-wealthy.
“Trump’s got a lot of work in front of him trying to convince his working class supporters that he can deliver on their agenda, because boosting the Dow was clearly not their priority.”