Stock-Market Election Indicator Settles in Trump’s Favor

A stock-market election indicator that is often ridiculed for its randomness but whose record of prescience is hard to ignore, at least completely, settled in Donald Trump’s favor on Tuesday.

The S&P 500’s rally into Election Day pushed its performance over the past three months into positive territory -- a comeback for the indicator which turned negative last week. In some circles, the rebound may be seen as boding well for President Trump’s bid for re-election given that a rising market has tended to precede a victory for the sitting party 86% of the time since 1928.

As random as the three-month span looks when it comes to the market’s return and the relationship to elections, the time-honored track record is worth heeding for traders bombarded by conflicting messages on the race between Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The theory proved spot on in 2016. Amid all the polls showing Hillary Clinton’s dominant lead over Trump, the S&P 500 fell for nine straight days before the election week, cementing its three-month performance into negative territory. In the end, Trump won.

Of course in a year where the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have upended virtually every political narrative, putting faith in a market indicator comes with its share of danger. More than 100 million Americans have cast their ballots ahead of Election Day, and polls have shown few people remained undecided before the vote.

Still, at a time when Citigroup Inc.’s investor clients predicted a Trump victory, while respondents in an Evercore ISI survey say they expected Biden to take over the White House, some traders might think they would be better off turning to market’s collective wisdom. The S&P 500’s performance in the months leading up to the election has correctly signaled who will win 20 out of the last 23 times.