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Opinion: Will the election impact markets, investments?

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As we approach Election Day, investors are understandably wondering – and maybe even anxious – about how the U.S. presidential election will affect the stock market.

Election years often come with increased market uncertainty. And this year, COVID-19 and a fragile economy have added new dimensions to what may be a landmark U.S. election cycle.

Regardless of who ends up winning in November, the election likely will play a factor in the markets. Here are a few things investors should consider:

Dealing with uncertainty
This year’s election season has been marked by unusual circumstances. Republican incumbent President Donald Trump is running for a second term – after a surprise victory in 2016. Whereas former Vice President Joe Biden began the campaign season competing against 25 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination before emerging as the party’s nominee after a rocky start.

There are many important issues at stake, including trade, health care, tax policies, social justice and our relationship with China. How well the economy is doing also is a significant influence on the election outcome, especially for an incumbent or incumbent party. But that calculus has suddenly become clouded by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. How long the virus will persist and how significant the impact on economic growth will be remains unclear at the moment.

Even without these usual circumstances created by the pandemic, it isn’t uncommon for the stock market to exhibit a degree of volatility in the run-up to an election. This can be particularly true in the final weeks leading up to the election and if the race is close. Investors should be prepared for circumstances where the noise generated by the campaign contributes to market fluctuations.

Beyond presidents
It’s true that our president has tremendous influence in the direction our country takes. However, it is important to keep in mind that regardless of who is successful in winning the White House, there is a significant difference between proposals and policy. How much any administration can accomplish is influenced quite heavily by the makeup of the House of Representatives, Senate, local and state legislatures, and federal regulators, as well as circumstances in the economy and the country at large.

In addition to deciding on a president this fall, voters also will be electing 35 senators, with seats now occupied by 23 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Currently, the Republican Party has a three-seat majority in the Senate. And as happens every two years, the entire House, where the Democratic Party currently controls a 35-seat majority, is up for reelection.

Historical guidance
While no two election years offer the same set of economic or political circumstances, it may be instructive to take a look back to see how markets have performed in the past as a means of providing some context for the present.

Consider the following:

• Historically, market volatility begins to rise about 45 days ahead, or roughly three weeks into September, before peaking one week before the election, according to an Ameriprise Financial market strategist.
• In instances where control of the White House changes parties, stock market volatility tends to increase, according to a separate Ameriprise report.
• During an election year, U.S. stocks and bonds tend to perform better compared to the year after, reports Darrow Wealth Management.
• Interestingly, there has been very little difference in the performance of the economy under Democratic and Republican presidents since 1977. According to recent analysis by Deutsche Bank, “the average growth rate for a Democrat president is 2.9% compared to 2.7% for a Republican president.” However, it is acknowledged that the economic performance during a president’s term isn’t necessarily a direct result of the actions of their administration, as presidents ultimately inherit an economy shaped by their predecessor’s actions, as well as other structural factors.

What may be a more important consideration for investors than who is elected president are the longer-term drivers of economic growth and corporate profits, which are shaped by policy, but also other factors outside Washington.

Although it’s speculative to try to predict the outcome of the election and all of the policy implications each party would impose, the result of the election is likely to influence key industries. While it’s natural to think about the impact of the election on your investments, it’s only one factor.

Stay attuned to the bigger picture of your long-term goals. Review your portfolio diversification and risk tolerance with a financial adviser for an objective perspective on your financial situation.

Paula Dougherty is a certified financial planner and private wealth adviser with Achieve Private Wealth, Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. in Springfield. She can be reached at paula.j.dougherty@ampf.com.

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