I’ve often remarked that the economy won’t — can’t — recover as long as governments (the US government in particular) keep messing around with the rules of the game. Amity Shlaes explains why:
One product makes clear exactly how unusual this year’s slide has been, and offers a clue as to why 2011 broke the rules. It’s called the Congressional Effect Fund. Founded by Wall Streeter Eric Singer in 2008, the fund is premised on the idea that equity markets dislike a hostile Washington, tolerate a friendly Washington, but prefer an inactive Washington above all.
It follows that stock-market rallies would come most often when Congress is idled — in recess, at home, in the districts. From 1965 until early this summer, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, Singer’s proxy for stocks, rose 17 percent while Congress was out of session versus only 0.9 percent while Congress was working in Washington.
In one study, four scholars took a step back to look at a century of returns — from 1897, just after the Dow Jones Industrial Average was founded, to 1997 — and found that average daily returns when Congress was out of session were almost 13 times higher than when it was in. Their explanation: “Perhaps the market enjoys the temporary certainty exhibited by the absence of Congressional decisions.”
Singer is blunter. About Washington’s impact on the economy, he says simply: “Congress subtracts value.”
The regulators are still on the job, but the legislators appear to be the ones causing the greater degree of uncertainty — and thereby limiting market opportunities. Nice work, government.