Trump Says 'Markets Will Take Care Of Themselves' After Stock Sell-Off

Mar 1, 2020
Originally published on March 2, 2020 10:33 am

Last week, even as he responded to growing fears about coronavirus, President Trump had his eye on the markets. At the start of what turned out to be a terrible week for stock prices, Trump tweeted that coronavirus was "very much under control" and implied that stock market losses were overdone.

But by the end of the week, Trump was decidedly less sanguine. It turned out to be the worst week for U.S. stocks since the 2008 financial crisis.

"Well, I think it's just people don't know. It's the unknown," Trump said of the market reaction to coronavirus. "You know they look at it and they say, 'How long would this last?' "

More than any other president in recent memory, Trump has tied his fate to the stock market. He has tweeted about it more than 140 times since taking office and has made stock price gains a key part of his reelection pitch, often inflating the gains as he did in a video just released by the White House on Feb. 22.

"The stock market is up 80%, in some cases much higher than that," Trump said. "401(k)s are at record levels." But if you look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average, it was up by 56% on Feb. 22, compared with the date of Trump's election. Some of those gains were erased in the past week.

Markets have climbed since the 2016 election but have seen a sharp drop in the past week because of fears coronavirus will hurt the global economy.
DJIA data from Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

On Friday night, at a rally in South Carolina, Trump didn't mention the stock market, which is quite a change from his norm. In recent months, he has boasted about market records at rallies.

"And we've set 144 records on the stock market in three years — 144 records!" Trump said in Phoenix last month.

He brought it up in his State of the Union address, and even at the National Prayer Breakfast, telling attendees, "For those of you that are interested in stocks, it looks like the stock market will be way up again today." His prediction proved accurate that day.

Trump even has a riff he does at rallies about a man he calls Henry whose wife has been wowed by the performance of his 401(k). Trump quotes him as saying that his wife thinks he's a genius and loves him again. "Shows what money can do, right?" Trump joked at the Phoenix rally.

It's easy to get caught up in the exuberance of a rising market, said Matt McDonald, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, a political and economic consulting firm.

"If the parade is going, there's a high temptation to just get in front of the parade," McDonald said. "The problem is, live by the markets, die by the markets — and we just went into correction territory the other day."

Traders at the New York Stock Exchange react at the end of the worst week on Wall Street since 2008.
Scott Heins / Getty Images

A correction is market losses of more than 10% over a short period of time. And that's exactly what happened last week.

The Dow set another record last Thursday: the largest point drop ever in a single day. Trump isn't boasting about that one.

White House officials are running through options for what to do if coronavirus infects the broader economy as well, including tax cuts. For now, economic adviser Larry Kudlow is urging calm.

"I just think everybody — whether you are an investor or whether you're an ordinary Main Street person — people should not overreact," Kudlow told reporters.

Larry Kudlow, Trump's top economic adviser, speaks to reporters at the White House on Friday.
Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images

Market movements aren't a particularly meaningful economic indicator. But McDonald said they are something consumers see on a regular basis, along with gas prices.

"For presidents, they want to be careful about taking responsibility for things that they can't entirely control," said McDonald.

While the president can't control stock prices, he does have the responsibility for how he and his administration respond to coronavirus — something he acknowledged on Saturday after announcing the first U.S. death from the virus.

How coronavirus plays out in the coming weeks and months and the Trump administration's response to it could have a lot more bearing on the president's reelection chances than what is happening on Wall Street.

"Safety, health — No. 1," Trump said, after explaining that further restricting travel could hurt companies like airlines. "The markets will take care of themselves."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We find out this morning where the stock market goes after a week of devastating losses. The people sure to watch closely include the president, as NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Even as he responded to growing fears about coronavirus, President Trump had his eye on the markets. At the start of what turned out to be a terrible, no-good week for stock prices, Trump tweeted, quote, "the coronavirus is very much under control in the U.S.A.," adding "stock market starting to look very good to me," exclamation point. By the end of the week, he was less sanguine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think it's just people don't know - it's the unknown. You know, they look at it and they say, how long will this last?

KEITH: More than any other president in recent memory, President Trump has tied his fate to the stock market. He has tweeted about it more than 140 times since taking office and has made stock price gains a key part of his reelection pitch, often inflating the real numbers, as he did just 10 days ago in this video released by the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: The stock market is up 80%, in some cases much higher than that; 401(k)s are at record levels.

KEITH: If you look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the real number on the day Trump said that was 56%, and that's if you calculate starting with his election rather than his inauguration, as Trump does. Some of those gains were erased in the last week. On Friday night at a rally in South Carolina, President Trump didn't mention the stock market, which is quite a change from his norm. In recent months, he's boasted about market records at rallies...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And we've set 144 records on the stock market in three years - 144 records.

(CHEERING)

KEITH: ...In his State of the Union...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Since my election, U.S. stock markets have soared.

KEITH: ...Even at the National Prayer Breakfast.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And for those of you that are interested in stocks, it looks like the stock market will be way up again today.

KEITH: Trump even has a riff he does at rallies about a man he calls Henry, whose wife was wowed by the performance of his 401(k).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: She thinks I'm a genius, sir. She loves me again. Shows what money can do, right?

KEITH: It's easy to get caught up in the exuberance of it all, says Matt McDonald, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, a political and economic consulting firm.

MATT MCDONALD: If the parade is going, there's a high temptation to just get in front of the parade. The problem is, you know, live by the markets, die by the markets. And, you know, we just went into correction territory the other day.

KEITH: The Dow set another record last Thursday - the largest point drop ever in a single day. Trump isn't boasting about that one. And while market movements aren't a particularly meaningful economic indicator, along with gas prices they are something consumers see on a regular basis, says McDonald.

MCDONALD: For presidents, they want to be careful about taking responsibility for things that they can't entirely control.

KEITH: And while the president can't control stock prices, he really does have responsibility for how he and his administration respond to coronavirus, something he acknowledged on Saturday after announcing the first U.S. death from the disease.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Safety, health - No. 1. And we were - the markets will take care of themselves.

KEITH: White House officials are running through options of what to do if coronavirus infects the broader economy as well. For now, economic adviser Larry Kudlow is urging calm.

LARRY KUDLOW: But I just think everybody, whether you're an investor or whether you're, you know, ordinary, main street person, people should not overreact.

KEITH: How coronavirus plays out in the coming weeks and months and the Trump administration's response to it could have a lot more bearing on President Trump's reelection chances than what's happening on Wall Street.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.