The Stock Market Doesn’t Care About Violence

Here’s How It’s Performed During Major U.S. Protests And Tragedies

Photo: Depositphotos.com/filmfoto

TOPLINE 

On Wednesday, the S&P 500 saw its best 50-day streak in its history even as a massive wave of protests in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd continued to unfold across the country and experts looked ahead to a dismal May unemployment rate on the order of 20%. The disconnect between what’s taking place on streets across America and the American stock market has stumped many investors but it’s not a new phenomenon. Here’s how similar periods of civil unrest have played out in the market throughout history. 

KEY FACTS

  • In 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated, the S&P added nearly 20%. 
  • In 1965, the year of the civil rights March in Selma, the S&P gained more than 9%. 
  • In 1967, the year of the Vietnam protests, the S&P soared more than 20%.  
  • In 1968, the year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the S&P gained 8%. 
  • In 1970, the year of the Asbury Park race riots, the index lost less than 1%. 
  • In 1992, the year of the Los Angeles riots that erupted after Rodney King was beaten by police, the S&P rose a little less than 4.5%. 
  • While stocks ended 2001 down 13%, they ended the three months following the September 11 terror attacks up more than 1%.
  • In 2003, after protests erupted around the world over the Iraq War, the S&P jumped an eye watering 26%.  
  • In 2005, after civil unrest in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, the S&P gained 3%. 
  • 2011, the year of the Occupy Wall Street protests, saw the index break even.
  • In 2014, the year that sparked the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement after the Ferguson protests, the S&P rose more than 11%. 
  • Right now, the S&P 500 is up 4.5% since protests over the death of George Floyd began on May 26. 

KEY BACKGROUND

Markets have a long history of looking beyond periods of social or political unrest, even when it seems impossible that stocks could be so divorced from world events. 1964, a particularly tumultuous year in United States history, offers a useful case study. In a year that saw several major events related to the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of student protests over the Vietnam War, the S&P 500 rallied 12% and the upward trend continued into the next year. 

1968—the year that “shattered America”— tells a similar story. That year, the Vietnam War escalated while the public began to oppose it, as did tensions with North Korea after a U.S. surveillance ship was captured. Two Memphis sanitation workers were crushed by a garbage truck, setting off a major strike and fueled the Civil Rights movement. Student protests gained steam. Both Dr. Martin Luther King and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. And after everything that happened, stocks in the S&P 500 still rose 8%. 

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“At the end of the day, the market has no conscience. Investors are simply trying to make money,” CNBC’s Jim Cramer said this week. 

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Company performance in the months following the worst of the pandemic. “Investors are continuing to ignore the three P’s—pandemic, protests and politics—and are instead focused on what increasingly is being interpreted as a quicker and better than expected recovery in the economy,” David Donabedian, chief investment officer at CIBC Private Wealth Management, told the Wall Street Journal. But even as investors look forward, buoyed by the prospects of a quick recovery and the effectiveness of the Fed’s unprecedented interventions in the market, there are still signs of major damage in the economy overall. That damage has the potential to weigh on earnings and profits for months, if not years, and a soaring unemployment rate will only worsen the situation. The Federal Reserve’s most recent report about the state of the economy, for instance, indicated that even though all 50 states are beginning to take their first steps toward reopening, most businesses are still pessimistic about the pace of economic recovery. And last month, the IMF predicted that banks will suffer sharp declines in profits through 2025, and that “substantial action” will be needed to make up for earnings shortfalls caused by the coronavirus crisis.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW 

Where the bottom of the market will fall. “Markets will price in a recovery well before the economic data bottoms,” says Todd Lowenstein, chief equity strategist at HighMark Capital Management. “The market tends to be ahead of the actual data itself.” That means that the worst could be yet to come, even though the S&P seems poised to soar. 

Sarah Hans, Forbes Staff

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