Wall Street's major indexes soared this morning after U.S. home prices saw their best annual rise in seven years, and consumer confidence got another boost. But even before today's stock-market gains, President Obama is in rare company when it comes to Wall Street returns.
In the 84 years that the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index has been calculated, it doubled during the terms of only four presidents before Barack Obama's election in 2008. This month that number rose to five as the index climbed to more than twice what it was when he took office.Through Friday, more than 52 months after he took office, the index was up 105 percent during his term in office, for a compound annual gain of 18 percent.
In terms of the percentage gain, it's worth taking some of this with a grain of salt. If I open a widget factory and sell two widgets a year, I'll find 100% growth if I sell four widgets the following year. In Obama's case, it was easier to double the value of the major Wall Street indexes given the scope of the catastrophe he inherited from Bush/Cheney.
Nevertheless, Obama had to get the economy back on track, and he did. As the above New York Times chart helps demonstrate, when it comes to stock-market growth, Obama is already among the most successful modern president of either party, and if the economy continues to steadily improve over the next three years, Obama will fare even better from a historical perspective.
From a purely political perspective, it's worth remembering that the president's critics on the right predicted the opposite.
As we talked about several months ago, the real fun begins when we reminisce about what Obama's Republican critics were saying in early 2009. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal ran an entire editorial in early March 2009 arguing that the weak stock market was a direct result of investors evaluating "Mr. Obama's agenda and his approach to governance."
Karl Rove and Lou Dobbs made the same case. So did Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fred Barnes. For a short while, it was one of Mitt Romney's favorite talking points, too. Even John Boehner got in on the larger attack.
For the record, I don't think a strong stock market is necessarily proof of a robust economy. On the contrary, I care far more about unemployment, median wages, and economic growth than Wall Street returns. But the right shouldn't try to have it both ways -- if a bear market in 2009 is, in the minds of conservatives, clear proof that Obama's agenda is misguided and dangerous, then by the same reasoning, should we interpret soaring Wall Street indexes as proof of Obama's genius?