Since January, the Trump economy has earned a steady B in the Yahoo Finance Trumponomics Report Card. But there have been some notable changes in the underlying components of the Trump economy. Two are negative and one is positive, indicating possible trouble for President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election bid if these trends continue.
The positive change is surprisingly strong growth in manufacturing employment. Our Trumponomics Report Card uses data supplied by Moody’s Analytics to compare six key measures of the economy under Trump with prior presidents at the same point in their term, going back to Jimmy Carter in the 1970s. On manufacturing employment, Trump ranks second out of seven presidents, with 471,000 manufacturing jobs created during his presidency so far.
Carter did better in the 1970s, with 1.7 million manufacturing jobs created during his first 28 months in office. Bill Clinton came close to Trump’s number, with 468,000 new manufacturing jobs during the same period of time. But given the shift away from manufacturing during the past 40 years, toward the service economy, the jobs comeback in manufacturing is a bright spot. (One methodology note: Our figures are not adjusted for population growth, which skews them in Trump’s favor.)
Two other areas are more worrisome for Trump. On export growth, Trump briefly ranked first among four presidents in September 2017. (This data only goes back to 1993, limiting the comparison set to Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton.) But Trump is now No. 3 out of 4, behind Obama and Clinton. Exports have weakened under Trump because of a strengthening dollar during the past 18 months — which makes American goods costlier overseas — and a slowdown in other economies. Weakening exports obviously work against Trump’s promise to reduce U.S. trade deficits with other countries.
The stock market has also flagged under Trump during the past few months. As recently as November 2018, the performance of the S&P 500 was second-best under Trump, behind only Obama. But Trump now ranks fifth out of seven presidents in stock-market performance, behind Obama, Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Despite a lot of gyrations, the S&P 500 is essentially where it was in January 2018, with investors worried about a global slowdown and damage caused by Trump’s trade wars.
In other categories, Trump ranks third out of seven presidents on total employment, second on earnings growth and second on GDP growth. Respectable marks. But his grade seems more likely to drop than rise. Economists are forecasting a slowdown in GDP growth for the rest of the year, and weakness in manufacturing orders could hurt employment in the industrial sector. Trump would have to fall three notches across the six categories for his grade to dip to B-. That probably won’t happen soon — but it’s a risk by 2020, when he needs to convince voters his economic record is a strong one.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman