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Hillary Clinton could end up as Wall Street’s favored candidate

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

If Bernie Sanders ever goes away, Wall Street will have to gauge which of the two remaining presidential candidates is likely to be friendlier to the financial industry. The surprise answer may be Hillary Clinton.

As a Democrat, Clinton bears association with the relentless bank bashing of Sanders, her rival and tormentor. And she has in fact moved leftward on some economic policies, such as her shift away from free trade. But Clinton has spelled out fairly modest financial reforms she would seek as president, whereas Sanders would carve up the big banks, as everybody knows. And Republican Donald Trump has rattled financiers with jarring proposals such as sharp new tariffs on imports and a partial default on U.S. debt, while also expressing animosity toward hedge funds for the relatively low taxes they pay.

Those views unnerve investors, which could make Clinton the devil Wall Street knows and prefers. “As a Wall Street guy, I’m quite comfortable with her approach toward Wall Street,” Steve Rattner, chairman of Willett Advisors, says in the video above. “She would be good in the sense that she would take a more thoughtful approach [than Trump].”

Rattner, who helped run the Obama administration's auto bailout in 2009, is a Democrat who supports Clinton, but many other financiers seem to agree with him. Clinton has snagged 70% of the money donated by employees of the nation’s six biggest banks, for instance, and the finance industry has given more than $26 million to Clinton’s main super PAC, Priorities USA Action – more than any other industry.

Sanders and other Clinton critics charge that the former senator and Secretary of State is too close to Wall Street firms, which paid her nearly $4 million for speeches between 2013 and 2015. And she has long enjoyed the support of big Wall Street donors such as George Soros, David E. Shaw and James Simons. 

Clinton’s major Wall Street proposals include a couple of new fees on financial transactions, to raise government revenue, more oversight of “shadow banks” such as hedge funds and private-equity firms, and the end of the “carried interest” tax provision, which primarily benefits wealthy investment managers. Wall Street wouldn’t like any of that, but Clinton’s plan would basically leave the status quo in place, and she’d have to fight opposition in Congress to pass the new rules she favors. So it's possible nothing would change under a Clinton presidency.

Trump might sound friendlier to Wall Street, especially when he says he’d roll back many of the new Dodd-Frank banking regulations that became law in 2010. But other Trump policies could harm the economy more than any business-friendly moves would help. Trump has talked about removing Fed Chair Janet Yellen, for instance, even though Yellen’s dovish tenure has helped prop up stock values and largely benefited the financial industry. Many economists think Trump’s trade proposals would induce a recession if enacted, which would cut sharply into Wall Street profits. And Trump’s general unpredictability gives business leaders the jitters.

“I don’t think we really know what Donald Trump would do toward Wall Street,” says Rattner. “I’m not sure he clearly understands Wall Street, even though he borrows a lot of money.” Wall Street doesn’t quite understand Trump, either.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.