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The midterm election results paint a mixed picture for the stock market

Myles Udland
Markets Reporter
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., smiles as she is cheered by a crowd of Democratic supporters during an election night returns event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The 2018 Midterm Elections are done and consensus forecasts were mostly right — Democrats have taken control of the House while Republicans retained control of the Senate.

Politically, this ushers in a more complicated era for the Trump presidency as the President’s party no longer controls both houses of Congress.

Under split sessions of Congress like the one we will see begin in January 2019, stocks have a mixed record that doesn’t give investors any really meaningful information about what comes next for the market.

Since 1901, there have been just five prior sessions of Congress in which Democrats held control of the House and Republicans held control of the Senate. One of them came in the wake of the Great Depression. Three of them occurred during the Reagan years.

In a note to clients published earlier this month, Bespoke Investment Group looked at how stocks fare under these scenarios, and found that returns during these periods aren’t great, with the Dow averaging a gain of just 2.37% and logging an annualized return of -1.69% during these two-year sessions.

“Relative to all other possible scenarios, this is the second worst average return of the seven shown behind only the one session where we had a Republican President, a Republican controlled House, and a Democratic Senate,” the firm writes.

“Looking at each of the individual periods where Republicans controlled the Oval Office and Senate while Democrats had the House shows that the averages are a bit misleading,” Bespoke adds (emphasis ours). “The main reason for the Dow’s weak average return is the 70% decline during the 72nd session of Congress during the midst of the Great Depression.

“On the other end of the spectrum, the 99th session of Congress where the DJIA rallied more than 60% also skews the results substantially. With such a small sample size and such varied results, it’s pretty hard to read much of anything into the DJIA’s performance during these periods as a blueprint for what to expect this time around.”

History provides a very small sample size, but the record hasn’t been great for the market when Congress is split with Democrats controlling the House and Republicans holding the Senate. (Source: Bespoke Investment Group)

Looking more broadly at all gridlocked sessions of Congress, the picture for stocks looks a lot more similar to what folks more familiar with market history would expect to find: stocks, generally, going up.

During the 25 sessions of Congress in which any possible combination of gridlock was present — meaning neither party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House — the Dow has risen an average of 10.57% for an annualized return of 3.94%. This, however, lags the 8.03% annualized return seen during sessions when one party controlled Congress and held the White House.

But as Horizon Investments’ chief global strategist Greg Valliere wrote early Wednesday, “the major conclusion for investors is clear: Donald Trump’s economic policies will remain intact. He won’t get new initiatives passed in the House, but Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation are good for at least another two years.”

Myles Udland is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland