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It's a mistake to think Comey's firing means trouble for markets

·Managing Editor

President Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey has raised a lot of questions. For investors and traders, the big question is: “What does this mean for markets?”

Most experts agree that this will cause more disruption in Washington and exacerbate gridlock among legislators. Specifically, this is likely to delay the implementation of any tax reform, which among other things has been expected to benefit U.S. businesses.

“Every major Trump initiative must pass through a narrow choke point known as the U.S. Senate, which moves at glacial speed and now has yet another thorny matter to deal with in the vetting of a new FBI director and, undoubtedly, new hearings and investigations into what exactly led Trump to fire Comey,” wrote Yahoo Finance columnist Rick Newman.

Does this mean investors should dump stocks and run for cover?

No, this is not a disaster for markets

There are two things to note: 1) Trump’s agenda has already been stalling and markets have already been pricing it in, and 2) the underlying fundamentals of U.S. business and the stock market continue to be favorable.

“Make no mistake — tax reform is dead for this year,” Horizon Investments’ Greg Valliere said in an email on Wednesday. “But the fundamentals — moderate GDP growth, low inflation, low interest rates, good corporate earnings — will persist.”

The White House is seen in Washington, Tuesday night, May 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The White House is seen in Washington, Tuesday night, May 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Indeed, despite the heightened political uncertainty in Washington and many other parts of the developed and developing world, the economic data has been resilient both locally and abroad.

“We’ve said many times politicians crave the spotlight, but it’s a shame that investors watch the show,” Richard Bernstein Advisors’ Richard Bernstein said on Tuesday. “History shows quite well that fundamentals, and not politics, ultimately drive the financial markets.”

According to data from Factset, 75% of S&P 500 companies have reported first-quarter earnings that beat expectations. This has happened as the S&P 500 companies in aggregate are estimated to have delivered 13.5% year-over-year earnings growth, the first time they have delivered double-digit growth since 2011.

Earnings are growing
Earnings are growing.

“Profits growth looks healthy with or without tax reform,” Bernstein said. “It is likely that S&P 500 reported profits growth will exceed 20% at some point this year.”

Bernstein’s forecasts are on the bullish end of Wall Street. According to FactSet, analysts are looking for 10% year-over-year earnings growth for 2017, which is still very strong.

“An old adage on Wall Street is that one should never take investment advice from Washington, DC,” Bernstein said. “The on-going 9-year (!) bull market proves this seems like sound advice. Investors have been hesitant to invest in this bull market partially because of the warnings of imminent gloom and doom from Washington’s right and left.”

No one can know for sure what’ll happen next in the markets. But America has seen this before, and stock prices have gone up since then.

Sam Ro is managing editor at Yahoo Finance.
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