The Chart du Jour

Debate Dance

October 4, 2000

By, Barclay T. Leib

Who won the initial presidential debate Tuesday? To our ear, Bush sounded more genuine and down to earth than Gore, and Gore was more on the defensive, but does it really matter? The markets might thinks so for a few days. Enough individual stocks are in oversold territory -- Apple and Intel now among them --that a bounce of sorts is always possible.

But at the end of the day, we thought Jim Lehrer performed the best. At least he tried to broach one relevant question about how each candidate would react in a financial panic of some sort. He deserves kudos for keeping the tone of the questioning closer to reality than most journalists do.

What Lehrer failed to ask either candidate however, was what the impact of their divergent tax-cut plans would be on Fed policy and the macro-economy. Can we really have a Bush "across-the-board" tax cut of some magnitude and not send inflation fears spiralling higher in Greenspan's mind? And if Gore takes office, will the prospect of big government spending a la Lyndon Johnson ever conceivably be viewed constructively on Wall Street. We think not.

No, instead, we fear that either man's well-intentioned changes could be just enough to precipitate -- each in its own way -- a crisis on Wall Street. Or at least, their respective plans sew enough seeds of change that they risk being blamed for one. Economies are more complicated and slow-moving affairs where every action results in a variety of reactions. It would have been refreshing to hear one of the candidates say: "Well, gee, the reason Wall Street may have done so well for the past eight years is because the combination of a Democratic President and Republican-dominated Capital Hill has generally kept government from getting much done." Neither would ever be so candid. Now we risk more extremism to the right or the left, either of which could easily upset the gentle balance of things Mr. Greenspan has been trying to preserve.

We'd look for a knee-jerk Wall Street rally to Bush's mildly more impressive performance, but we wouldn't be looking for more than that-- at least not right now.

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