The share price of a weak president: Michael Marray in New York on fresh ammunition for Clinton-bashers

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The Independent Online
Bill Clinton's perceived lack of leadership is a common theme among Wall Street executives. If you are British they will often compare their leader unfavourably with Margaret Thatcher, whose popularity seems more enduring in the US than in her home country.

Until now there has been little methodology in the Clinton-bashing, but a team of stock market analysts at Salomon Brothers has finally approached the subject with analytical rigour. Salomon's team, led by David Shulman, chief equity strategist, has trawled through opinion poll data from the past 60 years. They found that strong markets were associated with presidential approval ratings of more than 60 per cent and structurally weak markets were linked with approval ratings of below 50 per cent.

This is a definite sell signal, since President Clinton suffers from almost permanently bad approval ratings. They bounced from only 39 per cent a year ago to a more respectable 54 per cent in January before sliding back to 43 per cent - even before the damaging Whitewater hearings got under way.

Salomon reached another conclusion that will not surprise American politicians, who are used to the idea that the public's perception of what you are like is more important than anything you do. It found that short-term stock market performance is not related to policy direction, left or right; what matters is whether or not the president is popular. 'Simply put, leadership counts,' it says.

Thus there was a strong bull market under John F Kennedy, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index rising from below 60 to 74 in three years. Ronald Reagan's tenure saw the S&P 500 go from 150 to more than 300 in eight years. Under George Bush the market made wide swings, as did his poll ratings, while 1973 and 1974 saw the Nixon Bear Market at a time when Tricky Dicky was suffering from the Watergate scandal.

Delving into the past, the prize for 'the prototype of a weak president associated with a weak stock market' is awarded to Jimmy Carter. He came into office in 1977 on a 65 per cent approval rating, but by mid-1978, despite record job creation and before the second oil shock, his rating had plummeted to 40 per cent. 'Most Americans did not have a clue as to where he wanted to lead the country,' Salomon says. 'It was NOT 'the economy, stupid'.'

Salomon notes: 'President Carter's characteristics are eerily similar to the way many people would describe President Clinton today.'

Clinton supporters would doubtless argue that it is not too difficult to find statistics to support any theory.

In any case, Clinton is used to flak from Wall Street. He got a taste of what to expect during a campaign stop back in 1992, which involved an outdoor speech just across the road from the New York Stock Exchange. Perhaps the frantic campaign schedule made him forget the location, since he launched into his then-standard lament about Wall Street booming while the economy was in disarray.

'Wrong place,' someone shouted, and when Candidate Clinton tried to backtrack with a 'not that I've got anything against Wall Street' he was booed by the lunchtime crowd. Today, the same people are probably dumping their shares, convinced that the Clinton Bear Market is upon us.

(Photographs omitted)