How Donald Trump became a sure bet for 2020 – but only a small number of people will profit

The black swan that some economists feared failed to glide in, plus the farce of an impeachment trial may turn out to be one of the more glaring miscalculations the Democratic Party has made

James Moore
Saturday 08 February 2020 11:06 GMT
Trump claims he 'did nothing wrong' as he is acquitted

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Why does a gambler stake money on an odds-on shot months before a race is set to begin?

This makes sense if they feel their fancy is a certainty and the odds are only going to come in closer to the event.

It’s the stuff of nightmares, but Donald Trump is now odds-on to be re-elected when American voters go to the polls for the big one in November.

Punters with Betfair, the exchange where the prices are set by its punters, who can act as bookies by laying as well as backing their fancies, had the president at evens at the beginning of the year.

It’s very different today. If Trump secures re-election, his backers right now will be paid 66 or 67p plus their stake. In the fractional odds favoured on these shores that’s 4/6.

Some of the more traditional bookies have him at even shorter prices. William Hill, for example, is quoting 4/7.

Why isn’t that putting off the punters?

It’s because they read the news.

The farce of an impeachment trial may turn out to be one of the more glaring miscalculations the Democratic Party has made, hardening the resolve of the president’s supporters and inducing them to open their wallets, just like it did when the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton.

But it isn’t just that.

The US economy is in fair shape, enjoying its longest unbroken spell without a recession since the Second World War. A number of red light indicators that serve as handy predictors of downturns started to flash red last year and then there were the trade wars Trump embarked upon.

But the black swan that some economists feared failed to glide in.

The American jobs market remains robust, wages are rising, house prices are appreciating. The country’s grotesque inequalities remain, and its budget deficit is spiralling.

The coronavirus is also scaring people, and scared people tend not to act rationally.

But even paying due regard to pathogens, Oxford Economics still puts the odds of a US recession at just one in four this year. Its base case calls for slow but steady GDP growth of 1.6 per cent. If that holds good then it’s good news for Trump, whose approval rating has been on a steadily rising trend.

Slow and steady is just fine if you’re in work and expect to stay there, if the markets make your pension fund look cheery and if you’re managing the mortgage repayments on your home. People like that may feel it’s better the devil they know, all the more so when they look at a fractious and divided opposition. Incumbency is a powerful advantage.

It wasn’t just that impeachment turned into an own goal. The Democrats made themselves look like jackasses (their party’s mascot) when they mucked up the results of the Iowa caucus that kicked off primary season. The phrase “get a grip” comes to mind.

The leading contenders are going to spend the coming weeks tearing lumps out of each other and there’s no guarantee that supporters of the eventual loser will back the winner. A good number of Bernie Sanders supporters swung behind Trump last time around.

The Vermont senator enjoys the shortest price available on any of Trump’s rivals. He’s available at between 4-1 and 5-1, with Michael Bloomberg next, ranging from 6-1 out to 8-1.

There is still ample time to turn it around.

Trump is still Trump and the world and its economy have a habit of doing unexpected things.

But the Democrats need to sort themselves out.

What should trouble those hoping against hope that they can win the argument is that unlike the hapless leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, they can do that and still lose. Hillary Clinton and Al Gore have been pilloried as candidates, but they both won the popular vote.

Trouble is, the victory that matters is the US electoral college.

So yes, all those people who’ve put money down at short prices have reason to feel optimistic even though they’ll have to wait months to pocket their meagre returns – unless they're among those who use the Betfair exchange professionally and habitually trade in and out of positions.

A win is a win regardless of the price, even if it’s a loss for the America and the world.

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