Trump true believers are going wild over stocks

Financial advisers in conservative areas say the president's backers are putting more money into equities

Mar 6, 2018 @ 2:47 pm

By Bloomberg News

As 2017's roaring bull market gives way to a markedly choppier 2018, the buzz among Wall Street stock touts is that the best of the Trump Trade has passed. Sure, more gains could be wrung out, and probably will be, but nothing like the 30% burst over the past 16 months.

Don't try to tell that to the true believers in San Angelo, Texas. Or Covington, La. Or Sioux Falls, S.D. They're sure this rally has just begun, and they're sure they know why.

"I hear it every day," said Jimmy Freeman, a financial adviser at Edward Jones in San Angelo, a city of some 100,000 that's just east of the booming Permian Basin shale oil fields. "The market's going up because of Trump. They all think it's Trump."

Across middle America, in the towns big and small that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, his most ardent, and financially comfortable, backers are opening stock-market accounts or beefing up existing ones, according to interviews with more than a dozen advisers and brokers. They were spurred on by a stream of presidential tweets crowing about, and taking credit for, the gains throughout 2017, and they remain undaunted now as the rally sputters and the tweeting dissipates.

"It has really made a difference in attitudes," said Jimmy Waggoner, an investment adviser with VisionPoint Advisory Group in Sioux Falls. So much so that in Covington, Rob Smith, an adviser at Edward Jones there, said he tries to tap down on the enthusiasm. "I dissuade people from thinking any specific politician or even event will have that much of a long-term positive or negative effect on markets."

They're not inclined to listen. To those who study market psychology, it's no stretch that passionate belief in a president would translate into throwing money on the table. Particularly this president, with whom his admirers have a strong bond.

"There's a feeling of identity with Trump," said Nobel laureate Robert Shiller, an economics professor at Yale University. "The man they identify with is in power and that's exhilarating."

There's no way to know exactly much more active Trump devotees have become. Stock-ownership data collected by the Federal Reserve and Internal Revenue Service don't zero in that closely. In fact, according to the latest studies and surveys, 46% of Americans own no stocks at all, up from 38% in 2008, during the financial crisis.

But from what financial advisers in conservative areas are seeing, there is a Trump-minted rush. Clients of Edward Yale's at Concho Investment Advisors in San Angelo "are now more inclined to invest into riskier assets like the stock market," he said, and many cite the president.

Todd Neff, for one, has put $400,000 into stocks since Mr. Trump's election. Before, he wasn't much of an investor, basically topping out his 401(k) and dabbling in shares here and there. A sheep breeder and small-business owner in San Angelo, he said he would have "dropped back big time" if Hillary Clinton had won.

Now he sees the market going up 10% or more this year, because the president is a businessman, true to his word about rolling back regulations and remaking the tax code. "He's going to do what's best for the business, which is best for the country. That means the world to me."

The glittering rise has been irresistible to Americans of all political stripes, of course. Consumers' confidence in the stock market soared to a record high in January before fading in February after the market slumped 8.6% over a span of eight days. (And markets have begun gyrating again, triggered in part by Mr. Trump's plan to impose steel and aluminum tariffs.)

Among Mr. Trump's fans, though, trust in the firebrand politician as a stock-market bulwark easily endured the sell-off, at least in San Angelo.

During other routs, Edward Jones's Mr. Freeman said, "I had people wanting to jump out of windows. Not this time." This time, they kept buying. "I have to temper people," he said, without much success.

Mr. Neff, for one, is unyielding. So strong is his faith, in fact, that he can even get odd looks in the heart of Trump country when he starts talking about how much money he's investing in stocks -- including an additional $30,000 amid the February sell-off.

"People look at me like a cow looking at a new gate." But to Mr. Neff, it's not complicated. "The economy's doing too good, and all the companies are making money."

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