The stock market has, over time, gotten somewhat more used to the idea that U.S. federal government activities add to market consternation and volatility, not reduce it. In the 1990s, there used to be a catchphrase that “gridlock was good for equities,” but that came during a long period of economic growth and on the back of policies that Wall Street generally supported – financial services reform, welfare reform, and not much else. That’s no longer the case. We’ve already seen the detrimental effects on the markets of the U.S. debt ceiling fiasco that led to the first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating in 2010 and subsequent fights about the debt ceiling (though that has abated somewhat).
The talk about “uncertainty” coming out of Washington is a somewhat overstated game – be it tax policy and the like, there’s always uncertainty in life – but the latest cause for volatility has been specifically related to the renewal of the Export-Import Bank, currently being batted around in Washington with the idea that Congress will end up renewing its charter for a few months (right now mid-2015 looks like the best bet) before invariably taking up the issue again.
It’s not unprecedented for this to be a political football (votes have been close in the past and it has been used as a poster child for Washington-related excess), but this year’s battle is more heated than most in its past. Ex-Im head Fred Hochberg, who spoke at a Reuters summit Wednesday, said the bank was at par with what others were doing and eliminating it would tilt the balance against U.S. exporters, threatening 205,000 jobs.
About one-fifth of its $37 billion in annual loans are for small businesses, but many in the GOP are unmoved. With the idea of an on-again, off-again situation emerging similar to the now-annual debt ceiling extension back-and-forth, some investors believe companies using the Ex-Im bank may head elsewhere for more secure sources of funding that are sure to be around for more than a few months before having to face another annoying fight about its future.
For evidence that the market is keeping this mind, look no further than shares of Boeing. That stock dropped 3.7 percent in the two days following the primary loss by Eric Cantor, one of the steadier supporters among the GOP of Ex-Im, and it took another hit later in the month, losing 2.9 percent in three days, after several other Republican leaders announced their opposition to the bank.
The ongoing attacks from the right, opposed to the idea of any kind of government-related financing device, pushed Boeing shares to a 10-month low in mid-August before shares started to recover. Of course, the aerospace giant is nobody’s idea of an aggrieved party, so there’s that, but they, and some of the other names that benefit from exports, might have to start dealing with more equity-market volatility if their future is to be thrown into question every few months.