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As US stocks plummet, Trump goes silent on role in markets

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As US stocks plunged on Monday, President Donald Trump was speaking at an event in Ohio but noticeably not taking credit for the market despite doing so repeatedly when stocks were rising.

[WASHINGTON] As US stocks plunged on Monday, President Donald Trump was speaking at an event in Ohio but noticeably not taking credit for the market despite doing so repeatedly when stocks were rising.

The stark contrast was a sign that Mr Trump may be absorbing a tough message, underscored by former White House advisers, that American presidents traditionally have avoided commenting directly on Wall Street's fickle trends.

Gene Sperling, a top economic adviser to Democratic former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said Mr Trump erred in recent months by focusing so heavily on the stock market.

"Even though the stock market tripled under Bill Clinton, his view was that you should always focus your polices and your public messages on bread-and-butter kitchen table issues ... and that focusing on the stock market would take your eye off the real economy," Mr Sperling said.

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White House spokesman Raj Shah, in an adjustment to the administration's message on stocks, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Mr Trump's speaking event in Ohio, "Look, markets do fluctuate in the short term. We all know that. ... But the fundamentals of this economy are very strong and they're headed in the right direction."

Throughout a speech at a factory in Blue Ash, Ohio, Mr Trump made no mention of stock markets. That departed sharply from past practice.

In his State of the Union address last week, Mr Trump said,"The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining US$8 trillion and more in value in just this short period of time."

'TREMENDOUS BENEFITS'

On Jan 7, he wrote on Twitter, "The Stock Market has been creating tremendous benefits for our country in the form of not only Record Setting Stock Prices, but present and future Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. Seven TRILLION dollars of value created since our big election win!"

Three days before that, he tweeted, "Dow just crashes through 25,000. Congrats! Big cuts in unnecessary regulations continuing." He had sent similar tweets for months.

The Republican president told Reuters in a Jan 17 interview he has been getting kudos from people grateful for increased 401(k) retirement plan values and he believed the rise would not have happened if his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election.

"If the Democrats won the election, the stock market would have gone down 50 per cent from where it was, and now look at the percentage increase. It's a record increase," Mr Trump said.

The benchmark Dow Jones industrial average soared 42 per cent between Election Day 2016, when Mr Trump won the presidency, and its historic peak a week ago above 26,400.

On Monday, the Dow fell to below 24,000 but regained some of its midday losses to close at 24,345. In the past five trading days, the index has erased all its gains since late November.

The benchmark S&P 500 has pulled back more than 6 per cent from a Jan 26 record high.

The "Trump rally," as some traders have dubbed it, has coincided with a sweeping tax code overhaul approved in December, which slashed corporate taxes, and a deregulation push.

The S&P 500 rose 34 per cent from Mr Trump's election to its recent high.

But stocks have been climbing since March 2009, when Obama inherited a serious financial crisis and the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. At that time, the Dow was trading at around 6,500.

Mr Trump has also criticized his predecessor Obama's effect on markets. In November 2012, Trump tweeted, "The stock market and US dollar are both plunging today. Welcome to @BarackObama's second term."

The S&P 500 rose 126 per cent from Mr Obama's 2008 election to his final day in office in 2017.

Former Obama press secretary Jay Carney on Monday tweeted,"Good time to recall that in the previous administration, we NEVER boasted about the stock market - even though the Dow more than doubled on Obama's watch - because we knew two things: 1) the stock market is not the economy; and 2) if you claim the rise, you own the fall."

Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and a former economic adviser to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, said, "The president shouldn't comment about the stock market. Indeed if anyone is going to make major pronouncements about economic data, it should be the Treasury secretary or the agency releasing the data, so if they get it wrong you can get rid of them. You don't want the president owning those things."

REUTERS

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