Market Hedges Bets on Democratic President Race

Jeff Cox, |Special to CNBC.com

For Wall Street, this year's hotly contested primary race may come down to the Democrat you know versus the Democrat you don't.


Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has done much outwardly to endear themselves to the hearts of corporate America. Both tout platforms that call for higher business taxes, and each has constructed Wall Street bogeymen: Fat-cat CEOs with million-dollar bonuses for Obama, hedge fund managers for Clinton.

Yet a choice ultimately has to be made, and for big business leaders with Democrat-leaning ways, Clinton may be the way to go, if not on policy then on sheer familiarity.

"In this time of pretty considerable discombobulation in the market, their eyes are attracted to anyone who might seem the more likely to bring some stability or is the most known," said Carl Pinkele, an expert in presidential elections and political economics at Ohio Wesleyan University. "In that context I suspect they're more familiar with and more comfortable with Sen. Clinton, not so much on policy, although maybe so, but just in terms of known qualities."

Clinton has lashed out at corporate interests, promising a windfall profits tax and boldly stating in a recent debate that "the wealthy and well-connected have had a president" while she would represent the working class.

For Obama's part, the US Chamber of Commerce has given him its lowest grades of the remaining candidates when it comes to business friendliness due to his tax-inclined positions on capital gains and other issues.

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Yet Wall Street has showed leanings towards both, hedging its bets as it often does to curry favor with whomever wins. While much of Wall Street is behind John McCain, the Republican's presumptive nominee, the focus for now is on the Democratic battle.

Goldman Sachs, UBS and Lehman Brothersare among Obama's top contributors, while Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack is a big Clinton supporter. The trend in campaign funds could point towards Wall Street's willingness to let the Democrats have a go at the White House.

"Based on where the donations are coming, Wall Street would like to see a Democrat in the White House next year," says Jeff Gulati, assistant professor of political science at Bentley College.

McCain "doesn't really seem to have a vision or plan on how to deal with current economic problems," Gulati added. "Both Democrats seem better equipped to do that as well as deal with pressing social needs."

Of those who favor Democrats, it may not matter which one wins, so long as the nominee can defeat McCain. After finding her candidacy on life support, Clinton may have finagled her way back into corporate America's favor with wins Tuesday in Texas and Ohio.

"People like to pick a winner, so there's been a little shift in the presumptive anointing of Barack Obama, and now it's going to reflect again Wall Street's preference for Hillary," says Jeff Ballabon, president of the Ballabon Group business and policy consulting firm, who also believes Wall Street favors Clinton.

But Chris Mayer, managing editor at Capital & Crisis, said corporate leaders are unlikely to find sharp differences between the candidates, leading to a bit of apathy based on a belief that either will need to move closer to the center after the primary is over and the obligatory catering to the far left ends.

"At this point I think it's a lot of saber-rattling. In the primary, the candidates have to appeal to their bases, and they're going to appeal more to the left element against the CEOs and money makers," Mayer says. "I think it's a lot of talk. I just don't see how much can change."