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How Trump's immigration move could derail the market rally

The ramifications of President Donald Trump's immigration order Friday will be different for Wall Street than for the rest of the world.

For many people, barring the U.S. door for four months to refugees and travelers from several Muslim-majority countries will be a matter of humanitarian concern and potential legal overreach.

But on Wall Street and the investing community, the concern will be simpler and more practical: Has the Republican president taken his eye off the ball that propelled him into office?

"The market is going to question whether or not he is going to be able to stay on the very pro-growth, pro-business agenda that the market embraced," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. "If there is deviation from that, yes, the market will have difficulties."

The timing couldn't be more critical.

"The market looks ahead. But if it looks ahead and sees trouble brewing to get things done, the market is going to perhaps stall until it gets what it wants" -Quincy Krosby, market strategist, Prudential Financial

Stocks have been on a powerful rally since Trump's improbable victory in the November election. The Dow industrials rallied 7.6 percent from Election Day to the inauguration, the second-strongest move ever, exceeded only by the 21.8 percent Herbert Hoover enjoyed back in 1928-29, which was bolstered by a March inauguration.

Since Trump took office stocks have jumped even higher, with the Dow eclipsing the psychologically significant 20,000 barrier and tacking on about another 2 percentage points on market optimism that he will spur economic growth after eight years of sub-par gains under former President Barack Obama.

But already, the market has shown impatience when it senses Trump is distracted from the job at hand. Therefore, some say his anti-immigration efforts could give investors pause.

"The market looks ahead. But if it looks ahead and sees trouble brewing to get things done, the market is going to perhaps stall until it gets what it wants," Krosby said.

Of course, the market already has had experience with Trump's vagaries, as it went up during one of the most ambitious first weeks in presidential history.

As Trump signed a flurry of executive orders to begin enacting his agenda, he engaged in a heated public battle with Mexico's leadership over the Republican's plan to build a wall on the southern border and force Mexico somehow to pay for it. Through the tumultuous week, the Dow still gained 1.3 percent.

So whether the immigration move will disrupt markets or dampen economic animal spirits will depend on the extent to which Wall Street thinks Trump still can push the domestic agenda while fighting his geopolitical battles.

"What are the market disruptions of not admitting Syrians?" said Peter Morici, a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. "This probably is much less of an issue than the media would make it out to be."

Morici acknowledged the "fundamental moral question or trade-off between respecting human rights and protecting the domestic population," but added, "In terms of economic consequences, I can't see a lot."

Strategists and economists on the Street have been raising their projections for the market and growth. But in doing so they almost uniformly cite the same risk: "policy uncertainty" that comes with Trump's unpredictability.

'Make uncertainty great again'

Donald Trump
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Donald Trump

With the ever-present distaste the markets have for instability, there's question over how many wildcat moves from Trump it will be able to stomach.

"Donald Trump will make volatility and uncertainty great again," said Doug Kass, president of Seabreeze Partners Management.

"The gap between economic reality and expectations rarely has been wider. Above all, the markets are now inattentive to the ideological, logistical and fiscal constraints that represent practical headwinds to the implementation of the administration's proposed initiatives," he added.

There also are political ramifications that would make things rough for the president.

Members of his own party have expressed unease with his immigration stance among other issues, and a hot-button move like the refugee ban could strain those relationships even further.

That in turn would make it more difficult for Trump to implement his agenda.

"The bottom line is he only has a certain amount of political capital," said Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments and an expert on the nexus between Wall Street and Washington.

"There's going to be such on intense focus on this for several days that it will reinforce some anxiety in the market that a lot of economic reforms, tax cuts, things like that are not at the top of the list of his priorities."