100 Days of Trump

Two huge markets are sizing up Trump and making radically different bets

Tax reform 'nice to have,' not a lynch pin for earnings: Expert

As President Donald Trump's administration nears its 100th day, stocks have kept faith that he will deliver on his promises of tax reform and a stimulus spending plan that will jump-start the economy.

The bond market, however, still wants proof.

At some point, one of those two big markets will turn out to be right. So far, there's been no big rush of legislation, just executive orders. But there's still optimism that changes are coming.

"I think that the first 100 days is showing me one thing, and that's that this guy, the current chief executive, he doesn't like to give up, so when the alternative to Obamacare was defeated, he didn't agree with congressional leaders that it was done for this year," said Don Townswick, director of equities strategy at investment management firm Conning. "I think he's pushing to get these parts of his agenda done this year, even if it takes a couple of tries."

President Donald Trump flanked by business leaders signs executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in the Oval Office of the White House on February 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Olivier Douliery | Pool | Getty Images

But the market won't wait indefinitely.

"He might be learning as he goes along, but if we don't see something by August, ... I think the markets are going to get a little impatient," Townswick said.

The stock market is flying

If Trump were to be measured on stock-market performance alone, he is doing about as well as a president can do. The S&P is up about 6 percent since Trump was inaugurated 97 days ago, and nearly 12 percent since Election Day.

Since World War II, only two first-term presidents saw better gains in the S&P 500 in their first 100 days — John F. Kennedy (a 9 percent gain) and George H.W. Bush (7.7 percent).

This week, the Nasdaq surged above 6,000 for the first time in history; the Dow closed in again on 21,000, while the S&P 500 is within spitting distance of its all-time high.

"I think everyone's assuming that everything he's been promising is going to come true," said Samuel Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.

The bond market is 'deeply skeptical'

Treasury yields, which move opposite prices, have improved in the recent days, but they're still near the lows of a range they've held since the November election. The benchmark 10-year yield was locked in a range of 2.30 to 2.60 for weeks after the U.S. election, but fell beneath that temporarily ahead of the first round of the French election last week.

"When we first were talking about economic growth picking up, inflation expectations rose. The 10-year yield rose to 2.60, where it's now down to 2.30," after falling below 2.20 percent, said Krishna Memani, CIO of OppenheimerFunds. "The bond market is deeply skeptical."

Memani added that Trump is not the only factor affecting the stock market. He said a global recovery has been pushing stocks higher, and it's been in the works since the second quarter of last year.

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"In the second half, we basically took off. The fourth quarter of last year and first quarter of this year will probably be the peak of the synchronized economic recovery. That is driving economic growth in emerging markets. That's driving growth in Europe and to some extent; it's driving economic growth in the U.S.," he said.

Memani said there is definitely a divide between the stock and bond markets, but it's something he can make sense of.

"It's not night and day. It's basically we're in the dusk somewhere. It's not the end of the day, and it's not midnight in terms of contrast of different markets," he said. "It's just growth is good. Inflation is not picking up. I think you can justify the current level of the equity market. At one point, the bond market was expecting inflation picking up meaningfully, and it gave up the ghost."

How the health-care fail shifted sentiment

The initial euphoria of the Trump trade really faded in December, but stocks have been moving higher since then as the president's policies complement the uptick in global growth. For the bond market, pessimism began building in to prices in a much bigger way when Trump and Congress failed to bring an Obamacare replacement plan to a vote in March.

"It sapped a lot of the optimism that this was going to be easy and that the Republicans were going to be able to use their clean sweep to quickly pass legislation," said Mark Cabana, head of U.S. short-rate strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The health-care bill was expected to bring an end to some taxes currently linked to Obamacare, and that would have helped provide funding for the congressional tax-reform plan.

But the outlook for a new health bill is unclear, and Trump is expected to reveal a tax plan Wednesday that appears light on new revenue and heavy on tax cuts.

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Memani said the market's expectations for a pickup in inflation also has faded, as has the prospect for 3 percent growth. He said the bond market needs to see something firm to change its view.

"You can't build expectations and not deliver. That's what he's doing at the moment. That worked when growth was good, and when growth is not good you don't have any credibility," said Memani. He said a tax plan that adds to the deficit would stimulate growth, and that could help replace some lost tax revenue.

"He can have policies that can improve the regulatory environment and cut tax rates, but the likelihood that it will jump-start the economy and get the growth rate to 3 percent, ... the deficit has to widen. A tax plan where everything is paid for will not do it. ... The trend [growth] rate is 2 percent, and to jump-start that, you need some new driver," Memani said.