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George HW Bush presided over the third-best S&P stock market return for a GOP president since 1923

Key Points
  • During Bush 41's one term in office, the S&P 500 gained 52 percent, trailing only GOP predecessors Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
  • The stock market return under Texas Republican Bush ranks seventh out of all 16 presidents, both Republican and Democratic, since the S&P started.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as a picture of former President George H.W. Bush appears on a screen following a moment of silence on December 3, 2018 in New York City. 
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

The late George H.W. Bush — remembered as much for his stumbles on the economy as his foreign policy achievements — ironically ranks as the third-best GOP president ever for the stock market as measured by the nearly century-old S&P.

During the Texas Republican's one term in the White House from January 1989 to January 1993, the S&P 500 index gained 52 percent, trailing only GOP predecessors Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. (President Donald Trump ranks as No. 6 out of the nine Republican leaders since the S&P's inception. The index has gained about 22 percent since Trump's January 2017 inauguration.)

As for No. 1 on the Republican side, Ike's two terms in office led to a 130 percent advance by the S&P, which went from 90 stocks to 500 in the middle of his 1953-1961 presidency. Meanwhile, Reagan's eight years in office from 1981 to 1989 produced a 114 percent increase in the S&P 500.

Standard & Poor's, initially known as the Standard Statistics Co., created its first stock market index in 1923, consisting of shares of 233 companies. It was computed weekly. Three years later, it developed a 90-stock composite price index computed daily. That was expanded over the years. In March 1957, the S&P 500 was introduced.

Looking at both sides of the aisle, Democratic presidents actually presided over the top three biggest S&P gains.

During the eight years of Bill Clinton, who beat Bush in the 1992 election, the index gained 209 percent. Barack Obama's time in office from 2009 to 2017 saw a 166 percent advance. The 12 years of Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1933 to 1945, before term limits, saw the S&P surge 141 percent.

George H.W. Bush's stock market return legacy ranks seventh out of all 16 presidents both Republican and Democratic since the S&P started. (The index under the eight years of George W. Bush, son of the 41st president, fell 37 percent, the second worst among the nine GOP presidents and 15 out 16 overall including Democrats.)

— CNBC's Gina Francolla and Reuters contributed to this report.