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Stocks Have Done Better In Biden's 1st 100 Days Than Any Other President Since FDR

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

During President Biden's first 100 days in office, stocks have done better than in the first 100 days of any presidency all the way back to FDR. And that's in spite of the fact that Biden wants to raise taxes on wealthy investors and go tougher on Wall Street. NPR's David Gura joins us now. Welcome back.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So what's behind this, I guess, record-setting run?

GURA: Yeah. I mean, I've talked to some strategists at big banks. They studied the stock market day in and day out. And the consensus is, yes, they're aware of everything you just mentioned. Investors deeply dislike regulation and taxes. But they're really focused on a few things right now, and it's the economy first and foremost. And this week we learned the U.S. economy grew at an annual pace of more than 6% at the beginning of the year, so 6.4%. And that's confirmation that it's on pace to grow faster than it has since the year 1984. Greg Valliere is with a firm called AGF Investments.

GREG VALLIERE: Well, the markets are looking at two big macro developments. One is the inoculations. People are getting vaccinated. That makes a big difference. The other is the sheer magnitude of the money that Washington has spent.

GURA: The federal government has sent out these direct payments, and there's all this pent-up demand. A lot of us have not been traveling. We haven't been going out. Yes, we have been shopping, but buying computers and cars and new stuff for our homes, that is going to change now soon. Economists expect there's going to be a surge in spending on travel and entertainment, all thanks to how many of us are getting vaccinated. We heard from the White House 100 million Americans have been vaccinated against COVID.

So there's this new sense of optimism and a few other things that investors are watching, Audie. Businesses are reopening. Companies have been reporting really good earnings over the last few weeks. And then there's the Federal Reserve. The central bank is still playing a huge role here, propping up the market. The Fed has promised to keep interest rates really low, and it's pumping billions of dollars into the economy every month. That sends a powerful signal to investors.

CORNISH: Can we go back to the stuff they don't like, though? Not to underscore that, but shouldn't these be things that sort of deter or frustrate Wall Street?

GURA: Yeah. And we heard a number of those in the president's speech that he delivered this week. The president told lawmakers he wants to raise the tax rate that wealthy investors pay on the profits that they make when they sell stocks. He also wants to close loopholes that those wealthy investors use to pay less in taxes. And he's called for more money to go to the IRS to crack down on millionaires and billionaires who avoid paying their taxes.

I mean, the thing is, investors are not surprised by any of this. They've been paying attention, and these are changes that Joe Biden championed when he was on the campaign trail. I do want to stress something, though. I think this is important. You know, these rich investors who would have to pay more money to the federal government, they are treating these proposals as proposals. They're treating them as they are because, you know, they know that what the president wants is not necessarily, Audie, what he's going to get from Congress.

CORNISH: Obviously the market is keeping an eye on what's going on with the vaccine. What are some other issues that they might be concerned about?

GURA: Yeah. There's concern, as you say, about variants. There's concern about vaccine hesitancy. Inflation is a huge thing. I mentioned all that shopping just a minute ago. We know that there is a ton of demand, and there's just not enough supply. There are issues with the supply chain. This week we heard from Apple that there's going to be a shortage of iPads, of computers. And other companies have said they're going to have to raise their prices. The company Kimberly-Clark is one of them, maker of diapers and toilet paper and lots of other things - General Mills also going to increase its prices.

So prices right now are ticking up slowly. And it's not widespread, but what concerns investors is if we see that start to happen, the Fed could come in. It could raise interest rates earlier than it expects to. I talked to Jonathan Golub, asked him what he thinks could derail this run. He's the head of U.S. equity strategy at Credit Suisse, and he says it could be something as simple as the market running out of momentum.

JONATHAN GOLUB: Once we get past the second and third quarter of this year, things are going to progressively slow down back to normal.

GURA: Basically what he's saying is markets 101, Audie. No record-setting run is going to go on forever.

CORNISH: NPR's David Gura, thank you.

GURA: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.