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Is Iraq hurting stocks?
Developments in the war haven't influenced market fundamentals, but remain a worry nonetheless.
May 4, 2004: 1:05 PM EDT
By Mark Gongloff, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Among the repercussions of the Iraq war, nothing could be more important than the lives lost or forever altered by it, along with its geopolitical impact. But investors also have to make cold-blooded calculations about how this war affects their money, and that's been hard to quantify.

It seems clear that, when the war goes well, it joins other tailwinds supporting stock prices and that, when it goes badly, it joins the headwinds keeping stocks in check.

But the war hasn't yet altered the fundamentals of economic growth and corporate profits -- the market's most consistent motivators, according to many analysts.

"You've got to get back to what really moves stocks, and that's earnings," said Phil Dow, equity strategy director at RBC Dain Rauscher. "It's not international conflict -- that's always been there. And the market has delivered, despite Vietnam, Sept. 11, and every other horrific thing we've had."

Ignoring the war?
Stocks haven't responded much, at least not right away, to key events in Iraq
DateEventS&P 500 percent change
Aug. 19 2003Bomb at UN headquarters+0.3
Oct. 27 2003Car bomb kills 30+0.2
Dec. 15 2003Saddam Hussein captured-0.6
Feb. 10 2004Truck bomb kills 50+0.5
Mar. 31 20044 private contractors killed in Fallujah-0.1
Apr. 21 2004Car bomb kills 68+0.5
Apr. 27 2004Day of intense fighting in Fallujah+0.2
* Dec. 15 was first day of trading after Hussein's capture
Source:CNN/Money

In fact, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) got a big boost from defense spending in the first quarter, and many analysts believe worries about rising interest rates have been more interesting to traders than developments in Iraq.

"It's very cold-hearted, but war has generally been good for the markets and the economy," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany.

Still, most recent headlines on Iraq have been anything but good. In late April, the bloodiest month for U.S. troops since the war started, charges surfaced that some soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners, and appalling photographs, apparent evidence of such misdeeds, have stoked anti-American feelings in the region.

If this inspires an escalation of the fighting in Iraq or future terror attacks, then the war could hurt the market, at least indirectly.

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"Longer term, is the war going to have a major impact on the direction of the market? I don't think so," said Brett Gallagher, head of U.S. equities at Julius Baer.

"Now, a terrorist event on the scale of Sept. 11, or even much smaller than that, is going to drive markets lower," Gallagher added, "because they're vulnerable -- not because of geopolitical uncertainty, but because they're at high valuations and are pricing in fairly positive economic scenarios."

War's impact on sentiment, politics, deficits

Certainly, recent developments in Iraq haven't done much to lift the spirits of consumers, whose spending drives more than two-thirds of total GDP. And continuing violence there and elsewhere in the Middle East has helped keep oil prices high, putting an additional burden on consumption.

Some analysts fear that the war, along with the threat of terror attacks ahead of the summer Olympics and U.S. political conventions this summer, will be like a low-grade fever keeping consumers -- and investors -- anxious all year.

"Markets don't like uncertainty," said Greg Valliere, political economist and chief strategist at Schwab Washington Research. "All of these things are just hanging over the market. Add to that the irritant of what the Federal Reserve might say [on Tuesday], and there are a lot of headwinds right now."

The bad news has slowly taken its toll on President Bush politically. Though he remains in a statistical dead heat with his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, in most recent polls, public support for the war and approval of Bush's handling of the war have eroded, making some on Wall Street nervous.

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"Though it's a known fact that the stock market does better under Democrats, the feeling is that Bush is pro-business and that Kerry would raise taxes," said Donald Selkin, director of research at Joseph Stevens & Co. "Bush's approval ratings on his handling of the war have declined, and that's one reason the stock market had a lousy month in April."

What's more, the war -- the costs of which were supposed to be covered by Iraqi oil revenues -- has cost tens of billions of dollars, and will likely cost tens of billions of dollars more in coming months.

Some analysts worry that swelling U.S. federal budget deficits could drive interest rates higher in the future, another way in which the war could have an indirect impact on the markets.

"War is never good for the people we're asking to serve, nor for their families," said John Davidson, CEO of PartnerRe Asset Management. "For the economy, war can be good for getting you out of recession, but the requirement to keep spending after you're out of the recession is inflationary and not good for the economy."  Top of page




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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.