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Why investors should tune out this U.S. election

The FBI's review of new emails did not uncover any wrongdoing by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Director James Comey told lawmakers November 6, 2016.

YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images

When the FBI is driving Canadian stocks, perhaps it's time to tune out the noise.

Stocks rallied on Monday, but not after a particularly upbeat piece of economic news or a strong round of corporate earnings.

Instead, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it saw no reason to lay charges against U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, after recently discovered e-mails raised the possibility that she had been sloppy with classified information when she was secretary of state.

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Sure enough, the news reignited Ms. Clinton's presidential campaign a day before Americans head to the polls. It was arguably the biggest driver of Monday's impressive stock market rally.

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped more than 370 points, for its biggest one-day gain since January. The broader S&P 500 climbed 2.2 per cent, which is a convincing rebound from last week's losing streak, when it looked as though the FBI investigation was derailing Ms. Clinton's campaign.

Canada followed Monday's rally. The S&P/TSX composite index rose 143 points or 1 per cent, answering last week's slump. Just as every main sector in the benchmark index declined last week, most sectors rose on Monday.

The tempting conclusion here is that rational markets, fearful of Mr. Trump, are now pricing in a Clinton victory – instantaneously recalibrating which sectors will do well, or suffer, under Ms. Clinton's approach to issues such as corporate taxes, health care and clean energy.

Or, more likely, the whipsaw stock market moves reflect investor anxiety that is best ignored.

Take a look at some of the underlying moves in the Canadian stock market, and what you'll find is that stocks aren't necessarily following stated presidential policies, but rather lurching from one concern to the next.

Gold is one of the clearest indicators of this trend. It is unclear whether a Trump administration would be good for the price of gold, with policies that drive up inflation or create geopolitical tensions. But the FBI-sensitive stock market hasn't been waiting around for details.

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An index of Canadian gold producers rose 3.7 per cent last week when the price of gold rose above $1,300 (U.S.) an ounce. Monday brought the big reversal: Gold retreated, and gold stocks fell nearly 5 per cent.

Some individual stocks also lined up particularly well during last week's selloff and Monday's rebound. But the moves appeared to have little behind them other than a vague notion that Ms. Clinton might be a better steward of the U.S. economy.

Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Suncor Energy Inc., and Enbridge Inc. were among the biggest drags on performance last week, when Mr. Trump's campaign appeared to benefit from the FBI investigation of Ms. Clinton's e-mails. These four stocks were among the biggest drivers on Monday.

RBC and TD are among the biggest movers simply because both banks have a substantial exposure to the U.S. financial market, while Suncor and Enbridge are tied to the health of the global energy market.

Which U.S. presidential candidate would serve these sectors best? Analysts have digested Ms. Clinton's and Mr. Trump's policies – but a common theme in the analysis is that neither candidate is likely to do very much to upset or invigorate key sectors of the U.S. economy.

"We regard Mrs. Clinton as being ultimately a pragmatist, and we believe she is unlikely to challenge the energy industry in a meaningful fashion," said one recent note from analysts at Canaccord Genuity.

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Investors, then, should be ignoring the FBI investigation, not to mention the entire U.S. presidential election. The selloff and rebound over the past week only confirms that noise isn't helpful.

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About the Author
Investing Reporter

David Berman has been writing about business and investing since 1995. He has written for a number of magazines, including Canadian Business and MoneySense. He worked at the Financial Post as an investing writer and daily columnist before moving to the Globe and Mail in 2008. More

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