For Canada Investors, Liberals Prove Better Bet Than Tories

  • Data back to 1922 shows stocks do better under Trudeau's party
  • Harper has been among worst for stocks; Joe Clark was best

If history is any guide, a win by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in next week’s election bodes well for Canadian stocks.

Stretching back to 1922 and the time of William Lyon Mackenzie King’s first term in office, stock returns have been three times higher under Liberal prime ministers than with Conservative leaders, according to monthly data to August 2015 compiled by Bloomberg from TMX Group Ltd., operator of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Over about 63 years in power, the Liberals of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Jean Chretien and Louis St-Laurent witnessed a weighted compound annual growth rate of 6.8 percent for the Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index and its predecessor TSE Index. That compares with a 2.2 percent annual gain for the Tories of Stephen Harper, John Diefenbaker, Brian Mulroney and others, the data show.

“Is it timing? Have the Liberals been lucky over 100 years to do so well?” said Livio Di Matteo, an economist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. “Over 100 years there does seem to be a pattern. It could be that when economic growth is poor, people want austerity and think Conservatives are better managers. Then when things improve people get tired of that and they vote the Liberals in.”

The data, which covers the tenures of more than a dozen prime ministers of both major parties, compares the compounded annual growth of Canadian stocks weighted relative to the amount of time a particular leader was in office. The longer the time served, the greater the impact on the resulting figures.

Under Harper, Canada’s leader since 2006, the benchmark gauge has posted compound annual growth of 1.5 percent, the second-worst performance of any prime minister since Richard Bennett. Bennett, a Conservative who ruled during the time of the Great Depression from 1930 to 1935, is the only prime minister with a negative stock return of 9.7 percent. Pierre Trudeau’s second term was weaker than Harper’s for stock performance but his overall tenure was better.

As with other leaders, Harper’s stock market record reflects events that are beyond his control. The incumbent Conservative led the country through the worst global financial crisis since the Depression and more recently witnessed a 50 percent drop in the price of oil, one of the nation’s biggest export products. As a result, Canada’s economic growth will be about 1.1 percent this year, one of the weakest in the Group of Seven countries.

Tight Race

Harper is in the midst of a tight election campaign, vying to hang onto his job against Justin Trudeau, son of the former prime minister, and New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair. Trudeau’s Liberals have pulled ahead in the home stretch for the Oct. 19 vote, with 35.7 percent support nationally, according to daily tracking poll results released by Nanos Research on Monday. Harper’s Conservatives are in second at 28.9 percent followed by the New Democrats at 24.3 percent.

“Markets are, at least in part, a reflection of confidence or a lack thereof,” said Ralph Goodale, a former Liberal finance minister and a candidate in next week’s election. “We are proud of the Liberal legacy of sound economic management, jobs and growth.”

The Conservative Party declined a request for comment on the issue.

Harper has pledged to maintain his tax cuts for families and small businesses while committing to balance the budget, policies that tend to be supportive of strong equity markets, said Roland Chalupka, a Toronto money manager.

“Typically if you get more money into the hands of people with a higher propensity to spend it that’s good for economic growth,” said Chalupka, chief investment officer at Fiduciary Trust Co. of Canada, which manages about C$1.5 billion ($1.15 billion). “If the Liberals are seen as more of a center, spend-progressive party and the Conservatives are linked to business and benefiting corporate entities, that makes sense the market will do better.”

Liberal ‘Luck’

The 13-year Liberal dynasty that came before Harper, led by Chretien and Paul Martin, presided over combined compound annual growth of 8.3 percent from 1993 to 2006.

Martin, who held power for three years through a minority government, posted the best compound growth rate of any elected Liberal at 18 percent. Resource stocks in the S&P/TSX surged as the Canadian economy wrestled with a weakened currency for much of their rule, along with the rise of China as a global economic power and the rapid rise of commodities prices from crude to gold.

All is not lost for the Conservatives, however. The best performance of any prime minister was the nine-month rule of Joe Clark from June 1979 to March 1980. Canadian equities surged 33 percent during his time in office, for annualized compound growth of 47 percent. Elected at age 40, Clark was the youngest prime minister in Canadian history.

“To me, it comes down to timing and a bit of luck,” Lakehead’s Di Matteo said.

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