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No, Trump's impeachment wouldn't kill your retirement plan

“There’s a very strong argument that the markets would be more stable under Pence than they would be under Trump,” said one analyst.
Image: Traders work on the floor of the NYSE in New York
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 23, 2018.Brendan McDermid / Reuters

President Donald Trump claimed Thursday that if he were impeached, Americans’ retirement savings could vanish, a warning financial planners dismiss as fear-mongering.

A day after two of his closest associates faced legal reckoning, the embattled president asserted on a Fox News morning program, “If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash," and, “I think everybody would be very poor.”

In reality, investment pros say, Americans shouldn’t worry about the health of their 401(k)s.

“What he’s saying is nonsense in the context of how investment professionals look at this,” Doug Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth, told NBC News. “Markets aren’t sentimental.”

There are a couple of historical precedents: Watergate, and the impeachment of Bill Clinton by the House of Representatives in 1998. Of the two, the market suffered a greater hit when Richard Nixon resigned in the face of impeachment, with the S&P 500 losing nearly half of its value between the beginning of 1973 and the third quarter of 1974 (Nixon resigned on August 9 of that year).

But economists say it’s all but assured that a Trump impeachment wouldn’t trigger a slide of that magnitude: Watergate unfolded as the American economy was facing an oil crisis, rampant “stagflation,” and a recession — a near-complete opposite of today’s economic picture.

Although he was ultimately acquitted by the Senate, Bill Clinton’s House impeachment provides a closer example; the late-90s economy was booming, and the market proved much more resilient to D.C.’s drama. While the S&P 500 dropped close to 20 percent in advance of prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s report, it regained all of that ground and then some by the time Clinton was ultimately cleared by the Senate in early 1999.

“This time around, while the current crisis may trigger a modest decline, we do not think it will lead to recession and therefore will not result in a new bear market,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist for CFRA.

The riskiest scenario would be if retail investors panicked. “For the most part, it would be a short-term response based on fear and uncertainty,” said Robert Schmansky, president of Clear Financial Advisors. “It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if everyone’s running of the door at once.”

Schmansky said a Trump impeachment could send the market down in the near term by anywhere between 10 and 30 percent, but he added that since even professionals have a mixed record of success when it comes to timing the market, ordinary investors shouldn’t bet their retirement savings on emotions or gut feelings.

“Crashes are temporary, and so the best plan isn't to follow the herd as they flee,” he said. Instead of fearing the potential of a correction, Schmansky suggested reframing it as the potential to better position your retirement savings for the next cyclical upswing. “Being a long-term investor, these have often been great opportunities to get into the market,” he said.

Ultimately, some think impeachment could be a boon for the market after the dust settles. A frequent theme of economists’ observations since Trump’s election has been the market volatility stoked by trade tensions and diplomatic disputes, even as hallmarks of the GOP’s agenda — lower taxes and less regulation — have fueled a run-up in equities.

“If he were to be removed from office, there’s no reason to believe that [Vice President Mike] Pence would change any of those policies,” Joseph Heider, president of Cirrus Wealth Management, told NBC News. “I think there’s a very strong argument that could be made that the markets would be more stable under Pence than they would be under Trump,” he said.

“If the economy as a whole remains strong, if earnings remain strong, if companies continue to make money — which they are — it further plays into the fact that the market doesn’t care about the sentiment of the president being impeached,” Boneparth said.