Originally created 11/06/96

Election likely to have little impact on economy



NEW YORK - If Election '96 is reverberating through the economy, it's hard to see where.

Forces like the strength of trading partners Japan, Britain and Germany and the decisions of Alan Greenspan and his powerful Federal Reserve Board will play a bigger role in the financial health of the nation than the next administration and Congress.

"From the standpoint of the business community, particularly the sector I'm involved in, telecommunications, the feeling is the election is not going to have any significant impact," says Robert Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of BET Holdings Inc., the Washington-based parent of Black Entertainment Television.

Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, said he was happy that President Clinton appeared headed for victory, although he admitted he does like some of the things Republicans are talking about, like a reduction in the capital gains tax. That might be more likely to happen with a Republican Congress, he allows.

In general, many like Mr. Johnson seem resigned to the likelihood of a split government in which a strong Clinton showing would not be enough to sway the balance of power in the House and Senate.

They seem not to mind that much.

This election has not only been a snoozer to the general public; it's drawn muted feelings from business leaders. Certainly, businesses have given a lot of money to the two parties, but they have a lot of money to give.

While certain industries and interested parties, like organized labor, have a lot at stake, the economy at large does not seem to. It's not nearly as big an issue as in 1992, year of "It's the Economy, Stupid!"

"The agenda, whether it be a Republican or Democratic Congress or half-and-half, is far smaller," says Leslie M. Alperstein, executive managing director of HSBC Washington Analysis, a research unit of HSBC Securities Inc.

That, he explains, is because so much already has been done. Take Mr. Johnson's sector, telecommunications. That industry has already been largely deregulated, triggering a blast of dealmaking that includes British Telecom's recently announced $20.8 billion purchase of MCI.

Some fear that Mr. Clinton in a second term, if supported by a Democratic Congress, would revert to his more liberal roots and bring forth additional regulations that would hamstring business.

Gary Parker, chairman and CEO of Lindsay Manufacturing Co., a Lindsay, Neb.-based maker of automated irrigation products, is one of them.

If the Democrats take Congress? "Then I don't think that we all are as optimistic that things will be quite as bright for the economy going forward. I think it is extremely important that there is a balance between the Congress and the White House."

Mr. Parker, a Republican, said he's worried that issues like regulation and labor relations may be affected in a way that hurts business if the Democrats win control. He is optimistic, though, that a split White House and Congress will be able to work together and avoid gridlock.

The issues, he admits, are more significant industry-by-industry than for the overall economy, which added another 210,000 jobs last month.

For investors, the election may well be moot. A mid-October survey of investors' sentiment by the discount brokerage Quick & Reilly found two-thirds of respondents expect the election to have little impact on the stock market over the next 12 months.

That's not as crazy as it seems.

Joseph Battipaglia, market strategist at the brokerage firm Gruntal & Co., says on average since 1937 the difference in the S&P 500-stock index's performance between Democratic and Republican administrations is 1 percentage point. So far this year, the S&P 500 is up 15 percent.