Why Syria Isn't as Bad for Stocks as You Think

Should you be worried about all the headlines saying that the Syrian crisis will pound stocks? Not if history is any guide, says MarketWatch’s Mark Hulbert.

Hulbert says that historically, the market has suffered only minor losses because of geopolitical crises, and has rebounded quite quickly in many cases. He references a 1989 study performed by economics professors David Cutler of Harvard, James Poterba of MIT, and Larry Summers, who is now in the running to be the next Federal Reserve chief. In it, the professors examined how the stock market fared on 49 days in history when major geopolitical events occurred, such as the Kennedy assassination and Pearl Harbor bombing.

“They came up with little evidence that non-economics events had a big effect on the stock market,” Hulbert writes. “On average, across all 49 events on their list, the S&P 500 moved just 1.46%, less than one percentage point more than the 0.56% that prevailed on all other days. Because of this small difference, the professors concluded that there’s ‘a surprisingly small effect of non-economic news’ on the stock market.”

Hulbert says that doesn’t mean wars have little or no impact on economies and markets. “Rather,” he says, “this conclusion is testament to the stock market’s much-vaunted ability to discount the future. The market takes into account what investors see coming down the pike, not just months in advance but sometimes even years. And the Syria quagmire is hardly something that just erupted onto the world scene.”