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The Dow's Political Problem

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This article remembers key events that have shaped Wall Street history.

Political uncertainty sent shockwaves through the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI  ) on Sept. 14, 1932, causing the index to plummet nearly 6%. Utilities and railroads were particularly hard-hit, as were farm-implement manufacturers in the wake of a major speech to farmers by New York governor and Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The policies of President Hoover had devastated farming in the country, according to Roosevelt:

Six and one-half million [farm] families represent 22% of the total population of the United States … Let us remember these figures: in 1920 this 22% of the population got 15% of the national income; in 1925 it received 11%. By 1928 agriculture's share had dropped to only just above 9%, and the most recent estimate … shows that farm income has today dropped to about 7% [of national income].

Republicans were dismissive of the Roosevelt speech, which proposed forging new international trade agreements to increase farm revenues, progressive tax streamlining to shift taxes off farmers, and increased mortgage relief through federally supported lowered interest rates and through loan modifications.

Agriculture committee director Charles W. Burkett huffed that "Roosevelt's plan is strictly a Roosevelt plan -- hooey and generalities; not a plan at all." John W. Hutchinson of the special activities division called the speech "characteristic of [Roosevelt's] fundamentally destructive campaign -- denunciation of the other fellow's campaign and complete lack of any program of his own."

J. I. Case and International Harvester led farm manufacturers lower after Roosevelt's speech. The former lost 16% and the latter plummeted 23%.

International Harvester's farm division would eventually join Case under the Tenneco umbrella in 1984, following long-standing financial difficulties. The remaining manufacturing elements of International Harvester continue to successfully produce trucks and buses as Navistar International (NYSE: NAV  ) . The International Harvester brand itself returned to the farm in 2006 as part of a strategic decision by current parent company CNH Global (NYSE: CNH  ) .

Politics and poverty
Despite economic woes, bank earnings and Treasuries both showed surprising strength.

Banks benefited from the 1932 Glass-Steagall Act, and several larger banks saw their earnings improve over the year-ago period of 1931. The 1932 Glass-Steagall Act is not the one we refer to today -- this earlier Glass-Steagall loosened the lending requirements for the Federal Reserve while also authorizing the Fed to issue new currency backed only by government debt, effectively serving as a bailout to distressed institutions.

One- and five-year Treasury offerings were massively oversubscribed on this day in 1932, as the $1.15 billion offered across both durations had already attracted $7.42 billion in bids, despite low yields. Investors may have been skittish in the wake of German political turmoil. Nazi political agitation had resulted in the dissolution of the German Reichstag that summer, leading to fresh national elections. The New York Times reported on Sept. 14, 1932 that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had warned his political opponents that his party would meet all opponents "in the way they deserve and must expect." Hitler continued, "Attack is the best means of defense … any suppressive measures against us will be a weapon that will turn on the oppressor."

President Hoover, in an effort to combat a staggering 25% unemployment rate, convened a coordination committee on this day in 1932 to discuss a "share-the-work" movement. The movement aimed to encourage greater employment by reducing working hours and spreading work among more men. AT&T (NYSE: T  ) president Walter S. Gifford came out in strong support of this idea, as his company had successfully used it to retain up to 40,000 workers who might have otherwise been laid off.

Politics would have a devastating effect on the Dow in 1932; it lost 23% of its value over the course of the year. However, Roosevelt's election was the spark the markets needed to start a recovery, and the Dow would go on to gain a staggering 83% from his inauguration to the close of 1933. Today's investors have the same opportunities if they know where to look. Give your portfolio a New Deal with the Fool's free report on four stocks that could skyrocket after the 2012 election.

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more news and insights. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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Alex Planes

Alex Planes specializes in the deep analysis of tech, energy, and retail companies, with a particular focus on the ways new or proposed technologies can (and will) shape the future. He is also a dedicated student of financial and business history, often drawing on major events from the past to help readers better understand what's happening today and what might happen tomorrow.

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