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Obama Seen as Anti-Business by 77% of U.S. Investors

Friday, January 22, 2010 - 9:48am

Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) — U.S. investors overwhelmingly see President Barack Obama as anti-business and question his ability to manage a financial crisis, according to a Bloomberg survey.

The global quarterly poll of investors and analysts who are Bloomberg subscribers finds that 77 percent of U.S. respondents believe Obama is too anti-business and four-out-of-five are only somewhat confident or not confident of his ability to handle a financial emergency.

The poll also finds a decline in Obama’s overall favorability rating one year after taking office. He is viewed favorably by 27 percent of U.S. investors. In an October poll, 32 percent in the U.S. held a positive impression.

“Investors no longer feel they can trust their instincts to take risks,” said poll respondent David Young, a managing director for a broker dealer in New York. Young cited Obama’s efforts to trim bonuses and earnings, make health care his top priority over jobs and plans to tax “the rich or advantaged.”

Carlos Vadillo, a fixed-income analyst at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in San Francisco, said Obama has been in a “constant war” with the banking system, using “fat-cat bankers and other misnomers to describe a business model which supports a large portion of America.”

Europe, Asia

Outside the U.S., Obama continues to get high marks with three-quarters or more of investors in Europe and Asia viewing him favorably. These rankings bring his global favorability rating to 60 percent among all poll respondents.

When it comes to his ability to manage a financial crisis, 55 percent of Europeans say they are either mostly or very confident; Among Asian respondents, 59 percent say they are somewhat confident or not confident; 38 percent expressed confidence.

Unlike other recent presidents, Obama hasn’t selected a leading business executive for his cabinet or a top advisory role. One year after taking office, he is coping with a jobless rate hovering around 10 percent and a federal deficit that rose to $1.4 trillion last year. In response, he has proposed a fee on as many as 50 large financial firms and yesterday called for limiting the size and trading activities of financial institutions as a way to reduce risk-taking.

‘Near Collapse’

“While the financial system is far stronger today than it was one year ago, it’s still operating under the same rules that led to its near collapse,” Obama said yesterday at the White House after meeting with former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who has been an advocate of taking such steps.

The poll was conducted Jan. 19, before Obama unveiled the plan. Yesterday, after the announcement, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 1.9 percent, its biggest loss since Oct. 30. The S&P 500 has risen 39 percent since Obama’s Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration.

The U.S. investors’ perceptions of Obama stand in contrast to those of their European counterparts, most of whom say the president strikes the right balance when it comes to managing business interests. Europeans, however, are more confident in Obama’s leadership on financial matters than Asians.

The quarterly Bloomberg Global Poll of investors, traders and analysts in six continents was conducted by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm. It is based on interviews with a random sample of 873 Bloomberg subscribers, representing decision makers in markets, finance and economics. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Geithner, Summers

Obama’s 71 percent unfavorable rating among U.S. investors is almost matched by two members of his economic team. Both Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, president of the National Economic Council. U.S. respondents give Geithner a 63 percent unfavorable rating and Summers 67 percent. In October, 57 percent held a negative view of Geithner and 66 percent said the same of Summers.

Like Obama, both men do better with Asian and European investors.

One financial figure to find favor among U.S. respondents is Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who garners a 68 percent approval rating, which is in line with his marks from non-U.S. investors and the rating U.S. investors gave him in the October poll.

There is one other figure U.S. and international investors agree on: former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a potential candidate for her party’s nomination in 2012.

Palin Rating

With a net favorability rating of 15 percent among all investors, Palin does best in the U.S., where she has the support of 27 percent of respondents. In Asia, it’s 14 percent, and in Europe just 5 percent of investors view her favorably.

“She revealed a complete lack of any global awareness,” said Anthony Gibbs, an agency broker at Vantage Capital Markets in London.

Investors outside the U.S. are more unified about Obama’s approach to business, with 67 percent of Europeans saying he strikes the right balance and 56 percent of Asians who agree.

“He is managing well a position he took over under great uncertainty,” said Sivanesan Muthusamy, senior vice president of funding and investments at Alliance Bank in Kuala Lumpur. “American leadership is again guiding the global financial markets into stability.”

The U.S. investors’ overwhelming characterization of Obama as anti-business stands in sharp contrast to the results of a Bloomberg National Poll in December, when 52 percent of U.S. adults said the president had the right balance in his approach.

Geographic Divide

The January poll shows an especially dramatic divide between U.S. and global investors when it comes to Obama’s overall favorability rating.

In Europe, 81 percent of respondents have a favorable opinion of Obama. In Asia, that number is 73 percent. The polarization is far greater by geography than by occupation, the survey found. Sales executives gave Obama his highest unfavorable rating, at 53 percent, compared with 28 percent of researchers and analysts and 35 percent of traders.

Globally, other central bankers are slightly less popular than Bernanke. Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, has a 60 percent favorable rating globally, with 45 percent in the U.S. and 78 percent in Europe.

Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, who gets a 42 percent favorable rating overall, gets 39 percent in the U.S. and Europe and 51 percent in Asia.