Which company did best under Bush? Southwestern Energy

The George W. Bush era ended with the Standard & Poor's 500 index down 37% during the eight years of his presidency.

Even so, there were winners, though not for those who held onto stocks such as JDS Uniphase jdsu and Ciena cien through the two terms. JDS shareholders lost their money at a compounded annual rate of 46%, meaning they pretty much lost it all. Ciena fell at a compounded 44% annual clip.

Both companies sell into the telecom industry, which suffered a wicked bubble bursting in 2001-2002. More than $1 trillion in stock market value evaporated from the industry, a wipeout from which the two have yet to recover. The S&P 500 suffered a compounded annual loss of 3.8% during the eight Bush years, including reinvested dividends, according to data supplied to USA TODAY by S&P's financial research company Capital IQ.

Energy company won big

The runaway winner: Southwestern Energy, swnthe natural gas exploration and production company that had a compounded annual return of 48%, says Capital IQ. That's far better than Apple, up 31%, even though it dropped in the last days over concerns for the health of CEO Steve Jobs. Apple may have been the most regaled highflier of the Bush era. Google, googwhich was not included because it first joined the S&P 500 in 2004, has had a 28% compounded return since.

Capital IQ says that among the 442 companies that were on the S&P 500 from start to finish, 226 made at least some money for those who owned them on Jan. 20, 2001, and held until Jan. 16, 2009, the last full trading day of the Bush years. As recently as October 2007 the S&P 500 was up 16% for the Bush presidency. It fell nearly 46% after.

What effect did Bush have?

The eight years have been anything but uneventful and at times created turmoil in the markets. When the S&P 500 closed at 1342.54 on Jan. 19, 2001, the dot-com bubble of 1995-2001 was deflating and Sept. 11 was about to make its emotional and financial impact. Two wars later and Bush leaves behind an environment of volatile energy prices and an economic downturn many fear is the worst since the Great Depression.

Chevron, cvxConocoPhillips copand ExxonMobil xomhave out-performed the average S&P 500 company, as have defense companies such as Lockheed Martin. lmt But their eight-year performance was outshined by non-energy and non-defense companies, including health care supplier Intuitive Surgical, agricultural giant Monsanto monand biopharmaceutical firms Celgene celg and Gilead Sciences. gild

Did anything President Bush do, or not do, make a difference to these companies? Is there anything President Obama can do going forward? Do presidents matter to businesses' success?

At first, Southwestern Energy CEO Harold Korell says no, that the Oval Office was irrelevant. Korell says Southwestern out-performed other energy companies because it found gas deposits in Arkansas when "nobody else in the world figured it out."

But deeper into an interview, Korell begins to reconsider and says that Bush's potential veto may have kept Congress from imposing a windfall profit tax, which will allow a $1.7 billion investment on new wells. "If Congress puts additional taxes on us, we will have a more difficult time funding expansion," he says.

Boats in the same industry float at different levels no matter who is president, and Korell says that Southwestern has more in common with Apple than Exxon, because Apple and Southwestern prospered from idea generation.

What effect will Obama have?

One company that clearly broke away from its industry pack is bank holding company Hudson City. hcbk While American International Group aighad a compounded annual loss of 40%, Hudson City Bancorp had an annual compounded gain of 23% in the Bush years despite the recent and vicious downdraft that devastated New York's financial district a dozen miles away from Hudson's Paramus, N.J., headquarters. Hudson CEO Ronald Hermance says he has been regularly interviewed for deftly sidestepping "acid waste" mortgages.

Presidents matter, Hermance says and, if nothing else, Obama's approval rating alone will give the economy a boost.

"If Obama goes for highway building, local construction companies will do well. It creates an environment of who will flourish and who won't," says Steve Forbes, editor of Forbes and a presidential candidate in the 1996 and 2000 Republican primaries. "(President) Reagan created the environment that made Silicon Valley take off. This president (Bush), sadly, allowed a weak dollar that really hurt. No one on Wall Street thought that we'd have investment houses disappear on Wall Street under a Republican president," he says.

A search of company filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission turns up few mentions of President Bush. One example is the 2002 proxy and annual report filed by JDS, which said that a $35 million tax refund was due to the Job Creation and Worker Assistance Act signed that year by Bush. "We're administration-neutral," says JDS spokeswoman Kathleen Greene. "Our business is independent of who the president may be."

The S&P 500 was down 5.3% Tuesday, the first trading day of President Obama's years.

Contributing: Matt Krantz