Amid a continuing stock market slide, President Bush insisted that the economic fundamentals are sound and predicted action by Congress to make corporations more accountable should help take uncertainty out of the market and alleviate the plunge.
"I'm an optimist," Bush said. "I believe the future is going to be bright."
At the same time, Bush said the markets are adjusting to come in line with new financial reports.
"My attitude on Wall Street is they'll buy you or sell you, depending upon if it's in their interest," Bush said. "When I used to watch the stocks, I was in Midland, Texas, somewhat skeptical about what was taking place on the floors of these exchanges. But I know — I always knew — that you needed to buy on value; that the price relative to the earnings of the company needed to be in line with what they considered value."
"And I believe the values are improving," he said.
Bush, talking with reporters before a speech on homeland security, was asked whether investors should pull out of the market our buy stocks.
"I'm not a stockbroker or a stockpicker but I do believe the fundamentals for economic growth are for real," Bush said. "And I believe Congress is going to get a bill that will help to take some of the uncertainty out of the market and that bill is going to put some meaningful reforms in place."
It was a reference to legislation to curb corporate fraud. A House-Senate conference committee is working on reconciling different versions that have passed the two chambers.
Once corporate reforms are in place, the investor "is going to pick value — make decisions on value. And from what I hear corporate profits are improving, which means values will be available for those who invest in the market," Bush said.
After plunging nearly 390 points on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down roughly 175 points, just before noon EDT, as the president began speaking.
Bush, questioned by reporters as he headed into his speech, was asked if the country would feel the effect of the WorldCom bankruptcy.
"No. I think the market has probably already adjusted for that," Bush said, adding that he is more worried about the 17,000 WorldCom employees who are being laid off.
The president was touring the Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago, to examine anti-terrorism technology and to give a speech promoting his version of homeland security.
Bush noted that those who held diversified portfolios that included bonds as well as stocks had not seen their investments as pulverized over the past two years as have those invested only or primarily in stocks.
"But look, you're talking to the wrong guy about what stocks to buy," he added.
Bush also defended his treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, against calls for his resignation as markets continue to tank.
"I say he's doing a fine job and when the market goes up, I hope they give him credit," the president said. "If they're going to hold him accountable for a market going down, they ought to give him credit when the market goes up."
"I have all the confidence in the world in the secretary of the Treasury. I understand one newspaper was calling for his scalp, but that's Washington D.C. That's what happens in that town," Bush said.
Asked what it would take for markets to go back up and confidence go up, Bush said, "Value. They're going to realize that there's values in the market."