Investors should not rule out a Democratic Party landslide as Americans go to the polls to elect a new President and Congress, says Chief Economist Léon Cornelissen.
After what US commentators have described as one of the “wildest, most divisive and most raucous campaigns since pre-Civil War years”, voters on 8 November will finally decide between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as leader of the world’s largest economy.
Americans will also elect the whole House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. Both are currently controlled by the Republicans, which has created logjams as they have consistently opposed the policies of Democrat President Obama.
Robeco’s portfolio managers for developed and emerging equities, and for government and corporate bonds, warned that a Trump victory would spell trouble for their asset classes, though a Clinton presidency would also negatively impact areas such as health care. However, all agreed that repairing the creaking US infrastructure would benefit everyone regardless of who wins.
“The elections are now interesting in the sense that you cannot totally rule out a Democratic Party landslide at this stage, where Clinton wins the presidency and the Democrats also take Congress,” Cornelissen says.
“This scenario would be highly beneficial because the deadlock would end, and it would be very positive for US growth, because Clinton could implement her program without any need for substantial compromises. This would not only mean improving infrastructure – one of the few subjects about which there is general consensus – but also raising the minimum wage and introducing a more sensible tax system, so that would be the most benign outcome for investors.”
“The more likely outcome is Clinton winning the presidency and the Senate falling to the Democrats, but with the House of Representatives remaining Republican. So, Clinton would have to do a deal with Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House and the US’s most senior elected Republican, assuming he is re-elected.”
Cornelissen says the issue of improving US infrastructure such as crumbling roads and bridges would be the easiest to get through a Republican Congress. “Much depends on how the direction of the Republican leadership develops under a Clinton presidency. She wants to raise taxes to continue the redistribution of income and raise the minimum wage, which would be good for consumption. Despite reaching full employment, US wage growth is timid, so raising the minimum wage could also stimulate US consumption.”
“If we do get President Trump, the policy uncertainty in the US will rise dramatically, and there would be a major sell-off on global equity markets: the initial reaction would be a move to risk-off. And most economists would lower their growth expectations for the US economy under a President Trump.”
“A Trump triumph would be a disaster for equity markets, though the polls up until now have forecast Clinton winning the Presidency while the Democrats win control of the Senate, which would be more favorable for stocks going forward,” says Mark Glazener, Head of the Global Equity team and portfolio manager of the flagship Robeco NV fund.
“A landslide victory for Clinton would have an obvious victim in the healthcare sector. Clinton would take her chance to make additional changes. Drug price control is a bridge too far, but extending the range of Medicaid pricing will cost the industry a lot of money, as Medicaid prices for branded drugs are estimated to be more than 20% lower than commercial prices.”
“On energy, Clinton’s proposals would have mixed results. Some of them are friendly towards the oil and gas industry, including promises to streamline the regulatory process to build pipelines and provide incentives to invest in US energy infrastructure. And without a doubt, her proposals would benefit alternative energy companies.”
For emerging market equities, a Trump victory would lead to a sell-off, particularly in Mexico, says Fabiana Fedeli, senior portfolio manager for Emerging Markets Equities. While Trump’s threat to build a wall to keep out illegal Mexican immigrants grabbed the headlines, investors are more worried about his plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), or withdraw from the 22-year-old treaty completely. His protectionist rhetoric also does not bode well for trade-oriented emerging markets countries, Fedeli says.
‘We expect Mexico to show the highest volatility around the elections’
“We believe a Trump win would most likely trigger a sell-off in emerging markets equities, while a Clinton win could drive a small relief rally,” she says. “The recent correlation of emerging equities with the Clinton-Trump poll margin shows that on a net basis, investors see a Trump administration as negative for the asset class. That said, given the recent Clinton poll gains, at this point a Trump win would be a far bigger surprise to markets, and therefore we believe a negative reaction to be far more pronounced.”
“Across all emerging markets we expect Mexico to show the highest volatility around the elections. This is due to Trump’s campaign statements of renegotiating or withdrawing from the NAFTA agreement and deporting all undocumented migrants living in the US. Given that exports to the US account for about 28%, US Foreign Direct Investments for 1.4% and remittances from the US account for approximately 2.1% of Mexican GDP, respectively (although not all of the remittances are from undocumented workers), markets would perceive a Trump win as a disaster for the Latin American country.”
For bond investors, the elections are likely to impact fixed income and currency markets via three routes: fiscal spending, foreign relations and monetary policy, says Kommer van Trigt, portfolio manager of the Global Total Return Bond fund and head of the Global Fixed Income Macro team.
“A Clinton victory with a Republican Congress would bring limited changes to each of these matters,” he says. “A Democratic presidency in combination with a Democratic Congress would create more room to implement policy. As Clinton has proposed both additional spending (on, among other things, infrastructure, education and social programs) and tax increases, the net effect on the actual budget could be limited.”
‘Clinton’s effect on bonds would probably be higher interest rates’
“The immediate effect on bonds of such an outcome would probably be higher interest rates. Short-term rates could rise and the perception of additional fiscal stimulus could lead to higher expectations for the federal funds rate. This could temporarily impact emerging local bonds and currencies. Still, also in this environment we do not expect much change to the bond market environment, which is characterized by the gradual normalization of monetary policy.”
“A Trump victory (with a Republican Congress) would be the biggest surprise and thus have the largest impact. A risk-off reaction could initially lead to lower US interest rates, but in the medium term this could reverse, as Trump’s fiscal plans (with a tax cut worth 2.5% of GDP) suggest the possibility of large fiscal stimulus. For emerging local debt, a Trump presidency would bring a long period of uncertainty. This will probably lead to a significantly negative reaction in emerging currencies.”
Whatever the outcome of the US elections will be, there will be more spending on the country’s long-neglected infrastructure, which is positive for companies active in sectors like construction, rental and building materials, says Sander Bus, portfolio manager of the global High Yield Bonds fund and co-head of the Credit team.
“The candidates’ views on clean energy and electric infrastructure spending are different though. Clinton is very much in favor of clean energy and her winning would be beneficial for renewables. Trump has been more vocal on supporting fossil fuels, which would be supportive for the coal industry and utility sector.”
“The sector which would be most at risk is health care. If Clinton wins, there could be more pressure on pharmaceuticals and their pricing policy. If Trump wins, Obamacare could be up for discussion, which would be negative for hospitals.”
“Overall, we think that if Hillary Clinton were to become president, the effect on the credit markets would be muted. However, if Donald Trump is elected, we expect a short-term increase in volatility.”
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