The Trump Effect: How the president will impact financial markets

Donald Trump has proved he can move stock prices on a whim, but it's his stance on trade that might be of greater importance to investors

Jan 29, 2017 @ 12:01 am

By John Waggoner

+ Zoom

When Donald Trump talks — or tweets — the public pays attention. When he takes a certain company or industry to task, investors listen and markets react.

Although before the election Mr. Trump said he thought the stock market was in a “big, fat, ugly bubble,” last week he joined in the celebration after the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 20,000 for the first time.

“We just hit a record, and a number that's never been hit before. So I was very honored by that,” Mr. Trump told ABC News.

Indeed, the stock market is up about 10% since his election, and most analysts give Mr. Trump and his pro-business philosophy a lot of the credit for that.F

One things is certain. He is not shy about giving his opinion on a whole range of issues that have the potential to impact stock prices.

Consider Mr. Trump's effect on the pharmaceutical industry. On Dec. 7, the then president-elect said pharmaceutical companies were getting away with murder.

“I'm going to bring down drug prices,” Mr. Trump said in his accompanying profile as Time magazine's Person of the Year. “I don't like what has happened with drug prices.” The iShares Nasdaq Biotech EFT (IBB) promptly swooned about 3%.

Also in December, Mr. Trump announced a deal with Carrier to keep an Indiana plant that had been slated to move to Mexico open and workers employed. United Technologies, Carrier's parent company, saw its stock rise smartly after the announcement. Since then, companies from Amazon to Toyota have been loudly proclaiming their intention to create jobs in the U.S.

'SAYS SO MUCH'

The president has shown he is adept at using his office as a bully pulpit to negotiate with corporate America. But whether that will continue throughout his presidency and whether he will continue to move markets when he speaks remain to be seen.

“The hard thing, really, is that [Mr.] Trump says so much, and so much is contradictory, that you don't know what can be acted on,” said Tom Forester, manager of Forester Value Fund (FVALX). “It takes a while to figure out what the actions are going to be, as opposed to what the words are.”

The hard thing, really, is that [Mr.] Trump says so much, and so much is contradictory, that you don't know what can be acted on.—Tom Forester, manager of Forester Value Fund (FVALX)

But simply to dismiss Mr. Trump's pronouncements as so much noise might be a mistake. Some say at its core, the Trump presidency represents the decline of globalization and the rise of nationalism. And while Mr. Trump's tweets may be transitory, the end of globalism could have far-reaching and long-lasting investment implications.

“What we might be witnessing is the beginning of the end of 30 years of globalization and convergence,” said Ronald Temple, managing director and co-head of multi-asset at Lazard Asset Management. “Since the 1980s, we've seen convergence in global trade, the World Trade Organization and an emphasis on reducing tariffs and reducing impediments in capital flows.”

Mr. Trump ran on a platform of anti-globalism, and among his first acts as president was withdrawing from the Trans- Pacific Partnership trade agreement. He is not alone in running on an anti-globalist platform. Marine Le Pen is campaigning for president of France on a strong anti-globalization platform. Austria's Norbert Hofer, a populist and anti-globalist, came extremely close to winning that country's presidency. And Britain's vote to leave the European Union last year spurred the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, who supported remaining.

“It's the reversal of a secular trend,” Mr. Temple said.

ADVISER ACTION

For advisers, the practical ramifications of the anti-globalism trend would be to stick with stocks of U.S. companies that aren't dependent on international trade, said Sylvia Jablonski, head of capital markets and institutional strategy at Direxion.

Regional banks, which would benefit from higher rates and stronger economic growth, would be another logical choice. And, she said, the company has seen a great deal of interest from advisers in inverse bond funds, which rise when interest rates rise, and vice versa.

Michael Grant, manager of Calamos Phineus Long/Short (CPLSX), said Mr. Trump's aggressive style could have a significant effect on the economy.

“He will have no problem intervening through fiscal policy, trade or immigration to achieve an outcome,” Mr. Grant said.

One example: Overhauling corporate taxes.

“Corporate tax reform could be a game changer,” said Denise Chisholm, sector strategist for Fidelity Investments. “It could change where the U.S. ranks in competitiveness on the tax scale.”

A more attractive tax rate should make a compelling case for U.S. companies to stay here and manufacture domestically.

“The attractiveness of being based in [the] U.S. has jumped dramatically,” Mr. Grant said. “We will see a real and material investment cycle in the next few years. It's key, and it's logical.”

PROMISES, PROMISES

Of course, many of Mr. Trump's promises may never come about. He can't wave his hand and lower drug prices. That would require the support of both the House and the Senate, and even though both branches of Congress are Republican, there is no guarantee that the president's policies will make it through a strongly pro-business Congress.

Currently, for example, Congress seems more focused on getting rid of the Affordable Care Act than, say, approving big outlays for improving infrastructure — another favorite of Mr. Trump's. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to downplay the notion of spending $1 trillion on the nation's roads, bridges and schools.

“The risks are that things don't happen as quickly as we'd like them to,” Ms. Jablonski said.

Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management, agreed.

“These changes are going to take a while,” Mr. Doll said at the Inside ETFs conference last Tuesday. “These people are not experienced at passing legislation.”

“The Obama years were a low-growth and low-interest-rate environment,” Mr. Forester said. “Extreme Federal Reserve policy acted to prop up the market, although the fundamentals didn't justify it.”

In other words, prices rose faster than earnings. The reverse may be true going forward, Mr. Forester said: Prices might not move as high as expected given the improvement in earnings.

“Under [Mr.] Trump, there may be better fundamentals, but there are already higher valuations. The market won't feel like it's improving. It's high on cotton candy now.”

Assuming the economy improves — and it's already in good shape — wages will rise, which will detract from corporate earnings, and interest rates will rise as well. Higher rates increase borrowing costs and make bonds more appealing versus stocks.

IMPACT ON IMPORTS

The strong dollar — which the Trump administration is already trying to talk down — could also be a problem. A high dollar means higher import prices, which could help big retailers like Wal-Mart. (Higher tariffs would hurt). Negative earnings from those companies could also give the markets pause.

“Domestically oriented companies around the world may be better positioned in the near term, while multinationals or companies dependent on global supply chains may be negatively impacted,” Goldman Sachs Asset Management warned last Tuesday.

(Related read: Financial industry expects quick action from Trump to delay DOL fiduciary rule)

While the Trump administration forges ahead with its platform, it's hard for anyone to make concrete investment moves based on tweets and stump speeches. Investors and advisers will need to wait for concrete proposals to emerge.

“The devil's in the details,” said Greg Davis, Vanguard's global head of fixed income. “It's hard to craft an investment strategy when you have no details. Until you do, you should brace for volatility.”

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