Clinton win likely to deliver a ‘Santa rally’ for US, Hong Kong markets
One of the key mantras that I learned in a 30-year investment career is that experienced investors focus on the risks and not return.
Getting the highest possible return is a given. It is the level of risk that an investor is willing to accept that is the key variable – for you cannot have higher return without accepting more risk.
Sometimes the risk that the investor calculates is less than the market thinks and then you make bumper profits. Likewise if the investor has misjudged what the markets think about the risk of an investment, he can make eye-watering losses. Risk and return is related so investors must be willing to take bets if they wish to get returns.
Another key lesson in investment is that, “if you are to panic, you must panic early”. Combining the two means that you have to bet early. At present, no one wants to move before the US presidential election, especially in the light of the volatility seen after the Brexit referendum. The latest three US presidential debates were enlightening in revealing the characters of the candidates, but not necessarily their policies and how they may affect the economy.
It is hard to say who won the debates (or vitriolic exchange of insults) but the fact remains that the polls show Hillary Clinton comfortably in the lead, with more committed support, especially in the all-important swing states.
As investors we need to have a view, so let us take a bet by making the not-so-bold assumption of a Clinton victory and figure out how to set up our portfolios to be ahead of the market.
Her (so far pretty thinly defined) policies take a decidedly lefty trend. This is unsurprising – she was always a social policy wonk, and a major plank of her campaign has been to talk about support for children and families. A leopard doesn’t change its spots and this big cat has been in the political jungle for the best part of 40 years.
We can expect reform in healthcare, and a new (if tame) focus on gun control. The Clinton camp emphasises jobs and higher wages, supporting small businesses, and maintaining tight regulation over Wall Street – though the latter may be intended to deflect Mrs Clinton’s perceived closeness to the establishment.
But despite being the most powerful person in the world, every US president just has one real chance to get a decent policy agreed – the first one. The forces battling a US president are huge and a Clinton Administration will face a divided Congress. Democrats look as if they may take the Senate but it will be tough to take the House. Politics is the art of the possible so that first policy will need bi-partisan support.
The best chance for Mrs Clinton is to take on the so-called “Buffet Tax” – surcharging those who earn over US$5 million or more with a 30 per cent tax rate, while leaving 95 per cent of taxpayers with the same or lower taxes. That policy might be so popular in the country that few Republicans would dare to oppose it.
This would also help her to keep the US$500 billion budget deficit to manageable proportions. Debt is not clearly on the agenda of any party – but slumbers like a fearsome dragon. The Committee for Responsible Federal Budgets has calculated that Donald Trump will add US$5.3 trillion to the national debt; Clinton’s plans will still add US$200 billion. It will take a well-selected Treasury Secretary to push through such a bill, as well as support from a Federal Reserve Board that admits that low interest rates can do no more for the economy – and that it’s time for the politicians to step up.
It might also be possible to get bi-partisan support for a bill to replace ageing and obsolete infrastructure – costly but useful, and would stimulate the economy. Clinton may wish to reform health, social services and gun laws but these look like a rive too wide, and she will need to be careful where to spend her bullets of goodwill if she is to really leave a legacy.
Based on this view, the construction and infrastructure sectors are likely to benefit as well as the consumer, who should have more money in their pockets.
All in all, since 1945, stock markets have risen under a Democratic president by 9.7 per cent compared to just 6.7 per cent under the Republicans. Markets are now so correlated that what’s good for US stock markets is likely to be good for ours. Prepare now for a Santa rally.
Richard Harris is Chief Executive of Port Shelter Investment Management and former U.K. Parliamentary Candidate