Highland Says Trump Would Boost Defense, Clinton Health Care

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a campaign rally on July 31, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Oil seen winning with Republican; Democrat may favor solar
  • Materials sector could benefit either way, asset manager says

If you think Donald Trump is headed for victory, consider betting on defense stocks. Predicting a Hillary Clinton presidency? Try health-care services.

So says Highland Capital Management, a $17 billion asset-management firm that’s mapping out how to play the contentious U.S. election.

Under a Trump administration, economic sectors seen as big winners include oil, gas and coal, consumer discretionary, manufacturing and technology and telecommunications, according to a presentation by the firm. Should Clinton prevail, solar and wind energy, materials and health-care services and facilities would benefit most, the firm says. Its ideas are based on candidates’ stated policy views and track records.

Highland’s outlook follows two weeks of political conventions that saw Republican Trump warning of dangerous immigrants at home and terrorism abroad, while Democrat Clinton pledged to close tax loopholes and make college more affordable. Polls are close, with Clinton holding an edge in the latest average calculated by RealClearPolitics.com.

Materials, in Highland’s view, are the only major winner regardless of the election outcome. Clinton’s five-year, $275 billion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure would boost materials companies, according to the firm. Trump has promised to boost infrastructure broadly, in addition to his push for a wall along the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border. On Tuesday, he said he’ll “at least double” the amount Clinton plans to spend on infrastructure.

The Dallas-based firm says it isn’t siding with either candidate. Here is a look at how the money manager sees other industries faring:

Defense, Aerospace

The defense sector is poised to benefit from spending under Trump, who has vowed to strengthen the military, intelligence and cyber security, said Highland managing director Michael Gregory. “There won’t necessarily be winners all around,” he said, as Trump is also likely to cut what he considers wasteful spending.

Clinton would probably be “neutral to positive” for defense, said Gregory, who sits on the firm’s investment committee. “Her support of releasing the Pentagon from the Budget Control Act is a good sign for the defense and aerospace sector,” he said, referring to the 2011 law governing debt limit increases.

Energy Companies

Clinton’s proposals could be a headwind to energy in the form of higher taxation and increased regulations, Gregory said. Coal infrastructure projects could see more shutdowns, pipelines could face more scrutiny and exploration and production companies could be hurt by her anti-fracking positions. She may continue President Barack Obama’s support of subsidized solar and wind, boding well for renewable-energy companies.

Her opponent, meanwhile, “is a supporter of conventional energy, and a perception of relief from a Clinton policy is a neutral-to-positive for fundamentals and sentiment,” Gregory said. Trump “has not embraced the subsidies and full-scale federal support for wind and solar, and has made comments to the effect that wind turbines are an environmental and aesthetic disaster.”

Consumer Staples

Among the losers under Trump would be consumer staples, according to Highland.

Trump has proposed a 45 percent tax on Chinese imports and a 35 percent tax on Mexican autos and parts. Gregory said such tariffs would disrupt the global supply chain, not unlike the 10 percent import surcharge of the 1971 “Nixon shock” and the 2002 steel tariff imposed by President George W. Bush. Trump’s proposals may hinder international sales of consumer staples as companies raise prices to maintain margins in the face of increasing costs of goods sold, according to Gregory.

The sector could stand to benefit under Clinton, given her “benign global trade policy and lack of tariffs,” Gregory said. She may be viewed as a relief from the kinds of measures Trump is proposing, making her moderately favorable for the sector, according to Gregory. However, that may be subdued by Clinton’s opposition to the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, he said.

Health Care

Health care is “probably the most needle-sensitive to the election,” Gregory said.

Clinton would seek to expand access to the Affordable Care Act, which would be a lift for hospitals, health-care facilities, Medicaid and Medicare managed-care organizations, physician practice managers and so-called biosimilar drugmakers, Gregory said. Her “focus on individual affordability will ensure broad and cost-effective access to health care,” he said, pointing to Clinton’s support of insurance tax credits and a cap on premiums and deductibles. She also favors expanding Medicaid.

Trump has said he will ask Congress to repeal the act, known as Obamacare, on his first day in office. That would result in a lower utilization of health-care facilities and more people without insurance, Gregory said. Health-care services would face lower margins and a constrained ability to generate cash flow, he said, adding that any actual functional change to Obamacare is limited and Trump’s policies would be more of a “rebranding exercise” that could cause “temporary valuation destruction.”

Financial Institutions

Clinton’s proposals surrounding big banks represent an extension of Obama’s policies, meaning more regulation, higher capital requirements and lowered return on equity, according to the firm.

Trump has said he would repeal most of Dodd-Frank, which he blames for hindering bank lending. But his party also wants to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that separated commercial and investment banks. That move reflects a populist thread among his base to harness big banks through regulations, Gregory said.

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