There are few events that catch markets by complete surprise but the decision by
As the election results came out on Tuesday night, the immediate market reaction was dire, with Dow futures dropping almost 800 points, triggering circuit breakers. By Wednesday morning, though, the panic seemed to have subsided and the market effect in the two days since the election have been not just benign, but positive. I know that it is early and that much can happen in the next few weeks to spook markets again, but as things stand now, here is what we see. Rates on US treasuries have risen sharply, with interpretations varying depending upon your election priors, with those negatively inclined to Trump viewing the rise as a sign that foreign buyers are pulling out the market, leery of his comments about and those positively inclined arguing that the rise reflects expectations of higher growth in the future. The dollar has held its own against other currencies and the fear indices (gold and the VIX) have fallen since Tuesday, with the VIX dropping dramatically. US stocks have risen in the two days since the election, with small cap stocks in Russel 2000 rising more than the large cap stocks. If you are puzzled by the NASDAQ's inability to join the rally, you can see why when you look at the returns across the S&P sectors:
|Last 5 days||Last 3 months||YTD (2016)|
The stock market rise in the last few days has been uneven with consumer staples, utility, technology and real estate stocks (ironically) lagging and financial firms, health care and industrials doing well. Though it is dangerous to try to create full-blown stories based on stock market behavior over a few days, it seems likely that the rally in financials and pharmaceuticals can be traced as much to expectations about what Trump has said he will do (repeal Obamacare, for instance) as to relief that some of the regulations/restrictions that Clinton had proposed (on pharmaceutical pricing and more constraints on banks) would not longer be on the table. The decline in utilities can be attributed to rising interest rates but the swoon in tech stocks bears watching, since it could be an indication that tech companies, who strongly backed Clinton, may face headwinds in a Trump administration.
I know the perils of assuming that campaign promises and rhetoric will become policy, but broadly speaking, you can outline the possible consequence for companies of Trump's proposed policy changes. The biggest and potentially most negative effect would come from his trade policies, where protectionist policies can and will draw protectionist responses from other countries, putting global trade and growth at risk. Trump has been ambivalent about both the Federal Reserve's interest rate policies and financial markets, arguing that the Fed has played politics with interest rates and that financial markets are in bubble territory. It will be interesting to see whether the FOMC, when it meets in December, takes into account the election results, in making its widely telegraphed decision to raise rates (at least the ones that it controls). Trump has proposed major changes to both corporate and individual tax rates, and if Congress goes along even part way, you can expect to see a lower corporate tax rate accompanied by inducements to bring the $2.5 trillion in trapped cash that US companies have in other markets.
There is also likely to be sector-specific fall out from other Trump policies, at least in contrast to what these sectors would have faced under a President Clinton. President Trump has prioritized repealing Obamacare and that will have direct consequences for companies in the health care sector, with some benefiting (pharmaceutical companies?) and some perhaps being hurt (insurance companies and hospital stocks?). President Trump's proposal to invest heavily in the nation's infrastructure will benefit the construction, engineering and raw material firms that will construct that infrastructure but he may run into both budgetary constraints (with his tax proposals) and political headwinds (from conservatives in Congress). Finally, President Trump has promise to reduce regulation on business and put in more business-friendly regulators on the regulatory bodies and that will be viewed as good news by banks and fossil-fuel firms that were facing the most onerous of these regulations. The Trump proposals to preserve the entitlement programs, lower taxes and increase infrastructure spending are potentially at war with each other and budget constraints, but that does not mean that significant parts of each one will not become law.
In evaluating these possibilities, I am cognizant of the checks and balances that characterize the US system. Unlike parliamentary systems, where a new government can quickly rewrite laws and replace old policies, the framers of the US constitution put in a system where power is shared by the executive, the legislature and the courts, making change difficult. Even with Republicans controlling the executive and legislative branches, I am sure that Trump supporters will be frustrated by how slowly things move through the mill and how difficult it is to convert proposals to policies and Trump detractors will learn to love the same filibusters, congressional slowdowns and legal roadblocks that they have inveighed against over the last eight years.
It is easy to get caught up in the crisis of the moment but there are general lessons that I draw from
Brexit the Trump election that I hope to use in molding my investment strategies.
- Markets are not just counting machines: One of the oft-touted statements about markets is that they are counting machines, prone to mistakes but not to bias. If nothing else, the way markets behaved in the lead-up to
Brexitthe election is evidence that markets collectively can suffer from many of the biases that individual investors are exposed to. For most of the last few months, the British PoundMexican Peso operated as a quasi bet on Brexitthe US presidential election, rising as optimism that RemainClinton would prevail rose and falling as the LeaveTrump campaign looked like it was succeeding. There was a more direct bet that you would make on BrexitTrump in a gamblers' market, where odds were constantly updated and probabilities could be computed from these odds. Since Brexitthe US election was also one of the most highly polled in history, you would expect the gambling to be closely tied to the polling numbers, right? The graph below illustrates the divide.
While the odds in the Betfair did move with the polls, the odds of
the Leave campTrump winning never exceeded 40% in the betting market, even as the Leave camp acquired a small lead in the weeks leading up to the votethe polls got closer in mid-September and in the last week before the election. In fact, the betting odds were so sticky that they did not shift to the Leave side until almost a third of the votes had been countedTrump until late on Tuesday night. So, why were markets so consistently wrong on this vote? One reason, as this story notes, is that the big bets in these markets were being made by London-basedbigger investors tilting the odds in favor of RemainClinton. It is possible that these investors so wanted the Remain voteClinton to win that they were guilty of confirmation bias (looking for pieces of data or opinion that backed their view). In short, BrexitTrump reminds us that markets are weighted, biased counting machines, where big investors with biases can cause prices to deviate from fair value for extended periods.
- No one listens to the experts (and deservedly so): I have
neveronly once before seen an event where the experts were all so collectively wrong in their predictions and so completely ignored by the public. Economists, foreign policy experts and central banksopinion leaders all inveighed against exiting the EUTrump, arguing that iselecting him would be catastrophic, and their warnings fell on deaf years, as voters tuned them out. As someone who cringes when called a valuation expert, and finds some of these experts to be insufferably pompous, I can see why experts have lost their cache. First, in almost every field , expertise has become narrower and more specialized than ever before, leading to prognosticators who are incapable of seeing the big picture. Second, while experts have always had a mixed track record on forecasting, their mistakes now are not only more visible but also more public than ever before. Third, the mistakes experts make have become bigger and more common as the world has become more complex, partly because the interconnections between variables means there are far more uncontrollable elements than in the past. Drawing a parallel to the investment world, even as experts get more forums to be public, their prognostications, predictions and recommendations are getting far less respect than they used to, and deservedly so. Finally, it is time that we that are open about the fact that we are all biased and being smart or an expert does not immunize from bias.
- Narrative beats numbers: One of the themes for this blog for the last few years has been the importance of stories in a world where numbers have become more plentiful. In the
Brexit debateUS presidential election, it seemed to me that the Leave sideTrump had the more compelling narrative (of a return to an an old BritainAmerica that enough voters found appealing to help him win) and while the Remain sideClinton argued that this narrative was not plausible in today's world, its counter consisted mostly of numbers (the costs that Britain would face from Brexit)inveighing against Trump's character and temperament. Looking ahead to similar referendumselections in other EUcountries, I have a feeling that the same dynamic is going to play out, since few established politicians in any EUcountry seem to want to make a full-throated defense of being Europeans firstthe status quo.
- Democracy can disappoint (you): The parallels between political and corporate governance are plentiful and
Brexitthis election has brought to the surface the age-old debate about the merits of direct democracy. While many, mostly on the winning side, celebrate the wisdom of crowds, there are an equal number on the losing side who bemoan the madness and prejudices of crowds. As someone who has argued strongly for corporate democracy and against entrenching the status quo, it would be inconsistent of me to find fault with the BritishAmerican public for voting for BrexitTrump. In a democracy, you will get outcomes you do not like and throwing a tantrum or threatening to move are not democratic responses. You may not like the outcome, but as an American political consultant said after his candidate lost an election, "the people have spoken... the bastards".
The End Game