December 14, 2017 / 8:26 PM / 6 months ago

Fund managers seek stocks benefiting from Democratic gains in 2018 U.S. elections

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The surprise victory by Democrats in Tuesday’s Alabama election for a U.S. senator is prompting fund managers to prepare for more losses by the Republican party in the 2018 mid-term Congressional elections.

Democratic Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones acknowledges supporters at the election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S., December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry

Fund managers from Federated Investors, Wells Fargo, James Funds and LPL Financial are among those that are moving into the shares of retailers, banks, industrials and technology firms that may benefit from strong global economic growth abroad and tax cuts for high income wage earners at home, even if the Democratic party makes gains in next year’s elections.

With a strong economy, continuing deregulation by the administration of President Trump, and the benefits of corporate tax cuts expected to be passed by the Republican-led Congress in coming days, cyclical companies ranging from Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) to Allstate Corp (ALL.N) will outperform as long as Washington stays out of the way, according to fund managers.

“Tax reform was the big thing from an economic perspective, and if I’ve got it then I’ve got it. If this (next year’s election) makes it harder for Republicans to pass an immigration bill or trade restrictions then that’s even better” because it reduces threats to global economic growth, said Steven Chiavarone, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors in New York, which has $363 billion in assets under management.

As a result, Chiavarone is holding on to large-capitalization technology stocks like Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Amazon, despite each company’s stock gaining more than 45 percent for the year to date, because he expects them to be the largest beneficiaries of the global economic expansion.

“You are going to have more money in the pockets of both consumers and of corporations, and these companies are most exposed to where that money will be spent,” he said.

Historically, the U.S. stock market has done well during periods when opposing political parties have control of the presidency and at least one house of Congress. This time, however, the more influential factor looks to be the strength of the global economy.

In the U.S, the economy grew at its fastest pace in three years during the third quarter this year, while the economy of the eurozone is on pace for its largest expansion in a decade.

In October, the International Monetary Fund raised its outlook for global economic growth to a rate of 3.7 percent in 2018, helping to push emerging market stocks up to six-year highs.

“We haven’t had anything like this on a global growth scale since 2010,” said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist for LPL Financial, which has $560 billion in assets under management. “Against that backdrop, more gridlock in Washington is not a bad thing, because you won’t have any extreme moves one way or another.”

Detrick expects cyclical value stocks, especially financials and industrials, to outpace the market in the year ahead as the Federal Reserve continues to raise interest rates and corporations start to increase their capital expenditures.

Financial stocks slightly outperformed the broad market on Wednesday following the victory in the Alabama election by Democrat Doug Jones, with the Financial Select SPDR Fund (XLF.P), a measure of financial companies in the benchmark S&P 500 stock index, gaining 0.3 percentage points while the index as a whole was little changed.

The move to invest in stocks that might benefit from gridlock in Washington D.C., if the Democrats regain at least one house in Congress next year, is a reversal from a year ago, when fund managers piled into infrastructure, defense and small-capitalization stocks in anticipation of Republican legislative victories in the 2016 elections.

Dubbed the ‘Trump Trade’ last year, the move helped push the U.S. dollar up to multi-year highs and sent the broad S&P 500 index up more than 10 percent between November and March this year. Now, however, fund managers are looking at companies that can benefit even if Republicans are not able to legislate in Congress.

Barry James, portfolio manager of the $3 billion James Balanced Golden Rainbow fund, is also moving into financial stocks such as Allstate and Capital One Financial Corp (COF.N) because he expects the Trump administration to continue to reduce regulations in the industry, a policy that it can continue if Republicans lose one or both houses of Congress.

At the same time, he is increasing his position in retail companies such as Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N) and Target Corp (TGT.N) that get the majority of their revenues in the U.S. and are well-positioned to benefit from the Republican-led corporate tax cut likely to be passed soon.

He expects that Democrats will win at least at least one house of Congress in 2018, limiting the impact of Washington on the stock market until the presidential election in 2020.

“It’s looking more and more like the tax plan will be the one legislative victory that Republicans will have, and there won’t be anything else out of Washington unless it is truly bi-partisan,” he said.

Reporting by David Randall; editing by Clive McKeef

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