Politics aside, if you own health care stocks directly or through a health care fund you may be pulling for Dubya to win Florida and the White House.
Pending the Sunshine State's recount, nobody knows for certain who's going to win the big job (although
George W. Bush
said today he has won). Of course, either result should be taken with a healthy dose of salt when it comes to sectors, since not every campaign promise becomes policy. But given
promises to limit drug prices and pass a patients' bill of rights, experts say the health care sector, and pharmaceutical stocks in particular, will probably have an easier road with the Republican in the White House.
"In general, Bush is more positive for the sector, particularly for the drug companies. The big concern there is potential pricing pressures under a Gore presidency," says Amy Arnott, a senior stock analyst covering the healthcare sector for
, which doesn't do any underwriting.
"If Bush becomes president, it's good for the sector because the pharmaceutical companies love George Bush," gushes Faraz Naqvi, co-manager of the
Dresdner RCM Global Health Care fund.
And who's calling the shots at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is a big deal for health care stocks.
"This sector, more than any other is affected by the political and regulatory environment. Just look at the drug pricing issue. In what other industries are people this able to go out and force prices down across the board? It's an emotional and social issue and who's in office has a big effect," says Naqvi.
There aren't many investors out there who won't be affected by the sector's performance. For instance, there's more than $50 billion invested in health care sector funds, this year's leading stock fund category with a 62.1% average return. And more than 11% of the over $500 billion invested in big-cap growth funds, is invested in health care stocks.
Health care bellwethers
Johnson & Johnson
are among the 20 most widely held stocks in Merrill Lynch accounts. In a health care vacuum, all shareholders in health care funds or these stocks should be pulling for Gov. Bush.
Beyond drug stocks, the leadership issue might be a bit more muted.
Biotech stocks, which have been leading the sector over the past two years, aren't too susceptible to government issues. These cutting edge shops that develop new drugs and medical devices are more dependent on scientific discovery and company-specific issues than political trade winds. If there is any effect it would be a boost if Gore wins, since pharmaceutical stock investors might seek solace in biotech stocks, Naqvi says.
As for HMOs and hospitals, either candidate could be a boost since both have pledged to raise Medicare spending, Arnott says. A Gore presidency might make waves for HMOs, though. His pledge to pass a patients' bill of rights would pressure HMOs to provide more effective care, which is good for patients and potentially bad for company profits.
No matter who wins, the Republicans will have a narrow edge in Congress and that's good news for the sector. Many saw the worst-case scenario as a Democratic president and Congress, where Gore's initiatives would've been easier to pass.
"The best-case scenario would be a Republican Congress and Bush, and the second-best scenario would be a Republican Congress and Gore because nothing would get done," says Naqvi.
Given drug stocks'
run-up today, it seems Wall Street agrees.
"I'm not sure it could have gone any better," says Linda Miller, manager of the
John Hancock Global Health Sciences fund.