Drug and Biotech Stocks Rise as Price Clampdown Fears Ease Under Trump Presidency (Updated)

Updated with new information from 6:30 am ET.

Half the country woke up Wednesday depressed about President-elect Donald Trump. That group doesn't include investors in biotech and drugs stocks. They are partying like a giant drug-pricing cloud has been lifted from their shoulders.

The iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology exchange-traded fund  (IBB)  which tracks biotech stocks like Gilead Sciences  (GILD)  , Celgene  (CELG)  and Biogen  (BIIB)  , ripped 9% higher at the market open.

The SPDR S&P Biotech ETF  (XBI)  , also opened up 9%. Pharma stocks also rallied hard -- Pfizer (PFE) +10%, Merck (MRK) +5% and Abbvie (ABBV) +7%.

A Trump presidency and a Republican Congress has investors far less worried about a clampdown on prescription drug prices. Long term, the drug pricing issue remains a meaningful overhang for the industry in light of recent crackdowns taken by insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers. On Wednesday, however, those long-term concerns were on the back burner. 

A closely followed California ballot initiative, Prop 61, aimed at cutting prescription drug prices also was defeated, further allayed healthcare investors' worst fears.

More than 80% of healthcare investors believe major drug-pricing reform is off the table, according to a survey conducted Wednesday morning by Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat. Eighty percent of respondents to Raffat's survey also believe the impact of the election on the biopharma sector overall is favorable.

A Hillary Clinton victory and a Democratic takeover of Congress would have been the worst-case scenario for biotech and drug stocks given her relentless criticism of rising drug costs and promises to curb them.

Trump has not been as vocal or openly hostile to drug companies, but he hasn't embraced or even defended their pricing practices, either. At times during the campaign, Trump has endorsed the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from other countries and expressed support for allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

Trump's positions are anathema to traditional Republican policies, adding to the uncertainty.

Anger over ever-increasing drug prices polls as a bipartisan concern, so there could still be legislative efforts to make changes under a Republican president and Congress. The early bet Wednesday, however, is that Trump will not make drug pricing a priority in his early weeks and months in the White House, which is good for drug and biotech stocks.

"Trump is unlikely to focus much on drug pricing and unlikely to really reform any Medicare particularly with GOP Congress against this," wrote RBC biotech analyst Michael Yee in a Wednesday research note.

He added: "More fundamentally to biotech -- the key is the rest of the election results i.e. Congress staying Republican (so less interest in drug pricing bills or reforming Medicare) and Prop 61 is not looking to pass these are actually nearly a 'best case' scenario for biotech."

The outlook beyond the early days of a Trump presidency is harder to predict, especially if Republicans make good on their repeated promise to get rid of Obamacare, the signature health care policy initiative of the President Barack Obama.

Here, Trump and Republicans in Congress are united.

A Republican makeover of health care insurance policy could lead to fewer insured Americans and lower prescription drug utilization.

Coming into Tuesday's election, the biggest concern for large-cap biotech and drug companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) , Pfizer (PFE) and Amgen (AMGN) was a clampdown on drug pricing. Now, the worry could shift to reduced prescription drug volumes and lower sales due to the likely "repeal and replace" of Obamacare.

"Trump's ability to actually follow through with his intention to repeal the ACA [Obamacare] might be limited," said Jefferies pharmaceuticals analyst Jeffrey Holford in a research note. "Without a 'super-majority' in the Senate, he may have to rely on bipartisan support from the Democrats, which could be unlikely. Whilst a Trump presidency may carry more 'unknowns' and be negative for markets in general, our perception is that he poses a limited threat to the Pharma industry."

Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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