With apologies to William Shakespeare, policy debate in Washington is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
In the coming months, we will be hearing and reading a lot of dramatic reportage about the effects of federal policy changes this year on the health services sector. Forget the jabbering on cable television news, and focus instead on the health sector's robust projected earnings growth over the next five years.
To be sure, the SPDR S&P Health Care Services Exchange-Traded Fund fell 7.3% last year, compared with a gain of 9.5% for the S&P 500. However, the health sector appears on track for a considerably better performance this year, as an anti-regulatory Trump administration gets ready to remove obstacles to mergers and acquisitions among mega-cap health providers.
For at least the past decade, the push for medical cost containment has been fueling consolidation in the health sector. Under the pro-corporate Trump regime, health care giants will have more freedom to join forces and foster economies of scale.
Meanwhile, the health services industry no longer needs to fear that a liberal Hillary Clinton administration will impose pressure on prices. Under Republican rule, health care executives will enjoy enormous latitude to pursue the strategies that best serve the interests of shareholders.
The fact is, even under the Democrats, political rhetoric about price gouging is mostly just that, rhetoric designed to appeal to the electoral base. As soon as any given election is over, the populist tone usually softens.
With her own close ties to Wall Street and corporate America, it was highly unlikely that Clinton would have punished money-making drug and health companies.
Populations around the world are getting older and sicker, an unstoppable demographic tailwind that will reward health stock investors far into the foreseeable future, no matter who occupies the White House or controls Congress.
However, under the fiercely free market Trump administration, health care faces an even bigger long-term bonanza. It remains to be seen exactly what happens to the Affordable Care Act under the 115th Congress that opened on Tuesday, but the following three health stalwarts will profit, regardless.
1. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ - Get Report)
With a market capitalization of $314 billion, the company continues to achieve milestones on potential blockbuster treatments, with plans to file about 10 new drugs by 2019, each with potential annual revenue of $1 billion.
With a strong dividend yield of 2.78% and a stable of familiar household brands, this health care colossus will continue to provide steady income, coupled with market-beating share appreciation.
J&J's consumer segment makes the products that are familiar to anyone who visits the local retail pharmacy, including non-medicinal items such as Listerine mouthwash, Neutrogena skin care lotion and over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol.
The company is benefiting from economic recovery and also enjoys substantial pricing power, allowing it to charge more for its products without undermining demand. J&J's trailing-12-month price-earnings ratio is a reasonable 20.3, compared with 20.2 for its peers.
The average analyst expectation for earnings growth for J&J over the next five years is 6.6% on an annualized basis.
2. Medtronic (MDT - Get Report)
This company develops, manufactures and markets medical devices for use in clinical and home settings. Medtronic offers hernia mechanical devices, a host of vascular products, laparoscopic instruments, soft-tissue-repair products and surgical staplers.
The company also offers nursing care products for incontinence, wound care, enteral feeding, urology and suction products, as well as accessories, chart paper, electrodes, syringes and thermometry.
With a market cap of $98.3 billion, Medtronic is the world's largest stand-alone medical device maker, after buying No. 2 device maker Covidien in 2015. No other device maker can match Medtronic's international footprint, market clout, and research and development expenditures.
With a trailing-12-month P/E of 23.8, Medtronic is less expensive than its peers at 24.5. However, Medtronics boasts a solid earnings growth trajectory.
The average analyst expectation for earnings growth for Medtronic over the next five years is 5.6% on an annualized basis.
3. UnitedHealth (UNH - Get Report)
With a market cap of $153.3 billion, UnitedHealth is the largest health insurer in the country. UnitedHealth provides health benefit plans for individuals and private and public employers of all sizes and types.
Among the company's health insurance and delivery products are benefit plan design, claims processing services and pharmacy benefit management plans.
UnitedHealth's greatest growth potential lies in the field of Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health care for the poor. Whether the ACA gets terminated altogether or only partly dismantled, Medicaid will only grow.
With a strong balance sheet and an edge in the booming Medicaid business, UniteHealth should withstand the market volatility that is likely this year.
Now sporting a trailing trailing-12-month P/E of 23.8, UnitedHealth stock is about in line with the trailing-12-month P/E of 22.4 for its industry peers.
The average analyst expectation for earnings growth for UnitedHealth over the next five years is 15.7% on an annualized basis.
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