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WALL STREET INSIGHT

Making sense of the 'Trump rally'

Monday, November 14, 2016 - 05:50

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Stock-Market bulls applauded the election of Donald Trump, driving the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a new record high amid bets that Mr Trump's pro-business goals rather than the more sinister aspects of his campaign would come to define his administration.

STOCK-MARKET bulls applauded the election of Donald Trump, driving the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a new record high amid bets that Mr Trump's pro-business goals rather than the more sinister aspects of his campaign would come to define his administration.

But Wall Street strategists warn that longer term, Mr Trump's trade and domestic policies may not be so stock market-friendly. In the weeks ahead, volatility looks set to continue.

Shares of drug makers, biotech companies, energy companies, miners and banks all soared for a simple reason: President-elect Trump will almost certainly cut regulatory fetters and tax bills for all of these companies. Shares of Silicon Valley giants Facebook, Amazon.com, Netflix, Google (or Alphabet, as it's now known) - the quartet known as FANG - declined, however. These companies had thrived in the 21st century economic order, where America is only one of many important markets.

Mr Trump has promised his followers to turn back the economic clock to the 1950s when the US reigned in the global economy, even if that means sacrificing free trade for domestic prosperity. Investors are piling into shares of copper miners and construction-machinery builders in the belief that he can make the rust belt great again - at least for a couple of years.

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Investors are also betting that Mr Trump, who, among his many boasts, advertises himself as the ultimate negotiator, will compromise on his most extreme positions.

"There are still lots of checks and balances in there that would hopefully negate a lot of the bombastic things he said," said Ryan Detrick, senior investment strategist at brokerage LPL Financial.

Few educated people would debate the dangerous nature of Mr Trump's promises or the danger they pose to the US economy - not to mention the society itself. The idea that optimists are harbouring, however, is that Mr Trump, the president, will be completely different from Mr Trump, the candidate. The fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote could inspire some humility in Mr Trump, some of these optimists say.

"Most of Trump's more troubling policies (on immigration, protectionism) are likely to be toned down, and some of his policies can be seen as positive for equities (more fiscal spending and a cut in the corporate tax rate)," said analysts at brokerage Credit Suisse.

Certainly, Mr Trump's acceptance speech sounded like it came from a different person than the bilious demagogue heard on the campaign trail.

In victory, Mr Trump focused on his pledges to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Market strategists, such as Mr Detrick, predict this will be the first order of business for a Trump administration. That's one of the reasons copper prices and shares of heavy industry companies soared. Companies throughout the US could also benefit from a cut in the corporate tax rate, which will bring the nation from among the highest tax domiciles in the world to among the lowest, according to analysts at brokerage Goldman Sachs.

The other reason for the rally was what Tom Elliott, international investment strategist at deVere Group, called "lightening the load of regulations on certain sectors".

Regulation-trimming is very popular with Republicans and independents, and is set to be near the top of Mr Trump's agenda, too.

A rally in financial stocks took banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America to levels not seen since the financial crisis. Already, on the website set up by Mr Trump's transition team, greatagain.gov, the president-elect has promised to "dismantle" Dodd-Frank, the 2010 regulations designed to rein in Wall Street and prevent the kind of financial-system failures that brought on the Great Recession. Mr Trump's transition team later walked the pledge back, telling The Wall Street Journal only certain provisions of the law would be amended. What's clear, however, is that Mr Trump wants a Wall Street- friendly Treasury secretary.

Any lightening of bank regulation could pay massive dividends (literally) for investors - and the employees on banks' trading desks - in the short term, but could very well sow the seeds for the next financial crisis. After all, it was the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act - the 1930s predecessor to Dodd-Frank, itself less than a decade old - that some people cite for the 2008 financial crisis.

Healthcare stocks surged last week as traders expressed relief that Mrs Clinton won't get a chance to impose controls on the price hikes that she railed against on the campaign trail. Profits and share prices of biotech companies had risen steadily alongside prices of their products for a decade until Mrs Clinton and others drew attention to the subject. Now, brokerages such as Morgan Stanley say investors will pay premiums for promising biotech companies - and make healthcare rally again.

It's Mr Trump's more controversial policies that could trip up the stock market eventually.

"The economic impact of the election depends on whether Congress or the President dictates policy," said analysts at brokerage Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in a research note. "The most bullish growth scenario combines a Trump policy (fiscal expansion) with a House Republican policy (free trade)."

There are some signs that Mr Trump will govern in a more even-handed style than his bellicose campaign mode. So far, there is scant evidence that Mr Trump will "tone down" his approach to trade and immigration, however.

Can Mr Trump revive Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan's America, like dusting off an old reality-show concept? Maybe he can - for a year or two - but neither the US economy nor the stock market can grow for long without population growth or expansion of trade.

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