Change is in the air after the midterm elections have swung the balance of power back to the Republican Party in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Change of this sort comes with a change in investor mentality. To prove the point, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a new all-time high above 17,400 and the S&P 500 came within about a point of an all-time high as well.
24/7 Wall St. wanted to take a look at five sectors that might be perceived as “election winners” by investors. We went as far as listing these via five exchange traded funds (ETFs) that investors would be able to look at from this angle. While not all elections are finalized, the current outcome is being dubbed a landslide victory for Republicans and a severe loss for Democrats.
Republicans previously held 45 seats in the Senate and potentially can move up to 53 seats. As of early Wednesday, three races were still pending in the senate, and one appears to be favorable for the Republicans. The GOP previously held 233 seats in the house and can potentially gain up to 248. Some 17 races are pending, but as of the wee-hours Wednesday morning, only five were expected to have favorable outcomes for Republicans.
Before getting overly committed to buying into this notion that sectors will win on political changes alone, keep in mind that many of the sectors have performed well regardless. That might not be true for coal, but utilities and defense were at all-time highs this year, and master limited partnerships (MLPs) and financials haven’t exactly suffered over the past five years.
Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEMKT: XLF) is the key ETF that tracks the financial services sector. If one group of stocks has been hit by regulation since the recession, it is the banking sector. There are a couple of caveats here. First is that many Republicans still tout no new support for financial firms that get into trouble. Another issue is that the ETF will be hitting new 52-week highs on Wednesday above $24 — make that a high back to 2008. Fitch recently outlined a rising-rate scenario that would be good for the banks.
Market Vectors Coal ETF (NYSEMKT: KOL) is the ETF that tracks public coal companies. The current administration has targeted the coal industry as one it would like to see dead and buried. Whether the new Congress balance shift changes that remains up for grabs. Trading at $16.57, this ETF has a 52-week range of $15.22 to $20.50. Also, this ETF was at $50 as recently as 2011. The caveat investors should keep in mind now is that this is a global coal player ETF, and many of the U.S. coal giants that used to dominate the ETF are now very small components. For instance, only three of the top 10 holdings are U.S.-based companies. To prove the risk here, this coal ETF opened up but was down four cents shortly after the open. Arch and CONSOL earnings showed the problem trends remaining.
Alerian MLP ETF (NYSEMKT: AMLP) is the go-to trading instrument for MLPs that track the oil and gas pipeline, terminaling and infrastructure market. With shares at $18.38, the 52-week range is $16.63 to $19.35. Interestingly enough, the MLP sector has managed to grow and grow, despite the notion that the executives behind this entire industry are almost certainly happy about the election results. What this election will have accomplished is that the occasional discussion around the taxation of MLPs, due to high payouts containing a return of capital component that is tax advantaged, will potentially now not come up for years. Also, think about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Credit Suisse recently named its top MLP picks as well.
iShares U.S. Aerospace & Defense (NYSEMKT: ITA) is the ETF dominated by aerospace, warfare and defense stocks. It is widely assumed that defense contractors would favor a Republican dominance because it is the Republicans that generally speak about a stronger military. Whether that has held true through time is something we will leave up to you. The caveat: the aerospace and defense ETF hit its all-time highs in 2014. Now at $111.29, this ETF’s 52-week range is $97.39 to $114.42. We already showed what civil war in Iraq means for defense firms.
Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEMKT: XLU) has thrived in the current environment as the utility stocks have enjoyed low interest rates and have become a replacement for CDs for income-oriented investors. Climate change regulation from the current administration has driven operating costs up for utilities, and the switch away from coal has driven costs higher for the sector as a whole. At $45.50, the ETF has a 52-week range of $37.11 to $46.02, and the yield is just over 3.5%. The caveat here is simple: effectively already at an all-time high, utilities are expensive versus historic pricing, and a rising interest rate environment might eat into the gains from a slightly less stringent regulatory climate.
Again, there is often a discrepancy between perception and reality when it comes to money and politics. A change of power is no assurance that winning sectors will keep winning, nor is there an assurance that down and out sectors will not remain down and out.