The June 23 referendum on the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the so-called Brexit, is fast approaching. The leave campaign has surprisingly pulled ahead by three points, according to a Financial Times poll of polls, and more recent snapshots show the leave campaign pulling away by even more. The implications of the vote could be enormous, given the extremely fragile state of the EU already, and the effects could reverberate to destabilizing the entire eurozone as well.
As with all political unions, be they a city, state, country or union of countries as is the EU, there are net contributors and net beneficiaries in this zero sum game. The fact that the United Kingdom is even contemplating secession hints to it being a net contributor, though arguments of course abound on both sides. If the United Kingdom votes to leave, other net contributors will want to leave as well.
In short, we are dealing with a great unknown, in a very unstable time, flooded with unprecedented and extremely loose monetary conditions. There are few easy bets when it comes to investment in this type of environment, but here are two stocks that likely will benefit from the chaos that surely will ensue if the United Kingdom votes to leave on June 23.
Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE: FCX) was one of the worst performers of 2015. So far year to date, shares of the miner/oil and gas company are up 62%. It was one of 24/7 Wall St.’s train wreck picks for 2016 and is likely to respond well to Brexit. The initial reaction to such a vote would be money pouring out of financial stocks and into the basic materials sector as currency markets get rattled. Freeport-McMoRan specifically has been shedding assets left and right in an attempt to stay solvent. The company is still on thin ice but could get an additional boost on its next earnings in July, which should show decreased losses and lower debt. Combined with Brexit, the stock could jump much higher by next month, even considering the 62% rise since the start of 2016.
The largest U.K. bank by assets, HSBC Holdings PLC (NYSE: HSBC) is a contrarian and counterintuitive Brexit pick, especially because U.K. financials are going to get hit hard if Brexit passes. However, HSBC has been such a poor performer for the past three years that it is already nearing its post-2008 financial crisis lows. A Brexit could easily bring it below those lows in a knee-jerk reaction, but then the Bank of England probably will rush to pump it with more liquidity in an attempt to calm markets.
HSBC holds $2.6 trillion in assets, which makes it the most likely to receive central bank injections. This could slingshot the shares back up. If Brexit passes, short-term traders can scale into the stock on major down days in the days following the vote, assuming Brexit passes, until the Bank of England acts, and then scale out. Long-term investors can simply scale in after the vote and hold for what will become a double-digit dividend yield once 2009 lows are breached, though holding it long term is riskier given the unknowns.
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