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Show Us the Money

By Jim Pearce on March 10, 2017

In a nationally televised address to Congress on Feb. 28, President Trump made it clear that he does not intend to back off the grandiose ambitions he campaigned on. They include building a border wall with Mexico, drastically reducing corporate taxes and rebuilding America’s roads, bridges and hospitals. Toss in a massive increase in defense spending, and the total cost of the president’s plans could easily run into the hundreds of billions of dollars this year alone.  What’s less clear is how much of his agenda Trump can accomplish, and how stock and bond markets will react.

Asset values are strongly affected anytime that much money goes into motion all at once. Plus, a federal deficit ballooning from tax cuts and ramped-up spending will require the government to issue more Treasury notes. That should drive up interest rates while pushing down bond prices.

Presumably, a big chunk of this money will end up in the coffers of the construction companies, service providers and government contractors hired to get the work done. That’s why since the election investors have been buying up these “Trump stocks,” or companies that stand to benefit the most from his spending agenda.

The stock market spiked the day after Trump’s triumphant speech, with the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average both closing at record highs on March 1. By embracing stocks from all sectors, investors at first seemed to paint the potential beneficiaries of Trump’s spending plan with a broad brush. Then, in the days that followed, share prices gradually drifted lower as investors digested the economic reality of converting political rhetoric into achievable goals.

Clearly, not every stock that investors have pegged as a Trump stock will turn out to be one. So in the upcoming edition of Personal Finance, we’re taking a closer look at the Trump stock phenomenon, weeding out the wannabes to settle on two that we believe will profit no matter how many items on his wish list Trump is able to check off.

A major challenge in figuring out which stocks to own is first determining exactly what Trump really intends to do. To compound matters further Trump frequently contradicts himself when pressed for details on precisely how he will execute his strategy. Some of that may be intentional to prevent his political adversaries from knowing how to defend against his true objectives, but the financial markets have little tolerance for misinformation.

That’s why we prefer to own stocks that stand to benefit regardless of how Trump implements his policy. For example, an oil and gas pipeline company should experience more throughput volume regardless of which energy producers it comes from. A contractor that adds specialized equipment to all types of military weapons and vehicles should participate proportionately to a surge in defense spending.

The key to winning the “Trump stock” sweepstakes is hedging your bets so you don’t end up on the wrong side of how these spending priorities are implemented. There is only so much money to go around, probably less than what is currently being proposed by the time Congress is done picking apart the finer points of rebuilding this country’s military, infrastructure and healthcare delivery systems.

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