Investors shouldn’t underestimate election volatility, warns UBS

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UBS says investors are still too confident that a Trump re-election is a given.

The majority of investors at UBS’s Investor Forum events have a “high level of confidence” in a Trump re-election, per a UBS report Thursday. But according to UBS Global Wealth Management’s chief investment officer Mark Haefele, recent national polls “portend a close general election contest between any Democratic nominee and President Trump.”

In fact, heading into Wednesday’s debate, Bernie Sanders was polling higher, about 10% above the next leading candidate, according to an average of national polls compiled by Real Clear Politics. What’s more: According to a ABC/Washington Post poll this week, the battle would be tight between Trump and any democratic candidate—per the poll, Trump would earn between 45% and 47% of the vote nationwide, while the six Democrats onstage on Wednesday would have shares ranging from 49% to 52%.

That’s in stark contrast with many investors’ expectations. UBS’s Haefele contends “investors might be underestimating the risk of higher volatility in certain sectors that are sensitive to potential policy changes.”

And UBS isn’t alone. According to Wells Fargo Investment Institute’s senior global market strategist Sameer Samana, the market has been “completely discounting” the possibility of a progressive democratic candidate (and president)—almost to zero.

“The odds of a progressive candidate not only winning the nomination but also the presidency do seem to be under-appreciated,” Samana tells Fortune. “We don’t think they’re high, but we do think they’re under-appreciated and could be a source of volatility as this year progresses.”

And for those like Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, the risk of even more volatility “only rises” in the next 12 months.

“Buckets of possibilities”

Some analysts argue that the increasing likelihood of a more progressive democratic candidate (like Sanders or Elizabeth Warren) have helped buoy stocks under the assumption that President Trump could win a re-election against such an opponent. To wit, the Nasdaq Composite is up over 7% so far this year, and the Dow has managed to stay in the green year-to-date, amid polling and primaries showing a lean toward Sanders.

For Wells Fargo’s Samana, there are three so-called “buckets of possibility” markets are grappling with—a Trump re-election, a moderate democratic candidate, and a progressive democratic candidate. Right now, Samana thinks the most likely base case is a combination of either a Trump re-election or a moderate democratic candidate—but that markets are still “under-appreciating” the risk that Sanders or Warren could pull ahead.

“Markets can get surprised—look no further than President Trump’s election in 2016,” Samana cautions.

Still, UBS warns that sectors like tech, energy and the enviroment, and healthcare could be hit hard if drug pricing and coverage concerns take center stage, and potential increased regulations on Big Tech could raise compliance costs and put pressure on profitability.

An election (re)examination

Although some investors might still be expecting a Trump status quo for the markets after this year, some analysts suggest investors are taking another look at their portfolios now that the race might be trending tighter.

“Investors would be wise to consider the likelihood that the risks are higher right now for the next six to 12 months, and if they have funds that are invested that they can’t afford to lose as opposed to those they can allow to ride over the long term, particularly for retirement, then that’s worth having some deliberation and conversations about,” says Hamrick.

One area that’s clearly getting the cold shoulder? Energy, Samana says. The sector has gotten hit, trading at lower multiples of around 12 times sales on average, and is only poised for further troubles, especially if a democratic candidate takes office. Fracking, a hot debate topic on Wednesday, also adds to qualms about the sector.

And on a broader level, Trump’s potential tax cut 2.0 versus a presumed democratic president’s corporate tax increases are leaving investors scratching their heads on how to strategize. “[It] is at a stalemate of, ‘do I prepare for higher taxes or lower taxes?’” Samana says.  

But for UBS Global Wealth Management’s head of Americas fixed income Tom McLoughlin, “A lot of it is smoke and noise about a lot of other things regarding a big increase in taxation or something else,” he tells Fortune. “We’re all going to wake up after the two conventions … and say, where is the risk?”

Depending on your politics, the answer could lie with the incumbent, or the challenger.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—What will get people to save more for retirement? Letting them “opt out”
America’s heading for a tax on the middle class
—Why only one-quarter of the world will get true 5G wireless
—How Blackstone became the world’s biggest corporate landlord
—A legendary investor offers a green-energy manifesto

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