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House, Senate Races Loom Large for Next President’s Success

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During this unprecedented election season, financial advisors would do well to follow not only the presidential contest but also the broader race for control of the Senate and House of Representatives.

“The election is all about control of Washington, D.C.,” said Vince Reinhart, chief economist at Standish Mellon Asset Management and former Fed official and economist, speaking at a BNY Mellon-sponsored luncheon.

The latest polls give Hillary Clinton an 85% to 90% chance of winning the presidential election, but even if Clinton is victorious, her accomplishments as president will depend on what happens in the congressional elections.

“More important than who is in the White House is who controls the Senate,” said Michael Holton, senior research analyst at The Boston Company Asset Management.

A Democratic sweep of the White House and both houses of Congress, for example, could mean reform, rather than repeal, of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a stimulus program to boost the economy—Clinton has proposed a $275 billion infrastructure program.

“A single party government can work pretty quickly,” said Reinhart, recalling the roughly $800 billion economic stimulus package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by a Democratic president less than two months after taking office.

In this election cycle a Democratic sweep could mean another round of stimulus, though not as great as the one in 2009 following financial crisis.

“The market is waiting for financial stimulus to pick up as monetary policy has hit its limits,” said Raman Srivastava, deputy chief investment officer at Standish.

Odds are there will be no Democratic sweep of the White House and both houses of Congress, but it is possible.

Polling website and The New York Times Upshot give the Democrats a 53% chance of winning the Senate to 47% of Republicans maintaining control. Democratic control of the House is even less likely.

The Iowa Electronic Markets, a small-scale futures market that allows investors to bet on political contests, gives 38% odds of a Democratic Senate and Republican House as of Friday, Oct. 14. It also gives slightly greater odds of a Democratic sweep of both houses of Congress than a Republican sweep of Congress: 24% to 23%.

Financial markets appear to be pricing in a Clinton victory, according to the BNY Mellon investment professionals at Thursday’s lunch.

“Markets like certainty,” said Michael Holton, senior research analyst at The Boston Company Asset Management. “There’s more certainty today reflecting the election [and] markets are generally moving higher.”

In late afternoon trading Friday, U.S. stock markets were up slightly, supported by strong earnings reports from JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup and as well as gains in retail sales and wholesale prices.

The BNY Mellon investment pros suggested a Clinton presidency would be more favorable for the economy than a Trump win but the impact on market sectors could be mixed.

Clinton’s proposals would increase tax revenues by about $1 trillion over 10 years, while Trump’s plan would reduce revenues by about $6 trillion, according to Sinead Colton, head of investment strategy at Mellon Capital, citing a report from the  Tax Policy Center, which also noted the lack of details.

Clinton’s plans would also increase GDP while Trump’s proposals “run the risk of driving up unemployment a couple of percentage points and slowing GDP,” said Holton.

But Clinton’s plans to limit drug prices for chronically ill patients and penalize drug companies for steep price increases would negatively impact health care stocks, said Colton.

As for the Fed, “Yellen will have a tough year no matter what happens next year,” said Reinhart, referring to the results of national elections. But he added Yellen will have a tougher time if Republications remain in charge of the House and Senate.

Several BNY presenters agreed municipal bonds will be one sector to benefit from the election, especially if Clinton wins.

Her plans to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, revive Build America Bond program and increase spending on infrastructure would increase demand for these bonds, whose interest payments are tax-free, while they would also increase and diversify supply.

Even nontraditional investors, such as foreigners who can’t benefit from the tax-exempt status of most munis, are attracted to the muni market because of relatively high nominal yields compared to those of overseas, said Thomas Casey, senior portfolio manager, Tax-Sensitive Strategies at Standish Mellon Asset Management.

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