(Bloomberg) — There’s plenty of uncertainty about health policy in Washington, but on Wall Street, investors have a clear hunger for health stocks.
After Republican Donald Trump’s presidential-election victory, the health care sector trailed the pack as the wider market rallied. Heated campaign rhetoric from Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton made investors wary that Washington would tamp down drug prices and take other steps to radically remake the health care marketplace.
Now, such fears are fading, and health stocks are making up for lost time. The Russell 2000 Healthcare Index has gained about 4.2% and the S&P Healthcare Index has gained 2.3% since Tuesday. The jump means the sector has erased the performance gap with the broader market, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Reports in recent days have suggested that an anticipated executive order from Trump on drug prices will be industry-friendly. And the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate’s version of legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, made public this week, doesn’t go as far as some feared in making changes to current law, analysts said. That’s given some investors the green light.
“I have enough clarity now to invest,” said Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager at Gabelli & Co., managing about $600 million in health care assets. “What’s become clear is that we’re going to be sticking with something close to the status quo. The amount of change that the Senate or House bill was proposing is nothing compared to what we went through six or seven years ago when ACA was passed.”
Gabelli took advantage of a health selloff earlier this year, when Trump threatened to have the government negotiate drug costs, to buy shares of Shire P.L.C., Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc., Jonas said. The firm’s Healthcare & Wellness fund, with $294 million in assets, had a total return of 6.2% in the first quarter, compared with 8.4% for the S&P 500 health index, according to the fund’s most recent quarterly report.
Part of the jump is being driven by traders trying to stay ahead of a high-flying stock market — the S&P 500 index is up roughly 9% so far this year — by finding undervalued companies and sectors that may still have room to run, a strategy known as sector rotation.
The recent health rally “smells more like a risk-on trade as the sector has been technically beaten down,” said Benjamin Dunn, president of Alpha Theory L.L.C., which works with hedge funds overseeing about $6 billion. “It’s an obvious place to put some capital to work versus places like tech that have recently run.” Dunn said that so much money had been poured into tech stocks during the market’s runup that biotechnology and health care are natural areas to chase.