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Political passion and profitable investing don't mix
03/23/2010 10:30 am EST
What counts in investing isn’t the world as you’d like it to be but the world as it is.
Yesterday, on the day after the evening when Democrats in the House succeeded in passing the Senate’s version of a health insurance reform bill, my e-mail box overflowed with predictions of a crash in the stock market, or of a rout in healthcare and drug stocks, and indeed of the end of just about everything.
Drug stocks crashed so hard they rallied. Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) climbed 1.8%. Pfizer (PFE) was up 1.4%.
Among the insurers WellPoint (WLP) was indeed down by 1.1% but Aetna (AET) was up 0.5%.
I guess the market will have to wait another day for the Nancy Pelosi apocalypse that some of my e-mail predicted.
Every investor has a political opinion, often passionately held. We all believe our community, the country, the world would be better if it went down Path A and eschewed Path B.
We get into trouble as investors when we allow that belief in Path A and that dislike for Path B to prevent us from seeing the stock market as it is.
And lose sight of the fact that it is largely indifferent to our political passions.
You may think that the health insurance reform bill will be the end of the Republic, but the stock market looks at the bill and sees more government money for people to use in buying drugs. You may think that more government funding for this purpose is a bad thing but the market sees only that it means more revenue for drug makers. (And especially more revenue for the makers of cheaper generic drugs. Jubak’s Pick Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TEVA) was up 2.2% today.)
Coming from another political perspective you may think that the bill is a cop out that doesn’t do enough to lower health care costs and that leaves too much of the healthcare system in the hands of private insurers. But the stock market sees more revenue for hospitals and hospital-based home healthcare services. Hospital operator oHHHealthSouth (HLS) was up 3.7%.
As an investor you face the danger of letting your political hopes and dreams, your joy and your anger color your understandig about how this piece of legislation or that will change the fortunes of these companies or that sector. It’s an especially great danger in this day and age when we all, left and right, tend to listen more and more to only those media voices that we agree with most.
Politics does influence the stock market because government is the great organizer of where the money and the profits go in systems as different as command economies and U.S.-style capitalist economies.
But politics, it turns out, isn’t a very accurate lens to use in trying to see the actual flows of that money.
Something to keep in mind as we continue our efforts to figure out who gets the money from this health insurance reform bill—and as we try to predict how the money will flow as a result of bills on banking reform, the FCC’s efforts to jump start the creation of a higher-speed Internet, a national energy bill (if not actual legislation on climate change), another and then another jobs bill, and on and on and on.
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