By April Joyner, Lewis Krauskopf and Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders may be surging in the polls ahead of Super Tuesday, but some on Wall Street have made their own conclusions on what November will bring: four more years of President Donald Trump.
Ninety-five percent of participants in a Deutsche Bank survey of investors, economists and other market participants released earlier this month said Trump, a Republican, was either “extremely likely” or “slightly likely” to win the general election.
Those results contrast with some wider recent polls cited on RealClearPolitics, which show any Democrat beating Trump in a presidential contest, although top contenders have a bigger lead. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted Feb. 19-25, showed Sanders with a seven percentage-point lead over Trump in a hypothetical general election matchup.
The sharp mismatch in expectations could stoke market volatility if Wall Streeters are wrong and a Democrat emerges victorious – especially if that winner is Sanders, whose promises to break up big banks, take on drug companies and essentially abolish private insurance in favor of a single government-run plan have unnerved some investors. Many on Wall Street were unprepared for Trump’s win in 2016, which was followed by sharp swings in asset prices.
“As an investor, I look at this and say the market’s nightmare scenario is that Bernie or Elizabeth Warren wins the election,” said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors, in New York. “That’s not our base case … but it’s a concern,” he said.
Warren’s policy proposals, like Sanders’, have also jangled nerves on Wall Street.
Investors will be looking ahead to next Tuesday, when 14 states will cast ballots and Sanders could build an overwhelming advantage if he captures the lion’s share of the available delegates.
Those primaries come as the markets are gripped by concerns over the economic fallout from the spreading coronavirus outbreak, with the number of cases beyond China accelerating rapidly. U.S. stocks were extending the week’s losses on Friday and were on track for a 7th day in the red after the S&P 500 <.SPX> on Thursday confirmed its fastest correction in history.
Orlando said Sanders’ rise in the polls also contributed to the recent sell-off. Some investors noted that continued volatility in markets or an economic downturn could wear away at Trump’s support.
While the market gyrations are likely to drown out some of the potential impact from next week’s voting results, some corners are already feeling the effects of Sanders’ recent success.
After Sanders’ commanding victory in the Nevada caucuses in February, shares of insurers such as UnitedHealth Group Inc <UNH.N> and Centene Corp <CNC.N> sold off on what some analysts said were concerns over the potential of a Sanders nomination.
“If Bernie runs the table and suddenly he becomes unstoppable, I think we’re going to see the jitters again,” said Teresa McRoberts, a portfolio manager focused on healthcare at Fred Alger Management in New York.
(Graphic: Sanders nomination odds vs health insurer shares- https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/USA-STOCKS/0H001R8DKC2J/eikon.png)
The effects on the broader market of a big Sanders win on Tuesday are less clear. Only 13% of participants in Deutsche Bank’s poll believed Sanders could beat Trump in the general election, compared with 22% for former Vice President Joe Biden and 45% for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Gary Bradshaw, portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas, Texas, has kept most of his attention on the coronavirus outbreak in recent days and is not eager to make any election-related portfolio moves yet.
“I think most of my clients pretty much are like me, thinking Trump is going win,” he said.
Still, some investors believe the election can fuel market swings this year.
Volume on the October futures contract <VXc8> for the Cboe Volatility Index <.VIX> hit 16,247 between Jan. 2 and Feb. 21, according to Cboe Global Markets <CBOE.Z>. That dwarfs the 471 contracts that traded in 2016 from Jan. 4 to Feb. 19. VIX futures reflect expectations for volatility in the month following their expiration.
On Thursday, October VIX futures traded at 22.5, versus 19.57 for September futures <VXc7> and 20.22 for November futures <VXc9>, indicating heightened expectations for volatility near election day.
Cboe Global Markets listed October VIX futures a month earlier than usual in response to customers eager to place bets on election-induced volatility, said Kevin Davitt, senior instructor at the exchange’s options institute. The exchange also listed September and November futures ahead of their usual schedule.
Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, said the election will become a greater concern for investors once the Democratic party selects its nominee.
“There are a number of places where the policy divides are incredibly wide,” he said.
(Graphic: Positioning for U.S. election volatility – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/13/2616/2581/Pasted%20Image.jpg)
(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch, April Joyner and Lewis Krauskopf; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Ira Iosebashvili, Christopher Cushing and Dan Grebler)