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Fool's guide to gaming the US election

Mark LaMonica, CFA  |  02 Nov 2020Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  
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There has been breathless discussion about the impact of the US presidential election on equity prices. Interchangeable headlines proclaim that one candidate will propel stock prices to dizzying heights while the consequences of a different outcome will lead to massive losses.

This partisan interpretation of the election’s influence on equity markets is unsurprising given the $14 billion of estimated spending during this election cycle (according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics).

A disproportionate amount of the spending has gone to vilifying the opposing candidate. It is no surprise that whichever candidate you support the prospect of the alternative leaves you horrified at the consequences.

Sensationalism aside, it is worth exploring the potential impacts of the election results. We explored this very topic in the latest episode of our podcast, Investing Compass.

Our guidance to keep focusing on long-term goals and executing on your savings and investing plan often goes over like a mask mandate at a Trump rally. As humans we have a bias for action. It is hard for us to do nothing when faced with a momentous event like this election. To those that must do something, we offer the following Sisyphean pathway to profit from this election in five easy steps.

Step 1: Pick the result

You simply need to know what the result of the election will be. Once you’ve figured out who will win the presidency and control the Senate and the House of Representatives you can move to step two.

Step 2: Anticipate the impact

You need to know the impact of the results of the election on the market. Table stakes is knowing what the overall market will do and extra points for understanding how it will affect specific sectors and individual shares.  

Step 3: Swim against the tide

Your answers to the first two questions need to differ from market consensus. The stock market is made up of millions of participants. Some are long-term investors—which we are proponents of at Morningstar—but many are, as Ben Graham dubbed them, speculators trying to profit in the short-term. The consensus on what the future holds and what the market will do is baked into current market prices—or “priced in” if we want to use industry jargon. As new poll numbers and tweets come out of the White House all these market participants reshuffle their expectations. The result? Volatility. For you to profit from your short-term election-based trading strategy you must have a different viewpoint from consensus. That way when the millions of market participants—everyone from highly sophisticated hedge funds to millennial day traders operating out of their childhood bedrooms—figure out that you are right, you will profit.

Step 4: Rejig your portfolio

You need to position your portfolio to profit. Once you’ve decided who is going to win, what the impact will be and discovered that you have a unique viewpoint you still need to profit from it. Let’s say you have concluded that if Joe Biden wins the election it will cause the price of a disinfectant-and-syringe conglomerate to plummet. In order to profit from this scenario, you will need to be able to short this stock, so you benefit from this fall.

Step 5: Time the reversal

Whatever you have done to take advantage of the short-term impacts of the election will have to be reversed—and the timing of this reversal will be key. This is because you have a long-term investing plan to achieve your goals and you need to get the asset allocation of your portfolio back to plan. Repositioning your portfolio will of course have tax consequences and trigger transaction costs but those will pale in comparison to the vast profits you’ve made off your short-term election-based trading strategy.

There you have it. A simple five-step process to profiting from the election. Follow this and you will have timed the market and defied the naysayers. Naysayers in this case including our own research, countless academic studies, a century plus of market history and, of course, common sense.

If all this talk of voting has got you in the mood, visit Investing Compass on your Apple device and make the only sensible choice—five stars.  

Morningstar's Global Best Ideas list is out now. Morningstar Premium subscribers can view the list here.

See also Morningstar Guide to International Investing.

is a product manager, individual investor, Australia.

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