Timing the Trade in “Obama Stocks”

The insatiable hunger for stories motivates financial media.  At the first hint of a new development the process begins — hard news, analysis, critics, and long-term effects.  The cycle is so fast that we sometimes get the criticism before most have digested the original news.

This is the nature of a highly competitive news environment where everyone wants to get a scoop.  It is completely understandable both for mainstream media and for bloggers who all want to weigh in on the story of the day.

Is this a useful time frame for market participants?

For traders, the answer might be "yes."  There will be opinions and reactions.  Anyone who can "game" the market reaction may make a point or two in trading profits.

For investors, we believe the answer is "no."  The initial, knee-jerk reaction may have nothing to do with the actual investment potential.  Let us consider a current example.

The Obama Health Care Trade

Understanding public policy can provide a real advantage in predicting policy outcomes.  Since that is the starting point, let us review what we expected about Obama and health policy.

  1. We understood the difference between campaign issues and actual policy.  There are many steps and many compromises.
  2. We noted the early reluctance of Congressional Democrats to get on board with Obama health initiatives.
  3. We have been skeptical about the ability to put together the coalition necessary for a "big" health policy bill.
  4. There is growing attention to future budget deficits.

These conclusions would not be surprising for anyone who has studied Congress and health policy.  In our case, we have done it  since the days of Wilbur Mills, but analysts with less experience might easily reach the same conclusion.

Contrasting the Media Time Frame

Media needs relate to the story of the day.  If President Obama is giving a speech on health policy in Green Bay, Wisconsin (a wonderful town!) then that is the media story of the day.  The Fast Money gang brings on their go-to guy, Dan Clifton, and asks what stocks will be affected by the Obama plan.  Clifton, whom we respect and cite frequently on our sister site Election Stocks, gave exactly the answer we would have givenas the question was posed.    He was invited to comment, and he answered the questions from the gang.

The problem is the context.  We would have emphasized that many of these changes were unlikely.  In particular, the health insurance companies will do well if the final plan generates more customers, a result we see as likely.  Briefly put, anyone following the media take would have been an instant loser.  The insurance stocks rallied ten percent as news of opposition emerged.  Anyone looking at the actual politics can see the potential for these companies.  (We are analyzing and shopping for our clients.  There is plenty of potential.)


The health policy issues are one of many initiatives where investors can score some big gains.  It is a complex political situation, and it will change during the summer.  There is no official Obama plan.  It is not easy to follow, and that is the source of the opportunity.

Cost control seems to be a part of any proposal, and that weighs on existing pharma, new products.  and aspiring pharma (biotech).

This is a minefield for the media and for casual observers.  It is an opportunity for anyone following the nuances of the politics, picking the right time to get involved.

Obviously, this story has many more twists and turns.  Finding the right time to play is crucial.  The major media time frame is quite wrong, and provides an opportunity for long-term investors.

There are numerous other policy issues, all of which we are tracking closely.

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  • Patrick June 23, 2009  

    History shows that health care policy is ruled by the insurance lobby. Betting on that lobby makes sense, it is like taking the Yankees over the Red Sox in the 20th Century. Funny though, it has been the Red Sox this century.
    The policy line seems to be a national public option. Everything else in the House bill is probably going to pass. Everyone is lining up over the public option. The tool for the opposition is that it all costs too much. But the Dems that are with them are only fighting the public option on behalf of the insurance companies.
    The problem I see for the opposition is that the public option lowers costs. By making costs an issue, it argues for a public option.
    The polls released last weekend were completely unexpected by Obama’s opponents. 75-80% support for a public health care option is really staggering. Every Senator that was opposing this as a “centrist” is now to the right of 75% of the American public. No wonder Conrad made noises of crossing sides on Monday.

  • Erick May 8, 2011  

    Great timing. Thank you for sharing this post.