What the American elections (could) mean for our retirement
Like a pebble in a pond, events on the other side of the world affect our economy. This is especially true for developments in the US, still the most powerful nation on earth. Will the next president also determine the coverage ratio of Dutch pensions?
The global economy is a cohesive whole in which changes in one country can have a major impact on another. Global stock markets often react to events in the US and to statements made by US politicians. “It is a very important country from many economic perspectives,” Rabobank’s chief economist Menno Middeldorp recently said on BNR News Radio. “America is one of the largest economies in the world. In addition, we have more of our investments and pension funds in America than in any other country.”
Eyes and ears
When something changes in the US - for example due to elections – then, as an investor, you can notice it, confirms Thijs Knaap, Senior Investment Strategist at APG Asset Management. “Even if you haven't invested one dollar in the US. Even if you buy a purely Dutch company, such as Philips or Aegon, you still have to deal with the fact that these companies are active all over the world, including - for a substantial part - in the US”. As a global investor, APG is active in the US, of course. Rajiv Mallick, Head of Risk Management, US, says that APG-US manages $108.3 billion (September 2020) for APG and its Dutch clients. From New York, he says: “Our pension funds and their participants benefit from extensive local investment expertise”. He describes the office as the “eyes and ears” of APG in the US.
Shocks and trends
The Dutch financial interests in the US are substantial. However, creating a link between the election results and the consequences for our economy - and thus our pensions - is not that easy, according to Knaap. “Between the elections and the Dutch pensioners there is quite a bit of static on the line. Although it sometimes seems as if politicians have power over the economy, their influence is actually limited. A lot depends on economic shocks and trends”. Nevertheless, presidential elections do have an effect. Knaap remembers that the (unexpected) victory of Donald Trump in 2016 led to a rise in US interest rates. Investors expected the government to borrow more and that this would lead to inflation. The first thing happened, the second did not. Because of this expectation, the US 10-year interest rate at the end of 2016 was more than half a percentage point higher than just before the elections. Because interest rates respond to each other globally, the funding ratio of Dutch pension funds also increased as a result. This enabled many funds to avoid a discount.”
Given the interests at stake, investors are closely following the U.S. elections. Mallick is too. “We are carefully monitoring potential policy changes in several sectors, including healthcare, energy, finance, education and taxation. After all, one president is not the same as the other. An example: when Trump won the previous elections, he reopened the coal mines that his predecessor Barack Obama had just closed for environmental reasons. Heavy industry benefited. Joe Biden, as a Democrat, could undo that.” What Knaap pays particular attention to is the influence of America on global growth, and on international relations. “Trump has reduced corporate regulation and lowered taxes. At least in the short term, this is good for growth and for the profits that are ultimately shared with investors. In the longer term, however, you may wonder if we don’t need the rules for preserving our environment just as much for healthy growth.”
If Trump gets to stay, it is very likely that he will continue to implement the protectionist measures based on his “America first” policy. This could have consequences for the turnover and shares of Dutch companies, whose access to the large American market would then be impeded. World trade would also suffer as a result. The stock exchanges virtually always react negatively to such impediments.
Knaap is seeing that America has played a much smaller role in many international contexts under Trump in recent years, while tensions with China have increased. This incapacitates institutions like the WTO (World Trade Organization). “For the upcoming elections it seems to be a choice between a continuation of this policy and a - partial - return to the old situation.”
More attention is being paid, however, to a “blue wave”: a victory for Biden, with a majority for the Democrats, the “blues”, in Congress. Investment Manager Simon Wiersma gives a prediction on the ING website that the Democratic support and stimulus packages could lead to a broad stock market trend of investors who want to anticipate economic recovery. “No matter who wins, the financial market will be affected by the elections either way.”
Research conducted by the U.S. Bank over the past 90 years shows that the stock market rises by an average of 6.5 percent in the year after a president is re-elected, while growth with a new president is only 5 percent. But the bank also concludes that equities do much better under a Democratic president than a Republican in the longer run.
Finally, we ask strategist Thijs Knaap to outline 2 scenarios: what are the financial prospects under 4 years of Democrats and under 4 years of Republicans?
It seems that the Democrats are looking for more international cooperation again. The inequality, which has continued to increase under Trump - although the trend has been going on for much longer - could possibly be reversed by Biden's plans for a higher minimum wage, among other things. Investors seem to think that this could boost spending in the U.S., and thus growth. Because the return on investments must ultimately always come from economic growth, that could be good for our participants.”
The Republicans seem to be planning to build a different model than the one we entered the century with. That model is more bilateral (America trades with countries, not as part of coalitions) and transactional (“quid pro quo”); not based on rules. A consequence of that model, at least under Trump, is unpredictability of policy. In general, investors are not very keen on this, because it discourages investment”.