One thing computers always have been good at is counting things. So FactSet set its computers to work counting the number of times company executives mentioned the word “election” during third-quarter conference calls.
Remarkably, only 21% (80) of the 386 S&P 500 index companies that had held conference calls between September 15 and November 2 mentioned the term. Compared with results for the same period just ahead of the 2012 election, that’s a drop of five percentage points and 20 mentions from among 380 S&P 500 index companies.
The item mentioned most often this year was “negative uncertainty” resulting from the election. This included “macro uncertainty” and “less business activity/confidence,” which garnered mentions by 32 companies. State or local ballot issues and election-related products or services were mentioned seven times each. Corporate taxes, included repatriation taxes, were mentioned by five companies, as were health care issues, such as the Affordable Care Act and drug prices.
Telecom executives did not mention the upcoming election even once this year, compared with one mention in 2012.
FactSet was even good enough to include the comments from company executives on the conference calls. Here’s a sample:
Financials: Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS)
Yes, markets have been trading up over the course, certainly, of this quarter and we’re seeing indices at reasonably high levels. But on the flipside, transaction revenues have historically been driven by underwriting calendar, where we’ve seen a very slow 2016. I think the geopolitical risks and some of this political risk, and some of these risks that are much harder for retail, or actually any investor, to probability wait can get their hands around and probably push people to the sidelines, I don’t know if it’s secular or cyclical at this point, but certainly it’s at very low levels…. Whether the transaction stuff picks up, I don’t know, post the election, post the Fed moving, it remains to be seen.
Industrials: Raytheon Corp. (NYSE: RTN)
And a lot of this hinges on the election and what’s going to move forward. And right off the bat, both candidates, both parties are pushing for a strong defense. So that’s obviously a good sign, both parties and positions are that they want to remove the Budget Control Act caps and so which will be required to be able to fund this, you called it a recapitalization. But it’s also some new capability needs as part of this third offset strategy.
Healthcare: Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE)
So look, obviously drug pricing affordability is an issue that is concerning to us and has clearly been amplified in this election cycle. There is considerable uncertainty and turmoil about both candidates’ positions on these issues, and it’s difficult to decipher between campaign rhetoric and legitimate policy views. It’s been disappointing that this debate on pricing has completely neglected the other side of the ledger; that is the benefits and value added by the pharmaceutical industry. So while we understand the healthcare costs have been increasing for many patients, we disagree with the prevailing notion among some politicians that pharmaceuticals are the reason for these rising costs. And we believe that post the election cycle, good public policy will prevail…. Regardless of the election results, I’m not really concerned – well, no matter the outcome of the presidential and congressional races, we will continue to work with public officials.