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U.S. healthcare stocks firm as investors downplay risks after Democratic gains

Stock MarketsJan 06, 2021 01:50PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. flag is seen on a building on Wall St. in the financial district in New York

By Lewis Krauskopf

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. healthcare shares rose on Wednesday as Georgia elections appeared to shift Senate control to Democrats - long considered a risk for the sector - with investors factoring in support for current government insurance programs and downplaying chances for systemic overhauls.

The S&P 500 healthcare sector was up about 1.4% in afternoon trade, in line with the gain for the broader S&P 500, as Democratic candidates closed in on a sweep of two Senate runoff races in Georgia that would give the party full control of Congress and aid President-elect Joe Biden's agenda.

Concerns that a Democratic-led government could take tougher measures in areas such as prescription-drug pricing or begin a push for more government involvement in the healthcare system have clouded the sector's outlook for most of 2020.

But after Tuesday's vote, investors pointed to the fact that the Democrats would only have a slim edge over Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote with a 50-50 split in the Senate, far short of 60 votes many bills need to overcome a procedural threshold.

"Even though technically they have the majority, they don’t have the 60 votes to get much accomplished," said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth.

Biden has been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, that was enacted when he was vice president, and the Senate results could further add backing, analysts said.

Shares of insurer Centene (NYSE:CNC) and hospital chain HCA Healthcare (NYSE:HCA), two stocks seen benefiting from ACA support, surged over 9% and 5%, respectively.

Insurers specializing in the Medicaid health program for low-income Americans and healthcare facility companies were likely benefiting from increased investor expectations for more stimulus spending, according to Stephens analyst Scott Fidel.

The Georgia results represented "an incremental negative" for pharmaceutical stocks, according to JP Morgan analyst Chris Schott. Still, Schott said in a note that, "we remain far short of the 'Blue Wave' scenario contemplated ahead of the November U.S. elections."

Pharma and biotech stocks were generally underperforming on Wednesday. The S&P 500 pharmaceuticals and biotech indexes were up only 0.8% and 0.4% respectively.

“I think the Democrats want to do something about drug prices...," said Les Funtleyder, a healthcare portfolio manager at E Squared Capital. "Democrats have never been the biggest fans of the drug industry, and I think that is going to manifest itself to some degree.”

U.S. healthcare stocks firm as investors downplay risks after Democratic gains
 

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Alan Rice
Alan Rice Jan 06, 2021 2:33PM ET
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