NEW YORK – President Bush's election victory is shaping up as a potential bonanza for Wall Street, where firms are salivating about the possibility he will follow through on his pledge to allow private investment of Social Security funds.
A second term for the Republican president also makes it likely drug makers can head off government-mandated price controls for now. The defense industry also looks like a winner, more regulatory victories may be in store for the Baby Bells, and look for a new push for oil drilling in the Alaska wilderness.
While the privatization of Social Security (search) has taken a back seat in this current election, experts predict the president will work with congressional Republicans, who boosted their majority in both houses, on what would be the most dramatic changes in the government retirement program's 69-year history. In addition, the president has gone on record as supporting an increase in medical savings accounts for individuals.
Banks, investment firms, mutual fund companies and insurers would offer to help individuals manage these new private retirement investments, which could lead to billions of dollars in new funds under their control and higher profits if legislation clears Congress.
"If people are going to have more control over their assets, people are going to need advice on how to manage those assets, and that can only help the financial services industry," said Ken McCarthy, chief economist for vFinance Investments Inc.
Regardless of their opinions of the Bush administration, many industries find themselves relieved over a Kerry loss, as the Democratic candidate was expected to have a far more active hand in regulatory issues. Pfizer Inc. (PFE), GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) and other drug makers, for example, were facing the potential of much tougher oversight on pricing under a Kerry presidency.
Industry analysts expect Bush to continue backing a free-market approach, where demand drives prices for medicines, said Barbara Ryan, a pharmaceuticals analyst and managing director at Deutsche Bank Securities.
Still, Bush may have to budge slightly on one of the most contentious issues for the industry — allowing reimportation of cheaper prescription drugs. Analyst Tony Butler of Lehman Brothers said importing medicines from Canada, one of many nations with government-negotiated price discounts, would allow Bush to appease senior citizens, with only a minimal effect on the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.
Telecommunications companies also stand to gain from the status quo of Bush's second term. While Michael Powell is expected to step down as FCC chairman, a continuing Republican majority at the agency would be expected to provide more regulatory victories for regional Bell telephone companies Verizon (VZ), BellSouth (BLS), SBC (SBC) and Qwest (Q). The Bush administration sees further deregulation as a way to bridge the digital divide sooner.
Freed of an obligation to lease new fiber lines to rivals such as AT&T (T) and MCI, those Bell companies said last month they were accelerating plans to replace copper wires with speedy fiber-optic cables that can deliver high-speed Internet access to more homes, schools and businesses.
With the war in Iraq and the continued fight against terrorism, the Bush administration is likely to continue its aggressive defense spending, with a strong emphasis on new technologies for the battlefield and homeland security.
During Bush's first term, federal spending on research and development rose more than 50 percent, jumping from $84 billion in 2000 to $126 billion in 2004. Most of that money — $71 billion in 2004 — was spent on research and development for defense, said Kei Koizumi, director of the budget and research policy program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Another $4 billion went to research and development for homeland security.
One of the major issues likely to affect consumers is the continuing problem of high energy costs. The president is expected to continue pumping oil into the government's Strategic Petroleum Res (search)erve and to reject calls to use the government oil except to counter a major supply disruption.
Bush is likely to call on Congress to revive stalled legislation that would have allowed private firms to search for oil, coal and natural gas on federal lands currently off-limits to exploration and production, including Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (search), in an effort to reduce the country's rising dependency on imports.
Bush also wants to make it easier for the oil industry to build new refineries. There hasn't been a new refinery built in the United States in 28 years and the industry complains about meager profit margins, hefty environmental costs and too much government regulation.