Medical device makers, pipeline company could see stocks boosted by a Republican-led Congress

Markets Associated Press

Lower taxes for medical device makers. Lighter regulations for coal. If the new Republican-led Congress manages to push through these policy changes it could lift stocks in the health and energy industries, market strategists say.

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To be sure, President Obama still has two years left in the White House and can use his veto power to stop legislation. A Republican Congress can't repeal the entire Affordable Care Act. Any big tax or immigration reform ideas will have to be reached through compromise.

"Those big issues are off the table and on hold until after the presidential election in 2016," says David Lebovitz, global market strategist at JPMorgan Funds.

Still, specific industries that could benefit from successful Republican legislation include:

MEDICAL DEVICE COMPANIES:

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act's medical device tax several times only to see their efforts die in the Democratically-controlled Senate. With the Senate under Republican control starting next year, the 2.3 percent excise tax is likely to be on the chopping block, market strategists and Washington watchers say.

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The nation's biggest medical device makers — Johnson & Johnson, Boston Scientific, Medtronic and others — could benefit from the elimination of the tax. Boston Scientific had $73 million in expenses related to this tax, while Johnson & Johnson paid approximately $200 million in 2013 in expenses related to the tax. Removing the tax could give a modest boost the industry's bottom line, investors say.

ENERGY:

The GOP-controlled House and Senate will likely put pressure on the White House to approve TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline next year. The pipeline, which would help carry crude from Canada to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast, has been in regulatory purgatory for several years, awaiting approval. While the State Department has the authority to greenlight the pipeline, Congress can adopt a bill that would overrule it by approving the project.

TransCanada's stock was up 2.4 percent the day after the election. Suncor Energy, a Canadian oil sands company, rose 4 percent.

Coal stocks might also do well, analysts at Brunswick Group say. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, will almost certainly become the Senate Majority Leader, and a big energy supporter, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, is likely to become chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

Coal companies have faced strict pollution regulations under the Obama Administration. Congress could take up legislation to pull back some of those regulations.

Obama, however, is likely to veto any legislation related to coal plants and carbon and it's unclear if the Senate has enough votes to override him.

Peabody Energy was up 12 percent, Arch Coal rose 32 percent and Alpha Natural Resources was up 49 percent for the week.

BANKS:

Smaller, regional banks may benefit under the new Congress, analysts say. There is talk of pulling back some of the Dodd-Frank regulations for banks under $10 billion in assets.

However, big banks are unlikely to see any significant regulatory changes, analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods say. The Dodd-Frank financial reform act is unlikely to be repealed while Obama remains in office. Also the "too big to fail" regulations, which require the big banks to hold higher amounts of capital because of the crucial role they play in the economy, are generally popular among both Democrats and Republicans.

A regional bank, Zions Bancorporation, climbed 2.4 percent for the week.

MIDTERM BOOST:

It's not just new legislation that could help stocks; history also favors the market right now. In the past, U.S. stocks have done well in the quarter that includes midterms. Data by Strategas Research Partners shows that the Standard & Poor's 500 index, going all the way back to 1930, rose an average of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter of a midterm election year. That compares with a return of 0.4 percent for the entire year.

Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management, says the gain is because elections remove uncertainty for investors and help provide clarity on which way the country might be headed.