U.S. infrastructure may get a boost after the presidential election as both candidates pledged they would seek to increase government spending on improving the nation's network of roads, bridges and other structures.
Areas that receive government cash infusions can do well for investors , too, and equity analysts that watch infrastructure say that there's been some early bet-placing in a few companies that infrastructure will get a cash infusion no matter who is president.
"This play has been going for a couple of weeks now, with a few names at 52-week highs. What I'm looking for is what is the time frame for a lot of these projects," says Gavin Maguire, senior analyst for special situations at Chicago-based independent research firm Briefing.com.
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Analysts say investors who want their portfolios to follow the government money should keep in mind a few facts before committing their own cash.
Infrastructure spending is low . Dan Heckman, national investment consultant for U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Kansas City, Missouri, says government spending on infrastructure has declined over the past several years, and now the U.S. spends less than 2 percent of overall gross domestic product on infrastructure.
Maguire says don't expect shovel-ready projects to occur right after a new president takes office.
"It's not like one gets sworn in Jan. 21 and is breaking ground on Jan. 22," he says.
It also depends on the makeup of Congress, too. If Democratic Hillary Clinton is elected president, but Congress stays in Republican hands, it could mean the same gridlock seen under President Barack Obama. Even if Republican Donald Trump is elected and Congress stays Republican, Trump may not get all his wishes done because he is much more of an outsider, Maguire says.
Still, both analysts say there's a good chance to see some sort of increased infrastructure spending with a new political administration.
Candidate plans . On her campaign website, Clinton announced a $275 billion, five-year plan to improve U.S. infrastructure, focusing on roads, public transportation, broadband access and renewable energy among her top priorities. She plans to fund it with an infrastructure bank and by issuing Build America Bonds, which are a type of municipal bond.
In an interview, Trump said he would spend $500 billion in infrastructure developments, but offered few details on how to finance it.
In a research note, Deutsche Bank strategists David Bianco, Ju Wang and Winnie Nip say neither candidate has brought any specific project proposals nor priorities, which would "bring more substance to this debate, better differentiate the candidates and hopefully lead to more productive spending."
Maguire and Heckman say focusing on transportation could be one area for investors to consider, such as railways , bridges and airport improvements, in addition to road construction.
"We think there's a lot of interest to increase spending in that area. I think a lot of city and state municipalities are waiting and hoping the Feds will have some kind of matching program or mechanism to fund projects that are on the drawing board. We think there's a greater chance of that happening," Heckman says.
Maguire says under Clinton, renewable energy is likely to get a boost, while Trump will likely focus on crude oil, natural gas and coal developments.
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The Deutsche Bank analysts say considering the last domestic investment boom was led by energy and transportation, this round of spending may favor different priorities.
"This time, we think infrastructure investment will be led by electric transmission/efficiency, green power, (and) water systems. State and local governments do about 75 percent of public infrastructure spending and will likely implement this spending via establishing authorities and utility companies. More federal subsidies are likely, perhaps from public/private investment partnerships or channeled from a higher federal gasoline tax or carbon related taxes if Democrats take the leadership," they say.
How to play it . Maguire says investors should keep a longer time frame in mind. The recent price run up in some stocks may be premature as even if some projects get approved, actual groundbreaking might not be for another year or two.
"The fundamentals might not support the valuations until later in 2018, when we see a lot of these projects and these orders and a pickup in government spending taking place," he says.
Under a Trump presidency, Maguire says companies involved in defense, like Northrop Grumman Corp. (ticker: NOC ), and fossil-fuel production like Halliburton Co. ( HAL ) and Duke Energy Corp. ( DUK ) might do well.
Under Clinton, a fixed-income play could be buying the BlackRock Taxable Municipal Bond Trust, which holds a significant portion of the Build American Bonds, Maguire says.
"It's recently pulled back, which makes it more attractive," he says. "It's a very safe fixed income investment for people."
Motion and control technology maker Parker Hannifin Corp. ( PH ) makes parts for companies like Deere & Co. ( DE ), Cummins ( CMI ) and Caterpillar ( CAT ), and Parker could benefit before the larger equipment makers do, he says.
Two renewable energy names Maguire likes are Argan ( AGX ), which does engineering and consulting services in the power generation and renewable energy space, and doesn't have the valuations that other infrastructure firms do now. He also likes solar-panel maker First Solar ( FSLR ). First Solar is "the best-run solar company out there," he says, and the stock is suffering from a supply glut in the industry. However, for someone with a longer-term horizon, it could do well.
Both Maguire and the Deutsche Bank analysts like AECOM ( ACM ), which is involved with government infrastructure projects worldwide. Deutsche Bank says the firm has low oil exposure but "high exposure to rebounding public infrastructure spending and underappreciated operating leverage and cash flow story."
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Deutsche Bank analysts like Quanta ( PWR ), which offers infrastructure services in the U.S. energy industry . They call it a growth call. It would be the "primary beneficiary of utilities shifting capex priorities to T&D (transmission and distribution equipment) spending and bigger projects plays into PWR's sweet spot."