It's time for investors to play serious defense and pursue an "impeachment strategy." For sure, it may be too early -- or even far-fetched -- to dwell on such a dark development. Still, the multiple investigations into President Donald Trump's (or his campaign's) potential collusion with the Russians and the fallout over the firing of FBI Director James Comey could ultimately lead to impeachment proceedings against him.
Of course, such a scenario may never happen, but perceptions are what determine much of the stock market's direction: Investors usually tend to act on what they perceive as real or what could become reality.
That's why some savvy investors already are preparing for an impeachment eventuality, regardless of whether it will ever actually come to pass. Most of them refer to the situation as the "return of volatility," and indeed, when the noise gets louder that Mr. Trump may truly face impeachment proceedings, expect the market to be highly volatile.
Except for Wall Street's busy activity last week -- when the major indexes plunged on May 17, followed by a fast rebound the next day -- investors had enjoyed a relatively extended tranquil period of low volatility.
At Morningstar, Director of Personal Finance Christine Benz recommended in a recent column for the firm that clients should have a "strategy for volatility." The big sell-off on May 17 signaled that the market's previously low volatility can't possibly last, she said. Will investors know what to do, asked Benz, "when serious volatility does eventually materialize and sticks around for a while?"
"Investors are now concerned that President Trump will be impeached and are looking warily at historical precedent," noted Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at CFRA Marketscope Advisor, in a recent investment strategy report. He cited the most impeachment-related period prior to the release on Sept. 9, 1998, of Kenneth Starr's report on President Bill Clinton's possible perjury and obstruction of justice. The S&P 500 plummeted 19.8 percent from July 17, 1998, through Aug. 31, 1998.
When the House voted to start impeachment on Oct. 8, 1998, the market retested the August 1998 low, triggering signs of panic among investors. But Stovall noted that this episode ended quite well when investors concluded that this impeachment event would not likely lead to a recession.
The S&P 500 went on to recover the entire loss and set a new all-time high on Nov. 11, 1998 -- "well in advance of the Senate finally acquitting the president in February 1999," Stovall pointed out.
If the House ever decides to vote on impeachment proceedings against Trump, would it lead to a recession and seriously damage the stock market? Investors may end up disagreeing on what the answer is, but Stovall believes this time around, while the current crisis may "trigger a correction, we do not think it will lead to recession and therefore will not result in a new bear market."
However, investors will have to be alert to what could happen if the crisis worsens. "So far, there has been no meaningful selling response," noted CFRA in its technical update of the market.
But investors shouldn't be complacent. According to the CFRA technical analysis, "the divergence of the S&P 500, Nasdaq and Russell 2000 during the last three weeks following their moving into a potentially bullish position in a larger, overall uptrend, could be a red flag that this larger rally that began in November of last year is changing its behavior."
CFRA suggested that if the S&P 500 can break above 2,400, it would open the door for another leg higher in the larger rally, that is if the Russell 2000 "gets back on track to the upside, which is in the weakest position of all the indices." The CFRA analysis noted "minor support at 2,385 in the [S&P 500] and if there's any deeper pullback, there are supports at 2,363, and 2,337."
So it would make sense for investors to act as early as possible on what could happen in Washington's political drama. With former FBI Director Robert Mueller now the independent counsel lead the department's inquiry into the Trump-Russian connection and possible obstruction of justice, action could speed up on the gathering of evidence, issuance of subpoenas, taking sworn testimonies and other game-changing developments.
Investors' impeachment strategies should necessarily aim at fortifying portfolios against sudden market upheavals. Stocks of companies that have deep pockets, robust businesses, demonstrated strong and steady growth, and are exceptionally devoid of risk from stifling regulations or sudden policy changes should help stabilize portfolios during volatile times.
Some asset managers are sticking with their broadly diversified portfolios that include a significant number of major sectors and industry groups.
John Buckingham is a respected investment manager and editor of widely followed newsletter The Prudent Speculator, who follows a traditional "value approach." He advocates broad portfolio diversification and owning stocks that represent all 10 S&P sectors.
Here are 10 stocks that several money managers who have designed an impeachment strategy recommend -- and own. They believe these shares aren't likely to fall hard and may even advance at the hint of a move to oust President Trump.
Alphabet, parent of Google (GOOGL), is a global technology giant that has amassed the internet's largest index of information and is now involved in a variety of ventures that jolt the imagination, including futuristic autonomous cars. Plus, a variety of vision- and voice-based functionalities using artificial intelligence could attract more users and more digital advertising dollars.
Now trading at around $964 a share, Google could catapult to more than $1,000, according to several analysts, regardless of what happens in Washington.
Amazon (AMZN), whose virtually unlimited online shelf space has enabled it to dominate the world's retailing business, keeps galloping toward faster growth every year. Warren Buffett has expressed total admiration for the way Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos created and engineered the company's amazing phenomenon in only a few years. The stock continues to climb to new all-time highs, and as one analyst said, "Amazon just won't slow down."
For the long term, analysts believe it will continue winning in two important categories: global online commerce and cloud computing. The stock, currently trading at around $969 a share, is widely expected to hit $1,100 this year. It's definitely a good fit for the impeachment portfolio.
Apple (AAPL), the leading global smartphone maker, is distinctly prominent because of the iPhone. And it has more great things up its sleeves, including the iPhone8 and other still-secret, reportedly dramatic, products.
But equally important to investors is the way Apple has positioned itself very well with its growing installed base, strong ecosystem and attractive valuation, according to CFRA tech analyst Scott Kessler. He rates the stock a strong buy, with a 12-month price target of $165 versus its current price of around $154. Again, an impeachment proceeding won't matter to Apple's bottom line, assert the bulls.
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) is Warren Buffett's treasured company, a "wide-moat" stock "evoking the image of a castle protected by a deep, impenetrable ring of water," that keeps would-be competitors at bay, according to Stephen Leeb, president of Leeb Asset Management and editor of market newsletter The Complete Investor. "One defined characteristic of moat-stocks is profitability," says Leeb, "whether measured as return on capital or gross margins -- markedly higher than for competitors."
In today's world of rising uncertainty, moat stocks have greater appeal than ever, protecting not just against business competition but "against unexpected storms," such as an impeachment thunderclap.
Biogen (BIIB) is one of the major biotechs that are expected to recover strongly from the decline of pharmaceutical and biotech stocks last year over issues such as steep price increases. One reason Biogen is expected to benefit strongly: its recent move to spin off its hemophilia business, which became an independent company called Bioverativ (BIVV). Biogen shareholders will receive a special dividend distribution of one share of Bioverative common stock for every two shares of Biogen held as of close of business on Jan. 17.
But the important gain from the spin-off is that it will enable Biogen to focus more on its newly approved drug for spinal muscular atrophy, called Spinraza -- the first drug OK'd to treat the disease (it received fast-track Federal Drug Administration review because it addressed an unmet medical need). Analysts estimate the drug could reach annual sales of up to $1 billion within a few years. Biogen also has an early Alzheimer's treatment in Phase 3 clinical trials, which also received a fast-track designation.
Currently trading at around $250, the stock is rated by CFRA as a "buy" with a price target of $387.
Facebook (FB), with more than 1 billion average monthly users, it has become the planet's most popular and widely visited social network. It's definitely a necessary outpost in this era of the ever-expanding internet global community. So for the company that provides various products to connect people worldwide, an impeachment prospect can only make Facebook more important to its users.
Even as its shares have gained some 30 percent this year, the bulls still find the stock undervalued. Robert Sanderson, equity analyst at MKM Partners, surely thinks so, rating Facebook a "buy." He recently raised his price target for the stock, now trading at around $148 a share, to $180 from $150. "Facebook is the fastest growing large-scale advertising play for investors," said Sanderson.
JPMorgan Chase (JPM) possesses a brand that's known worldwide and is the foremost advocate for protecting and advancing the cause of the banking industry amid growing global competition. With Jamie Dimon as its chairman and chief executive, government and business are confident he'll always try to accomplish his goals with precision, courage and fine judgment.
As a financial-service company, JPMorgan excels in investment banking -- indeed, it's one of the leading investment banks in the world. Its stock is among the industry's big winners and leads the financial group, rising to more than $84 a share, from the mid-$50s last summer. Catherine Siefert, equity analyst at CFRA, rates the stock a "buy" with a price target of $85 a share. It's the banking stock to choose should the drama in Washington get more excruciating.
Netflix (NFLX) is a young company in a very young industry, but it already has shown its mettle in the streaming business. Specifically, it's the world's largest internet subscription service for accessing TV shows and movies. As of the end of 2016, Netflix had close to 94 million streaming users, more than 49 million of them in the U.S. and the rest in international markets. Netflix provides a service that has become very popular with the young and old, making it a highly profitable business.
Netflix would surely gain from sensational news events covered by the ubiquitous TV cameras -- or from people looking for entertaining respites from the political mayhem an impeachment would create.
TJX Cos. (TJX) is considered in the investment world as a consumer discretionary stock -- a group that hasn't demonstrated superior strength this year. More specifically, TJX is a retailer, and this group is among the relative weaklings of S&P 500's 10 sectors. But with annual revenues of more than $29 billion, the company is the largest U.S. off-price family apparel and home fashion retailer.
So it must be doing something right at its 1,156 TJ Maxx stores, 1,007 Marshalls stores and several other chains, including 526 HomeGoods locations. Its stock has been quite volatile because of industrywide lackluster sales. It's trading currently at around $75 a share. The bulls expect it to rise to the mid-$80s later this year, when they forecast consumer sentiment and spending will recover from currently low levels. But TJX's focus on off-price goods keeps sales going up steadily.
So the political strife going on in Washington won't matter much to this stock.
Microsoft (MSFT), the world's largest software maker, is the surprise stock in info tech. It has soared from the mid-$40s in the summer of 2016, to $68 a share currently, thanks to companies shifting focus from PC-centric computing to a cloud-based platform available to diverse devices.
That sharp turn excited investors and drove its stock higher. Microsoft's clicking of the "refresh" button has it smartly paid off -- and an impeachment drama wouldn't do anything to change that.