Investors Pile Into Health to Shield Holdings From Trade War

(Bloomberg) -- Equity investors are flocking to health care in the wake of escalating geopolitical tensions and a waning appetite for technology stocks.

The S&P 500 Health Care Index is the best-performing sector so far this quarter with a 7.8 percent gain, outperforming a 4.5 percent rise in the broader benchmark. Pharmaceutical and biotech stocks are among the biggest outperformers as they rebound from earlier concerns about failed clinical trials and scrutiny on drug pricing in Washington. The momentum has accelerated as investors seek havens from a potential trade war.

“It was time for the group to catch up a little,” said Andrew Hilgenbrink, who helps manage more than $1 billion in health-care assets at Highland Capital Management, said in a telephone interview. “Tariffs are kind of a non-event for the health-care space. Furthermore, valuations have become very attractive in large-cap pharma and biotech.”

Investors Pile Into Health to Shield Holdings From Trade War

Since health stocks continue to trade at a discount to the overall market, Hilgenbrink says “there’s still additional room to go” in the recent rally. HCA Healthcare Inc., Nektar Therapeutics, Iqvia Holdings Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co. are the sector’s best performers so far in the third quarter.

Drugmakers including Johnson & Johnson say that U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports haven’t hurt their results so far, beyond the effect of a stronger dollar. That concurs with an analysis from Evercore ISI that U.S. medicines won’t see much impact from tariffs because raw bulk materials imported from China are mainly antibiotics.

The three largest exchange-traded funds tracking health care took in more than $1 billion in July. The $8 billion Vanguard Health Care ETF, known by its ticker VHT, added $47 million last week, its highest weekly inflows in more than a year.

This “is the beginning of reallocation of assets from the most popular sectors” like tech, said Bill Smead, who oversees about $2.2 billion at Smead Capital Management, in a phone interview.

Despite a rocky July, tech is still the best-performing sector this year, as it was in 2017. And health-care investors have reason to remain cautious about the recent gains. The next test for the sector is looming with the midterm elections less than three months away. President Donald Trump will need the new Congress’s backing to advance his plans to lower medical costs.

The threat to control drug prices “is not going away,” said Ying Huang, a biotech analyst with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in a telephone interview. With more clarity in Washington, “we might see generalists coming back to the sector.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.