When the presidential campaign was getting started last spring, NEWSWEEK's sister publication, Slate, published a guide for political investors, identifying which prominent stocks the top presidential candidates most closely resembled. Political markets, like financial markets, adjust swiftly, as yesterday's winners become today's losers, and growth stocks emerge from nowhere. Now I'm updating our recommendations to account for the results of the Iowa caucuses.
First, the Democrats:
Barack Obama is the alternative energy sector. Hybrid, next-generation upstart, unafraid of entrenched market leaders and embraced by corn-growing Iowans, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and East Coast moneymen. While mocked by establishment for naivete, unviable business plans and the audacity to question traditional market leaders, manages to rise above toxic emissions. National market share still lags behind legacy systems, yet attracts hot money, media attention galore, and younger consumers. Recommendation: Strong buy.
Hillary Clinton is Citigroup. New York-based, enormously well-capitalized, long-standing market leader whose name is synonymous with the sector it dominates. A powerhouse in the 1990s is having difficulty reclaiming past glory. Miscalculations about competitors and poor assessment of risks in the marketplace led the establishment player to suffer unexpected market losses. As it steels itself for more write-downs in the wake of subprime performance, continues to bank on 1990s Clinton administration icon for credibility (Rubin for Citigroup, Bill Clinton for Hillary Clinton). Recommendation: Hold.
John Edwards is McDonald's. Disdained by the media elite as déclassé, shunned by the fashionable as too populist and unhealthy to body politic, manages to thrive by working hard and dishing out cheap meat and potatoes to working-class patrons. Worldly sophistication is belied by simple message that appeals to economically disadvantaged consumers. Two Americas? Two all beef patties? Recommendation: Hold.
Mike Huckabee is Chick-fil-A. Cheaper, healthier, Southern alternative to steak and prime rib dished up by urban rivals. Explicitly fuses religion into business strategy in a way that no competitor does. (Chick-fil-A isn't open on Sundays.) Thrives in rural and Southern areas. Disdains Wall Street and has yet to stage a full-fledged national initial public offering. Recommendation: Buy.
Mitt Romney is The Blackstone Group. Insecure private equity player that tries to wow the masses with ostentatious displays of wealth—kitted out Mitt-Mobile for Romney, $3 million birthday party for Blackstone head honcho Steve Schwartzman. Achilles' heel: ambition leads to hypocrisy and intellectual inconsistency. Blackstone goes public after trashing public markets, Romney trashes Massachusetts after proclaiming love for state. Unimpressed with money, resources, and fancy toys, salt-of-the-earth investors see through the BS. While stock is at 52-week low, can't be written off due to deep reservoirs of cash, ruthlessness, and cynicism. Recommendation: Hold.
Rudy Giuliani is Bear, Stearns. New York-based firm spent years since 2001 raising easy money and globe-trotting. Initials of both should be BS. Questions raised about judgment and adolescent personal behavior of standard-bearer: alleged dope-smoking for Bear, Stearns CEO James Cayne, sex on the city for Giuliani. Public recoils after allegations raise ++fundamental questions about character. Apparently flawed investment strategy—blowing off Iowa and New Hampshire for Rudy, subprime all the time for Bear, Stearns—leads to significant write-downs of asset values. Recommendation: Sell.
John McCain is General Motors. Old warhorse with solid reputation as patriotic brand takes repeated kicks but refuses to give in. Buoyed by poor performance of two top domestic rivals and by positive developments overseas—Iraq for McCain, growth abroad for GM. Biggest challenge: dealing with legacy labor issues—illegal immigration for McCain, unions for General Motors. Recommendation: Buy.