Now that the campaigning is over, the work begins for Joe Biden to start making good on the policy changes he promised. Here’s a breakdown of how a Biden presidency may affect some two dozen U.S. industries and what might rise to the top of his agenda as he takes over from Donald Trump in January. A few giant tech companies — practically industries unto themselves — are included for good measure.
There are recurring themes in this compilation: The more closely a company interacts with individual American consumers, the more pressing are matters of COVID-19 restrictions and wages. For technology and industrial companies, trade and visa policies are key. While there’s a chance Americans may not know until January whether Republicans keep control of the Senate, some executives are fine if the government stays divided because it lowers the odds of major legislation.
Consumers: Cars, Planes and Retail
Airlines: Biden-era regulators may have a heavier hand than airlines felt under Trump. Elaine Chao’s Transportation Department gave airlines great leeway on consumer issues. Debates over seat space could be revived under Biden, as could the levels of aircraft carbon emissions. The DOT also has declined to mandate face coverings on planes. Potential Biden changes to the National Labor Relations Board may help union organizers at carriers such as Delta Air Lines Inc. One question is whether a Biden administration would be more hostile to additional consolidation, especially if airlines’ finances worsen and creditors seek structural changes.
Automakers: Biden’s election cuts both ways for car companies. His plan to renew and fund more tax credits for consumers who buy electric vehicles could help manufacturers including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Tesla Inc. and Volkswagen AG that are investing billions in electric models that still sell in small numbers. On the other hand, Biden is more likely to levy tougher emissions rules on the gas-burning vehicles that pay Detroit’s way.
Cannabis: Biden’s win may hasten federal legalization, helping cannabis companies get more access to capital from banks and letting marijuana businesses accept credit cards and have checking accounts. This could happen with the passage of the STATES Act, which defers legalization to the states, or the MORE Act, which would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances. There’s hope that either bill would help get rid of tax code 280E, which bars cannabis companies from deducting their operating expenses for tax purposes — something that could immediately see many of their earnings turn positive. That said, such scenarios aren’t likely until at least 2021.
Casinos: Biden has said he doesn’t support the Justice Department’s decision last year to reassert provisions of the 1961 Wire Act, a move viewed as a threat to online gambling in the U.S. The Trump administration’s stance threw a cloud over the fastest-growing part of the industry: online and sports betting. Biden’s harder line on coronavirus restrictions could close casinos again if the pandemic worsens, but his close ties to casino-worker unions could see future stimulus funds directed toward them.
Manufacturers: Major watch items include perennial concerns such as taxes and regulation, as well as trade — especially whether Biden will seek to improve global ties after four years of tensions stoked by Trump. The stakes are particularly high for aerospace companies in China, where a rebound in air travel offers a rare bright spot amid the coronavirus pandemic. That will put an even sharper focus on what is already a crucial market for Boeing Co., General Electric Co. and Honeywell International Inc. For defense contractors, Bernstein analyst Doug Harned expects spending priorities to be similar under either Biden or Trump because global threats are high, and building more planes and ships is a way to preserve U.S. jobs and jolt the economy. Biden is widely expected to raise corporate taxes in line with his plan of hiking the rate to 28% from 20% currently.
Restaurants: Biden’s goal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25 could reduce profit and lead to some job cuts, even as it otherwise improves workers’ living standards. Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Michael Halen sees Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. and Texas Roadhouse Inc. as among the most at risk because of their prevalence in low-wage states. Labor already accounted for 31% of restaurant costs in 2019, surpassing food. Restaurateurs could be helped if Biden brings new funding, loans or paycheck protections. But any further COVID-19-related shutdowns or dining restrictions, which Biden has hinted at, could hurt.
Retailers: Retailers, particularly those deemed nonessential such as department stores, could be at higher risk of more COVID-19-related closings under Biden. They also may have to contend with higher expenses, especially if Biden gets the federal minimum wage lifted to $15. That said, Biden also will renew stimulus talks with urgency, increasing the likelihood that American wallets and small businesses get a boost.
Health Care: Insurers, Pharma and Med Tech
Health Insurers: Biden’s win will mean new efforts to bolster the Affordable Care Act — and expand insurance coverage and subsidies to help more people afford it. He’ll roll back some of Trump’s administrative changes that weakened the ACA. He’s said he’ll create a public health-insurance option like Medicare that could compete with private insurers.
Medical Technology: Biden plans to double down on testing to help control the coronavirus outbreak, bolstering drive-through sites, investing in next-generation technology and creating a board to shepherd the production and distribution of tens of millions of tests nationwide. He also pledged to return production of medical-technology goods to the U.S. and stockpile essential components to reduce dependence on other countries in a crisis.
Pharmaceuticals: Biden would seek to strengthen and cement the Affordable Care Act, expanding access to health insurance to even more Americans and helping them afford their medications. He has said he plans to address the high prices Americans pay for prescription drugs with proposals that include allowing the government’s Medicare program to negotiate costs, letting patients import drugs from abroad and linking price hikes to inflation.
Technology, Telecom and Media
Alphabet Inc.: The Obama administration was quite cozy with Alphabet’s Google and other big tech companies, with workers doing stints in the White House or government and then returning later to Silicon Valley. It’s likely former Google employees will be top candidates for Biden administration positions. That said, the attitude toward big tech has shifted considerably since the Obama years, and Biden may keep the tech giant at arm’s length because of concerns that Google has grown too big and powerful. Biden has spoken out specifically against Section 230, a part of a law from the early days of the internet that protects big platforms including Google Search and YouTube from being sued for things their users post. The companies contend the rule is vital to keeping the web free and open, but politicians increasingly want it changed. Biden could put energy behind the Democratic proposal to hold social-media platforms liable for the misinformation and harmful content posted on them. That could increase the cost of moderating YouTube, or even slow growth if the company is forced to vet videos before they go up.
Amazon.com Inc.: While a Biden administration would likely mean a break from Trump’s Twitter attacks on Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, Democratic control over the White House and Congress could mean ramped-up antitrust scrutiny of the retail giant. The Democrat-led House Antitrust Subcommittee’s investigation included recommendations that, if passed into law, could place restrictions on Amazon’s ability to operate the largest online marketplace and sell its own goods in the same digital storefront.
Apple Inc.: Biden’s victory could be a major win for Apple, since he’s less likely to maintain a trade war with China and may loosen tariffs that have hurt the iPhone maker’s margins on some products. Biden also has pledged to reverse a Trump policy and offer more H-1B visas to foreign engineers Apple and other technology companies want to hire. Biden appears more likely to negotiate on antitrust issues; his criticisms about Big Tech hurt Apple’s quest to protect the way its App Store works. Cynthia Hogan, Apple’s former chief lobbyist in Washington, was on Biden’s vice-presidential search committee, potentially giving Apple a leg up with the new administration.
Chipmakers: For the $400-billion chip industry, Biden’s win probably will ratchet down a trade war between the U.S. and China. Most U.S. semiconductor makers have their products manufactured overseas, and the Trump administration imposed import tariffs that disrupted this global supply chain. Trump also slapped sanctions on Huawei Technologies Co. and other Chinese tech companies, hurting the ability of U.S. chipmakers to sell into the largest market for their products. In turn, China redoubled efforts to build a domestic chip industry and shed its dependence on U.S. technology, earmarking billions of dollars for the effort. Any easing of these tensions will benefit the U.S. chip sector.
Hollywood: While Biden has taken a tougher stance on economic reopening than Trump, his election may not disrupt Hollywood much. The industry has only partially gone back to work, hampered by the drastically increased costs of making new content. Biden has signaled he’ll prioritize getting industries battered by the virus back on their feet, suggesting companies could access funds needed to resume operations. When the pandemic finally does clear, life in Hollywood will probably go on as normal. The American film industry has come to dominate the world, in part because it has enjoyed wide, bipartisan support for decades.
Social Media: The end of the Trump era may make it easier for Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. to enforce their own rules without a sitting president at the middle of most debates. Biden’s arrival also might ease internal tension at the companies: Hundreds of Facebook employees held a virtual walkout in June, for example, after Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg refused to remove a Trump post about protests in Minneapolis. As Trump’s online platform of choice, Twitter may have the most to lose by his departure from the White House. A Biden presidency may temper political posts on TikTok, the music-video app that became a home for activist clips during the pandemic.
Telecom / Wireless: The phone giants — AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and T-Mobile US Inc. — don’t really get a big friend in the White House with President-elect Biden. It’s likely network neutrality comes back as a key issue for the Democrats, who will push to establish internet-fairness rules and possibly impose price rules on network traffic. Under Trump, the earlier rules were found to be an overreach by regulators. Another agenda item is broadband for all. You can expect this “digital-divide” problem to be addressed. There’s one big break with a Biden win: The GOP’s call for a government-run 5G network will go away.
Commodities and Energy
Agriculture: Any Biden rollback of tariffs on Chinese goods could clear the way for more shipments of U.S. farm products to Asia. But there’s concern a transition away from oil under Biden could erode demand for corn- and soy-based biofuels, which are mixed in with petroleum-based motor fuels. Some more left-leaning Democrats also may try to take a harder line against big agriculture companies. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have said the U.S. response to coronavirus outbreaks at meat plants this year was “feckless.”
Copper and Industrial Metals: Industrial metals such as copper would be a big beneficiary from additional stimulus and infrastructure spending, according to analysts including those at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. The upside under a divided government will be more limited or delayed. Goldman says global spending on green infrastructure will fuel metals demand in the next few years, noting a “front-footed” policy environment in Europe and China, with prospects for a similar U.S. agenda under a Biden administration.
Energy: Biden’s victory could end up reshaping the U.S. energy sector in years to come, although the president-elect may have limited room to maneuver if Republicans retain control of the Senate. Biden has pledged to spend trillions of dollars to speed up the transition from fossil fuels, slash emissions and curb climate change. Biden also has promised to ban new fracking on federal lands, which he may try to achieve via an executive order. Such a move would limit shale companies’ operations in several states, including New Mexico. Biden’s clampdown on emissions would reverse the Trump administration’s relaxation of environmental regulations. That potentially raises costs for the oil and gas industry.
Gold: The prospect of additional U.S. stimulus after the election could dent the dollar and raise the specter of inflation, giving a lift to gold’s status as a store of value. Two circumstances that helped push bullion to its record — negative real yields and unprecedented liquidity provided by central banks and governments — will be the main drivers to propel prices regardless of who becomes the next president, said Michael Cuggino, portfolio manager at Permanent Portfolio Family of Funds.
Steel and Aluminum: These industries were a top priority for Trump’s tariffs and trade policies, and tariffs probably won’t go away any time soon under Biden, who hasn’t placed trade at the top of his first-actions list. Producers and consumers have adjusted for the 25% duty on steel imports and the 10% duty on aluminum, and removing them may alienate Midwesterners who helped elect Biden. It also would compel producers including U.S. Steel Corp., Century Aluminum Co. and the United Steelworkers union to lobby for protections. It’s more likely Biden will keep the tariffs and embrace multilateral trade negotiations with key allies — the E.U., Japan, Canada — to oppose subsidized companies in China that produce more than half the world’s steel and aluminum. Trump openly shunned multilateral trade partnerships, so this would be a big change in policy.
Money: Finance and Venture Capital
Finance: Biden’s win could be good for Wall Street if he and lawmakers quickly pass a massive stimulus bill that boosts financial markets. But there’s a big risk for banks, hedge funds and private-equity firms over time if Biden concedes to progressive Democrats’ demands that he appoint industry skeptics to key roles at the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and Securities and Exchange Commission — powerful entities that manage the economy and police trading. And Biden has pledged to rescind Trump’s tax cuts, which have been a boon for banks.
Venture Capital: Biden has said he will allocate $10 billion to state and local venture-capital programs, which should help bolster startups and their backers around the country. But in tax terms, VCs probably will end up taking a hit. Biden has promised to increase corporate taxes and eliminate a preferential treatment of capital gains — the way most gains from venture funds are taxed — for the richest Americans. If public-equity investors decide corporate earnings will decline under Biden and stock markets tumble, some startups may be encouraged to delay initial public offerings.
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