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Why Biden’s climate policies could be good for the S&P 500

February 14, 2021, 11:00 AM UTC

Could the Biden administration’s push to do good for the environment end up doing good for your portfolio?

Strategists at Bank of America seem to think so. According to a Thursday report by the bank’s economists and strategists, the impact of President Biden’s proposed climate policies and green infrastructure spending should be “mostly good” for the S&P 500.

As the U.S. seeks to “catch up” to other nations in its climate friendly policies, “the net positive impact on the economy will likely boost corporate profits,” strategists led by Savita Subramanian, equity and quant strategist at Bank of America, wrote Thursday.

Indeed, President Biden has quickly gotten to work initiating a variety of climate-related policies and actions, in some cases working to roll back Trump-era policies related to the environment.

Though economists at Bank of America led by U.S. economist Michelle Meyer note in the report there “will be ‘transition’ costs from the policies put in place to fight climate change,” they argue “the research is clear: without efforts to slow climate change, potential GDP growth will fall.”

Central to the administration’s plans is Biden’s massive proposed $2 trillion infrastructure bill. The BofA economists note that “while the final details of the infrastructure plan are expected to be hashed out later this year, we can get a high level of sense of the potential boost to GDP from using the total $2 [trillion] (9.5% of GDP) price tag.” The boost BofA expects? Biden’s infrastructure plan “could yield a GDP boost of 1.9-8.6% in the short run and considerably more in the long run,” the economists wrote, citing estimates by the International Monetary Fund and the Congressional Budget Office. “While the range of potential benefits is wide, there is clearly scope for significant upside.”

From climate to corporate profits

But what could that mean for investors?

Predicated on those expectations, “benefits over the long-term would obviously translate into a better overall corporate earnings backdrop for the S&P 500,” according to the BofA strategists. They note that since 1960, a “1% move in US GDP growth has roughly translated into 3% to 4% move in S&P 500 earnings growth,” and that the impact “has been greater within the more economically sensitive or cyclical areas (Retail, Manufacturing, Financials, etc).”

In other words, a boost to GDP and infrastructure spending should bolster corporate profit growth, and thus large-cap share prices, over time.

Indeed, Sameer Samana, Wells Fargo Investment Institute’s senior global market strategist, tells Fortune that with the possibility of a large infrastructure package coming in the fall, “it’s very likely that overall growth will do well and that the S&P 500 as a whole will benefit,” he tells Fortune. (Wells Fargo currently has a 4,000 to 4,200-point target for the S&P 500 in 2021.)

“In some ways, fiscal spending … eventually finds its way into the coffers of corporations because it’s not the government that builds a lot of these things,” Samana says. A broad shift toward more climate-friendly policies, upgraded infrastructure, and rising productivity “should be something that, in the long run, helps to lower costs,” Samana says, and “could easily be a driver of greater profitability in the future.”

But to be sure, it’s bound to be more difficult to pass legislation (like a carbon tax, for example) with an incredibly narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, cautions Jeff Kleintop, Charles Schwab’s chief global investment strategist. And any policies and regulations that do manage to get passed “will likely bear economic costs, especially for the oil and gas sector,” BofA notes.

If there are green spending initiatives baked into future stimulus, however, “There is increasingly a wide range of businesses, and even the traditional energy companies themselves, that may benefit,” Kleintop tells Fortune.

Winners and losers

Not all sectors in the S&P 500 would benefit equally from a shift toward a more climate-friendly economy.

Strategists at BofA suggest the Biden administration’s “proposed infrastructure spending could support economic activity in areas like industrials and materials” as well as U.S. small caps, while Wells Fargo’s Samana points to other “clear winners” including “generators of renewable energy” like solar and wind utilities and equipment makers, “renewable transportation and infrastructure” like manufacturers of EV trucks and cars (and even charging stations), and “those that will contribute the technology that will underpin much of this,” like semiconductors, internet service providers, and wireless carriers.

“The biggest sector in the S&P 500 continues to be tech, and they’ll power a lot of this,” argues Samana.

Naturally if Congress is able to pass legislation cracking down on emissions and levying a potential carbon tax, companies in the oil and gas industries are likely to take a hit. The BofA strategists note the “long-term losers are likely to be within traditional commodities-driven sectors, and serve as a further depressant on oil prices over the long term.”

But, on a positive note, that might not matter too much for many people’s portfolios. The BofA strategists point out that “companies with the highest direct emissions/oil price betas … have largely been purged from investors’ holdings.”