The possibility that Elizabeth Warren could win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination — and perhaps even defeat Donald Trump — is starting to unnerve some in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street.
But would a President Warren actually be a bad thing for big business and the stock market?
Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees this summer that a Warren White House would not be good for the social media networking company, because of her calls to break up Facebook (FB) and other big tech companies.
Tech news site The Verge reported earlier this month that, according to leaked audio clips, Zuckerberg said “if [Warren] gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah.”
And a recent survey by RBC Capital Markets showed that investors are nervous about Joe Biden’s poll numbers and Warren’s ascent.
“Investors clearly think Biden is better for the stock market than Warren,” said Lori Calvasina, head of US equity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, in the report. In fact, Warren was viewed as “the least market friendly” candidate, Calvasina noted.
Warren has a populist platform and has talked about doing more to regulate the financial, tech, health care and energy industries. She has also proposed a wealth tax of 2% annually on households with a net worth above $50 million and 3% on households with a net worth higher than $1 billion.
So it’s understandable why Wall Street has concerns about Warren.
The reasons why Warren wouldn’t tank the stock market
Still, some experts think that worries about Warren are way overdone.
For one, few believe that the Senate will flip to Democratic control in 2020 — even if President Trump loses his reelection bid.
So there are limits to how much a President Warren could do with executive orders if Congress is split, said Matt Daly, a managing director and head of corporate credit research at Conning.
And a Warren win could boost some parts of the market and economy, Daly told CNN Business. He pointed to clean energy and infrastructure as sectors that likely would benefit if Warren were to win the race for the White House.
Even though Mark Zuckerberg may not be a fan of the Massachusetts senator, other leaders in the tech industry support Warren’s candidacy.
Big Tech starting to warm to Warren
According to a Vox/Recode story earlier this month, numerous tech insiders said they liked Warren because of her rigorous approach to coming up with policy ideas. Many also viewed her as a more palatable alternative to Bernie Sanders, who is also on the far-left, progressive side of the Democratic party.
To that end, employees and PACs tied to Google owner Alphabet (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT) are listed by the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org site as among the biggest donors to Warren’s campaign. CNN owner AT&T (T), Disney (DIS) and IBM (IBM) were also among the top 20 contributors.
Analysts at tech, media and telecom research firm MoffettNathanson don’t seem worried about Warren either, noting that there’s a difference between campaign rhetoric and actual policy.
“We’re relatively sanguine. Sure, a Warren presidency would heighten regulatory risks. But a Warren presidency would heighten regulatory risks for lots of industries,” the MoffettNathanson analysts said in a report. The analysts added that “her platform has more planks than a pirate ship; she’s got plans for everything.”
Warren has also talked tough about China. That actually could be good for the markets, despite current concerns about the trade war.
Even though Trump’s tactic of imposing more tariffs on China has hurt American companies and consumers — including from China’s retaliatory measures — there is support in the business community for Washington to enforce intellectual property rights more forcefully with Beijing.
Warren would probably continue that approach. So it may not be in China’s best interests to drag out trade talks and hope that it will no longer have to deal with Trump in 2021 if Warren continues to gain ground in the polls.
“There is growing consensus that China may hold out, trying to ‘run out the clock’ on the Trump administration through next November. These dynamics are changing, however, as Elizabeth Warren emerges and Joe Biden fades,” said Mark Hackett, chief of investment research at Nationwide, in a report this week.
“Warren is running on populist policies and could be as challenging an adversary to the Chinese than Trump,” Hackett added.
Continued pressure on China in a Warren White House?
A likely strong approach to dealing with China is a key reason why Kyle Bass, founder of the Hayman Capital Management hedge fund, said he is backing Warren too.
Bass told CNN Business in August that he would “immediately” vote for Warren because of her stance on China. She has criticized the country’s environmental and labor/human rights policies and has also accused China of currency manipulation.
It’s also worth noting that Wall Street was initially wary of Barack Obama in 2008 because of similar fears about the prospects for tougher regulations on the health care and financial sectors. (Of course, Wall Street was scared about lots of things unrelated to politics in 2008, such as the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the Great Recession.)
But the Obama presidency wound up being far more friendly to businesses than many had expected. So the same thing could happen if Warren wins the White House.