When it comes to making waves this election season, arguably no one has rocked the boat more than real estate mogul Donald Trump. Although polls aren't necessarily representative of the national vote, Trump has consistently been the frontrunner among the Republican field of presidential hopefuls since the first debate. What had once been inconceivable -- a Donald Trump presidency -- is now being giving some level of credence.
Two things in particular make Trump the candidate favored by most Republican candidates based on the early polls. First, he's not a lifelong politician. Americans appear fed up with Congress' recent inaction and they'd like someone in the Oval Office who'll get things done. An outsider might be the ticket to that happening.
Second, Trump is a self-made man. True, he was given a position in his father's company back in 1974, but he's worked the real estate and investing angle to the tune of billions of dollars. His wealth puts him beyond the influence of campaign donors, and it gives some Americans hope that his business prowess could help solve our nation's problems, including our growing national debt.
But not everything in Trump's portfolio will draw cheers.
Surprisingly controversial stock holdings in Trump's portfolio
As part of running as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump was required to file a mountain of paperwork with the Federal Election Commission this past summer disclosing his financial assets. Included in this disclosure were stock holdings of between $33.4 million and $87.9 million. The reason behind this wide range is because the financial filings only require a range, not a specific number, be given. Based on the disclosure, Trump has five stock accounts in total, with between 31 and 173 stock holdings in each portfolio.
Many of his holdings are respected, household brand-name companies such as Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson. However, three stock holdings stand out as being particularly controversial.
Maybe the biggest surprise is that Trump holds between $15,001 and $50,000 worth of Monsanto (NYSE:MON) stock in one of his two wealth management accounts with Deutsche Bank. According to a Nielsen poll conducted in 2014 of 60 high-profile companies, Monsanto ranked as the third most hated, behind only BP, which is the company responsible for the worst oil spill in history, and Bank of America, one of the main faces of the mortgage meltdown.
Consumers despise Monsanto for using its genetic prowess to modify and protect crops to improve yield. This might involve the use of pesticides, or the literal genetic modification of seeds to improve yield. The concern among some of the public is that genetically modified organisms may be contributing to a number of adverse health consequences. Monsanto's GMO's and its Roundup herbicide have, in certain studies per NaturalSociety.com, been linked to infertility and birth defects. Adding icing on the cake, Monsanto has also lobbied hard to keep labels off products that are genetically modified.
2. Gilead Sciences
Trump owns shares of drug developer Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) in two of his five investment accounts. Per the filing, Trump owns between $100,001 and $250,000 worth of Gilead stock in a Deutsche asset management account and between $250,001 and $500,000 in an account with Oppenheimer.
The reason Gilead could turn heads is because it's the developer of Sovaldi and Harvoni, the once-daily hepatitis C drugs that have revolutionized treatment for patients and also cost nothing short of an arm and a leg.
Gilead's Harvoni, the standard of care for genotype 1 HCV, can be administered without the need for IV interferon or a ribavirin, both of which can cause side effects that include flu-like symptoms, anemia, and rashes. It also delivered a sustained virologic response of 90% or higher in clinical studies, thus providing an effective cure for the disease. Unfortunately, this cure comes with a $1,125-per-pill price tag, or $94,500 for a normal 12-week treatment course. HCV genotype 1 patients who aren't treatment-naïve and have liver cirrhosis may need 24 weeks of treatment, or $189,000 on a wholesale level. Even though insurers often get a gross-to-net discount from wholesale costs, this is an exorbitant amount of money to pay for an effective HCV cure for consumers and insurers.
How high was Gilead's HCV drug price? So high that it drew the ire of Congress, which called Gilead's management in for questioning in 2014 to explain its $1,000-per-pill price for Sovaldi.
Trump's filing shows that he owns between $500,001 and $1,000,000 worth of Altria (NYSE:MO) stock in his Oppenheimer brokerage account. Altria is the largest U.S. tobacco company and the manufacturer behind the iconic Marlboro brand.
It's not so much that Altria is among the most hated companies in America as it's just generally disliked for being in the business of addiction. Altria is a vice stock, and it profits off the bad habits of others. While gambling can be a financially draining habit, it's often not tied to being a killer. Smoking tobacco, on the other hand, has been unquestionably tied to an increased risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease since 1964 per the U.S. surgeon general.
Even though adult smoking rates in the U.S. have fallen below 18% from 42% five decades prior, largely as a result of educational campaigns by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Altria continues to pile on the profits. Net income is up from $3.2 billion in 2009 to $5.1 billion as of 2014. Why? It all comes back to addiction. Consumers' addiction to nicotine tends to create a long-term customer for the company, and it affords Altria some of the strongest pricing power imaginable.
What these stocks all have in common
These three controversial stocks may not be well-liked but what you can't call them is unsuccessful.
One commonality among the majority of Trump's stock holdings, including these three, is that he prefers large brand names, and he loves a company that pays a dividend. Gilead Sciences is among a rare breed of biotech stocks that does pay a stipend; Monsanto is paying out a 2.4% yield, which is more of less in line with the overall market average; and Altria is kicking back a superior 4% annual yield to its shareholders. Wealthy investors love dividend stocks because dividend payments act as a beacon that signals other investors that a company is so financially sound it can afford to share its profits with investors.
The other common feature here is that Trump tends to pick companies that have long-term appeal. Gilead Sciences has a drug portfolio in therapeutic indications well beyond HCV, but even looking at HCV alone, it has a treatment runway that could extend well beyond a decade. Altria has pricing power on its side, and it also has the opportunity to expand into smokeless products in order to diversify its pipeline and bolster sales. Even hated Monsanto could have a very bright future as its story involves improving crop yields on a planet where the population is growing but the cultivatable land mass is not.
The lesson here is simple: A company can be controversial and still succeed if there's a solid long-term business outlook in place. It's something Trump has seen in these stocks, and given his financial acumen for success, it might be all the more reason for you to take a deeper dive into these names.