In what shocked us as a very eye opening statement, a number of funds are saying the market now is more fragile than before the Financial Crisis. According to one so-called tail fund, or funds that invest for profiting when there is a big market reversal, “The financial system is a lot more fragile than it was in 2007 … Leverage is up on every single metric, in just about every category, and debt has increased. The more you indebt someone, the more fragile they become, especially with variable interest rates”, says hedge fund manager Richard Haworth.
FINSUM: These kind of funds are always warning about the next catastrophe, but somehow their warnings seem more prescient right now.
If you have been reading the news, you will have seen that many are starting to worry that a recession is on the way. While the economy still seems to be in good shape, at the fringes are some data that could foretell a period of contraction. The question is how sharp a contraction might come at the end of this long bull market and economic cycle. Well, Wall Street economists think that the contraction will be slow rather than a steep drop off. Most economists see solid global growth this year of between 3-4%, but thereafter is when things could get dicey.
FINSUM: The big troubling sign to us is that both the US and Europe, which were on different cycles, both seem to be slowing this year, which could portend a recession sooner rather than later.
For anyone who thinks a trade war might not hurt the US economy, or that one may be easy to win, this is an important story. Robert Shiller, famed economist, just said a trade war with China would cause quick and devastating damage to the US economy. “It’s just chaos … The immediate thing will be an economic crisis because these enterprises are built on long-term planning, they’ve developed a skilled workforce and ways of doing things”. Shiller says that even if tariffs don’t directly affect the economy, many companies will lose their confidence to plan and invest. “It’s exactly those ‘wait and see’ attitudes that cause a recession”, says Shiller.
FINSUM: So we imagine that a trade war would be very disruptive and would undermine the confidence of US companies as it would destabilize the ground on which industry has been built for the last 25+ years. However, the US has put itself at the raw end of trade deals for many years and claiming some ground back may be positive in the long-term.
Investors get ready, because it looks like the next recession is on the horizon and the Fed is set to start it. And we are not talking about a distant horizon. The Fed has now made its goal a task that has been nearly impossible historically. That is to boost the unemployment rate without causing a recession. The odds of failure are very high and the Fed has never successfully achieved it in its history. The reason the Fed wants to boost unemployment is that labor markets are very tight, which will produce unacceptably high inflation. Accordingly the Fed must intentionally walk up the unemployment rate to keep things in check. The tool it will use is gradual rate rises to slow down growth and boost unemployment.
FINSUM: We think the Fed is probably going to fail in this exercise, either by being too dovish and letting inflation get too high, or by being overly hawkish. Either way we do not see a good outcome. This cycle might have just crested.
President Trump is set to unveil a package of trade tariffs on $60 bn worth of Chinese goods. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese are preparing their retaliation, focused on US agricultural exports. However, the very interesting part is the retaliatory package will only be on $3 bn of US imports to China, much smaller than the US package. The new Chinese tariffs will be on items ranging from fruit to pork to recycled metals. One US adviser commented “All the products on the list are small potatoes, and the real important ones are U.S. farm products like soybeans and sorghum”.
FINSUM: So why is the Chinese measure so much smaller? In our view it means that they are either afraid to seriously anger the US, or that they need our imports much more than we realize. Interesting development.
Markets have been on edge for weeks, and it appears with good reason. President Trump is reportedly putting the finishing touches on a major trade tariff package that is directed at China (to the tune of $50 bn). The focus of the tariffs are on metals. In response, China is planning its own set of tariffs on US agricultural exports, especially from Farm Belt states.
FINSUM: So the US is negotiating exemptions with top allies, but is starting a trade war with China a good idea? The politically difficult aspect for Trump is that China’s retaliation against US agricultural exports will hurt the states that helped elect the president.