Eq: Total Market
There was a beautiful four-month window between December 2018 and May 2019 when everything looked positive. The trade spat with China looked increasingly mild and economic data was strong. It was a mirage. Even the hefty 3.2% GDP growth figure was mostly because of an incredible buildup in inventories, which when stripped away leave growth at 1.5%. Further, revised data shows that industrial production has dropped 1.2% since December. Even though this counts for a small portion of the economy, it is highly indicative of the business cycle. Some areas like auto production and machinery are down much more at 5%.
FINSUM: The glorious rally of the first third of the year seems to have stalled and the bad news is piling up, with the trade war exacerbating everything.
Whenever serious volatility strikes, investors get very nervous and don’t know how to react. One of the big questions is should I stay in the market? The other is which assets should I buy? Surprisingly, there is a fairly simple solution to handle volatility: every time the market moves wildly, hedge your portfolio with cash and/or options. When the markets calm down, unwind the hedge. Returns on stocks have actually been historically strongest during periods of low volatility (not the opposite).
FINSUM: The most interesting aspect here is that studies show that market returns have been highest in low volatility periods. Many people think that you have to stay in the market during volatile periods to make great returns, but that is simply not the case.
The trade war has far reaching consequences. One way to think about it, as bleak as it sounds, is that there is no winner whatsoever. However, there are sectors, ETFs, and stocks that will likely lose more than others. The technology, materials, and industrial sectors stand to lose the most in a prolonged trade war as they have the largest proportion of manufacturing in China and the highest proportion of Chinese customers. Boeing and Ingersoll-Rand, for instance, are both very exposed to China. However, the greatest pain is likely to be felt by technology companies in the iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF like Qualcomm, Micron Technology, Broadcom, and Texas Instruments.
FINSUM: Basically anyone making or selling a large amount of products in China is in trouble. We also wonder about how increased tariffs would flow through to retailers who source a high percentage of their products in China (e.g. Walmart, Target etc.).
Economic data this year has mostly surprised to the upside. However, recently, things have started to disappoint. For instance, Citigroup’s basket of economic indicators has fallen to its lowest level since the Financial Crisis. Even the Atlanta Fed is bearish, recently forecasting GDP at 1.6%. Bond King Jeffrey Gundlach agrees, saying he believes the odds of a recession in the next 24 months are “very high”. He believes the chances of a recession within 12 months are 50-50.
FINSUM: We think Citi’s indicator is definitely overstating the situation. However, there are legitimate concerns about the economy, especially if you start to consider the possible implications of a trade war.
Yesterday was an ugly reminder of the fourth quarter. The Nasdaq fell 3.4%, its worst decline since December 4th. The S&P 500 wasn’t much better. The big falls came on the announcement that Trump was considering raising tariffs on a further $300 bn of Chinese imports following the failure of negotiations last week. Investors are anxious that the trade war may continue to escalate and impact the global economy. One economist summarized the situation this way, saying “The confrontation has now escalated to a battle of testosterone between two leaders who believe they have much to prove to their constituents. But the longer this exhibition of chest-beating lasts, the greater the odds of a US, if not global, recession”.
FINSUM: Though recently we have been more placid, a couple of months ago we were worried that a deal might be hard to complete because of how much China has on the line politically. The country’s unelected leaders need to keep their people happy, which means the stakes are incredibly high for them.
The stock market is in knots this week. The trade war between the US and China is increasing in intensity even as the two sides negotiate. This morning it hit a new peak as Trump hiked tariffs on $200 bn on Chinese goods. With the trade war looking more likely to continue, Goldman Sachs has recommended what it says are the best stocks for an all-out trade war. The general idea from David Kostin’s team at GS is to buy service firms, which are less exposed to tariffs and have better corporate fundamentals. Here is a list of the companies in Goldman’s selection group: Facebook, Visa, Bank of America, Walt Disney, Home Depot, Netflix, McDonalds.
FINSUM: This is an interesting mix of large and mega caps and we agree with Goldman’s simple, yet compelling thesis.