Despite lots of hopes that a US-led trade war would never come to pass, it is now happening. The US has just imposed $50 bn worth of tariffs on China, which is an escalation of previous metal tariffs, and appears to be a major step towards starting a global trade war. With that in mind, how can one protect their portfolio? While almost all sectors are affected by a trade war, the worst ones will be industrials, autos, and meat producers. Auto companies are likely to be hit very hard by tariffs, so it is best to stay away.
FINSUM: The other thing the market does not seem to be taking into account is that tariffs seem likely to increase US inflation, as companies tend to pass along the increase cost of production onto consumers. That could be an additional downside risk, but one potentially offset by the chance of recession.
American investors tend to be focused on US stocks, which over the last several years has been very fortunate. However, there are potentially great discounts to be had overseas. Barron’s has just picked five overseas bargain equities, borrowing from fund manager Dodge & Cox. According to the CIO of Dodge & Cox, “There’s very strong secular growth in some regions outside the U.S. … If you want to participate, you need to own local-market stocks”. The picks are Itau Unibanco Holdings (Brazil), South African media company Naspers, and French drug company Sanofi. They also like DISH Network and Google at home.
FINSUM: So there are obviously great bargains to be had overseas, but we think it takes a real focus to understand the dynamics integral to picking shares in such different markets. Funds that specialize in doing so seem like a good idea.
Income stocks are a tough asset to place right now. On the one hand they have provided steady income since the Crisis, but as rates have risen, they have started to be wounded by losses and their yields no longer look as promising. Only 25% of stocks in the S&P 500 have yields higher than the 10-year Treasury bond. But what about stocks that are still handily out-yielding bonds? The best places to look are in consumer staples (averaging 3.3% yields), real estate (3.4%), telecom (5.4%), and utilities (3.6%).
FINSUM: So you can still get some great yields, but the big risk at the moment is capital losses because of rising rates.
Rates are rising, and that usually means bad news for income stocks. This time looks no different. Both utilities and real estate have been wounded this year, with both down between 3% and 6% for the year. The sectors are also getting increasingly unfavorable ratings from analysts.
FINSUM: We are pretty worried about losses coming for good income stocks as short-term Treasuries are yielding so much. Additionally, the Fed is sounding more hawkish, which only adds momentum to losses for rate sensitive equities.
Investors look out! After years of booming asset prices on the back of extraordinarily loose monetary policy, everything looks like it is about to implode. Not only is the Fed hiking and looking hawkish, but the ECB is in the middle of a covert meeting likely about how to end QE. China also looks close to reigning in its economy. Altogether, the economy on which current markets have been built looks set for change, which might cause big problems for equity investors.
FINSUM: So far “normalization” of interest rates has been quite slow, which has let investors sort of ignore the process. If things start accelerating quickly, then markets may react very sharply.