It has been more than 18 months of brinksmanship in the making, but the US and China are apparently set to seal a phase one trade deal. The deal will be signed at 11:30 am in the White House. The deal leaves out a lot of the most difficult and contentious issues between the countries, but is a sign that things are improving. The FT summarizes the substance of the deal this way, saying “It commits China to making $200bn in additional purchases of US goods, including farm products, and other pledges on currency and intellectual property, in exchange for a small rollback in some tariffs and an indefinite hold on further punitive measures out of Washington”.
FINSUM: The key thing here is that both countries want this work out and this deal is a step in the right direction. We find this quite positive in the grand scheme of things.
If one thing is for sure about markets at the moment, it is that investors are less worried about the economy and less stressed about the chances of a bear market. That is exactly why the market is at risk. The market’s fear index, the VIX, jumped a whopping 16% yesterday, signaling some underlying anxiety building after a calm and positive stretch. One of the factors that is looming over markets is whether the tariff deadlines on China get delayed or not, which will be a sign of progress or failure on the trade deal. Further, fears over the election, and higher rates, are likely to dampen corporate spending and slow the economy.
FINSUM: Our worry is that the anxiety level at the moment does not seem to be matching the real risk, which ironically is when the chance of a market downturn is at its highest.
One asset manager called last year’s fourth quarter stock rout perfectly, and they are doubling down, saying it will happen again this year. Principal Global Investors’ Seema Shah says that stocks are facing another imminent selloff if the US and China can’t get a trade deal done before the December 15th tariff deadline. “If that trade deal doesn’t happen and if everything falls apart and it feels like tensions are getting worse, then I think we are facing a potential repeat of last year, and it will be worse”, said Shah. She says that the shock could be even bigger than in other parts of the year because of how liquidity disappears in December.
FINSUM: So we are dubious on this call, but what is interesting to us is that this argument was published on November 28th, and since then Trump has backtracked on the trade deal timeline.
It might seem a bit of an over-exaggeration at this moment, but it is not too far-fetched. Hong Kong is continuing to devolve into ever more violent and disruptive protesting, and the pictures and developments seem to indicate that the situation might be devolving into a kind of disorganized civil war. Protesters have taken siege of the university in the city and the City’s security forces attempted unsuccessfully to forcefully take it back this morning.
FINSUM: What is the mainland going to do here? Things are getting worse and worse.
Hedge fund icon Ray Dalio delivered a grim speech yesterday at a gala dinner for the National Committee on US-China Relations. The investor is worried about war in all it forms. He said that “There is a trade war, there is a technology war, there is a geopolitical war, and there could be a capital war”. Famed former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also spoke at the event and told both sides that they must avoid a shooting war at all costs, as no side can win.
FINSUM: Everyone on both sides will hopefully be somewhat relieved if a “phase one” trade deal can be reached.