Bloomberg has published a very interesting article arguing that China’s economy and financial system might be on the edge of implosion. The publication mentions that the government’s bailout of Baoshang Bank last month has put money markets on edge, and for the first time, short-term lending between big institutions has started to freeze up. For the first time in decades, lenders are facing the prospect of defaults and haircuts on loans to other financial institutions. This has led funding costs for companies to shoot higher.
FINSUM: As is the norm with China, we have little direct insight into this. However, if you take a step back and look at the overall pressure on the economy from the trade war and combine it with the data above, it does sound like something very nasty could be brewing.
Small caps are an interesting consideration right now. Ever since Trump’s election, they have had a general stimulus behind them from the widespread ethos of protectionism. Now, though, that push looks bigger than ever because of the trade war, meaning small caps might have smooth sailing. The problem is that it is hard to find the best small caps because of a lack of coverage by analysts and a weak online presence by many of them. With that in mind, Barron’s has some suggestions for how find good investments in the area, including joining online small cap communities (like Equity.guru and Small Cap Discoveries) and leveraging online discovery tools, like TMX Matrix, CEO.ca, and VRify.
FINSUM: A lot of alpha can be found in small caps simply through hard work and research. It is one of the areas of the equity markets where EMH theory is truly crap and knowledge advantages predominate.
Whether investors like it or not, a recession is coming. One of the key indicators is for a yield curve inversion to last 90 days or more. If it does so, a recession is highly likely in the next 12-18 months. Well, the first point of inversion began in March and we just crossed the 90-day threshold, which means that the strongest indicator of recession has just been triggered. Here are some tips to prepare: clear out garbage holdings from your portfolio (e.g. the stock tip from your brother in law six months ago), set aside cash and come up with a plan to buy stocks when certain thresholds are hit (e.g. a 25% decline in key indexes), pay down debt (it might not be this easy to do so again for awhile).
FINSUM: For all the talk we have heard over the last year about “this time is different”, the reality is that the strongest recession indicator known has just been triggered.
The muni bond market is in a difficult place for investors. Demand is far outstripping supply, which means prices are high and yields low, leaving investors few opportunities to find value. However, few does not mean none, so here are some places to find good value municipal bonds. Airport muni bonds can be a good choice, as they tend to fair well in recessions and have very defensible funding sources (e.g. state and local governments). Toll-road bonds are another good choice, as they have very strong credit characteristics (only two have defaulted since 1970). Toll roads in San Francisco, New York, Oklahoma, and Maine are particularly good bets as there are few options for drivers to avoid them.
FINSUM: These seem like well-thought out and defensible choices.
More some time now, bonds have been sending worrying signals to investors. The huge plunge in yields has been seen as a warning sign that the economy may be headed south. However, more recently, fixed income is sending more comforting signals. In particular, the recent narrowing of corporate bond spreads. Bond spreads had been rising for some time, but have leveled off recently, showing fixed income investors are not as worried about the economy and corporate performance. The overall spread is still well below where it was in the 2015-2016 growth scare.
FINSUM: The leveling off of spreads is a good sign that some stability is coming back to the market.
You may normally think of it in terms of stocks, but “buy low, sell high” applies to bonds just as much, and that is a good way to think of the market right now. With yields having fallen so far since last year, one strategist said it was time to accept the “the present the Fed has given us”, and swap out bonds for floating rate securities, which have lagged this rally. The scale of returns in the bond market is impressive. For instance, the iShares 20+ year Treasury Bond ETF has risen over 9% since the beginning of the year.
FINSUM: It seems unlikely to us that bond yields are going to drop much further, which means there is little reason to wait for further gains.