Those nearing retirement are likely comforted that rates have risen and returns from fixed income are much higher than the near zero coupons of the 2008-2015 era. Pension funds are finding it easier to meet their return goals, and generally speaking, the environment for retirees is on much better footing. However, the risk of a return to zero interest rates in the next recession seems very high, according to independent research. The Fed tends to raise rates slowly and cut them quickly, so the threat of a return to zero rates seems very plausibe the next time the economy goes into reverse (maybe 2020?). Even the Fed staff itself acknowledges this likelihood.
FINSUM: The risk of a protracted return to zero interest rates is not inconsiderable and is likely one of those late night stress points for those nearing retirement (and their advisors!).
Those of you who read our opinions on how the trade war with the US is affecting China will know that one of main concerns is about the relationship between the government and the people in China. This week, Xi has echoed that warning. The Chinese leader stressed the need to maintain political stability in the face of economic challenges. The warning, which came at an unusual meeting of Chinese leaders, shows the ruling party’s anxieties over the social implications of the slowing economy.
FINSUM: Chinese leadership is in a tight jam. On the one hand they have the US squeezing them with tariffs, and on the other, they have the need to maintain the economy’s strong growth to keep people happy. Remember that leaders are unelected, so their grip on control is very tied to keeping everyone satisfied.
Here is potentially good news for investors—the market’s start to this year has been the best since 1987. Both the S&P and Russell have risen considerably in the first 12 sessions of the year, with the former jumping 8.8%. The best start since ’87 sounds good, except that 1987 rivals 2008 as having the worst reputation with investors (shares fell almost 23% in a single day in October 1987). Analysts are urging caution, especially on small caps, as the gains don’t seem sustainable given the huge buildup in leverage that has occurred in small companies over the last few years.
FINSUM: The parallel to 1987 is completely irrelevant, as it is really only based on the percentage gain over 12 sessions.
Markets are taking bad news out of China hard. New data out of Beijing shows that the country’s exports dropped sharply in December. The figures suggest a global slowdown, and a brutal trade war with the US are taking their toll on the Chinese economy. Exports fell a whopping 4.4%. China also held a $323 bn trade surplus with the US, the largest since 2006. Imports fell 7.6%, showing how much the slowdown in China was affecting demand. Car sales in in the country also declined for the first time since 1990.
FINSUM: The tariffs are working, but there is a larger issue at stake—the US and the world’s relationship to China. There is a lot of strain being put on the country, and we are concerned about how the government there will react.
The Fed is facing a herculean task, argues the Wall Street Journal. That task is to keep inflation at its target, while also steering a moderation in growth. In other words, how does the Fed keep inflation in check without causing a recession? One way to consider this challenge is to think about how the Fed may approach it: “focus more on the domestic economy and keep nudging interest rates higher to combat inflationary concerns, or pay greater attention to stresses abroad and in the markets, and hold rates steady or even nudge them lower”, says the WSJ.
FINSUM: We think this is not as hard as rumored. Our view is that the Fed should freeze rate hikes and broadcast that a long-term freeze is the plan. That should put the economy (and markets) on solid footing, and keep things from getting too out of hand.
Happy new year—the Dow opened down 350 points this morning on fears over a Chinese slowdown. New data is out of the country which shows that Beijing’s manufacturing sector is contracting, a sign that tariffs may be flowing through to the economy. That makes markets hope more than ever for a trade agreement between the US and Beijing, which would likely alleviate the economic strain. The S&P 500 has fallen 20.2% on an intraday basis, an official bear market.
FINSUM: The implications of a big Chinese slowdown are serious. Firstly, how does the country react politically to what they likely view (or will project) as a US-imposed slowdown? Secondly, how much does the slowdown drag down the global economy?