Investors have gotten so used to low inflation that it is sometimes hard to imagine seeing it rise. However, Morgan Stanley is warning that inflation is rising across the globe and investors need to keep an eye on it. In Europe, Asia, and the US, inflation has risen from 1.1% to 1.4%, and it is bound to move higher, according to Morgan Stanley’s chief global economist. Interestingly, MS argues that the Euro area and Japan will see a higher rise in inflation than the US.
FINSUM: If inflation rises more strongly in other developed markets than the US, will that lead to even more foreign buying of US bonds because yields in those locations are so much lower? In other words, will there be even more demand for US bonds?
Here is a mundane but important question: what is the best single fund to track the whole market? There is now a wealth of options, from Fidelity’s free index tracker all the way to popular, but more costly SPY. The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one might think, as each of the funds has its own characteristics. For instance, while Vanguard’s VTI is popular, it has a quirky structure that can boost unrealized gains. It is also harder to trade without fees. Fidelity’s zero fee index mutual fund is a good choice, but only available on its own platform. Blackrock’s ITOT might be the best choice overall when considering fees, performance, and availability.
FINSUM: For being considered “vanilla”, there certainly are a lot of different flavors of index tracker these days.
The market fell in a big way yesterday. The root cause? Apple. Apple has cut its iPhone sales guidance, and it now seems a recession is coming to the whole Apple universe. The numerous companies that make their living supplying Apple seem set for a severe correction and are paring their estimates back sharply. Investors didn’t seem ready for this slowdown in the iPhone, perhaps misguided by the hype that has recently surrounded new models. The fact is that the iPhone is now a mature product, and maintaining the kind of growth it once had is likely untenable, a fact that even Wall Street analysts are starting to admit.
FINSUM: Apple’s business is changing and it seems to be doing a good job managing that transition, though everyone hopes it will have a new dynamite product. That said, a general recession surrounding the iPhone universe seems likely.
The Democrats may have won the House, but they are at a definitive crossroads. While the Republicans currently have a well-defined brand and agenda, the Democrats found themselves largely without a leader and without a clear agenda (other than being anti-Trump). That means they will have some big decisions to make in the near term as they try to mount a push for the presidency in 2020. There appear to be two major policy decisions the party is considering. The first is whether pursuing a fruitless impeachment against Donald Trump would be worthwhile, and the second, and frankly more intriguing question, is whether they will adopt a “Medicare for all” platform.
FINSUM: So much hangs in the balance right now. The Democrats have let themselves be overshadowed by the Republican party and will need to find their ideological and policy footing ahead of the next election. We expect the party’s agenda will move further left in order to serve as a mobilizing foil for its base.
The Brexit deal has taken so long to figure out that it mostly seemed hopeless. Markets were legitimately pricing in the chances of a no-deal Brexit. Now, the EU and UK have announced they have come to a provisional agreement. While that is cause for some relief, it is very far from a done deal as both the UK and European Parliaments need to endorse the agreement. The UK side in particular may be tricky as PM Theresa May needs to rally an extremely factionalized government behind her.
FINSUM: This could go many ways, but we think either everything will just fall into place quietly, or there will be major fireworks
The big selloff in bonds has caused a wipeout in emerging markets. The sector, which has seen broad turmoil this year, just witnessed its biggest selloff since March. That fact is quite eye-opening given that the period includes all the worries over Turkey. The big losses have largely been driven by the appreciating Dollar, which hurts EM economies and assets. With the US economy going so well and the Fed likely to increase the pace of hikes, EMs look vulnerable. The MSCI EM Index fell 2% today.
FINSUM: There are some idiosyncratic problems, but EM economies don’t look as weak as this year’s market performance would suggest. It is really US strength that is hurting EM assets.
The reality is that the Fed has been hiking steadily, and investors should expect 2-3 more hikes in 2019. That means that adjusting one’s portfolio is a must. One thing to remember is that there are now plenty of ETFs that are designed to not lose from rates rising and still give an easy 2-3% yield. This is a big change from the post-Crisis paradigm, where safety meant negligible yields. One conservative way to play the environment is the SPDR Barclays 1-3 Treasury Bill ETF (BIL). Another is the iShares Floating Rate Bond ETF (FLOT), which only yields 2.5%, but with very little rate risk. One much more intriguing option is the WisdomTree Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Negative Duration ETF (AGDN). This fund holds a long bond position coupled with a short Treasury position with a target duration of -5 years, meaning it is designed to gain when rates rise.
FINSUM: This is a good selection of ETFs, and that Wisdomtree option looks quite interesting. It truly seems a way to profit as rates rise.
As analysts and the market try to sort out how the new division in Congress will play out in markets, one beneficiary is becoming increasingly clear. Aerospace analyst Ron Epstein of Merrill Lynch had this to say the day before last week’s election, “The change to Democratic control of the House is the best scenario for defense spending. It points to upside in the defense budget. Gridlock keeps budgets intact, and defense is a bipartisan issue”. That argument is a bedrock of the new view that defense stocks are likely going to surge in the new Congressional environment. Epstein points out that aerospace companies are simultaneously seeing commercial and defense businesses growing strongly.
FINSUM: Earnings seem like they will stay in very good shape for the defense sector, and because budget changes look unlikely, the whole industry seems to be in for smooth sailing.
The whole Fiduciary rule saga seemed to be over earlier this year, but now that couldn’t be further from reality. While the DOL seemed to gracefully fade from the limelight in March, the truth is that the rule is a “sleeping giant’ according to one industry lawyer. That giant has now woken up, as the DOL is set to release an updated version of its rule in September of next year. The big question is how the SEC rule will be affected, and whether the rules will work in tandem. In either case, advisors and brokers seem likely to see much more regulation within a year or so.
FINSUM: The other big question is whether the political changes in Washington mean the SEC rule might be scuttled in some way. We sense some big changes happening.
Gold has been in an extraordinary multi-year slump. From its peak of around $1,900 a few years ago, the shiny metal has sunk into a multi-year bear market, recently settling at around $1,200 an ounce. However, a couple of factors are coming together that may mean the bad times are over. The first is that there has been consolidation in the mining sector, but secondly, because the pending trade wars have meant that central banks have been buying more gold as a safe haven. This type of demand rose 8% since last year, and gold buying by central banks is off to its best start since 2015.
FINSUM: Unfortunately, we have to disagree with this article. Buying gold as we move into a higher-rate and stronger Dollar period contradicts all the fundamentals of the market. Furthermore, we think if gold was going to benefit from trade war fears, it would have already started.
Sometimes we just have to run a story for fun that has no relevance to markets or investing. This is one of them. Evidently, last week a plane flowing over Siberia (Yakutia to be exact) had its cargo hatch break open. When it did, $368m worth of gold bars, silver, and diamonds fell from the sky down onto the frozen landscape. The “drop” happened right near the airport and the company who owned the goods had to get trusted staff to recover the bounty, but not before going through metal detectors before they went home. Now locals think that not all the gold has been recovered and flights to the area are sold out all over Russia as treasure seekers come to the frozen region.
FINSUM: Sorry for the irrelevance of the story, but treasure falling from the sky and oversold flights full of treasure hunters was too much not to share.
The new Apple iPhone X has gotten a lot of hype in media. Aside from all its new features, which are admittedly extensive, its ~50% price hike to $1,000 has received a great deal of attention. That price hike is testing a long-held economic principle which says that as prices for a good rise, demand falls. However, for the last 100 years there has been a view that rising prices could raise demand for certain goods because they amounted to “conspicuous consumption”, or saw their demand rise as prices did because owning them signaled wealth and status.
FINSUM: Apple’s new iPhone X, with a lofty $1,000 price tag, may just prove conspicuous consumption true.