There has been a lot of speculation lately about the extent to which the current growing trade war may affect the economy and markets. Some expect a benign effect on both. Well, Bloomberg has run a piece arguing that the trade war may lead to a Chinese debt crisis, which could in turn lead to a global financial crisis. The impact of the tariffs on the Chinese economy could be serious. China is already seeing a very high level of defaults, and with the extra burden of tariffs coupled with a weaker Yuan, it could create credit chaos for Beijing. Bloomberg put it this way, saying “That the massive burden of debt will drag the economy into recession is as obvious as the empty towers that rise on every landscape … But on any metric, the amount of new lending each year grows faster than the economy, and the interest newly owed exceeds the incremental rise in GDP. In other words, the whole economy is a Ponzi scheme”.
FINSUM: It is hard to imagine a more forceful comment than that last one from Bloomberg. We don’t know if we would go so far, but given how indebted the Chinese economy is, and their reliance on exports, tariffs could spark a meltdown that then spreads overseas.
In a highly unusual break from presidential tradition, President Trump weighed in yesterday on the Fed’s current policy approach, and he was not happy. Speaking in regard to recent rate hikes and plans to continue doing so, Trump said “I’m not thrilled … Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again ... I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best.” Speaking plainly, Trump continued “I’m just saying the same thing that I would have said as a private citizen … So somebody would say, ‘Oh, maybe you shouldn’t say that as president. I couldn’t care less what they say, because my views haven’t changed. I don’t like all of this work that we’re putting into the economy and then I see rates going up”.
FINSUM: The media is trying to make a very big deal out of this, but in our view, these are pretty benign comments, especially coming from Trump.
Advisors need to be aware. In less than 8 weeks, everything you know about the market make up of the tech sector is going to change. Both MSCI and S&P are shifting the way they group technology companies. Netflix, Google, and Facebook will be the biggest movers, and the changes are expected to have a material affect on prices. Those three stocks will be moved to the newly formed “Communications Services” sector, and away from the two sectors they are currently split into. That will greatly lower the total weight of the Information Technology sector from 26% to 20% of the S&P 500.
FINSUM: This could really change prices as it will have a significant effect on ETF demand and other funds linked to specific indexes/sectors.
Anyone hoping the current trade war might have stalled will be sorely mistaken today. While Trump says he plans to to impose an additional $200 bn of tariffs on China in September, he has just said he is ready to go to a full $500 bn of tariffs on Chinese imports. When asked if he thought his plans would cause the stock markets to drop, Trump responded “Well, if it does, it does. Look, I'm not doing this for politics. I'm doing this to do this right thing for our country”.
FINSUM: We think the US does currently get a raw deal in a lot of foreign trade, especially with China. However, the manner in which this “negotiation” is proceeding does seem to be unnecessarily disruptive.
The big recovery after the huge losses in Italy might finally be underway. While downward pressure on Italian assets had subsided, there is now a big rally happening. The catalyst is that the country’s finance minster has just pledged that Italy will stay in the Euro, helping ease the market’s largest worry about the political crisis in Rome. The minister also pledged to avoid financial instability.
FINSUM: Italy’s two-year bond has already seen its yield fall 100 bp! That is quite a response. To be honest we doubt this pledge amounts to much, but it is good signaling for the market.
Investors who had been betting on emerging markets stocks might want to take notice of what is happening in the Treasuries market. While the explanation is a little technical, hear this: since the US deficit is set to rise rapidly, the US will see a surge in Treasury issuance. That big jump is issuance will suck up investor Dollars, and is likely to greatly wound Dollar-based EM funding. The Fed will also be forced to stop shrinking its balance sheet, which will also exacerbate the situation for EMs.
FINSUM: It sounds like the EM funding market is going to take a hit, which could have major ripple effects throughout the whole asset class.
The rise in yields across the world has seemed to stall over the last couple of months. Ten-year Treasuries are back under 2.9%, and while the yield curve is flattening, the risk of big losses from rising long-term yields seems to be mitigated. Not so fast. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that many of the world’s central banks are now aligning themselves with the Fed and are preparing to begin lifting rates. The pattern is emerging across both the developed and emerging markets (e.g. the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of India).
FINSUM: We think this could be a risk for US investors. The main reason why being that one of the things that has kept long-term yields low is demand from overseas investors for our relatively higher-yielding bonds. If that changes, there won’t be such a lid on Treasuries.
A lot of investors may be asking themselves whether stocks will be directly impacted by a trade war. In the last several trading days, the market seems to have shrugged off the increasing trade tensions. However, JP Morgan is warning that the burgeoning trade war may wreak havoc on the market. The rising tariffs now occurring globally follow 50 years of increasing free trade, so there is little modern precedent for what is occurring.
FINSUM: In our view, the market does not have a good feel for pricing the risk of a trade war because it has been so long since investors have seen anything like it. Beware.
The SEC best interest rule has been facing a very tough time. All sides of the argument seem to be against it. Consumer protectionist groups hate the muddled and weak delineating between brokers and advisors, while the industry dislikes the strong rules on title use. Now, there is a new weak spot in the SEC’s approach. The SEC has decided to have “roundtables” with consumers to discern their level of understanding of the rule and get feedback. The move is unusual and the SEC has not disclosed who or how they will do it. All sides again hate this idea, with the head of the Consumer Federation of America saying “Asking investors whether they like the disclosures is virtually meaningless … That needs to be done by disclosure testing experts who know how to design the tests and interpret the results”.
FINSUM: It is very obvious that the SEC’s current poorly defined delineation between brokers and advisors is not going to be easy to understand for consumers. We suspect any kind of consumer testing will help them realize that, but this does seem to be a rather odd and opaque approach.
The oil market is in an odd place right now. Generally described as “tight”—when supply and demand are very close, prices have risen considerably over the last several months. That said, prices have fallen steeply over the last week or so on fears of falling demand and rising supply. That is what makes today’s call on oil so bold. Barron’s, citing a senior research analyst on the oil market, says that prices may rise from their current high $60s range all the way to more than $100 this year. The core of the argument is that supply increases are not enough to offset growing global demand.
FINSUM: We don’t see oil going that high, but it could resume its bullish run. The core idea for us is that the oil market has many ways to increase supply (e.g. using strategic oil reserves, loosening sanctions etc), so we don’t see prices rising that sharply.
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.