Why China will outlast the U.S. in trade war

In the political terms, President Xi Jinping runs a communist country that has just granted him the ability to rule for life. He enjoys advantages that may allow him to cope with the economic fallout far better than President Trump. His authoritarian grip on the news media and the party means there is little room for criticism of his policies, while Trump must contend with complaints from American companies and consumers before important midterm elections in November.

The Chinese government also has much greater control over their economy, allowing it to shield the public from job cuts or factory closings by ordering banks to support industries suffering from American tariffs. It can spread the pain of a trade war while tolerating years of losses from state-run companies that dominate major sectors of the economy. In addition, China is also sitting on top of about $3 trillion in surplus cash.

At best, the American actions could shave one-tenth of a percentage point off China’s economic growth. Not enough to force a drastic reversal of policies, given the enormous benefits that Chinese leaders see in the state-heavy economic model they have relied on in recent decades.

Chinese tariffs on the American agricultural sector is very influential in the Congress. Many states that have voted republican in the past will be hardest hit by these tariffs.

Hopefully the president is just blowing off steam again but, if he’s even half-serious, this is nuts,” said Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, “China is guilty of many things, but the president has no actual plan to win right now. He’s threatening to light American agriculture on fire.”

In addition to agriculture, China threatened to retaliate with tariffs on American cars, chemicals and other products. The 106 goods, many produced in parts of the country that have supported Mr. Trump, were selected to deliver a warning that American workers and consumers would suffer in a protracted standoff.

The mere talk of a possible trade war has sent investors on a rolling coaster ride of uncertainty. The six month chart of the S&P 500 below clearly illustrates increased volatility.

China also has the upper hand because it holds $1.2 trillion dollars of American debt. Trump’s tax cuts and infrastructure spending will require issuing more debt. The U.S. government has relied on foreigners to purchase treasuries to finance their spending because American saving rates are so low and they can’t participate fully. Add the fact that the biggest buyer of treasuries was the Federal Reserve which has started to sell it’s holdings.

What would happen to the bond yields if China doesn’t buy additional American debt?

The economic law of supply and demand dictates that more supply will cause prices to fall. If bond prices fall then yields will go up, causing interest rates to raise. Wage and price pressures are already rising, higher tariffs would only intensify these pressures forcing the Fed to raise interest rates even more.

A worst case scenario, the talking war turns into a trade war that could slow U.S. growth, tank the stock market and cause a U.S. recession.

 

President Trump is approaching this like does everything else, by talking tough and expecting his opponent to give in. Unfortunately for Trump, it’s not the 80s anymore. China was dramatically underdeveloped then and it wanted access to Western technology and manufacturing techniques. China is relatively mature today and it can easily obtain what it needs from other vendors outside the United States. While the U.S. market looked enticing a few decades ago, Beijing is more interested in newer emerging market countries.

Trump is not only gambling his political future but the financial well-being of Americans if he starts a trade war.

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How has the Trump circus effective your investments?

As a Canadian, I think that the Washington circus is no longer funny. It has become “very scary”. We came very close to a nuclear war. Tensions regarding North Korea have lessen temporarily and the market sell off could have been a lot worse. So far, investors have ignored the noise coming out of Washington as U.S. corporate earnings have been better than expected.

Canadian and European investors with holdings in U.S. dollars have seen their investment returns reduced by the falling value of the U.S. dollar. For example, my investment club’s U.S. portfolio is up 10.2% as of the end of July. However, it is up only 2.3% when converted into Canadian dollars. The value of the Euro is also up 10% compared to the U.S. dollar.

The recent rally in gold is another sign of a weakening value of the U.S. dollar. A falling dollar not only increases the value of other currencies, it also increases the demand for commodities like gold. Investors buy gold as a hedge against a further weakening of the U.S. dollar.

American investors with holdings outside of the U.S. have benefited the most from a weaker dollar. Corporations that generate revenue outside the U.S. will get an earnings boost from foreign profits.   Keep in mind that the bond market doesn’t believe the Trump growth agenda will get passed any time soon. The yield on 10 year treasuries has fallen back to pre-election lows. Returns in U.S. bond portfolios have been positive for American investors.

Biggest Market Risks

  1. More inflammatory tweets from Trump regarding North Korea
  2. The resignation of Trump’s key economic advisors, Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin
  3. The Fed increasing short term rates causing an inverted yield curve which historically causes a U.S. recession.
  4. In fighting within the Republican Party continues and they are unable to pass meaningful economic fiscal policy.
  5. Trump’s desperation for a win causes him to tear up the NAFTA agreement?

I find this very disturbing:

President Trump’s approval rating is at its lowest since he took office with only 35% of Americans giving him a positive rating, according to a Marist Poll released Wednesday.

Although he is still popular among Republicans, his key constituency, his job performance rating has dropped among strong Republicans from 91% in June to 79% now.

Hard to believe that 79% of Republicans still approve of President Trump!

Lets hope that American voters will come to their senses during the 2018 elections!!

A few suggestions on how to invest a $300,000 inheritance

Last week’s post contained a real life Canadian couple’s financial dilemma on how to invest a surprised inheritance. I asked writers and readers of financial blogs to email me their suggestions. This couple is in their mid-fifties and are hoping to retire in 8 to 10 years. They are debt free, have poor paying jobs and only managed to save $55,000 for retirement. Unfortunately, my bullet point list of Canadian tax info wasn’t very clear.

Additional clarification of  the Canadian Tax system

Canadians have three choices for saving for retirement if they don’t have a company pension.

Registered Retirement Saving Plan (RRSP)

  • Contributions are limited to 18% of working income (max. $25,370 investment income not included)
  • Tax deductible, refund based on your tax rate (lowest 20%, highest is 53%)
  • Tax free compounding, withdrawals are 100% taxable at your personal tax rate (lowest 20%, highest is 53%)
  • Government requires you to make withdrawals at age 72
  • Not usually recommended for low income families

Tax free Savings Account (TFSA began in 2009), geared to low income families

  • Personal contributions are limited to $5,500 per year, not tax deductible
  • Unused contributions are carried forward indefinitely
  • Tax free compounding, withdrawals are not taxable
  • No restrictions on withdrawals, money can be taken out and put back in the following year.

Taxable investment account

  • Interest income, foreign interest and foreign dividends are 100% taxable at your current tax rate (lowest 20%, highest is 53%) Plus there is 15% foreign tax withheld. If personal your tax rate 30%, foreign dividends of $100 minus  $30 personal tax – $15 of foreign tax = $65
  • Canadian Dividends have an eligible tax credit that increases the after tax yield. In theory, a Canadian could earn $40,000 in dividends tax free if they had no other income.
  • Capital gains has the lowest tax rate because only 50% of the gain is included in income, so only $50 of a $100 gain would be included. High income earners (53% tax bracket) would only pay 26.5%  in income tax.

I only received two suggestions and didn’t receive any input from any Canadian bloggers or readers.  So, I asked a financial planner who works at one of my local bank branches to weight in.

From the United States, Bear with the Bull offered the following:

I am not sure I am most qualified to be a financial adviser and I really do not know Canadian tax laws. I would think they might want a mix of income, bond, possibly cash, and growth stocks.  For my 401, I have about a 60/40 split of stocks and income/bond allocation. So if they are looking for more cash / income, maybe they would be more comfortable with something more 40/60 instead. 

They probably would look to a portion to be cash or bond fund that could be used to maximize yearly retirement contributions and or have readily available should they need it.  Since the Canadian real-estate market is seemingly doing well, how about investing in some Canadian REITs?  It would have a short term growth opportunity and dividends as well.  ETF’s also seem to be the latest investing vehicle and generally have lower fees than mutual funds.

  • The 40% equities ($120,000) 50% Canada 40% U.S 10% Emerging markets
  • The 60% fix income ($180,000) Perhaps a 1/3 split.  $60,000 Bonds, $60,000 Reits, $60,000 Cash

Realize that this response and $5.00 will get you a good cup of Starbucks so take it for what it is worth.

From Belgian, Amber Tree Leaves offered the following:

Here is a potential solution, as I am not sure to fully understand the Canadian system, I will skip that part.

General comment: As they have not yet accumulated a lot of assets, it might be tough to retire in the next 8-10 years. It is reasonable to expect a severe correction in that period. As it seems that they have little investing experience, it might be better to go for an approach that generates cash from dividend stocks. The assumption here is that it generates higher yields than ETFs. 

  • allocation: 70 % stock and 20 % bonds and 10 % gold.
  • The 70% equities 20% in Canadian dividend stocks, 50% world wide in dividend paying stocks

The gold is there as a hedge against the really bad times. It should be managed in a way that it needs to be sold and converted into stock/bonds when the price rises a lot. Timing this is hard, it is not the goal to get the absolute top.

Bank Financial Planner

First of all, I believe that money has different weights or “gravity” depending on how you acquire it.  Inheritance money seems to have the most weight as often people feel they “owe” a higher degree of care of duty to it and are less likely to deal with it the way they would a lottery win or an insurance settlement.

Obviously, the first thing I would need to do is get a better understanding of their situation and their time horizon and risk tolerances.  Let’s assume they are comfortable with a balanced approach. I would recommend 60% equity/40% fixed income.  ($180,000 in equity and $120,000 in fixed income.)

I would recommend they start by contributing fully to TFSAs, which would account for $102,000 between the two of them.  In the TFSA, I would use a ladder of market linked GICs to give them diversification, security of capital and the potential for higher returns than offered by traditional GICs.  This allows them their only chance to earn interest without paying tax on every penny of it.  It also means there are no fees to pay on almost one third of their investments. 

For the non-registered account, I would recommend a core holding of a growth ETF portfolio ($100,000 with additional positions in our Canadian ($30,000), US ($15,000 and International ETF funds $25,000), with a portion in our US Dollar ETF $15,000) for additional diversification on currency. 

After the initial investment occurred, I would want to have an annual strategy to move the maximum TFSA contribution for each of the clients.  This would involve selling a position of the non-registered investments (unless there are additional savings available) and reinvesting in the same fund inside the TFSA to maintain the balance in the overall account.   This would allow the gradual transition into the TFSA accounts, helping with taxes and probate fees down the road.  A portion of capital gains (or losses) would be triggered each year, smoothing the tax impact on the clients.

I am not sure if this inheritance is big enough to bail out this couple’s retirement plan. A key element is understanding after tax returns when investing.

 

 

 

Tips on rebalancing your retirement portfolio

rebalance-moneyunder30

Many investors are in for a rude awakening when they open their year-end retirement plan statements. The bond portion will probably show negative returns. It could even wipeout a good portion of their positive returns from owning equities.

Now, the most common method used in rebalancing your established asset allocation mix would be to reduce the holdings that are up in value (sell stocks) and buy assets that have fallen in price (buy bonds). This practice may have worked very well in the past but interest rates are going up forcing bond prices down.

The chart below compares the S&P 500 with the IShares 20 plus year Treasury bond ETF

tlt

“The decades-long bull market in U.S. Treasuries has finally drawn to a close following Donald Trump’s surprise presidential election victory, according to mutual-fund manager Bill Miller.”

“Miller isn’t the first to call time on the bond bull market. Economist Henry Kaufman, the original “Dr. Doom” who is credited with calling the last bond bear market in the 1970s, told the Financial Times this week that the current bull run is at an end.”

In the past, when the Federal Reserve decided it was time to unwind its easy monetary policies, it would raise the federal funds rate fairly quickly. The Fed believes a neutral stance on monetary policy is reached somewhere above the 4% level. The current Federal Reserve is moving slower than normal. Based on an average of three rate hikes per year, it will take the Fed a little over 4 years to normalize interest rates.

Tip # 1

Short-term, reduce or eliminate investing in target date mutual funds since they automatically rebalance from equities to bonds. Plus they increase your bond exposure the closer you are to retirement.

Tip # 2

During a period of rising interest rates, the prudent strategy is to reduce the duration of your bond portfolio. That could mean using a short-term bond ETF or a ladder of GICs both of which would allow you to benefit from an increase in rates.

Tip # 3

If you’re comfortable with a little credit risk, use short-term investment-grade corporate bonds to get a little more yield.

Tip # 4

Cash is by far the safest asset class. Move some of your equity allocation and some of your fixed income allocation to cash. I have my doubts that President Elect Trump can get congress to pass all his stimulus agenda and even economists are unsure if these policies will actual increase economic growth.

Corrections in the bond market are not as uncommon as you think. Most have been short in duration. See the chart below:

lt-treas-losses

Keep in mind that in the past, rate hikes were implemented  at a much faster pace than what the current Fed has purposed. Losses in the bond market could continue for longer than expected.

The Trump Rally: Buy on rumor, Sell on news?

trump-stocks526

Never in a million years did I think that Trump would not only win the election but that the stock market would rally afterwards. It proves once again how difficult it is to time the stock market.

Trump’s promise of a big stimulus package, tax cuts and less regulation has boosted the dollar and triggered a selloff in the bond market. The “Trump trade” has become the reflation trade with investors buying cyclical stocks and selling bonds. Financials have benefited as well as industrials.

The markets have rallied assuming that Donald Trump is pro-growth. However, he was also the same guy who talked about tariffs and tearing up trade deals, things that are anti-growth. The stock market is currently ignoring the negative side of Trump’s campaign promises.

Now, I’m not convinced it’s a one-way street. Under the surface, the trend has certainly changed. Whatever you thought about stocks before the election, you have to like them a little more and whatever you thought about bonds, you have to like them a little less.

Could this be the start of the “Great Rotation’” out of bonds into stocks?

Almost $2 trillion has been wiped off the value of global bonds since Trump was elected as the next U.S. president, sparking a reassessment of growth and inflation views.

JP Morgan notes that over the past week, a record inflow into U.S. equity exchange traded funds (ETFs) was accompanied by a record outflow from bond ETFs.

Within equity markets,  a sharp rotation out of so-called “bond proxies”, dividend-paying sectors such as utilities, telecoms and healthcare which were favored by investors for their yield and a move into more cyclical sectors such as banks, industrials and some commodities-related sectors is already underway.

Before you jump on the bandwagon, there’s a flood of economic data in the week ahead

  1. update to third-quarter GDP on Tuesday
  2. OPEC meets on Wednesday and it will decide whether to curb output
  3. Thursday is ISM manufacturing data and November auto sales
  4. jobs report on Friday expected to show 175,000 nonfarm payrolls

Now, the bond market has already priced in expectations that the Fed is on track to raise interest rates Dec. 14 by a quarter point. Next week’s economic data will be evaluated to determine future rate hikes for 2017. If inflation expectations are overhauled than so are perceptions about the rate outlook. Money markets are starting to price in one or more Federal Reserve rate hikes for next year.

Good economic numbers could cause a further selloff in the bond market next week which would be positive for U.S. stock markets. Plus many active fund managers have underperformed their benchmarks, there could be some performance chasing until year end.

Unfortunately, President Elect Trump is unpredictable and somewhat scary. If he shuts the borders because the anti-trade Trump comes out, we’ll have a recession and the market will go down. If that side stays quiet and he manages to convince congress to cuts taxes, it could be up a lot.

My gut tells me that we could be in over bought territory and that we could see some market consolidation. My fear is that Janet Yellen could spark a stock market selloff like she did in December 2015 when she indicated the possibility of 4 rate hikes for 2016 which didn’t materialize.

Are you buying into the Trump rally or are you a seller?