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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Trump Tariffs are all about politics and not national security

 

Canada and Brazil are likely to bear the brunt of any tariffs on steel imposed by President Donald Trump. According to the department’s International Trade Administration, Canadian and Brazilian steel comprised 16 percent and 13 percent of U.S. steel imports as of September 2017. China is not one of the top 10 importers of steel to the U.S. (take a good look at the above pie chart)

Top foreign sources of aluminum included Canada (56 percent), Russia (8 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (7 percent) between 2013 and 2016, according to the United States Geological Survey.

In my humble opinion, there is little justification on applying a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% on aluminium based on national security. The majority of steel and aluminium that the U.S. imports comes from military allies.

Now, the timing on this tariffs are somewhat suspect with a congressional election in the 18th district of Pennsylvanian next week. In case you didn’t know, Pennsylvania manufactures a lot of steel. This is Trump country, he carried this district by 20% in the 2016 election. The race is so tight that Trump had a rally in Pennsylvania supporting Rick Saccone.

“Do me a favor,” he said to the large crowd gathered in a hangar at the Pittsburgh airport. “Get out on Tuesday, vote for Rick Saccone, and we can leave right now.”

Trump also using tariffs as a bargaining chip in NAFTA negotiations

Canada and Mexico received a temporary exemption from the tariffs. It will depend on whether the changes that are made to NAFTA will satisfy Trump.  The seventh round of talks in Mexico produced very little process. The final round of NAFTA talks are schedule in Washington sometime in April. The Trump tariffs will put extra pressure on Canada and Mexico to give Trump a deal that will help him get republicans elected this November.

President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum likely precedes an exit from NAFTA, according to Goldman Sachs.

Stock Markets don’t like tariff wars

Tariffs will artificially boost input costs and increase the cost of imported finished products. The fear is an increase of inflation, leading to raising interest rates which would dampen economic growth. The other fear is that corporations will be unable to pass on an increase in input prices which could lead to job cuts.

I expect more tough talk on trade from President Trump because many American voters think that the wealthy will benefit the most from tax cuts. I believe that stock market volatility will intensify over the next few months.

 

It may be a good time to raise some cash and pick up some bargains.

 

Both young & old should make a budget

Contrary to popular belief, money has no value what so ever until you spend it. It is what you spend it on that has value. The value we place on money is dependent on what we think we can buy with it. The money you are paid as a salary is just a number written on a pay slip or is deposited directly into your bank account in exchange for the service you provided to your employer.

Why is budgeting so important

Since the value of money comes from its buying power, planning your spending ensures that you have enough money for things that you need and for things that are important to you. A spending plan will also keep you from spending money that you don’t have or help you get rid of unwanted debt. (Not all debt is bad)

The buying power of money is determined by the supply and demand for goods in the economy. Inflation in the economy causes the future value of money to reduce its purchasing power. A budget helps you figure out your short and long term goals plus measures your progress.

Budget Categories

  1. Shelter – rent, mortgage, property taxes
  2. Utilities – heat, hydro, water, cable, internet, cell phone
  3. Food
  4. Transportation – bus pass, car payments, gasoline, repairs
  5. Clothes & Accessories
  6. Gifts
  7. Insurance – car, home and life
  8. Entertainment – including vacations
  9. Emergency fund
  10. General savings – major purchases, debt repayments, retirement

It is really important for seniors to have a budget. You don’t want to outlive your money and be a financial burden to your children. There are three stages of retirement, “go go”, “slow go” and “no go”.

You tend to spend more money in the “go go” stage since today’s seniors are healthier than previous generations. Plus, life expectancy has increased so seniors will also have more leisure time.

As more people are living longer, the “no go” stage in retirement can become very costly due to the increasing risk of health problems. The risk of developing a cognitive disease like Dementia or Alzheimer increases with age. Costs for caregivers, assistance living and nursing homes are not cheap. (The cost for my elderly mother’s caregiver is about $20,000 per year)

Why people don’t budget

  1. They’ve got the wrong idea. Budgeting’s got a reputation for being too restrictive; you work hard for your money, why shouldn’t you be able to spend it as you see fit? But it isn’t as terrible as it seems. In fact, when you stick to a budget, you’re likely to have even more money left over to do with as you please. Budgets shouldn’t be about making big restrictive changes. Rather, when you examine your finances, you see small ways to make changes that will have big effects.
  1. It is intimidating. Got a vice that you don’t want to give up? Scared that if you make a budget you won’t be able to stick to it? There are tons of reasons you might fear drawing up a budget, but that shouldn’t keep you from trying! When you create a budget, you’re enabling yourself to find and fix the financial mistakes you make, rather than ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away by themselves.
  1. It is time-consuming & boring.Unless you have a passion for spreadsheets, chances are that budgets bore you to tears. You might not want to budget because the actual act of budgeting just seems like row upon row and column upon column of money that’s no longer yours.
  1. They think they don’t need to. In today’s economy, not many people can say that they don’t need to budget because they have enough money. Even if this is the case for you, a budget can always help you to save more.
  1. They think a budget can’t help. Most of us have heard the adage ‘the first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.’ Debt is a very personal issue and it can be difficult to admit, even to yourself. There are a variety of ways to help clear your debt and drawing up a comprehensive budget is the best way to start doing this.

I just put the finishing touches to my 2018 budget, how about you?

Panic at Orlando airport spoiled my golfing trip

Golf season in Canada can be very short because of bad weather. One of my guilty pleasures is heading south for an annual golf trip with the boys every November. We started this tradition sixteen years ago and I would have to be very ill to miss it.

As a volunteer driver, I experienced first-hand the panic at the Orlando airport while dropping off a friend after our last round of golf. We decided to go early so we could have   dinner together at the airport. Walking in, we faced a stampede of frighten travelers running and screaming to the exits.

Some travelers thought they heard gun fire while others thought that they heard an explosion. Standing outside watching the Orlando Police conduct their investigation with weapons drawn was very alarming.

It turns out that a camera battery exploded in a bag which cause people to panic and the airport to be evacuated. Thousands of travelers faced hours of waiting at security checkpoints.

Phil Brown, CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said a full ground-stop was issued at 5:30 p.m. and lasted until 9 p.m. At a press conference Friday night, Brown said 24 flights were canceled and 27 others were diverted. He acknowledged that some passengers will have to book new flights, and others might struggle to find hotel rooms for the night.

He added that some airport staff and TSA agents instructed the crowd to take cover, when the initial explosion created confusion among staff and passengers.

At first glance, it may seem that the Orlando Aviation Authority may have over reacted to a faulty camera battery. However, it happened on the same day that Americans celebrate veteran’s day.  Plus no one wants to read about children getting hurt after visiting Disney World.

I felt bad for my friend who ended up sleeping at the airport as his flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 2:30 p.m. the next day. I was lucky that my early morning flight was cancelled and I got some extra sleep. It made delays in my rescheduled flight a little more bearable.

Will this unfortunate incidence stop me from going south golfing? Not a chance, however I may decide to spend a few extra days driving instead of flying.

The moral of this story is managing risk extends beyond the financial markets. Panic and over reaction can easily cause a major sell off in stock markets. You can’t predict what will cause a stampede to the exits.

 

 

 

 

 

Investing ideas: I liked the product so much, I bought the company

Victor K. Kiam made a fortune as the President and CEO of Remington Products which he famously purchased in 1979 after his wife bought him his first electric shaver. Kiam became famous as the spokesman for the Remington shaver. His catchphrase, “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company”, it made him a household name.

Your iPhone is your BFF and you can’t function without a Starbucks latte. You post something on your Facebook page every day, go home from work and chill out by watching Netflix. They’re all products you love and know well.

But does that mean the companies behind them are good investments?

The short answer: At least it’s a good starting point.

At first glance, it isn’t a terrible idea to own stocks if you have a good understanding of a company’s products and have a good feeling it will be successful. Yet knowing whether a business makes a good product and has excellent customer service are by no means the only measurements for investing.

For example: Snapchat (SNAP) and Twitter (TWTR) are both very popular but can they become sustainable businesses with positive earnings growth? So far, it isn’t looking very good for either of these companies. Before you invest, you have to determine whether the product or service is just a new fad or a money-making long-term trend.

One of my best investment ideas in 2016 came from going on vacation on a cruise line. Talking to other passengers I got very positive feedback on their cruise line experiences. Plus many of my boomer friends confirmed that they also loved taking a vacation on a cruise line.  The baby boom generation is getting older and I had dinner with many passengers in their eighties and even with one women in her nineties. (This could be a long-term trend)

Although I was on vacation on a Carnival ship, I bought shares in Royal Caribbean after extensive research.

Price / Earnings Earnings growth (5yr) Operating margin
Royal Caribbean 17.7 times 16.45% 19.95%
Carnival 18.5 times 8.95% 16.63%

It turns out that I could have beaten the returns of the S&P 500 index by owning either RCL or CCL as illustrated by the chart below.

Finding good, long-term investments is exceedingly difficult, there are only a few good ideas out there. When you find an extraordinary business and you have an understanding of what its future looks like, you should invest some money into it. Unfortunately, going that takes time, effort and know-how, often more than casual investors will do on their own “but it can be done”.

My 200th post: Investing in the Second Machine Age

As a retired senior, I am having difficulty adjusting to ” the Second Machine Age”. The advances in technology are mind blowing. I would never have guessed that self-driving cars in science fiction movies like “Minority Report”  or “I Robot” could become available in my life time.  How about Elon Musk’s vision of offering a rocket ride of only 30 minutes to get to London from L.A., is that just science fiction or a potential reality?

China, the world’s biggest vehicle market, is considering a ban on the production and sale of fossil fuel vehicles in order to reduce pollution and boost the production of electric vehicles. The move would follow a similar ban by France and Britain but they have included a 2040 timeline. However, China has introduced draft regulation to compel vehicle manufacturers to produce more electric vehicles by 2020 through a complex quota system.

Some possible investments to consider

  1. Millions of dollars are pouring into the Global X lithium & Battery ETF (LIT). It has had a massive gain in value of 58% so far this year. It has also attracted short sellers who are betting on a pullback in price.
  2. For stock pickers, the top ten holdings of LIT include five U.S. listed companies, ticker symbols Tsla, FMC, SQM, ENS and ALB. A word of caution, some of these stocks have very high valuations and can be very volatile.

There is little doubt in my mind that advances in digital automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will change your living standards over the next decade. Just think how companies like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Apple have already influence our lives during the past decade.

A 2013 study by Oxford University’s Carl Frey and Michael Osborne estimates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs will potentially be replaced by robots and automated technology in the next 10 to 20 years. Those individuals working in transportation, logistics, office management and production are likely to be the first to lose their jobs to robots, according to the report.

Some possible investments to consider to capitalize on this trend

  1. Robotics and Automation ETF (ROBO) which contains three U.S. listed companies in their top ten holdings. Ticker symbols, AVAV, HOLI and CGNX
  2. Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence ETF (BOTZ) which contains three U.S. listed companies in their top ten holdings. Ticker symbols: NVDA, ISRG and TRMB
  3.  Semiconductor ETFs like SOXX or SMH which include companies that provide key components for self-driving vehicles, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. The top ten holdings of these ETFs are places to look for individual names that could outperform the overall market.

There is also an interesting book that I am thinking about buying.

Synopsis: According to the authors, the book has three sections.

  • Chapters 1 through 6 describe “the fundamental characteristics of the second machine age,” based on many examples of modern use of technology.
  • Chapters 7 through 11 describe economic impacts of technology in terms of two concepts the authors call “bounty” and “spread.” What the authors call “bounty” is their attempt to measure the benefits of new technology in ways reaching beyond such measures as GDP, which they say is inadequate. They use “spread” as a shorthand way to describe the increasing inequality that is also resulting from widespread new technology.
  • Chapters 12 through 15, the authors prescribe some policy interventions that could enhance the benefits and reduce the harm of new technologies.

You can also search you-tube “The second machine age” to listen to the authors speak. 

 

Disclaimer: Do your own research, these investment ideas can be very volatile. 

Ignoring investment rules to achieve income

 

A few months ago, I asked readers for advice regarding a $300,000 inheritance. The couple are in their late fifties, debt free with little savings. Although, they are very fugal, they live paycheck to paycheck due to lack of steady full time work. Few companies want to hire older workers when they can hire young people for a lot less.

Being very good friends, they came to me for some free advice. After a few meetings, I realized that traditional investment strategies just wouldn’t work this couple. They have been dipping into their retirement accounts to pay bills. I recommended putting $100,000 back into their retirement accounts. The $200,000 into a joint investment account with a discount broker in order to split the income and save on fees.

Disregarding Asset Allocation guidelines

Based on their age and proximity to retirement, a 60% equities and 40% bonds mix would have been appropriate. However, investing in bonds with low interest rates, inflation and taxation doesn’t give them very much income.

Disregarding Diversification guidelines

Being Canadian, foreign dividends are taxed like interest payments similar to Canadian bonds. Plus, foreign assets are subject to currency fluctuations. The increased value of the Canadian dollar has wiped out all U.S dividends and most of the capital gains from owning U.S. stocks.

Disregarding suitability guidelines

This couple’s investment knowledge is very limited, their only investments have been in mutual funds with high management fees. After explaining how high fees will reduce their income, they agreed to take more risk in owning some individual stocks and exchanged traded funds.

Constructing a portfolio to maximize income and minimize risk

  1. I invested $61,418 in four Canadian Reits that generates $418.16 per month or $5,017.92 per year. The Reits income will be a combination of interest and capital gains. Compared to investing $120,000 in bonds yielding 3% per year or $3,600.00
  2. I invested $63,329 in three Canadian dividend stocks that generates $330.00 per month or $3,960 per year. Due to the couple’s low income, these dividends will be tax free income.
  3. I invested the balance of $75,253 into four covered call ETFs that generates $392.00 per month or $4,704 per year. The covered calls will produced capital gain income and the ETFs also has some dividend income in their monthly distributions.

Grand income total works out to $1,140.16 per month. The average annualized return on the $200,000 portfolio is 6.85% with a minimum amount of risk.  

This is only a temporary solution to achieve some monthly income until their work situation changes. Sometimes investment guidelines have to be broken because one size doesn’t fit all.