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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Shedding some light on the violent stock market moves

Have you ever heard of the saying Be careful what you wished for? It turns out that traders wished to see some growth in average hourly wages, some inflation over deflation and yields on long duration bonds to go up. They got their wish which started a violent market correction.

Market watchers remain at odds over what tripped the sell switch. Primarily, the conversation comes down to fundamental vs. technical. In the days since the correction began the markets have recouped more than half the downside since the low point.

Plenty of theories, I call mine “The Domino Effect”

Inflation fears was the first domino to fall hitting the fear of raising interest rates. The next domino to fall was money managers and institutional investors were caught with a lot of leveraged positions. The sharp fall triggered margin calls causing massive sell orders. This initiated sell orders from funds that use technical analysis better known as quantitative funds. The last domino to fall was retail investors (who haven’t seen a correction in over two years) did some panic selling.

The Dow suffered two drops of 1,000 points. The fall seems big but the actual percentage was not extraordinary. There have been larger percentage drops in the past. In my 35 years of investing, I have experienced some worse percentage downward moves.

Rank Date Close Net change % change
1 October 19,1987 1,738.74 −508.00 −22.61
8 October 26, 1987 1,793.93 −156.83 −8.04
9 October 15, 2008 8,577.91 −733.08 −7.87

 

Is the correction over?

The market fundamentals haven’t really changed. U.S. corporate earnings are getting better and the Trump tax cuts should boost economic growth. Plus there is systematic economic growth happening in both developed and emerging markets.

I am not an expert on technical analysis and I don’t believe in buying or selling based on lines on chart. However, pension funds, hedge funds and quantitative funds use technical indicators to manage a large amount of investors’ money. 

Analysis from Kensho, a quantitative analytics tool used by hedge funds, looked at seven occasions of similarly sharp drops in the S&P 500 beginning in 1987. The study found that following such a drop, stocks tended to fall further, with a median decline of 2.29 percent one week later and a drop of 1.68 percent two weeks later.

 

This is the ABCD bullish chart:

This is the year to date chart of the S&P 500:

In my humble opinion, corrections tend to last more than nine days. I put some money to work last week and plan on dollar cost averaging on some more positions. If you are new to my blog, consider reading:  Dollar-cost averaging using an option strategy

What do you think? Are you buying the dips or selling into the rallies?

Are tax cuts already priced in U.S. stocks?

Many stock market pundits have conflicting opinions as to how much of the tax cuts are baked into current stock prices. Some experts believe that a selloff in the stock market will occur in January as money managers rotate out of technology and into other sectors that will benefit the most from tax reform.

Their rational is tech companies were in a low tax environment before tax reform was passed and it is better to take profits when lower personal tax rates take effect in 2018.

In comparison, sectors like transportation, telecom, retailing and banking have high tax rates. In addition, the new tax bill also offers substantial write offs for new capital expenditures. Industrials, energy as well as telecom companies require large capital expenditures in order to grow their businesses. However, it is difficult to predict if and when these expenditures will occur.

“In a special report to clients, Barclays Capital analyst Maneesh Deshpande and team calculate that the benefit is less than it appears: While the statutory corporate tax rate is set to fall from 35 percent to 21 percent, the effective rate for S&P 500 companies (the rate companies actually pay after all the accounting trickery) is set to fall from 26 percent to 20.7 percent.”

On the other hand, some market watchers believe that tech companies should still be in your portfolio. There is still room to run higher because they have an opportunity to take advantage of the repatriation tax holiday which reduces the tax rate from 35% to 15.5%. The top 5 U.S. tech companies that have cash overseas:

  1. Apple – 230 billion
  2. Microsoft – 113 billion
  3. Cisco – 62 billion
  4. Oracle – 52 billion
  5. Google – 49 billion

Although, the last repatriation tax holiday was at a much lower tax rate. The money was mostly given back to shareholders in the form of higher dividend payments and share buybacks.  Should you invest hoping for history to repeat itself?

Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin said:

“There is no question that the rally in the stock market has baked into it reasonably high expectations of us getting tax cuts and tax reform done.”

I tend to agree that a large portion of tax cuts are already priced in most U.S. stocks. For example: Charles Schwab (SCHW, $52.04) has had enough of the tax man. The online stock broker and banker has paid out a stunning 37% of its income in taxes over the course of the past five years, versus a rate in the mid-20% range for most other American companies. It was trading around $45.00 in Nov and it is up $7.00 or 15.5% in just a few short weeks.

The chart below contains the one year return for tech (xlk), financials (xlf), industtials (xli) and energy (xle):

Three of those sectors have already had above average returns for 2017. The energy sector has lagged but tax reform alone will not be enough to propel the energy sector higher. The price of oil is still the main factor in increasing the value of oil stocks.

Another factor to consider is the labor market is extremely tight and the post-recession surplus of economic potential may have run out. The tax reform bill may end up boosting inflation by more than it lifts economic growth encouraging the Fed to be more aggressive with interest rate hikes in 2018.

I am cautious optimistic that U.S. stock market returns will be positive in 2018. I believe that volatility will come back next year and offer some good buying opportunities. It could turn out to be a stock pickers market.

Are you buying the dips or selling the rallies?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

10 Reasons to be cautious on equity markets

Image result for david rosenberg

David Rosenberg is chief economist with Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc. and author of the daily economic newsletter Breakfast with Dave.

Here are my 10 reasons to be cautious on equity markets right now.

Valuations are stretched

Trailing and forward price-to-earnings multiples are now in the top quintiles historically and the most expensive in 15 years.

Only in 1929 and the “Dotcom” bubble has the cyclically-adjusted multiple (CAPE) been as high as the case today.

We are heading into the ninth year in the cycle and have logged an epic 250-per-cent surge in the process. As retail investors now plow in to this market in the late innings, one could legitimately ask what it is they could possibly know that corporate insiders do not, considering the latter have been selling their company’s stock this year at a pace not seen since the data began to be published in 1988.

Extended leverage

U.S. margin debt has surged at a 27-per-cent annual rate since immediately prior to the election to stand at $513-billion, the highest level on record (eclipsing the high from April 2015).

Retail inflows

After an eight-year hiatus ($200-billion of net outflows), private clients have thrown in the towel and plowed nearly $80-billion into mutual funds and ETFs since the November election.

Remember Bob Farrell’s Rule No. 5: “The public buys the most at the top and the least at the bottom”.

Narrowing leadership

For the past four sessions, we have seen more new 52-week lows than new highs (the longest streak since Nov. 4) — a technical sign of a toppy market.

Moreover, the Russell 2000 index is now flat for the year and off 4 per cent from the high — again, we know from history that the generals tend to follow the privates.

Tack on the fact that the S&P 500 recently traded as much as 10 per cent above the 200-day moving average, and we have a market ripe for a near-term correction.

Complacency abounds

From a VIX of 11.9 to nearly 60-per-cent Bulls in the Investors Intelligence poll — though this has begun to roll off its highs in a sign of the “smart money” beginning to take profits.

The S&P 500 has gone 57 days without so much as a 1-per-cent intraday swing, something we have not seen in at least 35 years. The proverbial calm before the storm.

The Fed is in play

The front-end Treasury yields are rising discernibly — the two-year T-note yield has gapped up to nearly 1.4 per cent and futures market is in the process of pricing in an extra two rate hikes after the likely March tightening (the overnight index swaps market currently has priced in 70 basis points of tightening by year end).

The Fed has met its twin objectives and the fed funds rate consistent with that is 3 per cent, not the 0.75 per cent currently.

By the time the Fed reaches that level, the yield curve will likely have inverted long before and that’s when the clouds will come rolling in.

This could be next year’s story, which means a forward-looking market begins to discount this prospect sometime later this year.

Inflation pickup

Cyclical price pressures are showing through, with the core PCE inflation rate at a 30-month high of 1.738 per cent year over year.

As was the case in 1990, 2000 or 2007, this likely is not sustainable, but is a classic late-game signpost nonetheless.

All one needs to see is the latest blow-off in the commodity complex, which is now on pause, to notice how late cycle we are. Remember what oil did, for example, in 2008?

Lofty expectations

The survey data are at extremely high levels at a time when actual economic growth is running barely above a 1% annual rate.

Gaps like this, once again, are classic near-end-of-cycle developments.

The prospect of there being huge disappointment over the pace of policy change in Washington is also very high.

Over-ownership

While households were not net buyers of equities until very recently, the near-quadrupling in the stock market has still boosted their exposure to a 21.1-per-cent share of total assets. Only five times in the past 16 years has the share been this high or higher — this is 42% above the norm.

Frothy credit markets

Bonds lead stocks, just know that. And the risk-premium on U.S. high-yield corporate bonds very recently approached lows for the cycle at a super-tight 335 basis points.

However, they now are widening again, and with the overall narrowing path of the Treasury curve, this is well worth monitoring for those equity investors who are still long this market.

Nobody ever lost money by booking a profit, especially for a cycle that is now heading into year number nine.

Do you think that David is right?

Being Canadian, I am worried about the Federal Budget scheduled for March 22 because there are rumours of an increase in the capital gains tax. I have been taking some profits in my taxable accounts and for investment club just in case. I do believe it is impossible to time the market so I am still fully invested in my tax sheltered accounts.