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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home bias adds sector risks for investors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legendary investor Warren Buffett, among others, is notorious for telling investors to buy what they know. Basically, Buffett and his enthusiastic followers suggest investing in companies that you really understand or at least know enough about them to be able to explain how they make money.

That is fairly good advice if you are an American since the S&P 500 generates nearly half of its revenue from outside of the United States. However, there is still a lot of risk in the form of sector concentration. For example, the tech sector accounts for nearly 21% within the S&P 500.  Do you remember the bursting of the dot com bubble?

Home bias for Canadian investors is really risky. Seventy–five percent of the Toronto stock market is dominated by three sectors, energy, materials and financials. There are only a handful of companies in other sectors that are available to further diversify your portfolio. Year to date, the Toronto stock exchange is only up 5% compared to the S&P 500 which is up 18.5%, see chart below:

The Canadian market has under-performed when compared to the U.S. markets for the past five years. The main reason is the decline in oil prices which has effected many non-energy sector companies which still rely energy prices in determining their revenue growth. For instance, Canadian banks may rely on loans to energy companies to drive their growth rates. See the 5 year performance chart below:

Why home bias exists

Vanguard’s Investment Strategy Group identified a range of reasons why investors might not embrace global diversification, including concerns about currency risk and an expectation that their home country will deliver out sized returns.

One factor we identified—preference for the familiar—seems particularly relevant. With so much global uncertainty about geopolitics, monetary policy, and the economic outlook, it’s understandable why investors may not want to stray too far from home.

Why Canadian markets may continue to under perform the U.S.

  • Oil and gas exports are land locked and selling at a huge discount!
  • The housing market is slowing down due to a 15% foreign buyers tax, tightening mortgage rules and higher mortgage rates.
  • Tariffs on softwood lumber and airplanes from our largest trading partner (U.S.) has put the success of re-negotiating NAFTA questionable.
  • Passing of the U.S. tax reform legislation will make investing in Canada less attractive (plus we have a carbon tax and high electricity rates).
  • Canadian consumers are carrying high levels of debt which will slow down spending.

Exchange traded funds are a low cost way to diversify your portfolio outside of North America. Many providers offer the ability to hedge fluctuations in foreign currencies. 

The markets are due for a correction, I would recommend slowly increasing your exposure to the U.S. stock market.

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.

A big disconnect between the Stock Market and the Canadian Economy

Canada’s economy is expanding at its fastest annualized rate in six years according to Statistics Canada. That’s a quarterly expansion rate of 4.5% which is the highest figure since the third quarter of 2011. It was led by the biggest binge in household spending since before the 2008-2009 global recession.

Economists had predicted Canada to grow around 3.7% and the Bank of Canada latest forecast was for GDP to expand at 3% in their July press release. When combined with the 3.7% expansion of the first quarter, it’s the strongest six month start in 15 years.

Why isn’t money pouring into the Toronto Stock Market?

Often times the equity market is moving well before the economy does and of course the Canadian equity market had a robust year in 2016. Investors may already have priced in all the good news last year, when Canada’s stock index gained 18 percent, one of the world’s best performances.

Part of the problem is that Canada’s stock market isn’t totally reflective of the economy, since it’s heavily reliant on energy and financials. Those two sectors account for 54 percent of the S&P/TSX Composite Index.

The outlook for oil is very subdued, it is still trading below $50 a barrel even with the shutdown of refineries due to hurricane Harvey. Global inventories continue to stay high and OPEC’s has lost its influence in cutting production. Crude oil prices in the future’s market are still below $50 a barrel for all of 2018 and part of 2019. Foreign investors are taking money out of the Alberta’s oil patch.

Continued growth in residential investments which was up an annualized 16 percent in the first quarter is also likely to fade as the impact of government measures to cool housing markets kick in. Although, bank earnings have beat expectations by a wide margin, loan growth going forward is expected to decline and loan losses are expected to increase. U.S. hedge funds are still shorting Canadian financials expecting the housing bubble to burst.

Investors believe that this robust growth will force the Bank of Canada to continue raising interest rates this year. It could add extra pressure to lowering consumer spending due to high indebtedness of Canadian households. It will also add a cooling effect to the hot housing prices in both the Vancouver and Toronto real estate markets. The rapid rise in the value of the Canadian dollar is added proof that currency traders are betting that a hike in interest rates is coming soon.

Uncertainty over NATFA  renegotiation

Global political developments aren’t helping, with renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement which started in August, created a new spat with the U.S. erupting over aerospace manufacturing.

Already, data suggest investment into the country is cooling. Foreign direct investment in Canada dropped 25 percent to C$8.68 billion in the first quarter, according to separate data released Tuesday. The country relies heavily on foreign funding to finance spending — totaling C$130 billion over the past two years, according to balance of payment data.

Canada has benefited from a convergence of developments that include a coordinated global recovery and rising trade volumes. The bottoming of the oil shock in western Canada, along with federal deficit spending, rising industrial production in developed economies. Canadian consumers have benefited from a buoyant jobs market and rising home values, resulting in a surge in consumer spending.

Is this Sustainable? I think not!

Economists had been predicting a slowdown in growth to about 2 percent in the second half of this year, but are revising numbers up after the GDP report. I believe this surge in economic growth is temporary. The higher value of the Canadian dollar and higher interest rates will dampen economic growth.

The Toronto stock market returns for all of 2017 are flat which could indicate that foreign investors also believe the future going forward isn’t so rosy!

 

 

 

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!!