January Monthly Market Report

Market Overview

December ended a rough year for investors with S&P 500 flirting with bear market territory on Christmas Eve.  The S&P 500 was up almost 9% for the year until the sell-off began in October as investors became deeply concerned over global economic weakness, increasing trade tensions, geopolitical instability and rising interest rates. The S&P 500 dropped precipitously in the 4th quarter finishing down -13.97%. Globally speaking, virtually no regional markets provided a positive return for the year.  The MSCI EAFE Index was down -16.14% for the year with most of the damage coming in during the 4th quarter when the index slid by almost 13%. Emerging markets, as measured by the MSCI EM Index, fell -7.85% during the quarter and were down -16.64% for the year. Essentially, there was no where to hide for equity investors during 2018. 

Bear Market January 2019
December ended a rough year for investors with S&P 500 flirting with bear market territory on Christmas Eve.

Investors were not in a festive spirit during the month of December, exhibiting more angst over Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell controversial decision to raise interest rates by 25 basis points to 2.5%. This was the fourth time the Fed raised rates during the year and at its most recent meeting it signaled that there are likely two more rate hikes coming in 2019. President Donald Trump added his own holiday touch by attacking the Fed Chief further and deflating the markets’ Christmas spirit by failing to sign off Congress’ proposed government budget and demanding that it include the required $5bn to build his polemical wall on the US-Mexican border. As the President and House and Senate Democrats could not agree on this key aspect of the budget, the government was sent into a partial shutdown on December 21st which, when coupled with the December 19th Fed rate hike, made it a near certainty that markets would plummet as evidenced by the week before Christmas, with the Dow Jones losing 653 points on December 24th which not only capped the worst week in a decade but made for the worst ever Christmas Eve trading.
 
Unfortunately the Trump administration appeared rather ham-fisted in its efforts to quell market turmoil. Despite the fact that many investors agreed with President Trump in his palpable distaste for raising interest rates, one wonders how committing the unusual step to criticize the Fed’s Chairman – on Twitter, no less – and failing to quash speculations that Powell was on the ‘hot seat’ could have possibly helped restore investor confidence and mitigate market volatility? Furthermore, one wonders what strategy was behind Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s memo announcing that none of the six largest US banks had experienced any clearance or margin issues? Arguably, this announcement only created greater doubts in the minds of investors.

Brexit Saga
Even casual observers will admit that Brexit has snowballed into a disaster.

Looking beyond the US economy and interest rate hikes, global equity markets fell, as disappointing economic data from Japan, China and Europe ignited global growth slowdown fears, and concerns around trade frictions and European politics added to investor uncertainty. China’s November retail sales and industrial production came in lower than expected. China’s stock market suffered a nearly 25% loss in 2018.  The on-going Brexit saga remains distressingly far from a resolution. Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May successfully avoided a leadership challenge within the UK’s Conservative Party, ensuring she won’t face a similar no-confidence vote for another year. However, she failed to win concessions from the EU that could have made the UK Parliament more likely to pass her Brexit withdrawal-agreement proposal.  Furthermore, even casual observers will admit that Brexit has snowballed into a disaster which might end well but has caused unnecessary uncertainty for the 2nd largest economy by GDP in the EU, the world’s 5th largest economy in Great Britain and the rest of the world whose economies are faced with the direct and indirect consequences of this mammoth tussle. Brexit weighed heavily on the FTSE as it dropped by 12.5% in 2018. Somewhat unexpectedly, Brazil’s Bovespa index surged by 15% during the year, as Brazilian investors welcomed far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro’s rise to the Brazilian presidency and made the Bovespa the best performing major index globally. Overall, the world stock markets were almost all in negative territory as evidenced by the MSCI World ex-USA index sinking by -13.12% during the 4th quarter and finishing the year down -16.40%.

Investment Outlook

Despite the raising interest rates punching the mirth out of investors’ Christmas spirit and the effects of the partial government shutdown, the fact remains that on balance, 2018 was a good year for the US economy outside of stock market performance. In the Fed Chairman’s own words: ‘Over the past year, the economy has been growing at a strong pace, the unemployment rate has been near record lows and inflation has been low and stable. All of those things remain true today.’We share the Fed’s view that both the US and certain global economies have strong fundamentals and with the prospect for another positive year of expanding. While there remains cause for optimism in 2019, we view the risk of further market underperformance as significant. We believe The U.S. remains a relatively strong anchor for the global economy, and we see emerging market equities potentially offering exceptionally positive returns after being beaten down to attractive prices given the associated risk. Emerging market (EM) assets have cheapened dramatically this past year offering better compensation for risk in 2019 compared to the more developed markets. Country-specific risks, such as a series of EM elections and currency crises in Turkey and Argentina are mostly behind us. China is easing policy to stabilize its economy, marking a sea change from 2018’s clampdown on credit growth. EMs are set to maintain double-digit earnings growth, led by China as its tech sector recovers and a pivot toward economic stimulus supports its economy. Ultimately, investors will focus on earnings growth as a positive indicator while remaining guarded against macro-economic headwinds. U.S. earnings growth estimates look set to normalize from an impressive 24% in 2018 to 9% in 2019, consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters data show. This is still above the global average. EMs are set to maintain double-digit earnings growth, led by China as its tech sector recovers and pivots toward economic stimulus to support its economy.  Globally, dramatically slowing earnings growth and the impact of tariffs make for more cautious market expectations.

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump added his own holiday touch by attacking the Fed Chief further and deflating the markets’ Christmas spirit by failing to sign off Congress’ proposed government budget and demanding that it include the required $5bn to build his polemical wall on the US-Mexican border.

While we believe recession is unlikely (and Trump’s impeachment even less likely than that), it is more likely now than it was a year ago. US-China trade frictions ominously hang over markets and it does not appear that they will go away anytime soon while these two economic behemoths duke it out for tech supremacy. And despite our faith in the Fed’s wisdom, it is absolutely the case that 5 straight quarters of interest rate hikes have created economic volatility, which have had perilous effects on developed world economies and most notably on emerging market economies.

Despite this somewhat bleak picture, one should be reminded that 2018’s growth was assailed by a range of threats – indeed, many of the same with which 2019 is faced, and it still exhibited solid economic fundamentals.

To sum up our 2019 outlook, we are cautiously optimistic that we will see modest positive returns for both the US and many global economies; however, we expect continued market volatility, geopolitical risks, increasing costs of capital and trade tensions to continue to weigh down expectations. We also believe that while 2019 will see additional rate increases, we will expect to see the Fed slow down its cycle to assess the effects of abating economic growth and tighter financial conditions, which should result in easing the pressure on asset valuations.

Disclosures

This material is prepared by Henry James International Management and is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. The information and opinions contained in this material are obtained from proprietary and nonproprietary sources believed by Henry James International Management, to be reliable, are not necessarily comprehensive and are not guaranteed as to accuracy. No warranty of accuracy or reliability is given and no responsibility arising in any other way for errors and omissions is accepted by Henry James International Management, its officers, employees or agents. This material is based on information as of the specified date and may be stale thereafter. We have no obligation to tell you when information herein may change. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Certain information contained herein may constitute forward-looking statements. Estimates of future performance are based on assumptions that may not be realized.

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of current or future results and should not be the sole factor of consideration when selecting a product or strategy.

Any indices chosen by Henry James International Management to measure performance are representative of broad asset classes. Henry James International Management retains the right to change representative indices at any time.

Henry James International Management and its’ representatives do not provide legal or tax advice. Each client should always consult his/her personal tax and/or legal advisor for information concerning his/her individual situation.

Who Will Be Affected by China’s Trade War?

After sitting on the cusp of a financial war with China, the U.S.A. has finally unleashed their tariffs on Chinese goods after accusing them of stealing intellectual property in March. This back-and-forth disrepute of imposing tariffs on certain items will have a backlash on the citizens of both countries as China seek to reprimand the U.S. The Chinese have since stated has since stated that although they did not start this conflict, they will fight back.

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Chinese technology is receiving a 25% tariff due to accusations by the Trump administration that the Chinese stole intellectual property which optimizes semi-conductor chips. These chips are found in most electronics, ranging from televisions, personal computers, iPhones, and cars. Unfortunately, it seems that the U.S. consumer will most likely be footing the bill as China’s production pricing will remain the same, but the cost to American citizens will increase by 25%, and the Chinese will not be covering these expenses.

China will not take a hit to its economy lightly and have already planned their retaliation by focusing their own tariffs on a wide variety of U.S. exports. This ranges from plastics, to nuclear reactors, to even dairy making equipment. China must be vigilant and handle these tariffs sensibly as Chinese brokerages are sitting on more than £240 billion of loans that grow riskier by the day as China’s equity market tumbles. Losses on the debt could wipe out 11pc of the industry’s net capital, the U.S. bank reported in July; and we suspect this is something U.S. Administration is aware of.

The reality could be more than fist wagging as this tariff war is the biggest economic attack in history. Although undoubtedly better than boots on the ground, this conflict still poses a threat to Americans and Chinese citizens. Firstly, American citizens have a lot to lose beginning with the aforementioned 25% tax they are going to need to pay on certain goods. Further issues include a shrinking market from Chinese buyers, and even rotting livestock due to smaller demand which will heavily affect farmers in the red Mid-West as they lose access to China’s market and are left with excess goods.

It seems likely that the war will not take place in the open, and the real battle will be “on the flanks in the form of unnecessary inspections, product quarantines, and heightened regulatory scrutiny” says James Zimmerman, a partner in the Beijing Office of International Law.

But in reality, this war affects everyone across the globe. With reduced access to the U.S. market, China’s growth may come to a halt which would have a knock-on effect to all world economies. Increased caution and confidence for business will cause uncertainty within China’s market and puts expansion plans on ice. With the two biggest economies grinding themselves against each other, could there be space for a third party to intervene?

Italy’s Harlequin Performance

The laughable situation in Italy in which the traditional political parties struggle for majority votes at the behest of the populist movement “5 Star” (MS5) is somewhat remnant of the Renaissance theatre style commedia dell’arte. MS5, the ambiguous and enigmatic harlequin-esque populist movement, has danced its way into mainstream politics taking a large slice of votes from the Right-Wing parties, who are now screaming “encore” as they attempt to scramble enough power to encourage a second election. But why have these events had a tumultuous effect on the rest of the world?

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The political drama began when the MS5 seized power through their refusal to bow down to political elites. This is not the typical Left vs. Right epidemic we see in most Western countries, but more of a working class vs. elite struggle like the Catalonians against Franco or British Labour reforms in the 60s. At this stage, MS5’s aim seems drastic – this is not just about a reform, this is about a revolution with a focus on domestic empowerment, immigration issues and the European Union alongside a strong hatred of the mafia. But nothing is set in stone, and due to this, Italy are currently proving real tricksters to label which is a massive turn-off for international investors.

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Geo-political issues and rapid social change tend to not bolster share prices, and since the beginning of this new chapter, Italy’s stocks have gone on sale. Rocky prices like we have seen it Italy do however tend to draw in the braver investors who hedge their bets on the dangerous side. Unfortunately, the sale prices don’t match the level of volatility in political stability, and therefore don’t seem to be a great bargain. This of course puts off even the high-risk investors. JP Morgan strategist Mislav Matejka noted recently that there is a poor risk-reward going forward giving the strong run and the political overhang.” It seems that nearby German equities have been the preferred route for most investors after taking profits on Italian stocks.

This mass sell-off of Italian stocks was originally triggered by fears of a second election and investors fear of Italy ditching the Euro, which currently seems highly likely. Investors have decided to keep their money in their pockets for now until the situation cools down with SocGen trio warning that buying could remain weak for several months.

Italy’s performance hasn’t just affected Europe, it managed to dance its way across to the Atlantic and cause the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 391 points. Although the Dow Jones made a huge recovery, making back most of the May dip, it is still undeniable that Italy’s Euroscepticism and quick social change managed to scare even the Americans.

No one can predict the ending of this drama, and although for now it seems that Italy have put forward a government, we don’t know if we are at the beginning or end of this unbridled saga which will likely continue to tighten the strings on investors’ wallets.

 

Is It Finally Euro-Russian Economic Armageddon?

Russia’s economy is heavily reliant on the European Union (EU). Over the last six years, we have seen a decline in trade relationships between the neighbours with EU investment falling by heights of as much as 44pc in 2014. Could the recent alleged Russian chemical attack in Salisbury, Britain hammer the final nail in to the coffin of an already dying economic relationship?

The EU/Russia trade relationship is based on the price of oil. Here’s why: The EU market’s relationship with Russia is dependent on the growth of the Russian economy, but this growth is intrinsically linked to oil prices. If this commodity does badly, then Russia does badly. Since 2011, and most significantly 2012-2016, the price of oil began to a steady decline – which is correlated to the weakened financial partnership between the EU and Russia. This was seen most notably at the end of 2015, when hydrocarbon exports were down 42pc from 2012. This subsequently leaves Russia in a weakened financial position – they could not burden further blows and remain buoyant in their current economic situation.

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But the Salisbury attack could be the last straw. Western states have already begun an exodus of Russian politicians from their embassies which worsens Russia’s geo-political influence worldwide.  So far, this has had no impact on the EU/Russia trade deal. Yet, if these sanctions begin to affect trade relations, Russia’s economy could find itself on life support as it stumbles toward a nadir. Its economy is already being pressurised by the decline in oil price, and a dwindling relationship with the EU – trade sanctions would leave the Russian economy in a hopeless situation, seeking alternative solutions.

It seems Russia is  aware of this and have begun reaching out to alternative markets to keep their economy afloat. In difficult circumstances Russia has reached out to Turkey, a nation who has been trying to gain access to the EU for years but has been rejected for a myriad of reasons – most notably their poor human rights record. Earlier this month, Putin joined President Erdogan at a ceremony for a Russian made Nuclear Power Plant. This isn’t the first sign of a romance brewing between the two nation states. Over Christmas they finalized an agreement that Turkey would purchase their S-400 Missile Defence System. Aside from this, they are building the Turkstream pipeline to transfer Russian gas to Turkey. Will Russia need the EU if relationships blossom with alternative markets? They have reached out to Turkey, but could this become a patterned behaviour?

DISCLAIMER: This message is provided for informational purposes and should not be construed as a solicitation or offer to buy or sell any securities. Past investment performance may not be indicative of future investment performance.