Henry James International Management June Market Commentary

Market Overview

There is a lot of turmoil facing global markets these days, but – despite a shaky May – two quarters into 2019 there is a lot to be positive about. So far this year, we have seen a great deal of drama involving the world’s two superpowers on the verge of a bare-knuckle trade war. Despite the many reasons to be pessimistic, Year-to-Date (YTD) markets have performed brilliantly: Developed Market (DM) equities are up a roaring 14.49% as measured by the MSCI EAFE index; Emerging Market (EM) equities stiffed armed 2018’s woes, up 10.76% and the MSCI World ex USA Small Cap is up an impressive 13.22%. For the Second Quarter these indices are in positive territory: the MSCI EAFE +3.97%, the MSCI Emerging Markets +0.74% and MSCI World ex USA Small Cap +1.97%. Both the YTD and Second Quarter figures have a stellar June to thank for such happy reading, as the month that just finished clawed back the devastation wreaked by May with the MSCI EAFE up 5.97%, the MSCI Emerging Markets +6.32% and MSCI World ex USA Small Cap +4.59%.

Just as 2019’s second fiscal quarter transitioned to its third, US President Donald Trump was behind the scenes at the G20 summit with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping banging out a shiny new trade truce. This was unveiled on July 1st and markets erupted in elation, but were brought back down to earth when everyone realized that ‘trade truce’ does not actually mean a sweeping resolution to the damaging trade dispute, nor does it end the costly tariffs both sides have enacted on the other’s goods. Moreover, Chinese tech giant Huawei remains a blacklisted company in the US and President Trump has not exactly signaled that he will back down from his desire to see his allies also eradicate Huawei technology from their borders. And yet, there were good will overtures galore, including Trump agreeing to ease restrictions on Huawei’s US technology purchases and to halt a fresh round of tariffs that would hit another $300bn of Chinese goods. President Xi responded with positive gestures of his own, promising to purchase an unspecified amount of US farm products and to resume trade talks immediately.

Henry James International Management June Market Commentary
Is trade between the US and Mexico stable?

It seems that Trump has frightened Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrado (AMLO) into submission through the threat of quickly escalating tariffs, the new free trade deal known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (which is agreed to but not yet ratified), notwithstanding. While early June was a worrying period for markets impacted by US-Mexico trade, normality resumed when Trump called off the 5% tariff on all Mexican goods on June 8th. As a result of this spectacle, trade along the southern US borders seems stable for both countries, but one wonders what the impact may be for such blatant disregard of this free trade agreement and if it may alter the way in which other nations (chiefly China) view the value of a trade deal with the US.

June saw the US and Iran on the brink of genuine military conflict when on Thursday June 20, 2019 President Trump called off an air strike on 3 Iranian targets. It is reported that the mission was aborted at the last moment as the President was advised that the strike would cause upwards of 150 casualties, which was deemed a disproportionate response to Iran shooting down a US drone. US-Iranian tensions had already been at boiling point even since an incident in the Gulf of Oman involving two oil tankers, which the US says were victims of an Iranian mine attack, which the Islamic Republic has vehemently denied. Far from being on the mend, since then US-Iranian relations have only worsened and Iran has taken dramatic steps to put pressure on the rest of the international community to re-embrace it: on Monday July 1st Iran declared that it breached the 300-kilogram limit for low-enriched uranium that was agreed in the Iran Nuclear Deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned on July 3rd that Iran would also be increasing its enrichment capacity to above the pre-agreed limits, too, and would not comply with the agreement unless it received relief from US sanctions provided by the other signatories.

Despite President Trump increasing pressure on the Federal Reserve to slash interest rates, Chairman Jerome Powell was unperturbed and announced that he would keep rates unchanged, between 2.25% and 2.5%. Trump has been a critic of Powell on Twitter and has apparently been privately threatening to fire him for failing to lower interest rates. Trump denies this rumor and Powell says he fully intends to serve his full 4-year term as the Federal Reserve’s Chairman; moreover, the President sacking Powell would be an unprecedented action that almost certainly does not have a legal basis.

Henry James International Management June Market Commentary
The EU has already confirmed that it is Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal or no deal at all.

In Britain the final two candidates for Conservative Party Leader and Theresa May’s replacement as Prime Minister (PM) are Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. While both candidates appear to be lusting after the highest office in Britain, the winner will inherent a government that simply does not have the Parliamentary math to resolve the most pressing topic: Brexit. Johnson – who is by far the favorite – says that, while a no deal Brexit is not ideal, he will push Britain out of the European Union (EU) on October 31st, 2019 no matter what. His rival Hunt – who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum – said he would deliver Brexit but would be open to extending the deadline if a deal was nearly complete. The EU and its Parliament are essentially closed for the summer, which means that when business resumes it will be very difficult for whoever wins the leadership contest to have the required time to renegotiate a Brexit Deal; besides which, the EU has already confirmed that it was Mrs. May’s deal or no deal at all.

Investment Outlook

According to James O’Leary, our Chief Investment Officer and Senior Portfolio Manager at Henry James International Management, the trade sanctions of which President Trump has become so partial have become the greatest headwind to global markets, specifically the uncertainty it forces the US economy and its businesses and consumers to face. ‘When there is uncertainty, long-term investments are not made. This slows economic growth as investment into the future is not made and decisions are deferred,’ O’Leary says. Amongst other items, this has a significant effect on job creation and retention, which subsequently affects the consumer spending power that drives the economy. O’Leary points to two sectors that have been dealt unenviable blows by the tariff uncertainty: agriculture and technology. The former has been a victim of the US-China dispute as Beijing has dramatically reduced its purchases of soybeans and other items in response to US tariffs; the latter, namely Qualcomm and Intel, has seen it coerced to end selling computer parts to China by way of a Trump executive order.

While there is clearly much lasting damage that a prolonged trade dispute would do to the American economy, the positive news is that the sting will eventually subside as supply chains are moved away from China and to other EM economies like Vietnam, India and Myanmar. While China boasts the ability to manipulate its monetary policy in a way envied by Trump, O’Leary believes that China is in a more precarious situation than the US as once American businesses move their supply chains away from China there will be minimal incentive to move them back, even after a trade deal has been realized. ‘The problem for China,’ says O’Leary, ‘is that there is a chance that these losses will be permanent.’ He continues: ‘There is a positive for other EM countries who inherit this manufacturing as it may help increase longer-term economic growth. It is also a positive for the US in that production will have been diversified away from China.’ Despite this, O’Leary believes that President Xi will simply wait out the end of the Trump presidency to see if he can get a better deal from a less bellicose Democratic president who may well assume the keys to the White House in 2021 – as China does not suffer from the inefficiencies of party politics Xi and his party arguably have time on their side.

Despite the market anxiety of the eight-day period during which Mexico faced escalating US tariffs, both countries appear to have emerged on the other side of what could have been a fraught trading relationship. Mexican President “AMLO”came into office on the back of some bold and ambitious economic promises to his electorate; despite this, the economy over which he presides has been doing very poorly. Mexican Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shrank by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2019 from the previous three months, which was below estimates a panel of economists surveyed by Bloomberg predicted. Mexico is in dire straights and the threat of tariffs offered a layer of instability that AMLO could have done without.  Consequently O’Leary believes that AMLO will do anything – within reason – to stay on Trump’s good side to avoid any future tariffs.

The industry most affected by the threat of tariffs was the automobile sector, says O’Leary, which experienced plenty of equity volatility in June. European, Japanese and even American car manufacturers have opened up factories ‘south of the border’ to take advantage of the reduced cost of doing business in Mexico. While Trump’s tariffs were almost completely political in nature and focused squarely on immigration concerns, O’Leary is fascinated by a certain hypothetical: he imagines a scenario in which tariffs were enforced, which may compel car companies to bring their factories from Mexico to within America’s borders. Such a situation, which would no doubt be brilliant for the US economy, would face Mexico with one issue with which AMLO is not currently dealing; i.e. high unemployment. Historically higher Mexican unemployment means heightened illegal migration through the US-Mexico border so one wonders which political goal is the more salient for Trump: US manufacturing and jobs or thwarting illegal immigration?

Henry James International Management June Market Commentary
In June the automobile industry was extremely affected by Trump’s threat of Mexico tariffs.

Despite the roaring headwinds caused by tariff-induced uncertainty, at Henry James International Management our unbiased and disciplined country allocation system allows us to ignore the noise and focus on the facts with which our data present us. Our research is currently bullish on France, Germany and Sweden, as well as Latin America and Asia. According to our Senior Portfolio Manager O’Leary, our quantitative stock selection process will continue to flow in this direction.

The saber-rattling between the US and Iran has caught our attention, but only in so far as it is increasing our exposure to energy stocks. ‘The combination of reduced OPEC production and restricted supply from Iran has caused the price of oil to increase,’ says O’Leary. As long as the conflict persists, the price of oil will stay up, he says. While Henry James International Management is happy to enjoy the gains from rising oil prices, we believe the downside is that expensive energy will negatively impact global economic growth and pressure on consumers and businesses.

Despite Senior Portfolio Manager O’Leary closely monitoring the Federal Reserve’s near complete about-face when it comes to their projected monetary policy, he says that Henry James International Management has not had to change its own strategy as a result; rather, our quantitative growth strategy and targeted data analysis guides us safely through ‘bumpy stock market terrain’. According to O’Leary, this remains the case even in recession: ‘We generally underperform at the initial market drop and recover after a few months as valuations normalize. The portfolio naturally moves to a more defensive posture over time in a bear market while keeping its growth bias,’ he says.

O’Leary predicts that Powell will keep interest rates flat for the rest of 2019 and probably for 2020, too. While Republicans and President Trump will be keen to see interest rates lowered to spark the economy into high gear ahead of the 2020 election, according to O’Leary to see the effects of compromising the independence of a country’s national bank one only has to look to Venezuela and Turkey. ‘There seems to be a power struggle between Trump and the Federal Reserve Board,’ says O’Leary. ‘The Federal Reserve is supposed to be set up to serve the long term interests of the USA, whereas Trump wants it to serve his interests.’ O’Leary says that in 2018 the Federal Reserve’s medium term goal was to increase interest rates steadily so that when the next recession comes, they would have some stimulus tools; i.e. lowering rates, to deal with it. However, with such unstable market conditions, mostly due to tariffs and other trade issues, Powell may have to live with the existing cushion of 2.50%. O’Leary adds: ‘If the economy remains strong there will be an upward interest rate bias to hold inflation down while maintaining orderly growth.’ However, if future rising rates cause Trump to get into a battle with Powell, the American people will become the big losers, says O’Leary. In the event that rates are maintained at 2.50% – or are even lowered – EM economies may benefit tremendously as low interest rates allow them to borrow in US dollars (USD) at a low borrowing rate. Of course, this comes with a significant risk: strong USD against a weak EM currency can cause major problems in repaying loans which can result in defaults and bankruptcies.

Henry James International Management June Market Commentary
In the short term, there are no positive Brexit outcomes for investors.

Regarding Brexit, O’Leary says that he sees no good solutions on the horizon. ‘Once uncertainty entered the British economy prior to Brexit our system made us reduce our exposure to the UK and it has remained underweight relative to EAFE,’ he said. The UK equities to which Henry James International Management has exposed its portfolios receive a greater portion of their revenue from outside the UK rather than being domestic orientated companies. According to O’Leary, in the short-term, the question is not whether or not Brexit is a wise move for the UK as much as it is the case that it has created raging market uncertainty with dire consequences. He said: ‘We believe the UK will underperform until there is certainty; once there is certainty, UK equities will lag until it is clear whether or not the resolution to the mess that is Brexit is determined to be good or bad for the UK economy.’ In short, we believe difficult days lie ahead for UK equities.

In summary, with half of 2019 in the books there are clearly plenty of headwinds to keep investors up at night; but such anxiety belies the many reasons for optimism, not least of which markets’ apparent ability to breeze past the geo-political turmoil that can subdue them. Moreover, we believe that our quantitative strategy for growth gives Henry James International Management the ability to perform well relative to the benchmark in all market conditions.

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.

April Market Commentary

Market Overview

The first quarter of 2019 finished with largely impressive numbers: the S&P 500 boasted its best quarter in ten years, up by 13.1% almost erasing the disastrous losses of the last quarter of 2018.  Globally,stocks generally posted solid returns for the quarter as the MSCI EAFE Index produced a return of 9.04%. International stocks were led by the BRIC countries which generated a 13.01% return. Even lackluster regions like Africa posted a positive return of 3.98%.  Indeed, when considering the full range of threats the global economy faced at the beginning of the year, investors should be happy that markets were able to shrug off those concerns and generate solid returns for the first quarter.

While we are delighted by 2019’s market performance thus far, we sense the palpable risk that the markets’ positive form is on borrowed time and that the 2019 of muted growth that we envisaged at the end of 2018 may return. We still feel very far away from the market friendly Brexit and United States (US)-China trade deal we were anticipating only a month ago. Both items continue to cause a considerable lack of clarity, which will likely perpetuate market instability. This, and other factors, remain problematic even in the face of last month’s optimism and have compelled us to face the reality that 2019 may yet become an uphill battle for international equities.

Henry James International Management April Market Commentary
Prime Minister Theresa May once said that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’; alas, she ate her words and extended Britain’s withdrawal and in the process risked Brexit never happening at all, a reality that markets may find rather appealing.

It was largely a foregone conclusion that Britain would leave the European Union (EU) on March 29, 2019 ever since Primer Minister Theresa May and Parliament invoked Article 50 to begin the count down two years ago. Indeed, this was due to happen either with a mutually beneficial deal or an acrimonious divorce; i.e. a ‘no deal’ Brexit. And yet, to the joy of some and ire of others, the supposedly immoveable Brexit deadline was pushed back, first to May 22nd – were May able to get Parliament to pass her deeply unpopular Brexit deal – and most recently to October 31st due to Parliament rejecting her deal three decisive times and failing to agree on any viable alternative arrangement. May once said that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, which suggested that she would have been prepared to see Britain ‘crash’ out of the EU on April 12th, were the new six month Brexit extension not granted. Alas, she ate her words and extended Britain’s withdrawal and in the process risked Brexit never happening at all, a reality that markets may find rather appealing. Part of the latest Brexit extension is that, were Britain able to agree on a Brexit deal by May 22nd, it would be able to formally Brexit on June 1st. Of course, the UK Parliament’s failure to do so, would mean that Britain would have to participate in the European Parliamentary elections, something that May has always been reluctant to do as it would be – in her view – an abrogation of democracy and send the wrong signal about having respected the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum. In terms of next steps, it is genuine guesswork, yet plausible items on the horizon include a battle within the Conservative Party, with May defending herself from being ousted as Prime Minister from her own Members of Parliament, as well as a so-called People’s Vote referendum that would give final say to British voters about how it will want to proceed on Brexit, or if it even still does want to Brexit at all.

At February’s close we had good cause to believe that the incipient blaze of a possible US-China trade war was about to be extinguished. Just as the March 2, 2019 deadline that was to see the tariff on over $200bn of Chinese goods more than double from 10% to 25%, President Donald Trump confidently proclaimed that all planned increases would be indefinitely suspended as a result of a new bilateral trade deal nearing completion. Yet more than a month later not only has a deal not been confirmed, the US and China appear to be much further apart than what Trump’s bluster and the general bonhomie between the superpowers would have suggested. While it must be said that it appears that an all-out trade war between the world’s two largest economies has been averted for now – a reality that investors would have been all too eager to embrace only a matter of months ago – it seems that it was premature to have expected a mutually beneficial trade deal that would abolish all tariffs and give international equities the boost they have craved.

China is reported to be pushing back against US trade demands that it perceives as one-sided; moreover, they want all tariffs lifted immediately, which the US is reluctant to do. Consequently, Chinese negotiators are evidently less gung-ho about fulfilling their key promises on intellectual property rights, which for Trump and both sides of Congress is the foundation to any meaningful trade deal. The superpowers are caught in a tedious Catch-22: the US will not roll back tariffs until China fulfills its key commitments, but China refuses to honor its side without movement on tariffs. Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s chief negotiator, deflated expectations by saying, ‘If there’s a great deal to be gotten, we’ll get it. If not, we’ll find another plan.’ Furthermore, news that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting has been postponed by at least a month until the end of April also suggests that a quick, easy and market friendly solution is not at all imminent.  According to reports, it is unlikely that any future trade deal will begin by repealing all existing tariffs and will instead be more like a trade cease-fire that will see no new tariffs introduced. Of course, it is plausible that the deal may set stages at which tariffs are lifted when particular targets or agreements are met, but one has to wonder if there ever will be a medium term scenario of free, frictionless trade between these two super powers given that they are, and will remain, commercial, economic and military rivals? Yet, Trump continues to hype up his delivery of a positive trade deal with China, which, if he were able to achieve, would give him at least one foot into a second term at the White House and offer markets a positive jolt. This should give him plenty of incentive and what is more Democrats may even cheer him on (privately, of course). However, politicians, markets and investors will likely have to face the facts that the road to economic peace with China will be long, harrowing and may even be impossible in the short to medium term.

In Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s honeymoon period is over. The Brazilian market hit its all time high in mid-March but dismal reports over Bolsonaro’s questionable economic ideas and concerns over rapidly increasing inflation cost the market almost 6% in the final 2 weeks of March. The sweeping market optimism that his corruption fighting, business-liberalizing premiership was thought might bring has turned sour as Bolsonaro is under widespread criticism from across the Brazilian political spectrum. What is more, his apparent inexperience and desire to get into Twitter battles has not only mitigated his ability to navigate himself out of his current political quandary, it has also distracted him from selling his ambitious and necessary plans to lawmakers. Bolsonaro aims to make wide-ranging changes to Brazil, yet none is more important than his proposed reform of the state pension system, which is crippling the state’s coffers. Pushing his reform through would cut 1TR Reals from the fiscal deficit in the next decade and would shore up Brazil’s public finances. Of greater importance to investors, it is believed that it would also spark the economy into high gear. Yet, the so called ‘apprentice President’ is facing an arduous battle as opposition parties either oppose the reforms in their entirety or want to chop and change them until they are so watered down they lose their fiscal and economic potency. Bolsonaro has so far failed to engage with the opposition political parties whose support he requires to make meaningful change to Brazil’s state pension; what is more, instead of courting the support of Brazil’s most powerful lawmaker House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, for whom pension reform is also very important, Bolsonaro has chosen to trade petty insults with him. As things currently stand, Bolsonaro has scant support in Congress for pension reform and if he fails to build bridges through the so-called ‘pork barrel politics’ of which he has been so critical, he will fail and South America’s largest economy will likely remain in the catastrophic political and economic situation in which it has found itself for the past few years.

In more positive news, the US Federal Reserve confirmed what was widely speculated: there are no plans to raise interest rates in 2019 due to slower than anticipated economic growth. Chairman Jerome Powell indicated that the current rate of 2.5% is rate neutral and that it would take some time before the employment and inflation outlook called for a change in fiscal policy. The Fed did indicate, however, that regardless of its recent announcement its policy remained nimble and was subject to change depending on future economic indicators.

Henry James International Management April Market Commentary
Will it even be possible in the medium term to envisage free, frictionless trade between the US and China given that they are, and will remain, commercial, economic and military rivals?

Investment Outlook

Despite 2019’s first quarter having outperformed expectations, we fear we are creeping back to the muted optimism and incipient pessimism with which we began the year. It seems highly unlikely that the US and China will agree the mutually beneficial trade deal markets have expected for more than 8 months. Moreover, a decisive and market friendly Brexit is at least 6 month’s away and it is widely believed that further ‘kicking the can down the road’ delays are extremely possible.  As a result, we are left with a petering-out US economy, China in the midst of an economic slowdown, a Britain frozen by Brexit uncertainty and an EU economy that is flat-lining. Adding to the negativity are first quarter corporate earnings that are anticipated to be lackluster. And yet, investors will be thankful that we have at least avoided an all-out trade war between the US and China and a devastating ‘no-deal’ Brexit, which could have made matters much worse than what they may be poised to become.

A spot for genuine, unmitigated optimism may be EM equities, which have rallied in 2019 and may outperform for the next 6 to 12 months. Moreover, we believe it is reasonable to expect EM equities to claw back their 2018 losses. We have already seen the MSCI EM Index up 9.56% in the first quarter of the year. China will help Asia lead the way for EM equities through their own policy of monetary and fiscal easing.  Other countries like Mexico and Brazil may not be so lucky as the former may see capital outflow as a result of domestic political uncertainty as well as trade tension north of the border and the latter will be stuck in a well without a ladder unless Bolsonaro can abandon his idiosyncratic style and effectively push his state pension reform through the Brazilian Congress.

In conclusion, it seems unlikely that markets will benefit from the much-desired steroid injection of a US-China trade deal in the short term. President Trump is still talking up the possibility of a mutually beneficial, market catalyzing solution, but taking him at his word might be unwise. A more likely victory for markets may be Britain leaving the EU through a ‘soft Brexit’ – or even doing an about-face and persisting as an EU member. However, any market-friendly resolution is not only difficult to imagine in the short term, there also remains the perpetuated uncertainty fostered by the October 31st extension as well as the risk of Brexit culminating into something pernicious for investors. For 2019 we believe that US equities will continue in positive territory despite a likely earnings recession, that Europe will be mired in uncertainty until Brexit is resolved and that EM equities may offer investors excellent opportunity, particularly in Asia where share prices are comparatively cheap.

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.