Henry James International Management August Market Commentary

Market Overview

 August was not a positive month for markets. The MSCI EAFE index fell by -2.58%, the MSCI World ex USA Small Cap dipped by -2.30%; the MSCI EM index shrunk by -4.85%. Dramatic though these losses may be, they are arguably slight given the scale of market-influencing political volatility August witnessed on a global scale. The main protagonists were the United States (US) and China, whose trade conflict has escalated to dangerous heights in terms of new tariffs and fiery tweets. Worse yet, the path to a resolution is not nearly as obvious as many may have deceived themselves into believing only a matter of months ago. Brexit continues to impede both the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union’s (EU) economies and there is no end to the uncertainty on the horizon, despite new British Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson’s insistence that Brexit will happened, come what may, at midnight on October 31, 2019. August also presented markets with a range of worrying facts: 10 year US bonds fell below their 2 year counterparts for the first time in a decade (a telltale sign of imminent recession), the US economy is slowing, China is also in the midst of an economic slowdown as well as a serious debt crisis, Germany is in a fully-fledged manufacturing recession and Britain appears headed for their first recession since the financial crisis (July’s positive UK economic growth, notwithstanding). Despite all of this cause for genuine concern, there is some reason for optimism. Firstly, low US interest rates – despite making markets defenseless in a recession scenario – should help catalyze the US economy; furthermore, they should help Emerging Market (EM) economies who are already benefiting from Chinese supply chain disruptions. Indeed, we believe that the Federal Reserve will lower rates at least one more time in 2019, with possibly more reductions in 2020. Secondly, the World Bank is anticipating global growth of just below 3% for both 2019 and 2020, which would suggest that there is still a range of underpriced opportunities available for investors. Lastly, as we saw when Sterling surged in early September when UK PM Johnson’s bold Brexit plans were frustrated by the UK’s Parliament, in a world burdened by such troubling politics, any news that is even vaguely positive will create market optimism, however ephemeral.

Despite the projected growth that cushions markets from international recession, we believe we are experiencing a global growth slowdown. The US enjoyed tremendous short-term benefit in 2018 (GDP growing 2.9%) through the Trump tax cuts, which flooded the economy with corporate and consumer capital. However, it came at a big cost of adding more than a Trillion USD to the fiscal deficit, which a cynic might think is not necessarily symptomatic of the fiscal prudence for which Republicans are famous. Beyond that, a range of non-political voices, including that of the International Monetary Fund, were transparent in their view at the tax cuts’ inception that 2018’s turbo-charged economy would not only lead to an economic slow-down and recession, it would in fact hasten it. We believe we are experiencing this today, which has become even more problematic given the way in which the Fed was effectively coerced to keep up with 2018’s economy by raising interest rates to combat inflation. Today, with American growth stalling and further impeded by the US-China trade war, the Fed is really only able to stimulate growth by lowering the interest rates it – we think – unnaturally hiked up only last year which will leave it without any tools to combat the recession which many believe is on the horizon.

China and Germany – and certainly the two nations combined – corroborate our view that we are in the midst of a global slowdown. China has arguably been the main driver of global growth since the financial crash of 2008 and any reduction in its GDP is felt throughout the world. Part of China’s economic overdrive in the past decade has been heavy borrowing and loans that stand little chance of ever being repaid. Moreover, Chinese consumer debt is also worryingly deep. China has tried to rein in corporate and consumer lending, but each instance has led to a global economic stumble, which compelled Beijing to loosen lending again. China is currently at a 30-year industrial production growth low (4.8%), which may be part and parcel of its desire to shift its economy from manufacturing to services, but this will be a painful transition not only for China, itself, but for a world economy that is dependent on Chinese growth.

Henry James International Management August Market Commentary
Despite the projected growth that cushions markets from international recession, we believe we are experiencing a global growth slowdown.

Germany, meanwhile, saw its economy shrink by -0.1% in the second quarter of 2019 and a deeper drop is predicted in the third quarter. Its fate is largely in the hands of China as Germany exports nearly $100bn of goods to the Communist state and a slowing of Chinese consumer and corporate spending will hit hard. The Chinese buying fewer German products – chiefly cars, machines tools and manufacturing equipment – will continue to damage Germany’s manufacturing which is currently at seven consecutive months of decline. It must also be said that Germany imports more than $100bn of Chinese goods, and an economically declining Germany spells bad news for China, particularly given its trade war with the United States.

Brexit is not just bad for Britain, whose best-case scenario appears to be recession – it is also dangerous for Germany. Germany exports nearly $100bn of goods to Britain and a Brexit that imposes any element of trade friction and uncertainty will make this number fall; and possible tariffs will make the cost of business significantly higher. Indeed the uncertainly and chaos caused by Brexit are likely partially to blame for Germany’s recent poor GDP and manufacturing figures. With the October 31st Brexit deadline quickly approaching, the projections of economic Armageddon as well as food and medicine shortages are becoming less abstract and more tangible (particularly since the release of information pertaining to Operation Yellowhammer). Markets reacted positively to the news that Parliament managed to thwart a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (for now) as well as possibly extending the deadline beyond Halloween. But when markets wake-up, they will realize that an end to the deadlock remains illusive and until a market-friendly resolution is achieved the British, European and World economies will continue to suffer.

Of course, among the largest contributors to US and Chinese market woes is their trade war, the stakes of which rose considerably this past month. August kicked off with Trump announcing a 10% tariff on over $300bn of Chinese goods, citing a lack of progress in trade negotiations. A couple weeks later, the US President did a partial about-face, saying that he would delay the tariff on cell phones, video games and apparel until December 15 to mitigate the damage it would have on US consumers in the run-up to Christmas. Trump hoped this gesture would impress Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping and make him more dovish. This was not realized as the Chinese increased their hostility by ordering all companies to stop buying US agricultural goods (worth up to $20bn) and new tariffs on $75bn of US goods, which went into effect on September 1st along with the new US tariffs. Trump’s response was ordering US companies to no longer do business in and with China (an order that does not command legal weight) and set the preexisting 25% tariffs on $250bn of Chinese goods to go to 30% on October 1, 2019 and the newly introduced 10% tariff to rise to 15% on December 15, 2019. As of September 2019 we are at the high water mark of this trade war and markets will hope that hostilities begin cooling immediately.

Investment Outlook

James O’Leary, CFA, Chief Investment Officer and Senior Portfolio Manager at Henry James International Management, believes we are starting to experience a global growth slowdown. ‘Germany is the bellwether of global manufacturing and their manufacturing sector has slipped into recession,’ he said. Due to uncertainty that has negatively affected the Chinese economy on the back of the trade war and their debt crisis, says O’Leary, China simply has neither the need nor the money for German manufacturing machines and luxury cars. According to O’Leary the German and Chinese economies are co-dependents and their respective woes and uncertainty will drag the other down. Closer to home, German trade with the UK has slowed down simply because the British economy is shrinking, which will likely continue to be the case until a market friendly Brexit is achieved, says O’Leary.

Henry James International Management August Marketing Commentary
‘The German and Chinese economies are co-dependents and their respective woes and uncertainty will drag the other down.’

Regarding Brexit, ‘Who could possibly consider investing in the UK right now? It is not even clear whether they will be able to import food in a few weeks,’ said O’Leary. He continued, ‘Uncertainty breeds consumer anxiety, and this inevitably results in consumers tightening their belts and spending less money.’ While the likelihood of a No-Deal Brexit will have gone down considerably after Parliament wrested control from PM Johnson, the longer Britain and the EU kick the can down the road, market pessimism will persists and people will choose to save and not spend their money. The result: further economic slow down in Britain, Europe and the rest of the world.

O’Leary is not averse to the concept of playing hardball with China, particularly in relation to their recent history of intellectual property theft; indeed, he is even open to some element of ‘necessary’ market pain that may result. However, in his view IP theft is not a uniquely American problem. ‘Multilateral action against China that incorporated the likes of Germany, Britain and Japan would have worked far better in terms of actually getting China onside and limiting market volatility.’ What is more, says O’Leary, while the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was not an effective way to subdue China, there is no reason why the US could not have remained within the robust trading block and still go after China in a multi-lateral fashion. The US-China trade dispute has put uncertainty into both countries manufacturing, says O’Leary, because tariffs automatically reduce the number of people on either side of the divide who will be open to buying the other’s products. ‘If one is going to produce goods, better be sure there will be somebody who will buy them,’ says O’Leary. Of course, a positive side-effect of the trade war has been disrupting Chinese supply chains, which makes the world economy less reliant on Chinese manufacturing and also gives Asian EM economies like Vietnam a big boost.

According to O’Leary, one of the most worrying elements of the global slow down from a US perspective is that the Trump Tax Cuts, despite boosting the economy in 2018, added significantly to its public debt. Indeed, much of this debt is foreign, which means that it actually has to be paid back, he says. Of the US’s $6.2tn foreign debt, $1.18tn is owned by China and $1.03tn is by Japan. O’Leary also laments the way in which Trump’s Tax Cuts effectively coerced Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to combat inflation through raising interest rates through gritted teeth.

At Henry James International Management our investment strategy bears the full range of these market issues in mind while it ‘quantamentally’ locates opportunities while minimizing risk. ‘We use a very disciplined country-weighted system that is based on equally weighted equities in each country based on their 52-Week Sharp Ratio,’ says O’Leary. He continued: ‘So when a country’s relative strength decreases the weighting in our portfolios for that country also decreases.’ He points to the UK, Germany and China, whose equities have decreased proportionally in our portfolios. Conversely, our portfolios are over-weighted in India, which has seen excellent growth during the past several years, and Russia, which is exhibiting growth in several sectors. Sector-wise, our ‘quantamental’ strategy has seen our funds naturally reduce investment in iron ore and, of course, manufacturing, while we have increased investment in biotech, internet retail and pharmaceuticals.

As we head into 2019’s homestretch, we are grateful that the year has mostly defied analyst predictions from back in 2018, in so far as markets have delivered for investors thus far. And yet, far from the political volatility abating, it has only increased. We would like to see world economies turn away from the tit-for-tat that has seen countries use tariffs to exploit others’ vulnerabilities. Moreover, we would like to see a world of inclusive economic relations for everyone’s mutual benefit, as using trade as a substitute for war is reminiscent of the politics of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that arguably made the Great Depression both deeper and longer. As O’Leary puts it, ‘Let’s hope wiser heads prevail!’ Thankfully for investors in the medium term there is some global growth and lower US interest rates should help impede the global slowdown.

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.

March Market Commentary

Market Overview

Those who feared that January’s boom would lead to a more somber – or even negative – February will have been relieved as, despite the serious potential for punishing economic headwinds, global markets continued their positive climb. The S&P 500 was up by nearly 3% and there is scope for even more dramatic gains in the short term if the United States (US) and China can announce a tariff free trade deal in the short term. Developed market equities (DMEs) stiff-armed Brexit fears and continued their 2019 good form into February, up 2.56% as measured by the MSCI EAFE. Emerging market equities (EMEs) maintained their January gains, up 0.23% as measured by the MSCI EM Index thanks to South America’s positive momentum.

At the end of January we viewed the bang with which 2019 started cautiously and a bit dubiously; however two months into the year not only have markets performed relatively well, but also many of the reasons for such raging economic anxiety appear to have turned a corner to pose less of a threat. Among the more salient of these has been the risk of an all out trade war between the US and China, which has ominously hovered over markets for more than 8 months to foster an aura of instability. What is more, the ever-present trade tensions have caused real damage to both nations’ economies and have boiled over and bruised global markets. While we always believed that reason would triumph and that a mutually beneficial trade deal would eventually be agreed by the two protagonists, this conflict has been practically wrapped in tinder just waiting for the smallest spark to ignite a fiery trade war. However, a matter of days before the US was set to raise tariffs on over $200bn of Chinese goods from 10% to 25% – and surely incur an equally punitive response from the Chinese on American goods – President Trump declared he would indefinitely suspend the March 2nd deadline, citing progress to a mutually beneficial trade deal, which might well be finalized shortly. The deal that is nearly over the line is reported to see Washington abolish most of its tariffs in exchange for Beijing proactively protecting intellectual property rights and buying significantly more American products, including China fast-tracking the removal of its foreign-ownership limitations on auto ventures and reducing imported auto tariffs to below the current rate of 15%. While markets will not be completely out of the woods until a US-China trade deal is announced, investors should take comfort in the fact that relations between the countries appear to be at an 8 month high and that the chance of a trade war looks far slimmer than it did only a month ago.

Despite January’s boom, US markets had plenty of domestic shock to absorb through the longest ever government shutdown in country history. While Washington’s political chaos failed to measurably damage domestic equities, the threat of yet another government shutdown created plenty of investor anxiety. Thankfully, regardless of the furore over Trump having declared a national emergency to fund his border wall with Mexico, markets seemed to have taken comfort in the fact that Congress agreed a federal budget that will last through the current fiscal year, ending September 30, 2019 and thus preventing a fresh shutdown in the short term and eliminating this ominous threat to markets.

Henry James International March Market Commentary
It seems highly unlikely that Mrs. May, who has been intent on respecting the 2016 referendum result and who was the one who triggered Article 50 in the first place, would ever countenance such a dramatic political move.

So far so good in 2019, then? Everyone’s least favorite issue could rapidly corrode the burgeoning optimism: Brexit. As things currently stand Britain is set to crash out of the European Union (EU) without a trade deal on March 29, 2019, which (if we are to believe mainstream economic pundits) will likely bequeath the United Kingdom a deep and painful recession and inflict serious damage on EU economies, particularly given the latter’s UK trade surplus. Such a catastrophic outcome would send tidal waves of economic headwinds and investor uncertainty far beyond British and European shores to the rest of the world. March 12 proved to be a decisive day in the Brexit saga as it saw Parliament reject Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal for a second and likely final time. On the following day Parliament voted in favor of a motion that ruled out a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances; yet this resolution lacked the power to stop Britain crashing out of the EU on March 29th without Brussels’ consent to extending the deadline. Of course, Britain is able to unilaterally revoke Article 50, which would result in avoiding a much-feared no-deal Brexit (for the time being, anyway) or even cancel Brexit altogether. And yet, it seems highly unlikely that Mrs. May, who has been intent on respecting the 2016 referendum result and who was the one who triggered Article 50 in the first place, would ever countenance such a dramatic political move.

While Michael Cohen was testifying against his old boss in the House of Representatives, President Trump was in Hanoi for his hotly anticipated second summit with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. Despite a range of positive predicted outcomes including the official end to the Korean War, nothing at all was achieved as Trump pressed for complete denuclearization while Kim evidently wanted all sanctions lifted. In the words of the President: ‘Sometimes you have to walk and this was one of those times.’ The lack of result battered South Korean equities (KOSPI), which were hopeful the summit would begin the process of making inter-Korean cooperation a more viable and immediate reality, which would be a major catalyst for South Korean economy.

With no sign of the turmoil in Venezuela ending anytime soon, its oil industry – which produces 1.2 million barrels a day in normal circumstances – is on the brink of collapsing due to its flat-lining economy and failing power grid. Additional headwinds include OPEC and some non-OPEC countries agreeing to cut productions by that same amount; i.e. 1.2 million barrels a day, which suggests that the oil market is not particularly dependent on Venezuela’s contribution. Besides which, expanding exports from Canada and the US would be able to fill any gap left by the Venezuelans.

Meanwhile despite the Bovespa index maintaining its 2019 gains, the Brazilian economy is in relative dire straights and has seen its 2019 growth estimate downgraded for a 3rd consecutive week to 2.01%. The forecast for the benchmark Selic rate has also been cut from 8% to 7.75% at the end of 2020; the rate presently sits at the all-time low of 6.5%. Brazil’s Central Bank also revealed that its economic activity shrank by 0.41% in January. Despite this important background, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s most important and biggest challenge is state pension reform. The proposal that would see the minimum retirement age raise to 65 for men and 62 for women is predicted to save more than 1 trillion reais ($270bn) over the next decade. Failure to enact this reform would not only be a body blow to Bolsonaro’s presidency, it would also push Brazil further into an unsustainable debt profile. If Bolsonaro does manage to pass it through both houses of Congress – which will require two-thirds support – the pension reform is widely expected to kick start the Brazilian economy. Unfortunately for Brazil’s controversial far-right President, the opposition party has promised to block the pension the reforms; Bolsonaro will also be only too aware that many previous government have tried to reform Brazil’s pension system and all have failed spectacularly.

The end of February saw the Indian Air Force launch an attack in Pakistani territory for the first time since 1971 in response to a suicide attack on February 14th by terrorist group JeM that killed 40 Indian troops. India accuses Pakistan of a direct hand in the attack. Subsequently the Pakistani Air Force shot down two Indian fighter jets and the world braced itself for what might come of a direct military conflict between two nuclear powers. Thankfully the conflict has cooled down to mere sabre rattling thanks to interventions by US officials, including National Security Advisor John Bolton. While investors were keen to see a fresh geopolitical crisis avoided, it appears that as things currently stand that damage to markets has been limited. Yet despite the Indian SENSEX’s seemingly indifferent response, data shows that foreign investors have not been quite as keen to invest in Indian equities in 2019. What is more, the surge of money into the rupee since the start of November has petered out. While one might be tempted to think this might be an Emerging Market-wide trend, no other country under the classification has experienced major equity outflows along side a falling demand for its currency. As such it would seem that Indian equities have been damaged by the instability the conflict with Pakistan has precipitated; moreover, with a fresh Indian general election this spring there is the possibility that markets will fear domestic political uncertainty as well. In so far as how the conflict damaged Pakistani equities and its rupee, neither have been performing very well and war with its longstanding foe would certainly not be seen as a step in the right direction. Pakistan’s rupee has been near or at history lows against USD since November 2018, and its economy is battling high inflation and current account debt. Yet, after being battered in 2018, Pakistani equities have so far shown life in 2019 and have not moved significantly in either direction since the conflict with India.

 Investment Outlook

Despite the fact that the US and Chinese relations still might devolve into a full-blown trade war, Britain remains on the brink of a no-deal Brexit and market damaging geopolitical crises can blossom seemingly out of no where, we are feeling pretty positive about where markets are so far in 2019 and where they are headed in the medium term.  A cooling of trade tensions between the US and China and a fully funded US government are two items on which we simply could not count only a month ago, but which now present markets with relative stability. Of course, Brexit remains a wildcard with tremendously high stakes and no one knows how it will end – apparently least of all Theresa May and her government. And yet – while this may be a view through rose-tinted glasses – one suspects we are unlikely to head back towards the hard or no-deal Brexit that has given investors so much anxiety. Firstly, there isn’t a sizeable appetite for this in the UK Parliament and, despite the EU’s unflinching poker face, there likely is not an appetite for it in Brussels nor in the capitals of the other 27 EU member states. Yet there is likely desire on both sides for a mutually beneficial soft Brexit – or possibly no Brexit at all – a scenario that local and global markets would likely savor.

Henry James International March Market Commentary
A pausing in interest rates should also cause USD to weaken, which would improve flows into EM economies and their equities.

Markets will also revel in what Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is expected to announce shortly: that he will lower his interest rate forecast to little to no further fiscal tightening in 2019 due to global economic growth appearing to be slower than anticipated. At the end of 2018 – with President Trump blasting Powell from his Twitter pulpit – it seemed a foregone conclusion that 2019 would be a year marred by headwinds to growth induced by still more interest rate increases. As of today the terrain appears to have shifted considerably and investors should see plenty of opportunity as a result. A pausing in interest rates should also cause USD to weaken, which would improve flows into EM economies and their equities. Failing liquidity was among the main reasons that EM equities fell so precipitously in 2018, and it appears that this problem has been all but solved which would suggest a possible recuperation of 2018’s losses. Indeed, a resolution to the US-China trade conflict would give EM equities an even further boost.

In summary, while there is still plenty to keep investors up at night, we believe that market conditions have improved significantly in a short space of time. Whereas in January and February we were aware of the potential for disaster striking in 2019, much of the sources for anxiety have either been improved or eliminated entirely. As a result if Brexit concludes in a market friendly fashion and the US and China make a mutually beneficial trade deal a reality, we will be tempted to reassess and possibly even improve our prediction of subdued global growth in 2019.

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.

February Market Commentary

Market Overview

Despite January having been a month rife with political turmoil and economic anxieties, for many investors the panic of Christmas Eve will have likely abated considerably as markets have so far rebounded nicely in 2019. The S&P 500 – which was among the standard bearers leading 2018’s 4th quarter nose dive – enjoyed its best January since 1987 thanks to positive contributions of over 8.5% growth from the energy, industrials and financials sector. Developed Market (DM) equities followed suit by gathering a head of steam in their own right, up 6.59% as measured by the MSCI EAFE. Emerging Market equities were also lifted in the momentum, up 8.78% as measured by the MSCI EM Index after having been battered in 2018.

 Despite January market performance putting a spring back in many investors’ steps, headwinds to economic and market growth abound. Among the more notable is the United States’ inauspicious start to 2019 that saw its government in the midst of a shut down that lasted 35 days – a record, but likely not the kind with which anyone would have wanted to have been associated. Having been triggered by President Donald Trump and Congressional Democrats wrestling over the former’s polemical border wall with Mexico – the shut down is estimated by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to have cost about $11bn and to have wiped 0.2% off its 2019 annual growth forecast. Of course, when the shut down ended on January 25 much of the lost money was recaptured, but it is estimated that around $3bn is gone forever and that the full effects of the shutdown may be far greater than what initial figures might suggest as over 800,000 workers were affected and federal spending on goods and services were significantly delayed. While investors can take comfort in knowing that the shut down is over, there remains palpable risk of another one on the horizon if lawmakers cannot agree on a solution for enhanced security along the US-Mexican border.

Across the pond the world’s 5th biggest economy, Britain, is a matter of weeks away from crashing out of the European Union (EU) without a deal. Aside from crippling the UK economy, mainstream pundits, policy makers and business leaders have indicated that Britain will be susceptible to widespread food and medical supply shortages. While this self-inflicted wound is bad for the UK, a no-deal Brexit would radiate shock waves throughout the rest of the world and would ravage global markets. In 2010 the world was afraid of the possible contagion from Greece’s debt crisis, and yet Britain’s economy is more than 10 times larger, which raises the stakes considerably. We believe no one would be safe in a no deal Brexit and we will be hoping that Prime Minister Theresa May will be able to acquire further concessions from the European Union (EU) and secure an orderly and structured (hopefully soft) Brexit.

Henry James International's February Market Commentary
If the US and China do not agree a new trade deal by March 2 over $200bn of Chinese goods will see their existing 10% tariff more than doubled to 25%.

While Britain and the EU scurry to work out a last minute deal, the top brass of China and US have been knuckling down to avoid their own cliff-edge: if a new trade deal is not agreed by March 2 over $200bn of Chinese goods will see their existing 10% tariff more than doubled to 25%. China has promised retaliatory measures, which would likely result in a ‘gloves-off’ trade war, which would hit both the American and Chinese economies and reverberate catastrophically throughout the rest of the world. At the heart of the deal is correcting an imbalance in trade between the nations, as well as the more serious White House accusations that US tech companies doing business in China are coerced to hand over their intellectual property, which the Chinese vehemently deny. Talks began two days after the US charged Telecoms company Huawei and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, with conspiring to violate US Iranian sanctions; US officials insisted Meng’s arrest in Canada had nothing to do with the trade talks. Despite ample scope for disaster, the Chinese hailed the talks as a great success and promised to help correct the trade imbalance through buying more American soybeans; and both parties nebulously agreed progress had been achieved on the intellectual property front. While there does appear to be a positive glow about the meeting, the clock is ticking and the stakes really could not be higher.

US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is apparently feeling the heat of a less rosy outlook for the US economy, the record-breaking shutdown, trade impasses and global headwinds to growth as he has done a near complete about-face with his monetary policy in a matter of weeks. On January 30, 2019 Powell signaled a possible end to incremental interest rate increases, saying that despite neither inflation nor financial stability being particular risks, ‘cross-currents’ of slowing global growth – including China having its weakest economic output in 2018 for nearly 3 decades – and a less certain US outlook required changes to the Fed’s monetary policy. While we welcome a pausing of rate hikes, it must be said that with interest rates between 2.25% and 2.5% there will be little wiggle room to combat any future downturn with rates cutes alone.

Brazil is the clear bright spot for international investors as its Bovespa index managed to build on its stellar 15% 2018 growth by hitting its all-time high after surging up more than 8.5% in January. The benchmark stock index is clearly enthusiastic about the presidency of the far right Jair Bolsonaro who began his premiership on January 1, 2019 and comes with the promise of a range of business-friendly reforms, including changes to the Brazil’s pension system. And yet, in the midst of the Brazilian buzz the Vale Dam tragedy literally burst onto the scene, incurring for the mining giant a combined $1.7bn of blocked funds and government fines. Over 300 people are believe to have died in this ecological disaster, and Vale confirmed that it will decommission other dams similar to the one that collapsed, which will reduce its production of iron ore by as much as 10% in the next 3 years. Besides providing an element of headwinds to Brazil’s thriving equity prices, China and Vale’s mining rivals BHP Group and Rio Tinto may profit by having to pick up the slack.

Brazil’s northern neighbor Venezuela wishes it could steal even a pinch of the magic that is propelling Brazilian equities as the ‘Bolivarian Republic’ is in a particularly bad place right now. In addition to the usual poverty, mass-food shortages, unemployment, hyperinflation and ruined economy, January brought forth fresh political crisis through the emergence of the leader of the opposition Juan Guaidó. Based on the widespread view that Nicolàs Maduro won Venezuela’s 2018 General Election through fraud, on January 23 Guaidó took an oath to serve as the Interim President of Venezuela. Since then the US, EU and range of European countries including the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark all recognise Guaidó as the interim president; meanwhile, Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iran and North Korea still back Maduro. Despite fervent backing for Guaidó among Venezuelans and world leaders, Maduro remains in charge of a country on the verge of collapse, particularly after the US divvied out new punishing sanctions on its oil. While this is devastating blow for Venezuela and the Maduro’s reign, it has only had a positive effect on the price of oil which, along with OPEC-led production cuts – has helped to push US crude oil up by more than 20% to over $55 a barrel, which represents its best January on record.

Investment Outlook

Even before the US government shutdown, we predicted more tempered economic growth; and only 1 month into 2019 the CBO has already wiped 0.2% off its forecast. Of course, the full extent of the shutdown’s damage remains unclear but it is likely that it will be far greater than what initial estimates have suggested as – according to the CBO – they have yet to incorporate the indirect negative effects such as businesses not able to acquire federal permits and certifications, reduced access to federal loans and the overall uncertainty that has compelled firms to postpone important business, investment and hiring decisions. As distressing as this “own-goal” has been to the American economy and its workers, it is possible that another shutdown is imminent if Trump and House Democrats cannot come to a resolution on the budget for the Mexican border wall.

Markets are hoping for a soft-Brexit – or even a scenario in which Brexit is entirely averted – however, if nothing changes between now and March 29, 2019 Britain will leave the EU without a deal. Were this to happen, middle-of-the-road estimates suggest a 9% drop in GDP, which would make the 2009 financial crisis look insignificant by comparison. This would increase unemployment, the cost of borrowing and could crush the value of the pound which could combine to set the UK economy back a decade and would drag other economies and markets with it.

While a possible US-China trade war has hung ominously over markets for several months, we are encouraged that the January trade talks ended positively and we are hopeful that President Trump will visit Chinese President Xi Jinping this February to shore up a preliminary deal and extend the deadline to work through the thornier issues. While it will hardly be adequate for Trump and his team, it is a good sign that China agreed to increase its purchase of American soy. However, until a final deal is agreed, markets will live in fear of a Sword of Damocles in the form of a devastating trade war dangling perilously by a single thread from above.

We believe there is excellent value to be found in EM equities based on their valuations relative to profitability: they are trading at prices lower than their 10-year average but are still posting returns near 13%, which is similar to their DM counterparts. This view is fortified by the Fed’s recent decision to pause the interest rate hikes that caused so much harm to EM equities in the first place; our optimism is also based on a relative calming of geopolitical tensions, particularly on a peaceful resolution to US and Chinese trade.

February Market Commentary
While Bolsonaro has so far been hitting all the right notes with markets, his volatile disposition seems to make him a risk both to himself and to the lofty ambitions on which Brazilian equities and Brazil’s economy are counting.

We expect the Brazilian economy to remain the darling of EM equities and continue its excellent 2019 run; Brazilian stocks should also get a boost from the Fed’s slow down in interest rate hikes. However, Brazilian equities have performed so well recently not because of anything that has been done as much as the potential of President Bolsonaro’s campaign promises – chiefly pension reform. Brazil’s current pension system – that sees men retire at age 60 and women at 55 – and has led to massive government debt: more than 75% GDP according to the Brazilian central bank. Bolsonaro plans to raise retirement age to 62 for men and 57 for women as well as roll back some benefits; yet, failure to enact these changes, and to do so immediately, will push Brazil further into an unsustainable debt profile. Furthermore, while Bolsonaro has so far been hitting all the right notes with markets, his volatile disposition seems to make him a risk both to himself and to the lofty ambitions on which Brazilian equities and the Brazilian economy are counting.

2019 is undoubtedly a year in which not just economic threats abound, but extremely serious ones. If there is another US government shut down, Britain falls out of the European Union without a new trade deal and the US and China breakout into an all-out trade war, the global situation would be dire. Indeed, it would be bad news if only one of these items were to happen. And yet, beyond just blind optimism, one has to be cognizant that world leaders – no matter how seemingly brazen – are unlikely to shoot themselves in the foot in a permanently debilitating way. Both President Trump and Democrats are all too aware of the 2020 Election barrelling towards them and neither will want any part in knocking the wind out of the economy, beyond the damage that has already been inflicted. Regarding Brexit, Prime Minister May will not want to be the premier who cripples the world’s 5th largest economy and while she cannot single-handedly get the Parliament to agree to her deal or coerce the EU to accept her demands, she does have the authority to either extend or cancel Article 50, which would give the UK and EU more time to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement. It must also be said that the EU – despite its draconian stance during the negotiations – stands to be damaged by a no-deal Brexit almost as badly as Britain does, for which reason there will be plenty of incentive on their side to see that a deal is reached. To complete the trifecta, neither the US nor China will benefit from a trade war, which suggests that cooler heads shall prevail, as it seems was the case at the January summit. Therefore, despite the ample threats to markets, we believe that the global economy will make it to the other side relatively unscathed; however, while there will be growth, current conditions and looming threats will make for subdued 2019 growth at best.

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.

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.

 

Just What Is Happening with Brexit?

Since the Brexit vote of 2016, British politics has been tumultuous with inter- and intraparty disagreements causing investors to treat FTSE and UK market investments as high-risk. So far, the most damaging aspect of Brexit seems to be uncertainty. Beyond the ramifications of leaving the EU, analysts are struggling to predict what a post-Brexit Britain will be like. It is difficult to predict how red tape around the Customs Union, which greatly benefits the British economy, will affect British trade, market capitalisation, and deciphering whether the market is undervalued or not.

The constant battles and disputes surrounding the legitimacy of Brexit and how Britain should go about it are frequently voiced in the House of Commons, appropriately reflecting the nations division over Brexit. Despite disunion being apparent between the two main British parties, Conservatives pushing for Brexit and Labour for a second referendum, there is a glaring divide notable within the Labour party – the left-wing alternative in the British parliamentary system.

Although individual Members of the Labour Shadow Government Parliament are for the most part Remainers, the party is a life-long Eurosceptic which is an obvious conflict of interest. Voters are very aware of this, and it is making Labour’s position on Brexit unappealing and creates more confusion among the electorate. Ex-British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has come out of the woodwork and criticised the current shadow government leader Jeremy Corbyn’s policies as being “the worst of both worlds”.

Following from this glaring division, an unforeseen issue has arisen in Ireland as talks of a hard border are discussed. Northern Ireland will follow Britain out of the EU, but Ireland will not. This issue was made more prominent when Theresa May stated recently that Britain is leaving the EU and will not softly exit the customs union.

This debate could reopen a healing wound with Northern Ireland by raising the issues of borders between the Ireland and Northern Ireland causing more political instability. Four political parties have backed Northern Ireland staying in the single market – stating that there should be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – and Ireland and the rest of the UK. This is also being supported by the DUP who propped Theresa May into power during the last election.

These political conditions reflect peoples’ uncertainty as to what will happen. Since the referendum, there have been market crashes, volatility, and stagnation in house prices all related to the vote.

Theresa May has opened the Conservative sails to the wind with her firm Leave stance when addressing the EU last week, stating that Britain will not be “climbing down” and will leave the Customs Union. Hopefully, Britain will decide soon how it will tackle leaving the EU so that it can begin reshaping itself according as currently no one seems to know what is going on, making it tricky for investors to trust British markets.