Henry James International Management January 2020 Market Commentary

Market Overview

 While the first month of the new decade generally saw negative equity performance, after the way in which markets overcame apparent obstacles throughout 2019, we are hopeful that this is nothing more than a temporary setback. In January the MSCI EAFE index fell by -2.08%, which, while a deviation from its stellar 2019 returns, could quickly resume growth if the market returns to its long term trend in 2020.  Meanwhile, the MSCI Emerging Marketing index plateaued for most of the month before falling sharply at its tail end, resulting in performance of -4.66%. Lastly, the MSCI World ex USA Small Cap index did not fare much better, as its value fell by -2.88% in January.

For all the drama of 2019, the fresh decade has arguable ‘kicked it up a notch’. While memories of an impending World War 3 are fading and were almost certainly exaggerated from the onset, one cannot deny that the United States’ assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and subsequent Iranian missile relatiation, was a rather tense affair that could have easily erupted into a deadly war; moreover, this skirmish added imense uncertaintry and risk to markets. If this wasn’t enough, we are now in the midst of a global health emergency courtesy of the coronavirus which poses a serious threat to large numbers of people and is playing a large part in disrupting the Chinese economy.

The final instalment in the trinity of geopolitical market perils was the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. While the verdict in the Republican held Senate was never really in doubt, given the stakes of the trial, markets were under plenty of stress –  both actual and potential. While Trump polarizes opinion, what is clear is that markets would not have viewed removing the 45th President from office favorably. Of course, Trump was acquitted of all charges, which draws a line under this issue; moreover, it is widely believed that the President’s impeachment has damaged Democratic hopes in the upcoming US General Election and has put Trump in pole position for a November victory, a result that would likely be market-friendly in the short term. However, if a second Trump term results in even higher levels of fiscal spending with the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates at, or near, negative levels in real terms, not only would this be at odds with the fiscally conservative modus operandi for which Republicans are famous, but it would also dash our medium term optimism.

Boris Johnson’s January announcement of a new law that would prohibit the sale of gasoline and diesel motor vehicles from 2035 underscores our confidence that we are rapidly moving towards de-carbonization. There are a range of opportunites that will present themselves to markets and investors; of course, there are also risks. We believe that the electric vehicle (EV) market is one that will be of interest to investors as electric car deployment has sky-rocketed during that past decade. There were 5 million electric cars in 2018, which represented a 63% increase from 2017. We believe that 2019 will have seen an even more dramatic rise due to increasing consumer and governmental pressure on the automobile sector to play its significant part in helping to achieve carbon neutrality. Meanwhile, gasoline and diesel cars are starting to become more expensive as governments begin to impose punative taxes to make them less attractive to consumers; at the same time electric cars are seeing their prices reduced through a combination of government subsidies and tax breaks. In 2018 45% of eletric cars, or 2.3 million, were on the road in China, while Europe boasted 24% of the global fleet, with 22% in the US. Norway is the global leader in terms of marketshare. While electric cars and other EVs represent improvements in terms of green house gas emissions versus their fossil fuel counterparts, the best results will only occur when electricity grids are also less carbon intensive or fully green and/or sustainable.

Investment Outlook

James O’Leary, CFA, Chief Investment Officer and Senior Portfolio Manager at Henry James International Management, sees coronavirus as a major threat to the global economy. ‘We believe that the virus will take 1% off China’s GDP growth rate in 2020, which will see it fall below 6% for the first time in a long while. Furthermore, we see China’s first quarter GDP falling to 4%.’ He continued: ‘Since China is the world’s second largest economy, this will negatively impact global GDP growth.’ Indeed, though markets vividly remember the SARS outbreak of 2003, the economic stakes were far less significant as back in those days China’s economy was considerably smaller, ranking only 6th in the world and with a GDP that was well below $2tr. By contrast, in 2019 China’s GDP was over $14tr and represented over 16% of the global output, which presents a worrying picture for those fearful of coronavirus sparking a global meltdown. While coronavirus presents short term – and possibly medium term – issues for both China and all global economies, the result may be particularly harmful for China. Indeed, US businesses moving supply chains from China to other countries – like Vietnam, for instance – that began with the US-China trade war may well be accelerated due to the major interruptions that coronavirus has created for both product and component manufacturing. O’Leary said: ‘Once a supply-chain is moved outside of a particular country, it doesn’t automatically return once the initial problem is resolved.’

Despite the clear issues created by coronavirus, O’Leary says that China’s government and central bank have responded appropriately to thwart the economic rot by lowering interest rates, offering tax breaks and consumer subsidies and flushing their market with liquidity. And yet, even a totalitarian government can only control so much, as despite all of these measures including President Xi Jinping promising to help mitigate large-scale layoffs, it is likely that the small businesses; i.e. the lifeblood of the Chinese economy, will still be rocked by layoffs, bankruptcies and increased unemployment.

Coronavirus has complicated everyday life in Wuhan – the Chinese city in which the global health emergency began – severely impacting the local economy. Due to quarantine, businesses being shut for weeks beyond the expected Chinese New Year holiday season and citizens remaining indoors to avoid contracting the virus, China’s streets are empty and deprived of consumer spending. As a result the restaurant and retail sectors have been hard hit; moreover, they have entirely missed out on the Chinese New Year-induced spending spree (the local equivalent to our Christmas shopping season) which is a disastrous and often fatal blow for the many business who are utterly dependent on this annual sales spike. Moreover, on the recommendation of a range of national governments, foreigners are staying away from China, which has resulted in tourism spending drying up too. Indeed, many airlines including Delta and British Airways have suspended all flights to China until the coronavirus situation improves. ‘The Chinese economy is at the mercy of the coronavirus. Indeed, it is easy to see how the global economy may be in a similar situation in no time at all,’ says O’Leary.

According to O’Leary, while EVs currently make up a mere 2-3% of total global automobile production, it is a no-brainer to expect their marketshare to increase dramatically. He believes that companies that join Tesla to compete to become the standard-bearers of the industry will see increased growth which may lead to increased stock value. ‘The big beneficiaries will be chip companies that specialize in automotive applications and software producers that manage efficiency and safety,’ says O’Leary. Businesses that produce small efficient motors and specialized engine lubricants should also benefit by the emergence of EVs ramping up their global presence.

Henry James International Management has been an early advocate of ESG investing through our HJIM International ESG Large Cap strategy, whose track record extends back to September 2008. Our faith in ESG is not only because we see value in offering the chance for people to invest using their world view as a crucial overlay, but we also believe that it is important to ride both the cutting-edge and clear direction in which we see the market trending. As such, we believe in finding the industries and companies that will benefit from a move to a range of environmentally friendly solutions. But O’Leary offers a stark warning: ‘In order for the green revolution to be both environmentally impactful and economically beneficial we need to remember that EVs are not a solution unto themselves. For example, while EVs have become prevalent in China and even India, it is easy to forget that much of their electricity production is achieved through burning coal.’  Furthermore, O’Leary believes Trump must get on the same page as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who recently put into law a ban on the sale of gasoline and diesel engines after 2035, as otherwise this may become the next example of something that sees China run circles around the ponderous and clumsy West as it clearly is doing with its 5G technology. O’Leary believes that there is great growth to be had in the EV sector, but it is a question of whether the future will see us driving US- or Chinese-made electric cars.

O’Leary says that the price of oil will likely be greatly affected by the emergence of EVs becoming mainstream and gas and diesel fuel consumption gradually decreasing. ‘The one thing we know,’ says O’Leary, ‘is that while oil demand may decrease, it will never go completely away as oil and oil products are required in all vehicles and machines. This will not go away even when EVs take over our roads and highways.’ O’Leary believes that achieving carbon neutrality is something that will require governments, businesses and consumers working together. He said, ‘As we have seen through the coronavirus outbreak, the State (this time China) doesn’t always know best. Indeed, while the State may not always know how best to achieve the global goal of helping stop global warming, it is a objective that is as important as anything we are currently faced with and failure is not an option.’

As we enter the second half of the First Quarter, both economic threats and opportunities abound. While coronavirus’ potential to even further threaten global health and markets remains palpable, we anticipate that its momentum will eventually be thwarted and that the affected economies will recover. Furthermore, regardless of one’s views relating to global warming, we can hopefully all agree that there is money to be made in innovation, even if it is the green-friendly, carbon-neutralizing variety. While our concerns about high government debt and lower interest rates persist, we agree with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell that the US and global economies remain strong; as such, we see 2020 continuing 2019’s success.

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.

Henry James International Management November Market Commentary

Market Overview

 Perhaps the best thing about November’s market performance is that at least it did not damage the 2019 gains that seemed a rather far-fetched prospect a year ago. The MSCI EAFE index dramatically zigzagged up and down all month, and it appears that the month coincidentally happened to end while it was up an uninspiring 1.14%. The MSCI Emerging Market index followed a similar roller-coast path, but unfortunately finished the month down by -0.13%. The MSCI World ex USA Small Cap index posted modest gains that most will gladly take given the geo-political and economic conditions with which markets have been faced, up 2.28%.

November was set to be a turning point in the United States (US) – China trade dispute until a certain President was apparently moved to announce his support for the Hong Kong protestors. On November 27, 2019 President Donald Trump signed two bills on Hong Kong human rights, one that put sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who abuse human rights and another that prohibits the sale of nonlethal munitions to Hong Kong police. Despite Trump admitting that he signed these bills out of ‘respect for (Chinese) President Xi, China and the people of Hong Kong’, his actions incurred Beijing’s ire and the summoning of the US ambassador to communicate that the move would undermine trade negotiations.

November watched the Hong Kong local elections with unprecedented interest. Generally rarely anyone outside of Hong Kong gives a hoot about them as the election winners will ultimately manage municipal tedium like bus routes and garbage collection and will have zero ability to meaningfully push Hong Kong toward the democracy the protestors (along with the West) apparently crave. Nonetheless, in light of the elections taking place during the most heated anti-Beijing protest Hong Kong has ever experienced, the elections became a proxy-referendum on the status quo and Communist China’s political stranglehold over the Special Administrative Region. The pro-democracy camp won its biggest ever victory, taking 17 of Hong Kong’s 18 district councils. While this will have severely undermined the already beleaguered Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her viability as head of government, the truth is that her position is as tenable as President Xi’s autocratic whims say it is. Furthermore, while the election results in themselves can and will do nothing to achieve the democracy for which so many Hongkongers are demanding, the decisiveness of the pro-democracy’s victory will have sent shock waves to Beijing. The question is which is the more likely result: President Xi listening to and fully accommodating the protestors’ wishes or bringing forth Tiananmen Square 2.0?

Henry James International Management November Market Commentary
November saw the largest anti-Beijing protest in Hong Kong’s history.

After the hubris inspired by the surprise spike in German manufacturing orders in September and the hope that this signified a bottoming out, October saw the biggest downturn in a decade. According to the Federal Statistics Office, German industrial output fell by -5.3% in October versus the same month in 2018. This is horrible news for a German economy that thought it had turned a corner, as well as for the European Union (EU) who has been dealing with the impeding effects of Brexit; of course, an economically weak Germany holds dire consequence for the global economy. Germany’s political situation does not offer any help as the junior partner in government with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), recently elected new party leaders that are hostile to the Chancellor and will vote on whether to remain in coalition. If the SDP chooses to abandon the coalition either the CDU will form a minority government or there will be a snap election, two options that will not offer Germany the short-term economic stability it may crave.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s dramatic election victory on December 12, 2019 has given a strong indication that Britain’s three and a half years of Brexit limbo will finish on January 31, 2020. Johnson’s catch phrase of ‘getting Brexit done’ apparently appealed to British voters who gave the Conservative Party the largest Parliamentary majority enjoyed by any United Kingdom political party since the 1980s. When the exit polls revealed the likely extent of Johnson’s victory, the price of Sterling shot up to its 12 month high versus USD. Moreover, despite the fact that Brexit is generally not seen as market friendly, pundits have predicted that a Conservative victory might see Britain’s economy enjoy a short-term growth spurt in Q1 of 2020, though it would seem unlikely that it would be sustained throughout the year.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell struck and optimistic chord about the economy when he said he saw ‘the glass as much more than half full’. According to Powell, his ever-flexible monetary policy that lowered interest rates by 75 basis points since July 2019 is maintaining the strength of the US economy and is protecting it against a serious downturn; moreover, it is subduing the damaging effects of trade and tariff uncertainty. The Fed Chairman confirmed that his monetary policy is helping to improve both consumer and business sentiment and to catalyze spending in interest-rate sensitive sectors such as housing and consume durable goods. Despite the already robust US labor market adding 266,000 jobs in November – a figure that smashed expectations – along with the joblessness-rate at a 50-year low, Powell indicated that he believes there is still plenty of room for growth on these impressive gains. He suggested that elected officials can build on the momentum through implementing the policies that will support and reward the labor force to get the training and education required to meet the challenges of technological innovation and global competition.

Henry James International Management November Market Commentary
Getting trade back on track is vital for Presidents Trump and Xi’s political survival, says O’Leary.

Investment Outlook

James O’Leary, CFA, Chief Investment Officer and Senior Portfolio Manager at Henry James International Management sees the beginning of a US-China trade truce on the horizon, the recent tension resulting from Trump’s Hong Kong protest bills, notwithstanding. ‘ Presidents Trump and Xi have mounting incentive to bury the hatchet and to work together to resolve the trade dispute. Firstly, Trump’s re-election begins and ends with a strong US economy; secondly, one of the few items that can undermine President Xi’s lifetime term in office – not to mention the Communist Party’s complete control of China – is a weakened economy.’ He continued, ‘As such, a prolonged trade conflict between the world’s two largest economies is not just something that isn’t in anyone’s interest. Getting trade back on track is vital to political survival.’ Moreover, according to O’Leary, a fair and balanced trade deal should not only go a long way to balance US imports and exports with China, it will create American jobs and mitigate Chinese intellectual property (IP) theft, something for which Beijing has already increased the penalty and on which it has promised to crack down. While O’Leary remains dubious about whether China will carry through with its efforts to mitigate IP theft given that it is widely believed that it is state-sponsored, he is encouraged that other countries – Germany, in particular – are becoming aware of the seriousness of the situation. ‘A multi-lateral approach to stopping Chinese IP theft may be the best way forward,’ says O’Leary.

O’Leary was shocked by the recent German industrial output figures as he was under the impression that its manufacturing sector was back on track. ‘German large manufacturing equities have seen their stock prices rally over that past three months and based on the fact that stock performance is generally an indicator of future GDP growth, 2020 appeared set to be a good year for Germany.’ However, not only have October’s figures thrown this in doubt, Germany’s political situation will likely only make recovery and improved business confidence even more difficult.

O’Leary agrees with Federal Reserve Chairman Powell’s assessment of the US economy is in a good place; and he believes that Powell has done a good job managing the sugar high of the Trump Tax Cuts as well as issues created through tariff and trade uncertainty. O’Leary says that the sustained economic growth is starting to benefit lower earners, but he agrees with Powell that more can be done on a policy front to invest in workers both to ensure that American prosperity benefits a wider breadth of society, but also so that the American economy is ready for the challenges of the 21st century.

In many ways, November has been a microcosm of 2019: volatile, complicated, filled with economic headwinds but also reasons for optimism. Indeed, much like the year so far, the many causes for concern, notwithstanding, markets are generally delivering positive returns for investors. While it remains difficult to be 100% optimistic about 2020, we believe that many institutional investors will be more than delighted the US and China are likely on the brink of a trade deal and that the US economy is fundamentally strong (despite inflation lower than 2% and interest rates being too low for comfort). Of course, threats to markets remain – namely a prolonged German economic downturn, a Brexit that is messy despite Johnson’s election victory and Trump continuing his policy of weaponizing tariffs. From our perspective, we see the forces for economic growth capable of subduing those of contraction and remain hopeful that 2020 will be positive for investors.

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.