Henry James International Management July Market Commentary

Market Overview

July’s lackluster market performance stands in contrast to the volatile political and economic forces we have experienced the past month. The question we have is what – in the grand scheme of things – will July’s numbers mean for markets short, medium and long term performance?  In July the MSCI EAFE was down -1.26%; the MSCI World ex USA Small Cap dropped by -0.43%; and the MSCI Emerging Markets index fell -1.14%. Given the extent of market uncertainty, one might say that such small dips in these indices are no big thing. Indeed, that may be a worthwhile view in light of the increased volatility caused by trade disputes, China’s less robust output, Brexit (possibly) drawing to a conclusion on October 31, 2019 and Germany (and maybe the European Union) slipping into recessions with the United States (US) also possibly joining suit with the news that 10 year bonds fell below 2 year bonds for the first time in more than a decade. And yet we see positives including the US’s low unemployment rate and the confidence inspired by the World Bank’s global growth forecasts of 2.6% in 2019 and 2.8% in 2020, figures that suggest we are no where near a global recession.

While we were happy to take the market victory a month ago when US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a trade truce and recommitted themselves to working out a mutually beneficial trade deal at June’s G20 summit, we always believed that it was hype over substance as it did not repeal either sides’ crippling tariffs. Furthermore, judging by Trump’s erratic disposition and self-admitted fondness for tariffs it was evident that a mere truce would do nothing to stop the administration from further hostilities the moment the negotiations failed to go to plan. July largely enjoyed relative quiet on this front, but on August 1 the temporary calm gave way to a fresh wave of market rocking angst. After two days of trade talks with little progress and China failing to fulfill its promise of buying more US farm products, Trump announced that the 10% tariff on $300bn of Chinese goods was back on that table and scheduled to be enacted September 1, 2019. On Tuesday August 13 a change of pace was announced and markets reacted jubilantly to the news that Trump would be delaying the new tariffs on items like cell phones, video games and apparel, until December 15, 2019 in an effort to minimize the effect they would have on US consumers getting ready for the upcoming holiday season. Market joy notwithstanding, there was actually really no cause for genuine market excitement as not only will existing tariffs persist (as was the case a month ago) but also as things currently stand some items will see a new 10% tariff slapped on them on September 1. Moreover, far from China responding favorably to Trump’s partial climb down on new tariffs, the Communist giant has responded bellicosely by stopping all plans to buy more US agricultural products, with fresh tariff threats of its own and intentionally devaluing its currency. Despite the hostility, both sides are due to resume negotiations at the end of August.

Henry James International Management July Market Commentary
What does the 5G revolution have to do with the US-China trade war?

On July 31, 2019 Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell announced a 25 basis point interest rate reduction. As a result US equities fell sharply with investors disappointed that rates were not slashed more aggressively, or at the very least were not accompanied by promises of future rate cuts. According to Powell the cut was the result of the Fed moving to a more accommodative stance due to mid-cycle adjustments. ‘Trade tensions seem to be having a significant effect on the economy,’ he said, adding that, ‘global manufacturing slow down is a bigger factor than expected last year.’ Given Trump’s apparent disregard for the Fed’s independence and his vociferous lobbying of Powell to aggressively lower interest rates which has included threats of firing him, some may many wonder if the rate reduction was effectively Powell succumbing to the President’s pressure. Even if Powell is not explicitly obeying the person who appointed him to his post, one may wonder if Trump is using tariff threats to dictate the Fed; if so, will he use them again?

 Investment Outlook

James O’Leary, CFA, our Chief Investment Officer and Senior Portfolio Manager at Henry James International Management, is braced for on-going trade negotiations between the US and China through the 2020 elections. He believes there will be a range of smaller agreements along the way which may include Chinese concessions with respecting intellectual property and purchasing US agricultural goods (e.g. soy beans) but that the resolution that markets are craving will prove illusive until the 2020 election is decided. If a Democrat wins, one imagines a somewhat less hawkish stance against the Chinese, which President Xi would lap up; if Trump is re-elected O’Leary believes that Xi will be coerced to bow down to Trump’s demands, the Chinese President’s de facto life-long premiership, notwithstanding. While O’Leary is not particularly a fan of the market volatility that the trade dispute has inflicted upon markets, saying, ‘tariffs and the threat of tariffs have slowed down and damaged the global economy and will continue to impede growth,’ he believes that some battles are necessary in light of China’s brazen disregard of respecting patents and its unbalanced trading relationship with the US. Moreover, according to O’Leary, at the base of this trade disagreement is far more than mere trade: it is the battle for 5G technological supremacy. He believes that China is aggressively pursuing a plan of developing and disseminating its 5G tech throughout the world – through US blacklisted company Huawei – while the US government is putting its full support in Ericsson and Nokia not only to ensure that US-made chips are at the forefront of the 5G revolution but also to make sure that the West continues its domination in this tech sector. As a result of this tech battle, O’Leary believes that the tech sector is poised to grow positively as chips and software will be the major drivers in the 5G revolution. Consequently, says O’Leary, Henry James International Management will expect to be over-weighted in tech.

O’Leary agrees with Trump’s pointed assessment that China overtly manipulates its currency; yet, in his view, it is not necessarily a bad thing for the world. On the contrary, it may provide an element of economic stimulus for the world as it will make Chinese goods that much cheaper for consumers. This of course will keep Chinese goods relevant in the US market despite the negative intentions of Trump’s tariffs. And yet, devaluing the Yuan will likely impede China’s own economy because it has decreased the value of their own stock market – relative to the US’s – by 10%. While many Chinese companies who import to the US and other countries may be partially shielded from this negative side effect, the value of non-exporting companies will have gone down considerably in virtually one fell swoop. O’Leary also suggests that China devaluing its currency so brazenly has damaged the Yuan’s long term dollar independence and its ability to act as a major stable currency internationally.

O’Leary did not believe that the US economy needed a rate cut and that Powell lowered it as a precautionary measure and maybe even as a nervous attempt to undo his December 2018 rate increase. In light of trade disagreement escalations, O’Leary believes that we will see another rate cut by the end of 2019 to help stimulate the global and US economies. Of course, a consequence of lowering interest rates is that that EM economies – including China’s – will benefit because of their dollar denominated debt. As result, says O’Leary, Henry James International Management will hope to increase its EM exposure; however in light of China’s volatility there are no immediate plans increase exposure there.

Henry James International Management July Market Commentary
Was the Fed’ s 25 basis point rate reduction Powell succumbing to Trump’s pressure?

In so far as O’Leary is happy to combat the economic headwinds presented by trade disputes and even Brexit, which appears set for a no deal outcome on October 31, 2019, he will cautiously welcome the Fed cutting interest rates; however, he views interest rates being so low for such a long time as a rather dangerous game. ‘Cutting interest rates will stimulate the economy – but you can only play that card while there are still rates to be cut,’ he said. O’Leary added, ‘The Fed needs to the tools to control inflation when we have a recession, which many believe is on the horizon, but with rates so low there will be little wriggle room to make further cuts to mitigate the effects.’

We see July’s overall figures showing small dips in the face of raging uncertainty the result of a range of market forces battling themselves into a stalemate. In the medium term future we believe we can expect minor progress in the US-China trade dispute – with possibly some Trump-induced bumps in the road – until the next US general election; and we will look forward to the benefits of lower interest rates, despite our fear that unnecessary reductions may leave the Fed powerless should a recession hit. Ultimately, we remain hopeful that lower interest rates and a settlement to trade disagreements combined with the extra attention the Trump should give the economy in 2020 will result in continued global growth and that our concerns about economic headwinds will begin to fade.

 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 April Market Commentary

Market Overview

In our last Market Commentary our delight with 2019’s first quarter returns was somewhat tempered by the view that widespread geo-political risks could send markets crashing down and undermine investor confidence. In so far as April was concerned, we were grossly out of step – April saw the S&P 500 end at its all time high 2,945.83 and up 4.05% for the month. Developed Market Equities (DMEs) were up 2.91% in April as measured by the MSCI EAFE; Emerging Market Equities (EMEs) followed suit, up 2.12% as measured by the MSCI EM Index. Unfortunately, as things stand at the time of writing this commentary, the early days of May have so far managed to wipe off April’s gains, leaving investors filled with uncertainty about the immediate future.However, it’s important to look at the longer view. Year-to-date most of the relevant indices have exhibited strong returns: the DMEs as measured by the MSCI EAFE are up 11.72%, the MSCI EM Index is up 11.75%, while certain regions have defied gravity and posted exceptional returns like the MSCI BRIC Index up 15.54% year-to-date and Chinese Large Caps, which have particularly defied the odds, posting a 22.6% year-to-date return.

All is relatively quiet on the Brexit front. Of course, that does not mean that markets are responding positively as a consequence of the calm or that an economy- and market-friendly resolution is in the pipeline. It does, however, mean that Britain and the Europe Union (EU) are caught in limbo and are blind to what kind of future relationship they might have with each other. While EU leaders are apparently desperate to avoid a damaging no-deal Brexit, if we take them at their word they are unwilling to offer UK Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May any more flexibility to make her much maligned deal more appealing to UK Members of Parliament. As result, the PM has been engaged in inter-party negotiations with the opposition Labour Party; but these do not appear to be going anywhere and both sides are calling on their respective leaders to abandon the talks. It is likely that May will bring her EU approved Brexit deal back to Parliament for a fourth vote, which might just offer equities the certainty they require to thrive if it were passed; and yet investors should not get too excited as Parliament’s first rejection of the deal was a record worst defeat for any PM in the UK’s long history. Of course, the second and third rejections were almost as decisive and equally humiliating for May. The topic du jour in the UK is the European Parliamentary elections; i.e. the elections that were never meant to come to pass which will see Britons and their fellow EU citizens visit the ballot box to elect their future Members of European Parliament. While nothing certain can really be determined or effected by the results of who wins the UK seats, it is easy to see how and why many view this election as either an unofficial referendum on Brexit and/or an opportunity to voice Brexit-related frustration.

It was only a matter of weeks ago when markets spiked on the back of the news that President Donald Trump would indefinitely suspend the promised tariff hike from 10% to 25% on over $200bn of Chinese goods and that a trade war seemed all but avoided. Yet suddenly – though, to be fair, not completely unexpectedly – in the week commencing May 5th Trump put his 25% tariff increase back on the table, which he said he would enact should significant progress in US-China trade talks fail to be achieved by Friday May 10th. Good on his word, The US President ordered the new tariffs, which were met by China’s own retaliatory tariffs on $60bn on US goods. Of course, American consumers will feel the brunt of this, but investors were hardly unscathed as on the first business day since the trade war spectacularly reignited, Monday May 13, 2019, that is, we saw the biggest sell-offs since the depressing days of December 2018 and January 2019: the Dow closed down 617 points, the S&P 500 fell 2.4% and the Nasdaq dropped a whopping 2.4%.

Henry James International Management April Market Commentary
As the American consumer will likely feel the result of the US-China trade war almost as a sales tax, Trump has urged the US Federal Reserve to lower interest rates to balance things out for consumers and help stimulate US business.

As the American consumer will likely feel the result of the US-China trade war almost as a sales tax, Trump has urged the US Federal Reserve to lower interest rates to balance things out for consumers and help stimulate US business. Citing that ‘China will be pumping money into their system and probably reducing interest rates to make up for business they are losing (as a result of the trade war),’ Trump has suggested that the Fed following suit would put America at a huge advantage over China. ‘It would be game over, we win,’ said the US President. While as investors we like the sound of lowering interest rates, not only are we ethically uncomfortable with a government’s executive branch blurring political boundaries, we are wary of Trump trying to make economics work for him and his policies – much like how Turkey’s President Erdoğan has done to great damaging effect in his own country – by turning the Fed into a puppet institution.

South of the border in Mexico, things are not going so well as Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is under significant pressure since first quarter economic data shows a 0.2% shrinkage. This is problematic for AMLO not only because his first quarter results are woefully short of the 4% annual growth he has promised, it is also worse than 21 of the fiscal quarters over which his predecessor President Enrique Pena Nieto – of whom AMLO has been so critical – presided. It will be a tall – perhaps impossible – order for AMLO to fulfil his economic ambitions as not only does Mexico suffer from widespread crime and weak rule of law, but he also committed the own goals of suspending oil contracts and cancelling a $13bn airport, which does not create the atmosphere of certainty private companies will desire to invest in Mexico.

As we travel down to South America, Venezuela exists in a hellish state with an increasing unemployment rate (currently over 35%) and astronomical inflation rates. Maduro remains in the Presidential Palace despite his country crumbling around him. Why and how is the question that the US-backed (amongst others countries, too) Interim President Juan Guaido must be wondering; and the answer likely has something to do with Maduro’s Russian backing, a sinister influence of drug money as well Venezuelans blind faith in so called Chavismo, or the way in which everyday Venezuelans once improved both their wealth and station under their former leader Hugo Chávez, in whose political tradition Maduro follows. Guaido is continuing in his protesting and campaigning in a steadfast fashion, but the look of weariness on his face is unmistakeable. In the meantime Venezuela’s oil production could be cut to zero by the end of 2019 as the US tries to oust Maduro, and despite fears of a tightened oil market, US reserve inventories appear more than capable of filling in for the shortfall left by the world-leading South American oil giant and by Iran, who have been forced to the oil market’s side lines through robust US foreign policy measures.

The expression ‘even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut’ was given reinvigorated meaning when Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro succeeded in getting his essential pension reform bill past the first legislative hurdle. Bolsonaro managed to refrain from Twitter ‘war or words’ with Brazil’s most senior law maker, lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia, just long enough to get the Lower House Constitution and Justice Committee to approve the bill so it can proceed to congress. Getting to this point involved more than eight hours of tense debate, as well as Bolsonaro having to submit to several bill alterations demanded by Brazil’s centrist party. Brazil’s President welcomed the success by paying tribute to Maia: ‘The government continues to count on the patriotic spirit of lawmakers.’ Of course, getting the necessary pension reform over the line is anything but a done deal – months of debate and at least another six votes in both houses of Congress must be endured before the bill can become a law.

In other news, South Africans recently went to the polls for their general election. As in all elections in Africa’s largest economy since the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) won decisively, and yet it managed to reduce its majority. This is will be a worrying sign for party leader and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa as it suggests that his citizens are utterly fed up of the widespread corruption and economic impotence that marked the multi-term presidency of his predecessor Jacob Zuma. Despite this and South Africa’s dire economic situation marked by high inflation and unemployment, the majority of South African’s see Ramaphosa – one of South Africa’s richest persons as well as being famed for being an adept business leader – as someone capable of digging his country out of its current hole and putting it on the right track toward prosperity.

Henry James International Management April Market Commentary
For the moment Maduro continues to enjoy support from many Venezuelans, some of whom are blinded by their faith in so-called Chavismo, or the way in which everyday Venezuelans once improved both their wealth and station under their former leader Hugo Chávez, in whose political tradition Maduro follows.

India is in the midst of the world’s largest ever democratic election – a more-than 5 week exercise for which there are over 900 million registered voters. While much of Indian politics is local, the two national protagonists are incumbent Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist BJP party and Rahul Gandhi of the so-called Congress Party of which Mahatma Gandhi was once a leading member. Which way it will go is not particularly clear at this point, particularly as Modi failed to enact the full range of the promises and reforms that saw him elected in 2014 after the Indian electorate was fed up of the failings and corruption of the Congress Party.

For many of the reasons mentioned above, and more, EMEs have recently taken a beating. Among the most at risk have been countries with USD denominated debt whose own local currencies have been battered either through political miscalculations or geo-political risks and/or threats.

Investment Outlook

So far, 2019 has exhibited a great deal of market volatility.  Although recent market reactions to the escalating trade war and bellicose US-Iran posturing have been severe, it bears noting that most major indices generated strong returns for investors this year through the end of April. 2019 remains a difficult year to forecast, with many reasons for continued optimism tempered by caution. If anything personifies this, it is Brexit. Britain will almost certainly kick the can down the road until October 31, 2019, the new Brexit deadline, which will cast an ominous and uncertain shadow over British and European equities for virtually all of the fiscal year. What will happen after this deadline is most unclear and all options remain palpable realties including a new Prime Minister of a hard Brexit pedigree (e.g. Boris Johnson) taking over from May to crash the UK out of the EU without a deal; equally possible is a scenario that would see a Britain cancelling Brexit on the back of a second ‘People’s Vote’ referendum. If these are both viable and realistic outcomes, so is the veritable infinity of options in between. Of course, there is a way out of this – at least a couple actually. May’s deal remains an option, but – as it satisfies neither Brexiteer nor Remainer – it is unlikely it will be passed. A second option is Parliament getting its act together to come up with a compromised, mutually agreeable solution, but that would involve a degree of cooperation, communication and understanding that has so far proved illusive. If the two sides find reasonable compromise it would likely generate a great deal more investor confidence in the EU. Of course, even with the UK making a nice and cosy home in the liminality that is neither in nor out of the EU, the likely result is still positive economic growth for Britain, but below that of the EU, hovering at or just above 1% for the rest of 2019 and 2020. Of course, if the UK does Brexit without a deal, all bets are off.

As far as a positive outcome for the US-China trade war is concerned, we can only hope that Trump knows what he is doing and that his game of high-stakes poker will result in China coming back to the table, willing to offer the necessary concessions. But if Trump needs the Fed to commit the unorthodox and even inappropriate step of bending to his wishes just to attempt to shield Americans from the trade war’s negative impact, it would seem that the President may have lost control of the situation. We said a trade war would be a disaster for both the US and Chinese economies and that the negative effects would send tidal waves to other world economies; today we stand by that view and hope that cooler heads prevail to see it averted through a mutually beneficial bilateral trade deal. Agreement on a trade deal would likely contribute a major boost to investor confidence and drive the broad markets higher.

Given the recent poor performance of EMEs (the first two weeks of May saw the MSCI EM Index down a dramatic 5.86%) it seems there would be very little to be optimistic about in the emerging market (EM) sector. Despite many EM countries being faced with the challenges created by the range of economic and politics crises in which they find themselves, we are still feeling (relatively) bullish. If there was any doubt, the US-China trade war has made it unofficially official that interest rates will be frozen at 2.5% in 2019; indeed, independent of Trump’s urgings, we believe the Fed will decide to lower rates by 25 basis points in 2019 to counteract the damage the trade war will likely inflict on US consumers. Of course, lower US interest rates tend to bode well for EMEs. Furthermore, due to China’s economic slow down and the way in which it will suffer from the trade war, it will continue its policy of monetary and fiscal easing which will continue to help drive the EM Asia sector. There’s more good news: despite India’s state of political flux from its difficult-to-predict general election, its economy is predicted by the International Monetary Fund to grow by over 7% through 2020. Other Asian EM countries are poised to join India in the ‘7%’ club, including Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines due – in part – to an influx of manufacturing output that may be in a position to fill in for US supply chains gaps created by the US-China trade war.

In conclusion, we are faced with a volatile world economy filled with a range of geopolitical crises, including the behemoths of the US-China trade war and the potential for disaster in Brexit. Despite this, we still believe that EMEs may present excellent opportunities for investors over the long run.

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.