Henry James May Market Commentary

Market Overview

An Irish poet once wrote, ‘Things fall apart’. While William Butler Yeats’s words were illuminating the terror and awe of the second coming of Christ, it would be easy to see how investors might consider them rather apropos for the way in which May managed to thwart and consume 2019’s positive market momentum. Just as the S&P 500 reached its record high at the end of April, May saw the index fall by -6.35%. Developed Market (DM) equities were also victims to the blood-dimmed tide: as measured by the MSCI EAFE index their value tumbled by -4.66%. While such losses will trouble investors, particularly as most indicators point towards a daunting, uphill climb for markets for the rest of 2019 and beyond, it would be wise to remember that year-to-date the S&P 500 and MSCI EAFE not only remain well into positive territory, they are both exceeding the expectations set during the dismal days of December 2018. While American and DM equities have been left merely bruised, May brought Emerging Market (EM) equities to their knees. Their stellar 2019 returns were overrun and eliminated, falling by -7.22% as measured by the MSCI EM index, practically down to where they were at the end of 2018.

The main protagonist who pitilessly turned markets upside down in May was the United States (US)-China trade war. Just over two months after US President Donald Trump indefinitely postponed the tariff raise from 10% to 25% on over $200bn of Chinese goods, on May 10, 2019 he suddenly enacted them with no more than a few days’ notice. The following Monday, May 13th the Chinese retaliated with their own tariff increases on over $60bn of US goods. The freshly realized trade war had begun and its impact was swift and immense: the Dow fell 617 points and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both dropped a shocking 2.4% in just one day of trading. Those hoping that Trump’s hard nose tactics would yield an immediate result and that the tariffs would be short-lived may well have been thinking naively: we are a lot closer to new increases than to a cooling of trade hostilities. More than $300bn of fresh Chinese goods – mostly consumer goods, including automotive vehicles, some of which rather ironically bearing the name ‘General Motors’– are only a signature away from being enacted by Trump. More tariffs would likely incur a further retaliation from China and suck both countries deeper and deeper into a trade war from which it will not be easy to escape. According to the International Monetary Fund the trade war will cost the US around $455bn in the short term, a round number that is more than the total size of the South African economy, which is the entire continent of Africa’s largest. While it will hit China hard, too, the one party-state has the greater ability to manoeuvre and pull levers to stimulate its economy through monetary and fiscal easing and by lowering taxes. Furthermore, unemployment is not an issue in China; but despite its resilience, China’s businesses and consumers will feel plenty of trade war-induced pain. Despite this being a bilateral issue, all international markets will feel the trade war’s strain and stress.

Henry James International Management May 2019 Market Commentary
More than $300bn of fresh Chinese goods – including automotive vehicles rather ironically bearing the name ‘General Motors’– are only a Trump signature away from being enacted.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is currently stuck between its lofty capitalistic aspirations and ownership links to the Chinese one-party Communist state. On May 15, 2019 Trump banned Huawei products from the US through a national security order, claiming that Beijing is using the company to conduct international espionage. Both China and Huawei vehemently deny the accusations; it has also been suggested that this is a power play by the US to make the Chinese more pliable at the trade negotiating table. This accusation was first levied against Washington back in December 2018 when Huawei Chief Financial Advisor Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the request of the US on 13 criminal charges including conspiracy to violate US Iranian sanctions, fraud and obstruction; she remains in Canada under partial house arrest where she is battling extradition. According to the US, Wanzhou’s arrest and its banning of Huawei products are both completely unrelated to the trade war. In the meantime, Huawei is suffering as computer chip behemoth Arm has set them adrift and Google is on the verge of withholding its signature Android mobile and tablet operating system. At the same time, Trump is pressuring US allies to also ban both Huawei products and technology – which presents difficulty for countries like Britain and Germany who are using the tech company to build their new 5G networks. If Huawei were tempted to think that their plight could not get any worse and that it was only up from here, they would be crestfallen by the news that Britain has dropped the Huawei Mate 20 X from its forthcoming 5G launch and that – as long as Trump has his Chinese vexation aimed at Huawei – more disappointments are likely to follow.

After a brief and thoroughly restful April slumber, a reinvigorated Brexit is poised to join ranks with the US-China trade war and become a serious thorn in markets’ side. To the delight of investors, late March saw a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit temporarily averted; regrettably the new October 31, 2019 deadline is rapidly approaching. April and May hoisted a range of existential and practical questions upon Britons, their government and their Members of Parliament (MP): what kind of Brexit the United Kingdom (UK) wants, how it will get there and whether it still even wants to leave the European Union (EU) at all. While these introspections have resulted in plenty of discord in the main opposition party, Labour, the ruling Conservatives have manifested their unrest by forcing their party leader and the Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May to resign. Mrs. May is wildly unpopular among Brexiters for failing to arrive at the hard Brexit the more dogmatic among them desired; she is disliked by Remainers for her dogged pursuit of Brexit despite what they believe is copious evidence that remaining in the EU is the far more sensible option. As a result, very few people will be shedding a tear for the PM, and yet markets may be quaking in their boots. While equities have been tortured by the instability and lack of clear direction fostered by Mrs. May’s inability to successfully manage Brexit, it was none other than the PM who saved them from the ruinous ‘No-Deal’ Brexit by postponing the deadline to October 31. Furthermore, any deal under Mrs. May would have probably been an equity-friendly soft-Brexit – now that she is leaving her post it is a near certainty that her successor will come with the most robust of Eurosceptic credentials and could have minimal problem steering Britain and markets off a ‘No-Deal’ cliff to achieve Brexit by October 31.

As Mrs. May has abdicated, the Conservative Party is currently in the midst of a leadership contest and the result will bring the UK its next PM. Boris Johnson, MP, is the leading candidate and he has already declared he has no problem with a ‘No Deal’ Brexit if a suitable agreement cannot be made before October 31, 2019. While Johnson is bold, brash and prone to the occasional gaff – a bit like a subdued, British equivalent of President Trump – his words will likely prove easier to say than to effect: there simply is not a majority for a No-Deal Brexit in Parliament and Johnson will inherent from Mrs. May a minority government from which it is very difficult to do anything significant, particularly when so many members of his own ruling Conservative Party are dead set against a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. While leaving the EU without a deal remains the default legal position regardless of Parliamentary math, if it appears that the UK is headed in that direction it is a near certainty that a no-confidence vote in the government would be triggered, which would result of a new general election. In this very plausible scenario, unless things drastically improve for Johnson’s Conservative Party, particularly after the way in which it got hammered at the recent European Parliamentary elections, they would likely lose the keys to 10 Downing Street to Labour. As such, Johnson will likely have no interest in a fresh general election and will therefore be keen to avoid a situation that would see his government dissolved through a no-confidence vote. Therefore, it seems sensible that even with a Hard-Brexit PM all options remain on the table, including a second ‘People’s Vote’ referendum that could break Parliament’s Brexit deadlock and give the a final decision about what kind of Brexit is desired – or if it is still desired at all – back to Britons. While markets may optimistically decide to take this as a news teetering on ‘positive’, even with rose-tinted glasses it is clear that the raging political uncertainty that would accompany avoiding a ‘No Deal’ Brexit in this convoluted, dragged-out fashion would punish the British economy and equities within and beyond the UK.

Already a diabolical month for markets, there was more bad news for investors on its final day – on May 31st Trump announced plans for a 5% tariff on all imported Mexican goods to begin on June 10, 2019 as a way to pressure Mexico into taking action to help manage the illegal migrant crisis. As discussed in last month’s Market Commentary, the Mexican economy is already in bad shape and tariffs would have been a crushing blow, particularly as they were scheduled to increase incrementally:  up to 10% in July and possibly as high as 25% by October. Thankfully Trump announced on Saturday June 8th that he would cancel the tariff increase as Mexico agreed a host of new measures: to clamp down on migrants crossing its northern US border, to deploy its national guard to the southern Mexican border to thwart fresh migrants moving north and to work to abate human smuggling. The result of this drama – an 8 day period that saw American equities, consumers, businesses, investors and the Mexican economy all squirm in uncertainty and fear– may be painted as a political victory for Trump as Mexico obliged to his wishes without any tariff ever having been introduced. But the question must be asked, particularly in light of the on-going issue of the US-China trade war: is it wise to use tariffs in the way in which the President is quickly becoming a fan?

According to Trump, ‘Tariffs are a “beautiful thing when you’re the piggy bank,”– but what happens to this bold assertion when it is scrutinized? Investors and equities should all delight in the fact that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) recognized the genuine damage that quickly escalating tariffs would do to his country’s already fragile and floundering economy and acquiesced to the US President; the problem from an American perspective vis-à-vis Make America Great Again is that tariffs would have done arguably more damage to the US economy (and those who rely on it), its vastly superior strength, notwithstanding. Indeed, Mexican tariffs would be a blow for US businesses with supply-chains running through Mexico and the resulting products – from car parts to avocados – would bear what is effectively a sales tax that would be passed on to American consumers. As such it is no surprise that the Republican Party was unable to rally behind the President, with both Senators Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz speaking out in opposition to the Mexican tariffs. Moreover, to view Trump’s thoughtless words on his love of tariffs through a historical prism, one need only look back to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act to see the effects of over-reliance on tariffs that saw them implemented on over 20,000 imported goods, which subsequently incurred punitive retaliatory measures, which resulted in American exports and imports being reduced by more than half during the Great Depression. There is near consensus that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act – effected in 1930 – greatly exacerbated the Great Depression; it is a bit of history that confirms that excessive tariffs have the ability to cause economic shrinkage, spiral out of control and cause a deep and painful recession. The President may wish to consider this if he is to stand a chance at re-election in 2020.

Henry James International Management May 2019 Market Commentary
Mexican tariffs would be a blow for US businesses with supply-chains running through Mexico and the resulting products – from car parts to avocados – would bear what is effectively a sales tax that would be passed on to American consumers.

Like Trump, the Federal Reserve would also like to see a recession avoided; indeed, we believe its Chairman Jerome Powell is all too aware of the likelihood of one barrelling towards the US. Not only has he spontaneously climbed down from a more-or-less set policy of increasing interest rates throughout 2019, he has even given signs that he is open to lowering them. During a speech on June 4th in Chicago, Powell said that he would be ‘closely monitoring’ trade negotiations and ‘other matters’ – that one might suggest could be tariffs – for the US economic outlook and to act appropriately to sustain its expansion. Naturally, lowering interest rates would not only be a trick to fighting back recession, it would also provide relief to US businesses and consumers from tariffs.

In the Middle East, US-Iranian tensions have flared up to the point where a bona fide war has become a genuine possibility. Since leaving the Iran Nuclear Deal, Trump’s administration has followed a policy of maximum pressure – apparently this has so far failed as Iran is not succumbing to sabre rattling or threats and they have even defiantly said they may soon cease complying with the Nuclear Deal. Moreover, according the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Iran is using mines to attack oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. In short, through Trump’s treatment of Iran, not only are we closer to a war, we are also closer to Iran choosing to resume its nuclear weapons program. Despite Trump saying that his only desire is to get Iran back to the negotiating table to prevent it from developing these weapons, in May the President deployed military assets to the region, which may suggest a somewhat more hawkish stance.

Ever since Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro managed to get his ambitious and necessary pension reform through the Lower House Constitution, Justice Committee and subsequently on the doorstep of Brazil’s Congress, there has been little movement. However, as this was always going to be a long process, Bolsonaro’s administration remains positive. However, according to credit rating agency Fitch, while the pension overhaul is absolutely necessary, there is no scenario in which it will single-handedly stabilize Brazil’s public debt, much less kick its economy into the high gear the reforms supposedly promised. Consequently, it would seem that the market’s original enthusiasm for President Bolsonaro may have been unjustified.

In India, despite failing to realize his wide-ranging reform program in his first term and the disaster that was his currency redenomination, Narendra Modi won a decisive election victory to see him remain the PM for another 5 years. Indian equities enjoyed this tremendously, surging to record highs on the back of Modi’s new potent political mandate. Despite India’s Sensex’s recent success, there are concerns that the index is overvalued, with a forward PE of 18 compared to its EM Asia peers who average 12. Moreover, the Indian economy is facing high unemployment and its lowest GDP growth in 5 years.

A bright spot that stands in relief to the ruin of May is Vietnam, who is rather enjoying the US-China trade war. The Southeast Asian country is capitalizing on supply chain disruptions as more and more manufacturers move from China to within its borders to escape Trump’s tariff. In no small part due to this, its economy is expected to grow to just under 7% in 2019 and is poised to exceed 7% in 2020. While Vietnam’s economic success bodes well for other Asian EM economies, it is set to reap the most benefits from the US-China trade war given its proximity to China, well regulated and high quality labor conditions and affordable wages.

Henry James International Management May 2019 Market Commentary
Vietnam is set to benefit from the US-China trade war given its proximity to China, well regulated and high quality labor conditions and affordable wages.

Investment Outlook

No matter the direction from which you approach it, May was an appalling month for equities. Beyond its poor performance, a range of intimidating headwinds appear to be here for the long haul to stymie or at least frustrate positive market momentum. The only bit of lipstick we can put on this is really two fold: DM equities remain well above expectations so far in 2019 and they are in positive territory year-to-date. Secondly, despite EM equities losing all their 2019 gains in a single month, there are still fine investment opportunities to be had – one just might have to look a bit harder to find them.

We had repeated to ourselves ad nauseum that cooler heads would prevail in the US-China trade war. We were wrong and we are now immersed in a full-fledged trade war which – despite arguably some virtuous motivations – will damage both the US and Chinese economies and will cause pain for many others. While it is at best wishful thinking, we can only hope that there will be a somewhat swift resolution that will see all tariffs gradually rolled back while both countries work toward a new, mutually beneficial trade deal to mitigate the ways in which American businesses, consumers and the economy have to suffer. What is more, even without a trade war, both the US and China have been in the midst of worrying economic slow downs, so one wonders how much deeper the plunge will be now? Our lone hope is that Trump’s survival instincts will kick in and he will remember that he has an election to win in the next calendar year, which may be a tall order if he has single-handedly driven the US into a trade-war-induced recession.

We are delighted that Trump called off his Mexico tariffs at the last moment, something that equities at least momentarily enjoyed; however, we believe untold damage has been done to the American economy and its trading relations as a consequence of the 8 days during which the 5% tariff threat appeared to be an imminent and palpable reality. From an American business perspective, only the most optimistic persons will think that the trade hostilities are done and dusted and that we have emerged on the other side into a new stable trading relationship between the US and Mexico. In many ways, American businesses who rely on Mexico for their supply chains or materials are faced with a similar predicament as their UK counterparts with Brexit. The threat of future tariffs popping up again creates a most uncertain environment for businesses with links to Mexico, and such conditions impede the ability to make medium- to long-term business plans and also make it difficult to invest in new infrastructure and make new hirings; it also makes these businesses far less attractive investment opportunities.

We also wonder what damage the threat of tariffs has done to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) replacement between United States, Mexico and Canada vis-à-vis the recently signed (but have not yet ratified) United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)? One may ask whether this new free trade agreement is worth the paper on which it is written if tariffs can be thrown into the equation whenever Trump is feeling trigger-happy. It does not just hurt the US’s reputation with its northern and southern neighbors, we believe it sends the wrong message to the Chinese about the potential value of a new US trade deal. Furthermore, the US brazenly devaluing the meaningfulness of its trade deals does not exactly encourage the Communist state to make any of the dramatic concessions that Trump is justifiably demanding.

Henry James International Management
Despite Brexit, Britain remains an economic powerhouse and is filled with some of the biggest, best and most innovative businesses in the world.

Our expectations for Brexit are not overwhelmingly positive. We see a ‘No-Deal’ leaning PM replacing Mrs. May, and we see this person (probably Mr. Johnson) being thwarted and frustrated by his lack of Parliamentary majority, the Remainers in his own party, the opposition parties and maybe even the House Speak John Bercow (who has been transparent about his desire to block Brexit). Britain is at a Brexit stalemate which means that markets should be braced for more uncertainty and any residual positive momentum may gradually evaporate and grind the UK economy to at best a halt, at worst, recession. If there is any hope, it is that Britain remains an economic powerhouse and is filled with some of the biggest, best and most innovative businesses in the world who may be able to keep the country afloat and heading in the right direction while Britons and their MPs duke it out over a Brexit resolution.

Regarding EM markets, while they will largely be victimized by the fall out of the US-China trade war – which is most worrying – it is not all bad. The Fed’s decision to freeze interest rates is very good news for EM equities; Powell deciding to lower rates would be an early Christmas present. Furthermore, while China is clearly in a worse place while embroiled in a trade war, its President Xi Jinping has the ability to manipulate his monetary policy in a way that can soften the damage through continuing a strategy of monetary and fiscal easing. China also recently delivered over $298bn of tax cuts and company fees savings, which will only help further. Of course, lowering taxes will not help Chinese businesses retain the manufacturing they will lose to other Asian EM economies to avoid Trump’s tariffs. Vietnam is already benefitting tremendously from this and will likely continue to do so; and Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Philippines will also likely enjoy benefiting from China’s manufacturing losses. We believe all these markets offer interesting opportunities for investors, but of course rising US interest rates and an even stronger US dollar could bear negative consequences. Lastly, while India’s market may be overpriced, it is likely that their equities may offer better value than US or other DM equities stifled by Brexit or stagnant EU growth.

In conclusion, May has not been a positive month for investors – a trade war is waging without an end in sight between the world’s two largest economies, Brexit is a disaster and is impeding both the UK and EU economies, Trump has a self-admitted weakness for recession-inducing tariffs and there are a range of other geopolitical issues that have destabilised markets. And yet, the many causes for concern notwithstanding, we expect the world economy to end 2019 with growth; what is more, we believe EM equities will presents investors with copious ‘diamonds in the rough’ opportunities which will be there for those willing and capable of unearthing them.

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.

Will Labour Save Theresa May’s Brexit Bacon?

Anyone who has ever seen Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May battle Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons would find it borderline impossible to imagine any kind meaningful political union between the two parties. Historically, the Tories (as Conservatives are known locally) and Labour vehemently disagree on practically everything in contemporary politics – from austerity, to corporate taxation, unions, education, and far more. And yet, as the PM nervously clings to her so-called Chequers deal – her vision for Britain’s future relationship with the European Union (EU) and the basis for her upcoming Brexit negotiations – an unholy alliance of desperation and convenience is brewing between the two parties.

Brexit Bacon
Will Labour Save Theresa May’s Brexit Bacon?

Key Brexit-supporting Tory Members of Parliament (MPs) are deeply dismayed by the Chequers deal, saying that it fails to deliver the ‘hard Brexit’ for which the people voted, and are therefore threatening to abandon their leader should it come to a vote in the House of Commons. On the other side Labour MPs have been ordered by their leader Corbyn to vote against Chequers on the basis that it fails to meet the six tests the left-leaning party have set to establish their definition of what a good Brexit deal would be. Were May’s Chequers deal to be voted down in the House of Commons, it would effectively end her time as PM and – as Corbyn hopes – will likely lead to another general election, which the Labour leader would hope to win. Given the vitriol between the two leading British political parties, one might take it as a given that Labour would only be delighted by the idea of a Tory PM battling desperately for her political life with enemies of all persuasions knocking on the gates of 10 Downing Street.

And yet, politics are not so simple these days, something that holds true for both the Tories and Labour. There are potentially over 30 Labour MPs who are strongly considering defying their leader and supporting the PM’s Chequers deal as they fear the economic consequences of a no-deal Brexit. Such is the depth of their concern that will consider betraying Corbyn even if it means inadvertently propping May up and keeping Labour out of power. On the other side, the most dogmatic Brexiteer Tory MPs – chief among whom Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, David Davis and Steve Baker – along with another 30 or so of their parliamentary colleagues are poised to defy May and vote down Chequers, presumably to preserve their slim hopes of a pristine hard Brexit. Of course, they must be aware that failing to support May might come back to bite them, particularly if toppling her brings forth another general election that results in Labour, not them, in the Brexit negotiation driver’s seat, a scenario which some have suggested might see Brexit called off entirely. What we have in front of us is a near perfect syllogism by which both parties are putting their Brexit concerns and aspirations over traditional party politics and ambitions.

Brexit politics
The Conservative and Labour parties are putting their Brexit concerns and aspirations over traditional party politics and ambitions.

Despite Labour MPs overwhelmingly supporting Britain’s EU membership, there are seven in their ranks, with the notable inclusion of leader Corbyn, who can be classified as Euro-skeptics or even ‘card-carrying’ Brexiteers.  Yet, even beyond this minority group there are a wide range of Labour MPs who represent Brexit-heavy constituencies, which means that many will be forced to consider abandoning their own views to pander to their voters’. Beyond this awkward dilemma, for Labour MPs a May-brokered deal is vastly preferred to a no deal Brexit. As such they will face what one shadow minister referred to as a ‘crisis of conscience’: on one side the party leader telling MPs to vote ‘no’ to Chequers and help catapult Labour into government; on the other side the wishes of Brexit-voting constituents and the havoc a no-deal Brexit might wreak on Britain’s stuttering economy.

Labour MP Kevan Jones from North Durham is among the many in this predicament and he indicated that he would be open to supporting Chequers in Parliament. He said: ‘I would not support [a] no-deal [Brexit] because that would be disastrous both for my constituents and the country.’ Jones’ Labour colleague Lisa Nandy, MP, is also worried about how a no-deal Brexit might affect her Wigan constituency, and if what May brings to parliament is deemed good enough she will feel pressure to support it. Nandy said: ‘The public wants [Brexit] over, they are fed up with this and want it done so the government can get on with other difficult decisions. There is a push from the public to just sort this out.’ Another Labour colleague anonymously added that while it will not be easy for Labour MPs to defy Corbyn and back a Tory government – far from the neat and tidy solution that Labour would merely stroll into 10 Downing Street in another general election – there is a real threat that an ideological hard Brexiter like Rees-Mogg might be the next PM who will pursue either a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit. Therefore, even with the false choice of two unappealing alternatives; i.e. Chequers or a no deal Brexit, May’s vision for some Labour MPs might seem the more palatable.

Parliament will vote on Brexit
Theresa May’s Brexit vision will likely seem more palatable than a no-deal Brexit for Labour MPs on the fence.

Within May’s Conservative party it is clear that those who oppose Chequers will not budge and will vote it down in Parliament if given the opportunity. One might say that this is rank and brazen stupidity (if one were a Tory and/or Brexit voter) as surely a Chequers Brexit is better than risking an even softer Brexit or even no Brexit at all under a Labour government. And yet Rees-Mogg and his eurosceptic crew are prepared to risk this and topple May’s government if it is the only remote way to achieve their perfect hard Brexit.

With daggers pointed at May from all directions, will she accept re-enforcements from her sworn enemy? One would imagine that reaching across the aisle, as it were, would be among the bigger ‘no brainers’ in the PM’s career… That is, if she’s given the opportunity. Yes, despite the borderline impossible situation May is facing domestically, there is a tangible threat that she many never be able to give her Labour colleagues the chance to save her Brexit bacon. Upon hearing the details of Chequers EU leaders, chief among whom President of the European Council Donald Tusk, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, rejected it out of hand based on its solution for avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; i.e. what will be the only land border between the EU and UK. Chequers sets out a vision whereby the whole of the UK would remain in the EU custom union for a limited time while a reasonable trade solution is worked out. EU leaders have said such a concept is unacceptable, which means that as things currently stand, there is serious doubt as to whether the EU will even consider entertaining Chequers in its current form. If the EU rejects Chequers, it will never ever be put to a vote in the House of Commons, making May’s unlikely Labour allies irrelevant.

Theresa May's vision for Brexit
If Theresa May’s political shrewdness out-maneuvers her European counterparts and she brings a Chequers-inspired Brexit deal back to Parliament, will Labour’s support even be enough?

And yet, in the event that May’s political shrewdness out-maneuvers her European counterparts and she manages to bring a Chequers-inspired Brexit deal back to Parliament, will Labour’s support even be enough? Not only have there been estimates of up to 80 Tory MPs who view Chequers suspiciously, on a good day May’s government only has a majority – albeit a slim one – in the House of Commons only because she is propped up by the 10 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs from Northern Ireland. Depending on the agreement May makes regarding the Irish border, the DUP’s support may be called into question. In a scenario in which she is coerced to accept a version of the EU’s solution for the Irish border – their so-called ‘backstop’ that would see Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs union and single market on a temporary basis while the rest of the UK existed on the outside – the DUP would withdraw its support from Chequers. In the words of Arlene Foster – leader of the DUP – her party’s only ‘red line’ is a situation in which Northern Ireland is treated differently in customs or constitutionally than the rest of the UK. She said: ‘We don’t know what will happen in five or 10 years’ time. We don’t want Northern Ireland going off in a different direction from the rest of the UK.’ To say that the PM is in a tight spot is an understatement, as it is clear a sleight of hand or some other magic trick will be necessary to resolve the conflicting needs of the EU and the DUP just to give willing Labour MPs a hope and a prayer at turning her Brexit vision into law.