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.

April Market Commentary

Market Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investment Outlook

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

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

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

Disclosures

This material is prepared by Henry James International Management and is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. The information and opinions contained in this material are obtained from proprietary and nonproprietary sources believed by Henry James International Management, to be reliable, are not necessarily comprehensive and are not guaranteed as to accuracy. No warranty of accuracy or reliability is given and no responsibility arising in any other way for errors and omissions is accepted by Henry James International Management, its officers, employees or agents. This material is based on information as of the specified date and may be stale thereafter. We have no obligation to tell you when information herein may change. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Certain information contained herein may constitute forward-looking statements. Estimates of future performance are based on assumptions that may not be realized.

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of current or future results and should not be the sole factor of consideration when selecting a product or strategy.

Any indices chosen by Henry James International Management to measure performance are representative of broad asset classes. Henry James International Management retains the right to change representative indices at any time.

Henry James International Management and its’ representatives do not provide legal or tax advice. Each client should always consult his/her personal tax and/or legal advisor for information concerning his/her individual situation.

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.

Who Will Be Affected by China’s Trade War?

After sitting on the cusp of a financial war with China, the U.S.A. has finally unleashed their tariffs on Chinese goods after accusing them of stealing intellectual property in March. This back-and-forth disrepute of imposing tariffs on certain items will have a backlash on the citizens of both countries as China seek to reprimand the U.S. The Chinese have since stated has since stated that although they did not start this conflict, they will fight back.

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Chinese technology is receiving a 25% tariff due to accusations by the Trump administration that the Chinese stole intellectual property which optimizes semi-conductor chips. These chips are found in most electronics, ranging from televisions, personal computers, iPhones, and cars. Unfortunately, it seems that the U.S. consumer will most likely be footing the bill as China’s production pricing will remain the same, but the cost to American citizens will increase by 25%, and the Chinese will not be covering these expenses.

China will not take a hit to its economy lightly and have already planned their retaliation by focusing their own tariffs on a wide variety of U.S. exports. This ranges from plastics, to nuclear reactors, to even dairy making equipment. China must be vigilant and handle these tariffs sensibly as Chinese brokerages are sitting on more than £240 billion of loans that grow riskier by the day as China’s equity market tumbles. Losses on the debt could wipe out 11pc of the industry’s net capital, the U.S. bank reported in July; and we suspect this is something U.S. Administration is aware of.

The reality could be more than fist wagging as this tariff war is the biggest economic attack in history. Although undoubtedly better than boots on the ground, this conflict still poses a threat to Americans and Chinese citizens. Firstly, American citizens have a lot to lose beginning with the aforementioned 25% tax they are going to need to pay on certain goods. Further issues include a shrinking market from Chinese buyers, and even rotting livestock due to smaller demand which will heavily affect farmers in the red Mid-West as they lose access to China’s market and are left with excess goods.

It seems likely that the war will not take place in the open, and the real battle will be “on the flanks in the form of unnecessary inspections, product quarantines, and heightened regulatory scrutiny” says James Zimmerman, a partner in the Beijing Office of International Law.

But in reality, this war affects everyone across the globe. With reduced access to the U.S. market, China’s growth may come to a halt which would have a knock-on effect to all world economies. Increased caution and confidence for business will cause uncertainty within China’s market and puts expansion plans on ice. With the two biggest economies grinding themselves against each other, could there be space for a third party to intervene?