Henry James International Management December Market Commentary

Market Overview 

Whoever first articulated ‘no pain, no gain’ was probably talking about weightlifting or long distance running, but little did this word-smith know that this maxim would perfectly capture what investors experienced in 2019: soaring equity prices in spite of persistent economic threat, raging volatility and nagging market anxiety. 2019 was generally very good for investors; indeed, on December 31 the S&P 500 was up 724 points (28.88%) from where it was 12 months earlier. Such gaudy, portfolio pleasing figures, however, entirely fail to account for the true story of 2019: it was a year in which there was always at least one major (often multiple) geopolitical or economic issue seemingly poised to bring markets to their knees. For example, the MSCI EAFE index’s returns of 3.27% in December, 8.21% in the 4th Quarter and 22.66% in 2019 entirely obscure the pessimism with which 2019 began, not to mention the realities of the government shutdown and the feud between President Donald Trump and the Federal Reserve over monetary policy. Indeed, by looking at the MSCI Emerging Markets index’s return of 7.53% in December, 11.93% in the 4th Quarter and 18.9% in 2019, one cannot see the very real economic scars left by the US – China trade war, nor can one recall the way in which it constantly threatened to boil over. Looking at the returns of the MSCI World ex USA Small Cap index of 4.65% in December, 11.45% in the 4th Quarter and 25.94% in 2019, there is neither evidence of the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the disastrous prospect of Britain leaving the European Union (EU) without a deal, nor any indication of how Germany’s manufacturing recession further stifled Eurozone’s anemic growth. And yet, markets muscled through these very genuine headwinds and delivered impressive gains on the back of what clearly was a fundamentally strong US and global economy and Jerome Powell’s willingness to be flexible with the Fed’s monetary policy by lowering interest rates by 75 basis points. And yet, so persistent were 2019 economic threats that the slightest hint of positive news on a topic like the US – China trade war or Brexit generally resulted in a market bounce, something that highlights the discrepancy between the terms ‘markets’ and ‘economies’ and how positive returns for the former does not necessarily indicate robustness in the latter.

We believe in 2020 the US and global economies are likely to continue to boast the fortitude that saw them safely navigate the stormy waters of 2019, which we believe could set them up for another year on a steady upward trajectory. Despite cause for optimism it would be naïve to believe that the problems that dogged us last year have simply faded away. Indeed, a matter of hours into 2020 we saw as much when a US drone killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani (the Islamic Republic’s de facto number two), which prompted somewhat hysterical fears of an impending World War 3, not to mention the price of Brent Crude spiking above $70 a barrel. Some may argue the virtues of pursuing a particular foreign policy agenda, but one thing is clear: markets dread the instability and chaos caused by even the suggestion of war. While tensions have apparently deescalated, and the price of oil has returned to a more reasonable price, a US-Iran conflict could flair up at any moment, which would knock the wind of out of the current optimism for the new year. To make matters even more precarious, though the US and China are inching towards a détente, it is pretty much a given that this trade war will plague markets in 2020 just as it did in 2019. While markets can take comfort in the knowledge that the United Kingdom (UK) will Brexit in a smooth and orderly fashion on January 31, 2020, time is short to work out an actual trade deal with the EU, the deadline for which is the end of 2020, which puts the possibility of a  ‘No Deal’ Brexit back on the menu. Moreover, while Germany appears to be bouncing back, failure for the global manufacturing bellwether to recover and begin growing again will be an albatross for the EU and global economies.

Investment Outlook

According to James O’Leary, CFA, Chief Investment Officer and Senior Portfolio Manager at Henry James International Management, ‘We are looking at stable global GDP growth above 3%, with 2% in the US and a modest 1% in the EU.’ He is anticipating a slight increase in growth in the UK through a so-called ‘Brexit Bump’ and the resulting economic stability markets have been craving. O’Leary also sees an increase in Japan’s growth with greater exports, but believes that we will see China’s growth drop below 6% for the first time in a long time. ‘We are anticipating a return to long-term market trend returns for developed markets and possibly above market trend returns for emerging market economies,’ says O’Leary.

In O’Leary’s view, the x-factor for the US economy in 2020 will be the forthcoming elections. ‘If the Democrats win the White House, take control of the Senate and maintain the keys to the House of Representatives, we would expect a raise in both corporate and personal income taxes.’ This, he believes, would result in a reduction in corporate earnings, which would negatively impact markets. However, if Trump is re-elected, says O’Leary, the US economy should be in an excellent position to thrive. In the build up to said election, however, O’Leary does not expect to see any large movements in US interest rates in 2020. ‘We expect the current 1.75% rate will remain steady with the possibility of a 25bps cut.  This is because if the Fed Funds rate were cut by too much it would look partisan during a Presidential election.’ Moreover, significant interest rate reductions would cut even closer to zero percent, which would leave the US and global economies with minimal defence in a recession scenario.

O’Leary welcomes a thawing of the US-China trade war and believes this is a big step in the right direction; however, he does not believe that anything substantive is in the so-called Phase 1 of the deal. ‘It does not address intellectual property theft, corporate governance or a method for penalizing China for violations. Instead it appears to be a deal that freezes tariffs and compels China to buy a lot of US pork.’ The existing tariffs, says O’Leary, will continue as a ‘tax’ on US consumers that will hurt the lower end of the consuming public. It will also hurt China, he continued, and pull down its 2020 GDP to below 6% for the first time since 1990. Moreover, the trade war has inflicted serious damage on China’s economy and will continue to do so until it is fully resolved. But one country’s loss is a gain for others. ‘The trade war is moving US supply chains from China to other Asian countries and, notably, to Mexico, too,’ O’Leary said.

O’Leary is hopeful that Germany will begin to recover in 2020. ‘We are looking for Germany to stabilize and move to positive growth in its manufacturing sector, which on a relative basis is two times larger than that of the US and therefore really important for their economy.’ He continued: ‘With global growth intact Germany and the Eurozone should benefit; and with the exception of France, Italy and Spain, the Eurozone has a relatively low unemployment rate, increasing inflation of 1% to a more targeted rate and positive GDP growth. Moreover, with Brexit uncertainty as a thing of the past there are fewer unanswered questions and therefore more certainty, which should result in better markets.’

With Brexit virtually guaranteed to happen at the end of January, O’Leary is forecasting continued low UK unemployment, stable GDP growth (with an increase in 2021) and an easing in fiscal policy; he also expects PM Johnson to fulfil his planned stimulus promises. O’Leary said: ‘The great Brexit versus Remain battle is over as the UK will leave the EU. It is in both Europe’s and the UK’s best interest to make a bad situation work for both. If both parties act reasonably, Brexit should work for both and their respective economies should benefit as a result.’

O’Leary is delighted that the US and Iran have managed to deescalate tensions and though the price of oil skyrocketed it has come down again as fears over oil supply disruption have abated. The question remains, how sustainable is this relative calm and does Trump see conflict with Iran as something that will help or hurt his re-election campaign. O’Leary said, ‘If it hurts him, the episode will subside and if he thinks it will help, we may see renewed tension.’ O’Leary’s clear preference is peace and tranquillity so markets can continue to thrive.

While geopolitical risk and headwinds are ever-present for the year ahead, they are perhaps less threatening than they were in 2019. What is more, the US and global economies appear to be in a better place, too. This combines to create positive mood music for markets in 2020, and yet, much like how it was last year, the question will be the extent to which markets will be able to resume their resilience and trample over present and future threats desperate to derail them and diminish investor profits.

Disclosures

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

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

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

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

Henry James International Management November Market Commentary

Market Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investment Outlook

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

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

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

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

Disclosures

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

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

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

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

Henry James International Management October Market Commentary

Market Overview 

October was a good month for markets, and not just in the ‘growth despite raging volatility’ way that has become the 2019 norm. We believe we are seeing evidence of an economy that has resiliently chugged along despite being burdened and destabilized by a range of geopolitical and economic issues. Market performance spiked encouragingly in the month of October: the MSCI EAFE was up 3.60%, while the MSCI Emerging Markets and MSCI World ex USA Small Cap indices jumped by 4.23% and 4.12%, respectively.

While nothing is official, there is good anecdotal reason to believe that trade tensions are thawing between the United States (US) and China as both sides have either overtly or under conditions of anonymity (in the US’s case) admitted that the sides are working towards a phase one trade deal that would see the beginning of a tariff roll back. Of course, if this does not come to fruition in the short term that would be the par for course for this unpredictable trade dispute and would hardly be surprising, particularly as US President Donald Trump’s Trade Advisor Peter Navarro denied the report and indicated that it was nothing more than ‘Chinese propaganda’.

There is renewed optimism in German manufacturing – the global bellwether – due to the recently released figures showing a rebound in German factory orders. Demand rose by 1.3% in September, or 30 basis points higher than the predicted gain, which optimistically suggests that the euro-area economy has passed the worst of its recent troubles.  Indeed, as demand from outside the Euro area provided the biggest boost, Germany’s success will be good news for global manufacturing, too.

Henry James International Management September Market Commentary
It is difficult to see how Britain would ever Brexit without a deal at the very least.

While Brexit can be considered nothing more than a complete mess and the bringer of British, European and global economic headwinds, there is perhaps reason to be somewhat positive. Despite the fact that the continued uncertainty will only wreak further market havoc, there does not appear to be an appetite for a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit on any front, particularly now that we have passed the October 31, 2019 deadline; i.e. the time in which it was a distinct possibility. After ‘No-Deal’ cheerleader Nigel Farage indicated that his Brexit Party would not stand candidates against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in more than 300 key seats, it is difficult to see how Britain would ever Brexit without a deal at the very least.

If there were any doubt about the green shoots of economic success poised to burst through the dried, rocky soil of 2019, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell set the record straight at his October 30, 2019 press conference when he said that monetary policy is in a good place to achieve moderate economic growth, a strong labor market and inflation near 2%. In other words, the US economy is in a surprisingly strong place and despite Trump’s vexations with the Fed’s chief, the latter may have helped the former’s chances at re-election.

Investment Outlook

James O’Leary, CFA, Chief Investment Officer and Senior Portfolio Manager at Henry James International Management is hopeful that the US and China will make progress on a trade deal in the short term, but that the more serious issues will only be dealt with after the US’s 2020 General Election. He said: ‘I think that there will be some sort of an initial trade deal which will not include harder topics like trademark and patent protection.’ As a portfolio manager, O’Leary is excited by the prospects of the tariff certainty that a deal would bring and the related benefits for markets. ‘If there is a deal, while all securities will benefit, we believe that Chinese equities will do particularly well,’ he said. While O’Leary welcomes the possibility of a trade deal, he believes that Trump must hold his nerve and properly handle the problem of Chinese intellectual property theft as he is not certain that Xi Jinping can be trusted on this issue. A resolution to the US-China trade war that has hampered markets for well over a year would be a big boost to not only the economy, but also to President Trump. ‘A strong economy always favors the incumbent,’ says O’Leary; moreover, he believes a Trump re-election would likely compel China to address US IP theft concerns.

Henry James International Management September Market Commentary
We believe that Trump must hold his nerve and properly handle the problem of Chinese intellectual property theft.

Quite apart from any possibility of a resolution to the US-China trade war, O’Leary agrees with Fed Chairman Powell that the US economy is in a good place. He said: ‘The US consumer remains strong, as does America’s growth. We feel that US equities may be fairly valued given the current economic environment.’ O’Leary also believe that the upcoming 2020 US General Election will provide an added boost to both US and global markets. In O’Leary’s view, the seeds of economic resiliency were planted more than a decade ago: ‘I believe the strength of the US economy is in part a result of the plans that were put into place at the end of the Bush administration, which were continued by Obama and boosted by the Trump tax cuts.’ O’Leary continued: “Along and in conjunction with global leaders – including and especially China that has seen its economy rapidly grow from $4,600bn in 2008 to $13,605bn in 2018 – the US has greatly helped drive the global economy and its recovery.’

O’Leary sees Germany’s recent manufacturing data as a clear indication of a bottoming out of orders:  ‘It appears that France and Germany’s manufacturing is starting to improve as clarity in global trade disputes, including Brexit, start to become apparent.’ O’Leary indicated that economic growth remains positive in the European Union and that the European Central Bank (ECB) has cut interest rates and reactivated its bond-buying stimulus program to help shore up growth and get inflation back to its goal of just below 2%. ‘If manufacturing growth continues, I believe European and Chinese equities will be the big winners,’ says O’Leary.

Though O’Leary is delighted that the chances of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit are looking remote, he is less enthusiastic about the economic uncertainty emanating within and from the world’s 5th biggest economy. O’Leary hopes that the December 2019 General Election will bring clarity to Brexit and the economic stability Britain craves, but he believes this may be wishful thinking. Perhaps the clearest way out of the mess would be the Conservatives securing a majority in Parliament, which would likely see Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal take affect by the current January 31, 2020 deadline; however, the Parliamentary math isn’t necessarily in Johnson’s favor. The only other viable party to win the election is the Labour Party, a scenario that – while carrying with it the market-friendly possibility of reversing Brexit altogether – would see Brexit uncertainty spill over beyond the current deadline. With British voters never less loyal to the two main political parties, O’Leary sees a hung Parliament as the likely outcome in this election which would mean yet another impotent minority government who simply lacks the power – to use Johnson’s campaign slogan – to Get Brexit Done.

While we remain aware of the likelihood that the investment outlook can change for the worse at any moment, we currently have a positive outlook without too many qualifiers or caveats. With the stimulus that a US General Election will bring the world’s GDP, the improving trade relations between the US and China and the ECB’s stimulus package, we see the potential for increased global growth in 2020 and believe a recession in the short term is unlikely.

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.