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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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