There has been a lot of speculation lately about the extent to which the current growing trade war may affect the economy and markets. Some expect a benign effect on both. Well, Bloomberg has run a piece arguing that the trade war may lead to a Chinese debt crisis, which could in turn lead to a global financial crisis. The impact of the tariffs on the Chinese economy could be serious. China is already seeing a very high level of defaults, and with the extra burden of tariffs coupled with a weaker Yuan, it could create credit chaos for Beijing. Bloomberg put it this way, saying “That the massive burden of debt will drag the economy into recession is as obvious as the empty towers that rise on every landscape … But on any metric, the amount of new lending each year grows faster than the economy, and the interest newly owed exceeds the incremental rise in GDP. In other words, the whole economy is a Ponzi scheme”.
FINSUM: It is hard to imagine a more forceful comment than that last one from Bloomberg. We don’t know if we would go so far, but given how indebted the Chinese economy is, and their reliance on exports, tariffs could spark a meltdown that then spreads overseas.
All of the worries in the real estate market have been focused on commercial property. While commercial real estate is supposed to be overvalued and over-supplied (a dangerous combo), US residential real estate is supposed to be healthy, with manageable price rises and tight supply. However, the residential market has just gotten some bleak news. US Housing starts plunged by over 12% in June, and new building permits dropped over 2%. The reasons cited for the drop are a lack of skilled workers to build and a higher cost for materials.
FINSUM: The question is whether this is a demand-led problem (new buyers pulling away) or a supply-led one (meaning the supply of everything is too tight). The first would indicate falling prices, the second the opposite.
Advisors need to be aware. In less than 8 weeks, everything you know about the market make up of the tech sector is going to change. Both MSCI and S&P are shifting the way they group technology companies. Netflix, Google, and Facebook will be the biggest movers, and the changes are expected to have a material affect on prices. Those three stocks will be moved to the newly formed “Communications Services” sector, and away from the two sectors they are currently split into. That will greatly lower the total weight of the Information Technology sector from 26% to 20% of the S&P 500.
FINSUM: This could really change prices as it will have a significant effect on ETF demand and other funds linked to specific indexes/sectors.
The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has just formally opened an investigation into Trump’s charity activities. The state accuses the Donald J. Trump Foundation of violating state tax laws regarding campaign financing, self-dealing, and illegally coordinating with the presidential campaign. The state seeks to dissolve the foundation in addition to other measures. The investigation may turn criminal, in which case it could widen in scope to include much of Trump’s personal financial affairs, including his tax returns.
FINSUM: Hard to know how broad this could extend, but it seems like it will certainly intersect with Mueller’s investigation. It could prove a big headache for the president.
The big recovery after the huge losses in Italy might finally be underway. While downward pressure on Italian assets had subsided, there is now a big rally happening. The catalyst is that the country’s finance minster has just pledged that Italy will stay in the Euro, helping ease the market’s largest worry about the political crisis in Rome. The minister also pledged to avoid financial instability.
FINSUM: Italy’s two-year bond has already seen its yield fall 100 bp! That is quite a response. To be honest we doubt this pledge amounts to much, but it is good signaling for the market.
Investors who had been betting on emerging markets stocks might want to take notice of what is happening in the Treasuries market. While the explanation is a little technical, hear this: since the US deficit is set to rise rapidly, the US will see a surge in Treasury issuance. That big jump is issuance will suck up investor Dollars, and is likely to greatly wound Dollar-based EM funding. The Fed will also be forced to stop shrinking its balance sheet, which will also exacerbate the situation for EMs.
FINSUM: It sounds like the EM funding market is going to take a hit, which could have major ripple effects throughout the whole asset class.
Those seeking to buy income-focused investments have a dilemma on their hands right now. Is it safer to buy high-yielding blue chips like AT&T, or better to buy a diversified high yield fund? Barron’s tries to answer this question and gives a definitive opinion—the bond fund. While both may offer similar yields of between 5-6%, holding money in just one or a small handful of blue chips offers much more risk. Not only could dividends be cut, but underlying businesses could deteriorate. And without the benefit of diversification that a broad ETF offers, a portfolio could see heavy losses.
FINSUM: This is a good, basic article to share with any clients who ask why they are buying debt instead of just owning a few stocks.
A lot of investors may be asking themselves whether stocks will be directly impacted by a trade war. In the last several trading days, the market seems to have shrugged off the increasing trade tensions. However, JP Morgan is warning that the burgeoning trade war may wreak havoc on the market. The rising tariffs now occurring globally follow 50 years of increasing free trade, so there is little modern precedent for what is occurring.
FINSUM: In our view, the market does not have a good feel for pricing the risk of a trade war because it has been so long since investors have seen anything like it. Beware.
In what certainly seems to be a sign of health for the industry, RIA average account sizes just hit a new high. The average client at a US RIA now has an account averaging $2m (at firms with over $250m in AUM). This is the first time the figure has ever crossed the $2m threshold. Median AUM for firms grew over 16% in 2017, with average revenue increasing to $3.6m. The stats come from an annual Charles Schwab survey, with the firm saying about the healthy results “Firms are fueling their organic growth by differentiating and marketing their value propositions, improving the client experience and strategically expanding their service offerings to meet the needs of their ideal clients”.
FINSUM: The fiduciary duty of RIAs seems to be a differentiated and continued source of new client demand. It is a testament to the quality of RIAs in this country.
The commodities market is taking a wallop across the board today. It seemed to start earlier this week with oil dropping on fears over weakening Chinese GDP. Weaker growth would mean less demand for oil. Now, those fears have spread across most of the commodities market, with metals currently selling off strongly on the same fears. The renewed selling follows losses nearing 20% in industrial metals over the last month.
FINSUM: Remember that commodities markets are often a leading recession indicator, so this data does not bode well. Though in this case, it seems to be GDP data leading commodities, which is a bit back-to-front.
Sometimes we just have to run a story for fun that has no relevance to markets or investing. This is one of them. Evidently, last week a plane flowing over Siberia (Yakutia to be exact) had its cargo hatch break open. When it did, $368m worth of gold bars, silver, and diamonds fell from the sky down onto the frozen landscape. The “drop” happened right near the airport and the company who owned the goods had to get trusted staff to recover the bounty, but not before going through metal detectors before they went home. Now locals think that not all the gold has been recovered and flights to the area are sold out all over Russia as treasure seekers come to the frozen region.
FINSUM: Sorry for the irrelevance of the story, but treasure falling from the sky and oversold flights full of treasure hunters was too much not to share.
The new Apple iPhone X has gotten a lot of hype in media. Aside from all its new features, which are admittedly extensive, its ~50% price hike to $1,000 has received a great deal of attention. That price hike is testing a long-held economic principle which says that as prices for a good rise, demand falls. However, for the last 100 years there has been a view that rising prices could raise demand for certain goods because they amounted to “conspicuous consumption”, or saw their demand rise as prices did because owning them signaled wealth and status.
FINSUM: Apple’s new iPhone X, with a lofty $1,000 price tag, may just prove conspicuous consumption true.