1. Trade Wars: Cease-Fire or Armageddon?
With trade wars escalating, markets are becoming more concerned about when and how it all ends. For now, the U.S. and China appear locked in a tit-for-tat escalation of tariffs, with the European Union and Canada joining the battle by retaliating with targeted tariffs on U.S. goods, and NAFTA undergoing renegotiation. While the U.S. economy is less reliant on trade than most of its trade partners, targeted tariffs could have significant impacts on certain U.S. sectors and companies. For certain, tariffs raise costs, can pressure margins and result in higher prices. While the U.S. may feel it has the upper hand given its trade deficits with China and the EU, tariffs are not the only weapons available—targeted actions on foreign companies, unwinding U.S. treasury holdings and currency manipulation do not seem out of scope. While it is difficult to gauge the impacts on markets given the current dynamics, things could certainly get a lot worse with battles opening on multiple fronts and the choice of weapons expanding.
2. A Scorching Summer Ahead for EMS?
Emerging markets debt, equity and currency markets are feeling the heat from a growing list of concerns. With the recent escalation in trade wars, investors are selling emerging markets assets as uncertainty over the outcome grows. Beyond trade wars, liquidity has fallen as developed market central banks—led by the Fed—unwind accommodation, the U.S. dollar has strengthened and interest rates are higher. Some emerging countries are already being forced to raise rates to defend their currencies. With several upcoming key elections, a resilient U.S. Fed and no end in sight on trade wars, it may be a scorching summer for a few emerging markets countries. On the bright side, the broad sell-off seems to have priced in much of the risks and some less vulnerable countries are looking attractive.
3. What Could De-Throne Growth (Stocks)?
Continued strong relative performance in the technology and consumer discretionary sectors has helped advance a multi-year lead for growth relative to value stocks. Since the end of 2014, growth-oriented stocks in the U.S. are up nearly 50%, more than tripling the return of value stocks. Growth stocks have undoubtedly benefitted from the low growth economic environment where investors sought “durable growers” in lieu of more cyclical sectors, but they have also delivered vastly superior earnings growth. However, the advance has been primarily driven by a narrow list of technology-oriented companies that now hold elevated valuations. Trade wars may cause investors to question these elevated valuations, with technology supply chains vulnerable to escalation of the U.S.-China trade dispute.
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