Stocks closed lower on Friday after it was reported that trade talks between China and the U.S. had stalled and tit-for-tat tariffs soured the process. The late-day sell-off underscored the fragile mood in financial markets destabilized by concerns that the escalating trade war will undermine global growth.
President Donald Trump took steps toward calming nerves by postponing any tariffs on Japanese and European cars, while agreeing to end levies on Canadian steel and aluminum imports. But the status of talks with China remained unclear as investors headed into the weekend.
It was also the fourth straight weekly drop for the Dow.
Earlier this week, under the banner of a threat to the “national security” of the U.S., the administration made it harder for U.S. companies to do business with Huawei, a giant telecommunications company in China. U.S. firms that want to do business with Huawei must now have a license.
On the positive side, U.S. consumer confidence sentiment gauge reached a 15-year high with stocks near records and A Wells Fargo/Gallup survey found small business confidence rebounded strongly in the second quarter, matching a record, as current conditions posted a new high and recession concerns diminished. Top worries were attracting customers and new business, followed by hiring and retaining staff.
Take a deep breath, these are halcyon days. Enjoy. The data coming out of the U.S. is for the most part still supportive of the view that things are pretty good (For a nice overview see here). Let's remember that the S&P 500 is still up about 14% YTD.
With stocks struggling to find direction amid heightened volatility over increased tariffs and threats of new ones as the White House and China battle over trade, many investors are overreacting and trading headline noise. *(Interestingly Trump’s China fight/tariffs has enjoyed broad support from American business, the Democrats and the Republicans)
They would be better served if they recalibrated their expectations on the outcome and timing of any future agreement on the China/U.S. tariff issue.
We’ve heard murmings that this is a Trump powerplay: a mastery of the art of timing. A sniffing out of the right moment to strike a deal with China to save the day just as Americans head to the polls. Vanquishing a saviour who has adroitly played on what voters hold dear and what they fear would certainly be a difficult task for the Democrats...
The above narrative may or may not be accurate but regardless, to expect a quick deal is to completely misunderstand the deep differences in the two countries economic models (state capitalism vs. free-market capitalism). These differences ensure that their trading relations will likely be unstable for years to come.
It should be remembered that the Chinese government allocates capital through a state-run banking system with $38trn of assets. Attempts to bind China by requiring it to enact market-friendly legislation are unlikely to work given that the Communist Party is above the law.
These are issues that have been around for decades. Stable trade relations between countries require them to have much in common such as how commerce should work, what role the state should have and a commitment to the enforcement of rules. Look no further than the (for the most part successful) renegotiation of NAFTA (Mexico, USA, Canada).
Compounding the friction between these competing economic visions is that fact that many in the U.S. are suffering from a lack of self-confidence (“bullying behaviour”) as they witness China’s rise.
The problem with this administration's heavy handed approach is that it has made it difficult for China’s leadership to frame the trade spat domestically as anything other than an effort to undermine China’s rise. The shift toward a nationalist tone coincides with Beijing’s hardened trade negotiating position.
The problem is that an intensified conflict over trade and nationalism that results in harm to U.S. interests will make China less appealing to foreign investors, something Beijing can ill afford at a time when its economy is already slowing. Moreover, previous protests have shown that promoting nationalism can boomerang on the Chinese state and lead to unwanted social disruptions.
As such, the probability of some kind of a resolution is high.
For the investor, it is important to come to terms with any pervasive “fear” of “losing money” and corresponding unwillingness to take a long-term view. Making rash decisions each time there is a change in the short-term trend due to a headline is a recipe for the investor to realize low returns on capital or worse: no return on capital.
This month we were featured/interviewed by two wonderful organizations.
MOI Global: https://moiglobal.com/peter-mantas-2019/
Only a short note this week on portfolio concentration. This month we fielded several questions regarding the concentration of our portfolio and thought it may be useful to explain our view that concentration as a strategy is more attractive than diversification.
Better information increases the probability of superior returns, so a concentrated fund allows the investor to conduct thorough research and understand the intricacies of the business in order to take advantage of mispricings in the market. Instead, lack of concentration leads to making investment decisions based on superficial reasons or worse: emotion.
If the target range of holdings is narrow, the investor is setting a higher hurdle rate for investment quality and return. Investors can be more discriminating, avoiding stocks or sectors that are not high quality and focus on a smaller group of companies that meet their strict metrics.
There is also the issue of cost. With low to no-cost ETFs, there is simply no justification for an active investor/manager to construct a portfolio with a large number of holdings that mimics the benchmark. Better to own the benchmark in a low cost way.
Charts of the Month
According to a new survey by Charles Schwab, almost half of millennials (49%) say their spending habits are driven by their friends bragging about their purchases on social media vs. around one-third of Americans in general. link
Tech bubble all over again?
Logos LP April 2019 Performance
April 2019 Return: 10.08%
2019 YTD (April) Return: 23.87%
Trailing Twelve Month Return: 6.60%
Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) since inception March 26, 2014:+15.58%
Thought of the Month
"Knowledge is learning something new every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day.”-Zen Proverb
Articles and Ideas of Interest
Why we’ll never be happy again. Ben Carlson suggests that there are two things people need to understand about humanity:(1) Things are unquestionably getting better over time. (2) People assume things are unquestionably getting worse over time. Is there a silver lining?
Inflated credit scores leave investors in the dark on real risks. Consumer credit scores have been artificially inflated over the past decade and are masking the real danger the riskiest borrowers pose to hundreds of billions of dollars of debt. That’s the alarm bell being rung by analysts and economists at both Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Moody’s Analytics, and supported by Federal Reserve research, who say the steady rise of credit scores as the economy expanded over the past decade has led to “grade inflation.”
What makes a great business? Great article by Travis Wiedower regarding what makes a great business. In summary, there’s no getting around that businesses have to invest capital at high rates of return to be successful. To do so, they probably need several strong competitive advantages that keep potential competitors away. Finally, organic growth of new products usually outperforms other types of growth, especially large acquisitions. Those are the base rates of what makes a great business.
Putting your phone down may help you live longer. By raising levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, our phone time may also be threatening our long-term health.
If this is a tech bubble in stocks, it’s the expansionary phase. Is this the tech bubble part two? It’s fair to ask, given how big that index is getting versus the rest of the market. At about 36 percent of the S&P 500, it’s creeping up on 1999-style dominance. Arguing against the comparison is the share of overall earnings its companies generate. Going by the quarter they just reported, it’s four times as much as 20 years ago.
The Age of the influencer has peaked. It’s time for the slacker to rise again. It’s hard to remember a time when scrolling through Instagram was anything but a thoroughly exhausting experience. Where once the social network was basically lunch and sunsets, it’s now a parade of strategically-crafted life updates, career achievements, and public vows to spend less time online (usually made by people who earn money from social media)—all framed with the carefully selected language of a press release. Everyone is striving, so very hard- #nevernotworking. And great for them....But sometimes one might pine for a less aspirational time, when the cool kids were smoking weed, eating junk food, and… you know, just chillin’. Quartzy suggests that the slackers are back…
Getting rich vs. Staying rich. Fantastic article by Morgan Housel in which he explores the following pattern: Getting rich can be the biggest impediment to staying rich. It goes like this. The more successful you are at something, the more convinced you become that you’re doing it right. The more convinced you are that you’re doing it right, the less open you are to change. The less open you are to change, the more likely you are to tripping in a world that changes all the time. There are a million ways to get rich. But there’s only one way to stay rich: Humility, often to the point of paranoia. The irony is that few things squash humility like getting rich in the first place.
Private equity’s allure poses big risks for the stock market and its investors in the next recession. Private equity is becoming the go-to for active investors — a trend which AllianceBernstein expects to continue for the next decade. The shift, which is well underway, could have implications for the stock market and its investors, especially in a recession. “It throws a spotlight on the resilience of the liquidity of public markets and even questions the point of a public stock market,” Bernstein senior analyst Inigo Fraser-Jenkins says. No wonder Buffett has also sounded the alarm suggesting that private equity returns have been inflated and bondholder covenants have “really deteriorated”.
Is CBD the cure-all it’s touted to be? The cannabis derivative is being tested as a treatment for everything from brain cancer to opioid addiction to autism-spectrum disorders. Whether it can live up to the hype is still an open question, writes Moises Velasquez-Manoff in the New York Times Magazine. Meanwhile Americans can expect to bombarded by ever more CBD-infused products as Green Growth Brands Inc. is partnering with Abercrombie & Fitch Co. to sell its CBD-infused bath bonds and other body care products in a limited number of stores.
Our best wishes for a fulfilling May,