Posts in International Trade
It's time to play defense

After two weeks on the road seeing investors, I am convinced that portfolio managers are becoming increasingly sceptical about the synchronized global recovery. That’s probably a good shout. I recently surveyed global leading indicators, and didn’t like what I was seeing. The data since have been worse. My in-house diffusion index of global leading indices has been flat since the start of the year. Its message is simple, global manufacturing accelerated sharply for most of last year, but momentum petered out in Q1. It doesn’t yet point to an outright slowdown, though other short-leading indices, such as the PMIs, do. The signal is more uniformly downbeat for the global economy if we look at liquidity indicators. Inflation is rising, with oil prices at a 12-month high, and nominal M1 growth is decelerating. Historically, this has been one of the more reliable omens for slowing growth in the global economy. Of course, investors don’t have to peruse economic data to tell them that something is afoot. Let me see whether I can remember everything. We have had wobbles in emerging markets, the return of political risk and higher bond yields, and even euro-exit chatter, in the Eurozone periphery as well as the morbid fascination that Deutsche Bank is going to blow a hole in the European, and perhaps even in the global economy.

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Markets were mulling familiar themes last week. Will a wider U.S. twin deficit change the rules for the dollar and treasuries and is elevated volatility here to stay in equities? Judging by last week, the answer would be: probably and yes. The contemplation over these stories, though, were interrupted by politics. Mr. Trump announced his intention to apply tariffs on steel and aluminium—25% and 10% respectively—and Mrs. May attempted to give clarity on the U.K. government’s Brexit position.* I was unimpressed with both. Before I have a dig at Mr. Trump, I ought to provide an example of someone who supports it. I have great respect for Stephen Jen, but his argument here is like endorsing the idea of a diet by advising someone to eat nothing but kale and carrots for a decade. The analysis of Mr. Trump’s tariffs requires a distinction between the principle and the concrete measures. I concede that China is bending the rules of global trade, but Mr. Trump is stretching the fabrics of macroeconomic policy if he starts imposing tariffs on industrial goods. He is presiding over an economy close to full employment, a low domestic savings rate, and a medium-sized twin deficit. To boot, he is about to let fly with unprecedented fiscal stimulus.

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Let's get the story right

I have trampled around in the same weeds recently, so I will keep it short this week. Equities are doing what they’re supposed to, trying to complete a V-shaped recovery from the swoon earlier this month. Last week was a corker, even for the portfolio, which benefitted from solid earnings reports. Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal had me one-on-one on Monday, where I duly warned that the S&P 500 remained overvalued relative to other asset classes. Even Gartman couldn’t have done it better. On this occasion, though, I am happy to double down. A V-shaped rebound to a new bull run looks like wishful thinking to me. Equities are the least of macro investors’ problems, though. The puzzle of the day remains the link between rising U.S. yields, a firming cyclical outlook and a falling dollar. In my last post, I asked the question of whether foreign savings would come to aid of a U.S. economy at full employment—with a record low savings rate—about to be jolted by fiscal stimulus. Open macroeconomics suggest that such an economy should open up a large external deficit, and Japan and Europe have the savings to make it happen. Alternatively I suggested that perhaps the rest of the world doesn’t fancy financing excess spending and investment in the U.S.

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