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Vacation Week Trading

The Days Ahead: Corporate earnings kick off. It’s going to be another strong quarter.  

One-Minute Summary: U.S. Treasuries had a good week with the 10-Year Treasury at 2.82% and the 30-Year Treasury well under 3.0%. The gap between the two is now 11bps, the lowest in 11 years. Stocks had a good week and we’re now in positive territory for the S&P 500 year to date with small company and tech stocks way ahead…up over 11% in both cases. International markets recovered but Emerging Markets again struggled.

On the one hand, yes, the trade issues continued but markets have had plenty of time to adjust to the threats so nothing really new. On the other, international markets stand to lose more from trade so will take longer to adjust. Things got a little better when a story went round that Trump’s Ambassador to Germany offered zero tariffs on all auto trades. Could happen. And on the other (see what we did there), the dollar weakened and bonds rallied on an employment report that showed no increase in wages and more people looking for work. That would seem to shut the door on the whole wage inflation, labor shortage argument.

We'd remind readers that summer trading can be very thin and misleading. The short holiday week and a heat wave on the East Coast meant volumes were light. Markets can and will overreact to news. And as we say, “prices move faster than fundamentals… don't confuse the two” (h/t David Ader)

1.     "Trade wars are easy to win". You might say to yourself, if you measure the country’s trade deficit since the phony trade war started in January and moved into a more serious phase a few months ago. And if you were into charts, you would point at this and say, let’s Make American Exports Great Again.

Because of the way the BEA calculates GDP, the improvement from January to May would account for about a 0.7% improvement in GDP. Pretty good work. What shall we solve next?

But this month’s trade figures give us the excuse to bring out one of our favorite charts: U.S. soybean exports. And here they are:

The U.S. is a big exporter of food. Around $150bn a year out of $1,400bn in total goods exports. The U.S. sells a lot of soybeans, corn and meat products and imports wine, fish and fruits and vegetables. They tend to balance each other out. But one big export earner is soybeans. And they all go to China. The green line shows the trend. They rocketed from $2bn to over $4bn. That’s a very big change on an annualized basis, which is how GDP will measure it.

They have spiked before, notably in 2016 when there was a poor harvest in Brazil. But this increase is even bigger and there’s no mystery why. Chinese importers were buying ahead of the tariffs imposed today, which were in retaliation to the $34bn of Chinese goods targeted by the Administration. We certainly don't expect these numbers to improve in coming months.

So, the headline looks good for now and will help the Q2 GDP numbers for sure. But by the middle of Q3 the deficit will start to worsen.

Look, we know U.S. trade is a mess right now. Companies don't know whether to change suppliers, move overseas, expand or prepare for price increases. The ISM data on manufacturers’ prices paid has risen for 28 straight months and is by far the highest indicator in the dozen metrics tracked by the ISM. Trade talk is going to continue to dominate capital markets for the rest of the summer. We think that eventually businesses, politicians and consumers are going to protest at higher prices and the overall disruption. But it’s only the last constituent that counts for this Administration. And they have yet to feel the pressure.

2.     Are bonds good value? We'll preface this timeless question with the normal “it depends.” But by one measure, yes. We looked at the yield on the S&P 500 and compared it to the 10-Year Treasury. Here’s the chart:

The black line is the 10-Year Treasury yield at 2.84%. The blue line is the yield on the S&P 500 at 2.04%. When equities yield more than bonds (which is not often), they tend to be very good times to buy stocks. When bonds yield 200bps more than equities, it tends to be a good time to buy bonds. We're not there yet. It’s only around 80bps. But here’s the point. Stocks these days don't offer a great dividend payout. Some 100 of the S&P 500 don't even pay a dividend. Many would rather use buybacks to boost share prices because they're more tax efficient and tied to executive pay (color me skeptical, I know).

So, bonds at around 3%, which they were a few months ago, seem very fair value against stocks. We've seen a lot of the bond bears reverse position in recent months. Some of that is shorts caught out but some is down to bonds, especially Treasuries, just representing good value right now. As clients know, we've been investing in the mid-part of the Treasury yield curve for some months now and we’re inclined to remain there.

 Bottom Line: Good earnings numbers coming up but export traders (BA, CAT etc) will remain under a cloud. Large cap will probably remain in the 2600 to 2800 trading range. It closed 2750 on Friday.  Emerging Markets remain the weak point.

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 --Christian Thwaites, Brouwer & Janachowski, LLC

 Please note that this discussion of our investments and investment strategy (including our research and investment process) represents our investments and investment strategy at the date of this commentary, and is subject to change without notice.  We cannot assure that the type of investments discussed in this commentary will outperform any other investment strategy in the future, nor can we guarantee that such investments will present the best or an attractive risk-adjusted investment in the future. This is for general informational purposes only; references to an individual security should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell that security.  The securities mentioned in this commentary are only several of the successful as well as unsuccessful investments by us, and do not represent all of the securities we have purchased, sold or recommended.  Although we deem reliable the sources of the statistical and other information referred to in this commentary, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any statements or numerical data.  Past performance is no indication of future results.
All charts from Factset unless otherwise noted.
Friday on my Mind