The rapid and startling decline of trade negotiations between China and the US have investors worried. Part of the rally seen since the beginning of this year can be attributed to markets pricing in a successful resolution based on positive messaging from the Trump White House. Now that the market is turning, however, many are wondering whether relying on Washington’s word is wise.
Political noise of this type makes it very challenging to take on long-term positions, particularly in a market where valuations are high, inflation is subdued and growth appears to be slowing.
We believe that the trade war will likely escalate from here. After all, while China wants to proceed with planned structural changes, the US is pressuring it to remain as-is – i.e. purchasing vast amounts of Treasury bonds and exporting low-priced consumer goods. This is not an easy status quo to hold in place when China is moving towards reforms geared at making the economy more focused on domestic innovation, consumption and services.
It is therefore necessary for investors to consider where they want to be invested while the US exercises its power and the Chinese economy changes. Beside considering which sectors are more or less sensitive to the trade war, investors must also look at the threats and opportunities presented by their base currency.
Base currency: USD
If your base currency is the dollar, you have plenty of choices. Investors can look to Treasuries as a safe-haven and still get more than 2% across the yield curve. The big question, however, is where value can be found in the midst of an escalating trade war? In the past, we have been keen on short-term maturities; now, although we still like short-term yields, our attention has shifted towards the mid-long part of the yield curve with maturities from seven to 10 years.
There are several reasons for this. First, escalating the trade war means that longer maturities will rally. Second, the Federal Reserve has announced that it will be substituting mortgages with US Treasuries of matching maturities, which should correspond to 7-10 years. This is consistent with our view that we will come to see a full inversion of the yield curve that involves longer maturities as well, signaling that we are in the very last part of the late economic cycle and moving towards recession.