C'est La Vie or Danger Zone?

The question of the week and maybe the summer is centered on whether investors will take the numerous global issues in stride and continue to go about their business with a solid U.S. economic environment and relatively calm interest rates or will they become increasingly nervous about China, Iran, and notable Washington squabbles and start to turn away from the stock market and seek relative safety and raise cash levels as we saw in the fourth quarter? On Monday morning the answer is not clear in my mind and I believe some caution is warranted when deciding how to position for the summer period and second half of the year.

Market participants have been bullish thus far in 2019 and have lived with many questions about the China trade war, unrest in the Middle East, and the continuous Brexit issues going on its third year of being unresolved. The French saying of C’est La Vie meaning such is life or that’s life has worked well for U.S. investors as they focused on a decent economy and low interest rates that have fueled continued consumer participation as incomes are starting to increase and work is available if you are skilled for necessary tasks. Last week, Walmart, the significant bellwether of the consumer mindset, reported surprising strong quarterly numbers and reminds us that the everyday consumer is still spending. This week, we will get reports from Home Depot and Lowe’s and I expect reports of consumer spending will be solid if not affected by bad weather in some parts of the country.

Now, we have to do a little heavy thinking and attempt to forecast how and if the trade talks with China will come to some sort of positive outcome. With the trade talks in flux at the moment it is impossible to have any quantifiable forecast about the trade talk path over the next few months. Speculation is all over the map regarding who has the upper hand in this high stakes chess match and from my seat I think if it doesn’t come together by June then we could be living with an uncertain future for many of our best technology and U.S. based international companies the rest of the year. Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department put China technology giant Huawei on a trade blacklist, immediately enacting restrictions that make it difficult to do business with U.S. counterparts. In chess parlance this is like the Trump administration taking down China’s rook or bishop and waiting for a response from the opposing player. We will see how this plays out but I don’t think the story is close to being finished and expect many more moves over the next several months.

We know the playbook by now. We watch closely the VIX or volatility index for signs of investor anxiety. Today, it is close to historic norms of 15 but it only takes a few bad headlines to cause traders and investors to turn cautious from complacent and positioning to turn more defensive. I don’t believe it is wise to try to predict which way the wind will blow next, so I plan to move cautiously with my eyes on the horizon looking for dragons.

Have a great week,

Roger N. Steed

May 20, 2019

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