What Investors Need to Know About the Implications of Trump’s Tariffs

What Investors Need to Know About the Implications of Trump’s Tariffs

 

A couple of days ago, I shared my view that President Trump’s tariff overtures are more than likely a negotiating tactic as he looks to tackle yet another of his campaign promises – international trade. The resignation of Gary Cohn on Tuesday, President Trump’s top economic adviser and the head of the National Economic Council, have certainly fanned the flames that this might not be a bluff by Trump — either that or Gary Cohn was unwilling to play the game.

I continue to think Trump is following the negotiating strategies he laid out in his 1987 book, Art of the Deal. But as an investor, we have to game out the potential outcomes so we can assess the potential risk and position ourselves accordingly. 

 

Should Trump enact the seemingly unpopular trade tariffs on steel and aluminum, what then? 

For starters, with an increase in the cost of importing from other countries and a lack of price pressure on American suppliers, steel and aluminum will become more expensive to U.S. companies. No big surprise there. The companies impacted will be wide, ranging from manufacturers of aircraft, high-speed rail, cars, trucks, construction equipment, motors, satellite dishes, smartphones, tablets and appliances. And let’s not forget cans, which will impact the price of food, soda and beer, as well as a variety of other products.

What this means is the cost production for Boeing (BA), Ford (F), General Motors (GM), Navistar (NAV), Paccar (PCAR), Caterpillar (CAT, Deere (DE), Cummins (CMI), Apple (AAPL), Dell, Whirlpool (WHR), Coca-Cola (KO), PepsiCo (PEP), Molson Coors (TAP), Anheuser Busch (BUD), and numerous others will rise. 

 

Will those companies look to change to domestic suppliers? 

Most likely, but that will take not only time, but require more domestic capacity to come on line. As we’ve seen in the domestic oil industry, it’s not as easy as flicking a light switch – it takes time, and more importantly, it takes people, the right people. That’s right, the skill set to work in a steel or aluminum plant is not the same as working at McDonalds (MCD), the Gap (GPS) or an AMC Theater (AMC).

What we’re likely to see amid a rise in demand for domestic steel and aluminum is rather similar to what we are seeing in the freight industry. The currently capacity constrained domestic truck market has led to sharp increases in freight costs cited by a growing number of consumer product companies ranging from Tyson Foods (TSN) to J.M. Smucker (SJM) and Ross Stores (ROST). 

The same materials constraints is poised to happen to homebuilders this spring, given the current lumber shortage… and yes the current truck shortage could mean a double whammy for homebuilders like Toll Brothers (TOL), D.R. Horton (DHI), Lennar Corp. (LEN) and the rest of the industry, both public and private, as they truck materials to new building sites.

We’ve talked quite a bit about how rising home prices due to low supply have likely priced out a number of prospective buyers. Let’s also remember the rising level of consumer debt and lack of wage gains for the vast majority of workers that Lenore Hawkins, Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, and I have been talking about on the Cocktail Investing Podcast and writing about. What this probably means is more consumers will be priced out of the housing market as homebuilders look to offset rising costs with higher prices. Basic economics. 

Getting back to the impact of the proposed Trump tariffs, while they would help potentially level the playing field for steel and aluminum companies like AK Steel (AKS), Steel Dynamics (STLD), Century Aluminum (CENX), Arconic (ARNC) and other, in the short to medium term they will more than likely lead to higher prices. 

While companies may look to offset those rising costs, the reality is that in today’s world where a public company must at a minimum meet the bottom EPS expectations lest it’s stock price get crushed, odds are they will raise prices to minimize the hit to the profits and the bottom line. We’ve seen this time and time again over the years at Starbucks (SBUX) with a nickel here and there price increase with its latest in September ranging from 10 to 30 cents on a variety of menu items. 

To use the lingo favored by the Fed and economists, we run the risk of inflation. Yes, folks, I said it, inflation, and as we know over the last few weeks that word has become a focus for investors as they look to gauge how far and how fast the Fed will boost rates in 2018 and before too long 2019. We know in watching these higher prices will weigh on the buying activity of Cash-Strapped Consumers and most likely others as items become less affordable. Not sure, consider the median U.S. income last year was all of $31,685 compared to $31,248 in 2000 – over 18 years an income gain of just $437! 

This is where I remind you that the U.S. consumer is a meaningful contributor to the domestic economy, (with consumer spending accounting for nearly 70% of GDP) and Lenore would kick me if I didn’t remind you how far along we are in the business cycle. The combination of rising prices and questionable consumer demand also runs the risk of profit and EPS pressure that would likely weigh on stock prices. 

Boiling it down, the question is does Trump want to run the risk of torpedoing the economy and the stock market, two of his much tweeted about barometers for his presidency?

My thought is probably not.

I do, however, expect Trump and his ego will continue down this negotiation path, ultimately compromising for a better trade deal than the current one. And yes, my fingers are crossed. 

Will it be smooth sailing to that destination? Not likely and we can see last night’s resignation of Gary Cohn, President Trump’s top economic adviser, as a sign the waters will be more than choppy over the next few weeks. 

 

The Response from the EU and Its Potential Impact to the Fed and Interest Rates

Upping the ante, this morning the European Union shared its response to Trump’s proposed metals tariffs saying it would take the case to the World Trade Organization and coordinate its actions with other trade partners that are also against the proposed tariffs from the U.S. The EU went on to share a “provisional list” of U.S. products that would see higher tariffs from the EU, if Trump moves ahead with the import tariffs. The full list has yet to be made public, but among its speculated $3.5 billion impact will to items such as peanut butter, cranberries and oranges. Perhaps EU officials have been busy reading Trump’s Art of the Deal? 

What all this looks like… or at least I hope it is… is a good ol’ fashion game of chicken — international trade negotiation style.

Like most games, there tends to be a winner and a loser, and while it’s possible that Trump comes out ahead on this, the risk he runs will impact the American consumer, the domestic economy and at least certain stocks if not the overall market. 

Remember also that the next monetary policy meeting by the Fed is in two weeks. At its January meeting, the Fed was beginning to shake and bake tax reform implications into its outlooks, and I suspect the Fed heads are likely doing the same with a potential trade war. Do I feel bad for new Fed Chief Jerome Powell? Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want his job, but then again given my pension for calling it like I see it they probably wouldn’t want me. 

 

Markets Reach New Highs, But Why?

Markets Reach New Highs, But Why?

At Tematica, we separate our politics from our analysis to be able to provide objective assessments, which means that we need to call out an error we see in the prevailing narrative. Thursday the Dow hit its 7th straight record close, despite the news that Special Counsel Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in the Russia election tampering probe. While many are attributing the market’s gains to president Trump’s administration, this divergence calls that into question. As does the reality that President Trump’s approval rating has hit new lows with disapproval ratings reaching new highs while the market has continued to rise.

Apple (AAPL) and Boeing (BA) collectively have been responsible for 70 percent of the Dow’s gains the past 6 weeks while the FAANG stocks – Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX) and Alphabet (GOOGL) – which account for just 11 percent of the S&P 500 market capitalization have generated 26 percent of year-to-date return. Juicing up those returns has been leverage, with margin debt up 20 percent on a year-over-year basis in each of the past 5 months and is today over 60 percent HIGHER than at the 2007 peak.

The reality is that in the past 6 weeks, the median stock price and median sector price haven’t actually moved. What has happened has been a falling U.S. dollar, which is on track for the weakest annual performance in 14 years. That’s really something in light of the prevailing narrative that assures us the U.S. economy is going like gangbusters. Ignore that recent ISM report which saw Services experience the biggest drop since November 2008 – same goes for the Composite Index. Amazing to have a falling dollar and the U.S. Treasury 10-year yield right around where it was during the depth of the Great Recession while the Fed is tightening and yet we are to believe the economy is firing away, hmmm.

The top three stocks in the Dow for foreign revenue, Apple (APPL), Boeing (BA) and McDonalds (MCD) account for 50 percent of the Dow’s year-to-date gains, hmmmm.

So what’s going on here?

Euro to US Dollar Exchange Rate Chart

Euro to US Dollar Exchange Rate data by YCharts

In euro terms, the S&P 500 is actually down 1.9 percent year-to-date. In Mexican peso terms it is down around 4 percent and even in the polish zloty it is down roughly 5 percent.

In fact, when President Trump was elected, the U.S. stock market capitalization represented 36 percent of total global market capitalization. That ratio rose to nearly 38.5 percent but has since fallen to 35 percent where it was all the way back in June 2015. On a relative basis, the U.S. stock market has significantly outperformed. What we are seeing here is more a function of a falling currency that a rising stock market reflecting a robust economy.

What could go wrong? The Intercontinental Exchange now has a net short position for the U.S. dollar for the first time since May 2014 and after that time the greenback gained 5 percent within 3 months. If the market has been rising on a falling dollar….

Then there is that debt ceiling debate that, when taking into account recent dynamics in D.C. between various members of Congress and the White House, could make Game of Thrones appear rather tame. This coming at a time when the tax reform debate is set to kick off. Oh and there are those November elections to really bring out the softer side of politics. With the Chargers no longer playing in San Diego this Fall, (What the hell?) I think I’ll have more than enough games to watch coming out of Washington.

Cocktail Investing Ep. 7  – Crude Tumbles, Jobs, Inflation and the Fed as More People Stop Fighting Obesity? Say What?

Cocktail Investing Ep. 7  – Crude Tumbles, Jobs, Inflation and the Fed as More People Stop Fighting Obesity? Say What?

In this episode of Cocktail Investing, Tematica Research’s resident mixologists Chris Versace and Lenore Hawkins not only recap, but also scrutinize the rash of conflicting economic data that has put a pause in the stock market’s move higher. Some data points to an improving economy, while others have led the Atlanta Fed to dramatically cut its GDP forecast for the current quarter.

Chris and Lenore tackle the factors behind that as well as other impediments that are likely to keep the US economy rangebound over the coming quarters. They also share their views on the upcoming economic data points the Fed is likely to focus on as it decides if it should boost interest rates this month.

 

Some Thematic Signals You Might Wish to Forget

As we like to say here at Tematica, one needs to dig below the headline to see what is really going on. As one does that, context and perspective are key to put the data puzzle pieces together in a cohesive manner to get a clear signal lest one be even more confused by all the noise. In our view, there is no better way to do that than with our thematic perspective, which means we are not following the herd and using the same tired sector based approach. You’ll hear some examples when Chris and Lenore share some thematic signals for Tematica’s Fattening of the Consumer, Rise & Fall of the Middle Class and Disruptive Technologies investing themes. After you’re done, you may think twice about meatless protein and perhaps you’ll sign up for a virtual reality lesson on how to re-tile your shower.

 

Companies mentioned on the Podcast
  • ADP (ADP)
  • Amazon (AMZN)
  • Chevron  (CVX)
  • Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE)
  • Exxon Mobil (XOM)
  • Express Inc. (EXPR)
  • JC Penney (JCP)
  • J. Jill Group (JILL)
  • Lowe’s Companies (LOW)
  • Kohl’s (KSS)
  • Macy’s (M)
  • RadioShack Corp. (RSH)
  • Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A)
  • Snap Inc. (SNAP)
  • Swift Transportation (SWFT)
  • Tyson Foods (TSN)
  • Weight Watchers (WTW)

 

 

Chris Versace Tematica Research Founder and Chief Investment Officer
Lenore Hawkins Tematica Research Chief Macro Strategist
Cocktail Investing Ep 6: The growing divide between the hard & the soft economic reports, boxed.com CEO Chieh Huang

Cocktail Investing Ep 6: The growing divide between the hard & the soft economic reports, boxed.com CEO Chieh Huang

In this week’s program, Tematica’s cocktail mixologists, Chris Versace and Lenore Hawkins talk about everything from the market’s reaction to Trump’s speech before Congress to the widening divide between the real hard economic data reports coming in, (spoiler alert – not so hot) and the softer sentiment reports which are on fire, as well as the latest Thematic Signals. From mobile carriers moving more and more into content in our Connected Society in which Content is King to McDonald’s experimenting with different delivery models for our Cash Strapped Consumer who is eschewing quick service restaurants, preferring Foods with Integrity.

This week we saw the wind down to the December quarter earnings season, Trump’s first speech before Congress and Amazon Web Services wreaked havoc on businesses far and wide when it went down. Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, traded publicly for the first time and despite iffy fundamentals, the share price jumped up dramatically.

January’s real personal income growth weakened materially while real spending growth was the weakest since 2009 – not exactly consistent with the jubilant headlines. It also raises questions for our consumer spending led economy. With signs of inflation picking up both in and outside the US per February data from Markit Economics and ISM, the Fed is looking more like it will hike in March, despite their recent Beige book being full of terms like “modest”, “moderate”, “mixed” and subdued” – go figure.

McDonald’s is looking to offer mobile ordering alongside curbside pickup as it experiences declining foot traffic and same store sales. As we share on the podcast, we think embracing technology is not going to get at the heart of McDonald’s problems.

Mobile carriers are finding more and more they need to feed their networks with content as more than 80 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds in the U.S. use mobile platforms to consume content, spending more than two hours on average every day viewing videos or using apps. We think this is bound to result in a boom for the eye-glass and contact lens industry in a few years time – we’re only half kidding.

If that all wasn’t enough, we had the great pleasure of speaking with Chieh Huang, CEO of our latest online shopping obsession, Boxed.com. In just four years Chieh and his team have grown the business from operating out of Chieh’s garage to now generating over $100 million in revenue while getting their products to 96 percent of their customers in just two days or less. We spoke with him about just how his team has generated such stellar growth and his insights into the incredible level of pain we see in the retail sector. We couldn’t have enjoyed ourselves more talking with a guy who is deep in the thick of a Disruptive Technology with a compelling offering for the Cash Strapped Consumer in our Connected Society.

Companies mentioned on the Podcast

  • ALDI
  • Amazon.com (AMZN)
  • Apple (APPL)
  • AT&T (T)
  • Boeing (BA)
  • Comcast (CMCSA)
  • Costco (COST)
  • Dycom (DY)
  • Goldman Sachs (GS)
  • Facebook (FB)
  • Lidl
  • McDonald’s (MCD)
  • Snap (SNAP)
  • United Parcel Service (UPS)
  • Verizon (VZ)
  • Walmart (WMT)
  • Wegmans Food Markets

 

Chris Versace Tematica Research Founder and Chief Investment Officer
Lenore Hawkins Tematica Research Chief Macro Strategist
The Trump Trade Continues and Will the Dow Stay Above 20K?

The Trump Trade Continues and Will the Dow Stay Above 20K?

We’re back on the podcast wagon. After a hiatus that lasted more than anyone expected, we’re back with Cocktail Investing, the podcast that in keeping with our thematic perspective here at Tematica helps you distil the key signals to watch when it comes to investing and the economy. If that sounds a little dry, we agree, which is why we’ll mix in some fun, laughs and good humor along the way to make things entertaining and hopefully interesting.

In this episode, we talk about the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting 20K and the resumption of the Trump Trade, but also share our view on some of the headwinds ahead. Earnings, stock valuations, Eurozone elections and Greek drama as well as potential issues with Trump’s policies. We also tackle the upcoming Chinese New Year and a new bag of Tostitos that combines three of our investing themes – Guilty Pleasure, Disruptive Technology and Connected  Society. Amazon or scary? You decide.

Stocks Mentioned on the Podcast:

  • Adobe Systems (ADBE)
  • Amazon (AMZN)
  • Boeing (BA)
  • BE Aerospace (BEAV)
  • Cemex SAB de CV (CX)
  • General Electric (GE)
  • Granite Construction (BVA)
  • Honeywell (HON)
  • Kraft Heinz (KHC)
  • Lockheed Martin (LMT)
  • McCormick & Co. (MKC)
  • Northrop Grumman (NOC)
  • Rockwell Collins (COL)