Jun 13, 2019

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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Situational awareness:

  • China's top banking and insurance regulator said it plans to further open the banking, securities and insurance sectors, while its vice premier called for more stimulus measures to support the economy. (Reuters)
  • The U.S. budget deficit rose to $738.6 billion for the first 8 months of the fiscal year, a $206 billion increase from a year earlier. (Bloomberg)
1 big thing: CEOs dig in for prolonged trade friction

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The CEOs of IBM, JPMorgan and Cummins, the major engine manufacturer, have a gloomy outlook on what’s ahead for U.S. business if President Trump doesn’t back down on tariffs, Axios' Courtenay Brown reports.

Why it matters: The executives said at a Business Roundtable event Wednesday that conflict with China is prompting decisions with long-term consequences — like how to shift supply chains — and the effects may show up in the economy, as companies rein in plans for spending and hiring.

  • Tom Linebarger, CEO of Cummins: "The taxes from tariffs have now outgrown the benefits from the tax reform act. Our net taxes are higher."
  • Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase: "I think the biggest self-inflicted risk to growth today would be trade going south."
  • IBM CEO Ginni Rometty: The "biggest risk, generally speaking, for businesses is when there is too much uncertainty."

Details: Cummins has already sacrificed business because of trade tensions between the U.S. and China, plus the company is reeling from uncertainty as the USMCA — the proposed replacement for NAFTA — hangs in the balance.

  • "We export a small number of engines from China, and we could not find a new source for those," Linebarger said. "We essentially lost that business."

The backdrop: The trade war is ramping up at a time when the juice from the tax cuts look to be fading and the economic cycle is feared to be nearing an end.

  • Per Quartz, Cummins will take a $150 million hit from the tariffs on an annualized basis which would wipe out the company’s gains from the tax cut, Shannon Kiely Heider, the company’s director for international government relations, said.

What they're saying:

  • Linebarger: "In some cases, we have tried to find suppliers outside of China that can supply us the same goods, because it's been sustained long enough that we can find new suppliers. The biggest challenge with finding new supply locations is it takes time."
  • Rometty: "For us it did not make a change. It was just re-insuring where we had different and multiple sources."

What's next? The CEOs are not looking to the G20 Summit in Japan in late June as a watershed moment.

  • "I don't think anyone expects [a deal with China] by June 29," when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet at the gathering of the world's leaders, Dimon says.
  • "We don't see the G20 as any kind of milestone other than, of course, I hope the two meet and talk and keep their relationship open," Linebarger says.
2. "The Fed may want to move sooner"

Ratings agencies S&P Global is now joining the market chorus — it expects at least 1 interest rate cut from the Fed this year, citing "increasing headwinds."

Earlier this year S&P predicted the Fed would hold rates steady through 2019, but said Wednesday it expects the overwhelmingly negative impacts from tariffs to put enough stress on the U.S. economy that the Fed will be forced to act.

What's happening: "[T]he winds have shifted, with the Trump Administration fighting trade battles on more than one front, which we think could disrupt global supply chains and weigh on business and consumer confidence," analysts at the agency said in a statement.

  • S&P also noted that the outlook for the U.S. economy has worsened since January, "with signs that more businesses have closed their wallets and investor skittishness feeding into financial market unrest."

Between the lines: The "deceptively strong" GDP reading in the first quarter masked a number of weakening signals on the economy, analysts said, while May's "disappointing" jobs report could be warning of a natural pullback for the economy.

  • S&P expects the Fed to signal at its June policy meeting next week that it intends to begin cutting rates, with an expected cut in September.

A warning: "The Fed may want to move sooner and more quickly than it has in the past."

3. Hedge funds outperform equities in May
Expand chart
Data: eVestment; Table: Axios Visuals

Hedge fund returns fell last month after 4 straight months of positive results to start the year, but managed to outperform the broader U.S. stock market — posting much slimmer losses.

Be smart: The data from market research firm eVestment found nearly all hedge fund categories outperformed the S&P 500 in May. Equity strategies had the worst performance among primary markets hedge funds, but still outpaced the S&P by more than 400 basis points, with quantitative directional strategies delivering overall positive returns for clients during the month.

The big picture: Hedge funds have seen significant redemptions and declining popularity as they have dragged well behind the overall market's returns for more than a decade. Year-to-date, hedge funds still trail the S&P, but May's stock market swoon showed hedge funds remain a solid alternative for investors to offset risk and may help redeem the industry.

Reality check: Hedge funds were comparable to a benchmark fund of 50% global stocks and 50% global bonds in reducing losses during the month, measured by the mix of MSCI's all-world stock index and Citi's world government bond index.

  • Investment in such strategies is also generally significantly less expensive than hedge funds.
4. Health care stocks have recovered
Expand chart

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Axios' Bob Herman writes: The collective stock prices of the largest health care companies have recovered pretty much all of their losses from April, when analysts and algorithms soured on the industry over fears of "Medicare for All" and other looming changes.

The bottom line: The health care industry is still extremely profitable, and Wall Street has the attention span of a gnat.

5. Investors dramatically increased EM CDS buys in Q1

Trading volume for emerging market credit default swaps (CDS) rose to their second highest level on record in the first quarter, a new survey of major global dealers found.

  • EMTA, the EM debt trading and investment industry trade association, reported that EM CDS rose to $505 billion, a 41% increase from their Q4 volume, even before trade tensions escalated between the U.S. and China.

What it means: While market analysts and fund managers expressed confidence on emerging market debt and equities during much of the period, the spike in CDS volumes showed they were also buying insurance on the EM countries and companies defaulting on their obligations at a heightened rate.

Details: The largest CDS volumes were reported on Brazil ($61 billion), Mexico ($49 billion) and China ($45 billion).

  • CDS on Mexican state oil company Pemex accounted for the largest volume among corporate contracts at $2.5 billion.
Dion Rabouin