Mar 4, 2019

Investors don't care about the Trump trade war

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As news about a possible truce between the U.S. and China in the trade war flowed last week the U.S. market was remarkably unshaken.

Why it matters: That's because investors aren't concerned about President Trump taking a hard line on a deal with China — one that would involve major reforms to their economy and the way the Asian nation does business.

  • Investors have determined that Trump is either a great deal maker or a studio gangster. His tough talk about major changes in the end become incremental tweaks.

The big picture: A deal in which 3 major trade issues — expanded market access, reduction of the trade deficit, reform of IP theft — are addressed with credible enforcement procedures in place is "the ideal situation," writes former macro hedge fund manager Tom Essaye in his Sevens Report market analysis, "and it's also the least likely (say 20%)."

Between the lines: Betting that Trump will not to follow-through on the extreme rhetoric of his campaign pledges has worked out well for fund managers over the past two years.

What they said: "Our view was that (Trump’s) economic threats were not credible," Federico Garcia Zamora, who manages the Dreyfus Emerging Markets Debt Local Currency Fund, told me in September 2017. Acting accordingly, he increased his holdings of peso-denominated Mexican bonds and his fund outperformed 90% of its peers.

  • "It was what he had to say to get elected, given his space and the people he was talking to. But it made no economic sense."

That didn't change much last year.

"Our basic view is that it's really just a lot of noise," Brendan Murphy, head of global and multi-sector fixed income for Standish Mellon, a BNY Mellon subsidiary, told me in April 2018.

But, but, but: Not every Trump-is-a-studio-gangster trade worked out well. Investors bought into emerging markets in late 2017 and early 2018 and lost big as both EM debt and equity were crushed.

  • However, most analysts believe that was due more to the Fed's rate hikes and expectations for global quantitative tightening to take effect in 2019 than the trade war.
  • And that trade is quickly reversing.

What's really happening: The U.S. market has been driven by Fed Chair Jerome Powell. Stocks swooned to near a bear market after Powell said the U.S. central bank was poised to keep hiking rates and draining liquidity by paring its $4 trillion balance sheet. It has marched higher since his U-turn in late December and January.

U.S. Treasury yields initially spiked after Trump's election but have come back to earth as inflation expectations were "pretty much diminished because we didn't get a much stronger economy," Joseph Trevisani, senior analyst at FXStreet, said in April.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 691,867 — Total deaths: 32,988 — Total recoveries: 146,613.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 125,433 — Total deaths: 2,201 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "really panicked" people
  6. World updates: Italy reported 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reported almost 840 dead, another new daily record, bringing its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Cuomo: Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "really panicked people"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference Sunday that President Donald Trump's unexpected Saturday announcement of a possible "short-term" quarantine of New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut to curb the spread of the coronavirus "really panicked people."

Why it matters: Though Trump ruled out the mandatory quarantine later that day, Cuomo said people still called "all night long" asking about the comments and many likely fled the New York area — possibly spreading the virus further.

Go deeperArrow55 mins ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates: Fauci suggests death toll could top 100,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN Sunday that models suggest COVID-19 will infect millions of Americans and could kill 100,000–200,000, though he stressed that the projections are "such a moving target."

The big picture: With more than 121,000 people infected, the U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, exceeding China and Italy, per data from Johns Hopkins. A second wave of American cities, including Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia, reported influxes of cases on Saturday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health