January’s burst of equity-market euphoria has given way to fear of a trade war, a more hawkish Fed and the return of volatility. The challenge of late-cycle investing is that equity valuations are stretched, there are worries about the economy overheating and the Fed is taking away the punchbowl. At the same time, economic growth and earnings are strong. The added complications are that the US federal government has enacted substantial fiscal stimulus at a time when the economy is at full employment, and President Trump is imposing trade sanctions that could escalate into a major trade war. However, the tit-for-tat tariffs triggered due to US steel and aluminium import tariffs are trivial in size. All the other tariffs are just proposals, contingent on the US and China being unsuccessful in reaching a negotiated solution. Hence, so far it has been a phoney trade war between the US and China.
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