We’ve been here before. We’ve had other days and other rallies on news, rumors, speculation that the U.S. and China would reach some kind of deal that amounts to a truce in the two countries’ trade war.
We been disappointed in that story before when it turned out that truce didn’t last and rapidly led to a resumption of hostilities with both sides raising tariffs.
Frankly, the Trump administration and Chinese negotiators don’t have much credibility left. Remember back in May when a deal was almost visible only to have Chinese leaders back in Beijing pull the plug on their negotiators? Remember those times when President Trump announced a truce or even a mini-deal on the basis of Chinese promises to increase purchases of U.S. farm products only to have the Chinese go “Huh? We didn’t say that.”
Yet the financial markets have to go up on today’s news of a possible deal because, hey, this time it might be different–that is the news might be true–and, as I posted yesterday, there’s a lot of option money out that that was betting on a continued trade-related decline in stocks that now has to buy stocks to cover that bet.
The outlines of any potential deal would have China upping purchases of U.S. farm products and ending some barriers to U.S. farm exports and in return the United States would suspend a planned tariff increase set for October 15. (There’s some possibility that a deal would include a delay or suspension of the mid-December set of tariffs.)
The idea, or so the market hopes today, is that progress on this very limited front would lead to a resolution of the tough issues of intellectual property protection, forced technology transfer, and subsidies from the Chinese government to leading companies in key sectors. I don’t understand the basis for a hope in that trajectory since China has made it very clear that in these areas the United States is demanding changes in Chinese law and that changes to Chinese law are off the table.
Of course, even a mini-deal still needs approval from President Trump and President Xi Jinping. We’ve seen deals come apart at this stage before.
So what do you do as an investor if you are skeptical about today’s optimism?
A couple of things.
First, track the actual agreement to see if it gets signed and if what is signed is anything more than window dressing that leaves the big issues unsettled enough to lead to a future breakdown in talks. (Again.)
Second, look to see if any asset that has been moving today is attractive on the prospects for further movement higher on short-term enthusiasm. The iShares MSCI Brazil ETF (EWZ) is up strongly on this news (2.55% as of 2:30 p.m. New York time today), for example.
Third, see if the news is acting as fuel for a narrative that the market wants to believe anyway. Apple (AAPL) moving to a new all time high–up 2.34% as of 2:30 p.m. today–is an example. Wall Street wants to believe that Apple has found a solution to its sinking market share in China and if you wave your hands around a lot, the trade truce seems to promise that solution. It doesn’t really. But, hey, do you really want to quibble with that momentum? Apple suppliers are up even more on today’s truce news with Cirrus Logic (CRUS) ahead 3.92% as of 2:30 p.m. today an Xilinx (XLNX) higher by 4.61%. If you’re going to play this “news,” look to buy the fast and the furious–the suppliers that is.
And fourth, don’t get wedded to any buys you might make on this trade truce news. I don’t think the enthusiasm will last all that long. Maybe through earnings season in November? We’re talking short-term trades and not long-term convictions. Watch for any signs that the trend is turning back in a pessimistic direction.