Stock markets have seen a resurgence in volatility this past week, and the recent selling pressure could be just the tip of the iceberg. The idea of a significant global trade war is weighing on investor sentiment, and the next few weeks could see some fireworks.
This past week, the Trump Administration announced tariffs on up to $60 billion in Chinese goods. This move came just weeks after the administration announced a new duty on steel and aluminum imports. China does not plan to sit idly by, however, and on Friday announced possible tariffs on 128 U.S. products.
A potential duty could be placed on a wide range of U.S. goods, although agricultural products could be hit hardest. Soybeans, in particular, could see a significant duty implemented, which could have a dramatic impact on exports.
The week’s tit-for-tat could simply be the opening salvo on what could become a prolonged trade war, one that could have important consequences for U.S./China relations.
Although the effects of such a trade war remain unclear, it stands to reason that exports suffer while prices for consumer goods could rise. If that is the case, stock markets could also continue lower as sales slump.
This past week, the U.S. Federal Reserve hiked interest rates by 25 basis points, bringing the Fed Funds rate to a range of 1.50-1.75%. The central bank also raised its “neutral” level on rates, which is the level at which rates are not seen as boosting or slowing economic activity. Some Fed officials remained cautious about the outlook on inflation, and there is the potential for the central bank to add a fourth rate hike this year or even implement a 50 basis point hike.
Whatever the Fed does or doesn’t do, it seems that the stock market could potentially be at or near the end of the bull market. If the Fed hikes rates more aggressively to stay ahead of the inflation curve, stocks would likely move lower. If the Fed doves keep the pace of rate hikes low and slow, inflation could accelerate and eventually shot beyond the central bank’s desired target of 2% annualized.
The big picture points to an asset reallocation, from stocks and risk assets to perceived safe haven assets. Gold has been moving higher on the threat of a trade war, and if the trade situation escalates further, more upside may be seen in the weeks and months ahead.
Of course, the ongoing state of geopolitics may also keep a floor under gold prices and could potentially act as significant resistance for a stock rebound. U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster was the latest to leave the Trump Administration this past week, and his replacement, John Bolton, is considered by many to be a war-hawk that could implement a much harder line in U.S. foreign policy.
The current shakeup is not likely over, either. More administration officials could be shown the door in the weeks ahead, at a time when the special counsel investigation into possible collusion with Russia seems to be picking up speed. In fact, there has been increasing discussion over the possibility of President Trump firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller III. If such a scenario did unfold, the U.S. could face a constitutional crisis the likes of which has not been seen before. This, in turn, could fuel a stock market sell-off that would give every major previous market crash a run for its money.