by Connor Darrell CFA, Assistant Vice President – Head of Investment
As was widely anticipated by markets, the Federal Reserve opted to reduce its target interest rate by 0.25% last week. However, the dovish pivot was not enough to support equity markets, which ended the week in a downswing following a series of tweets from President Trump which indicated he was moving forward with an additional round of tariffs on Chinese goods. That this announcement came just one day after the Federal Reserve’s interest rate decision is likely no coincidence, as the Fed’s accommodative stance will provide the President with greater confidence that the economy can withstand the consequences of upping the ante with the Chinese.
With the confirmation that interest rates would slide downward and the increase in equity volatility stemming from President Trump’s tariff announcement, the bond market managed a small rally last week. The Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is now in the midst of one of its strongest years since 2011.
Global Manufacturing in Contraction
Purchasing Managers’ Indices (which utilize survey data to evaluate business confidence and manufacturing activity) released last week revealed that global manufacturing activity remains challenged by the uncertainties posed by the U.S.-China trade dispute and Brexit negotiations. The U.S. PMI remains the only major region that has held above 50 (a critical level which separates expansion and contraction), though it has declined materially over the last several quarters. PMIs in the eurozone, Japan, and China all remained below 50 last month, indicating that these manufacturing markets are in contraction.
Manufacturing is far more cyclical than top line economic growth, but the reduction in global manufacturing activity that we have observed over the past year is a symptom of the toll that mounting geopolitical uncertainties are having on business decisions. If businesses’ reluctance to invest in production permeates into hiring decisions, it could begin to impact labor markets and accelerate the arrival of the next recession. Given the relative health of the U.S. economy and the potential for these uncertainties to be lifted by a simple handshake between Presidents Trump and Xi, this scenario looks a long way from playing out. But for investors who have achieved double digit returns in a year where the economic backdrop has continued to weaken, this type of data should not be ignored and may represent a reminder of the prudence of maintaining discipline and avoiding the urge to chase returns during late cycle investing.