Investors successfully compartmentalized favorable US economic and earnings reports from a seemingly growing list of macro-risks, while a thaw in European Union (EU)/US trade talks provided hope that trade wars would not go global, producing a modest bounce in international equities.
June market action was very much a function of geography, with US markets little changed, but less benign results seen elsewhere depending on the proximity to increasing trade tensions. China and other emerging markets were at the epicenter. While giving the appearance that the US is “winning” the trade war, the strength in the dollar and US asset prices was primarily due to exceptionally strong second quarter growth. Commodities were a real wild card, depending on the mix of double-digit West Texas Intermediate oil gains or trade-war-inflicted losses in grains and industrial metals. While central bank actions were not unimportant, they were overshadowed by geopolitical developments.
Despite starting with the worst first day of the second quarter since the Great Depression, global equities ended the volatile month modestly higher. The combination of plateauing overseas growth and higher Treasury rates contributed to dollar strength that boosted European equities, but not emerging markets. Overseas developed markets outperformed the US by nearly 2%, but emerging market equities finished modestly in the red. News flow over the month included increasing Russia sanctions, US labor costs, tariff threat uncertainty, as well as airstrikes in Syria and potential new Iran sanctions (which fueled a 6% rally in crude oil).
Following February’s market gyrations, which saw inflation fears exacerbated by the unwinding of ill-fated short-volatility strategies, March promised to be a month of rest and recovery as global growth was plateauing at a high level and the monthly employment report presented a remarkable combination of strong employment growth, higher workforce participation and little sign of wage pressures. In addition, North Korea tensions eased while NAFTA and South Korean trade talks advanced smartly.