Trump And The Fed

President Trump could appoint up to six members to the Fed’s Board of Governors, which will affect the direction of U.S. monetary policy for several years.

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The Fed’s Board of Governors consists of seven members appointed for a fourteen year term. This includes a Chair and a Vice Chair, who serve separate four year terms in this capacity. The seven individuals on the Board of Governors, along with the president of the New York Fed, are permanent voting members of the FOMC. The remaining four votes are rotated annually among the other Fed districts. The key point is that with seven out of twelve votes, the Board of Governors has a disproportionate weight in setting U.S. monetary policy.

With Governor Tarullo announcing his resignation on Friday, there are now three vacancies on the Board of Governors. Janet Yellen’s term as Fed Chair expires in February 2018 and Stanley Fischer’s term as the Vice Chair will expire in June 2018. It is very likely that they will not be reappointed. In addition, it is quite possible that Governor Brainard, a Democrat and Clinton supporter, will also step down sometime in the next few years. All this means that President Trump may end up appointing five or six Fed governors.

It is certainly easy to envision Trump stacking the Board of Governors with doves. An accommodative Fed would help his agenda on two fronts. First, he is a self-proclaimed “king of debt” and his fiscal policies would blow out the deficit. The budgetary shortfalls could be financed at lower than otherwise interest rates. Second, a dovish Fed would push the dollar lower, providing support to manufacturing and exports.

The problem with this theory is that Trump’s public pronouncements on monetary policy have generally been on the hawkish side. He criticized Janet Yellen on the campaign trail, accusing her of trying to goose the economy in order to help the Democrats at the polls. Granted, Trump’s views on the hard money/easy money debate may have changed now that he is president and poised to benefit politically from a more stimulative monetary policy. Nevertheless, it could still be difficult for him to make a complete U-turn on the subject, especially since Senate Republicans are likely to resist efforts to pack the Fed with doves.

Is The ECB’s Policy Stance Counterproductive?

If the ECB’s ultra-looseness is an attempt to quell a flare-up of ever-present political risk, the strategy is becoming counterproductive.

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In addition to irking President Trump, the ECB’s extreme policy is riling Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who has blamed Mario Draghi for “50 per cent” of the success of the populist right-wing Alternativ Für Deutschland. And by frustrating voters worried about the low interest rates on their hard-earned savings, the ECB is also playing right into the hands of Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale.

The ECB acknowledges that “the risks surrounding the euro area growth outlook relate predominantly to global factors” rather than domestic factors. If the ECB is right, the extent of anticipated monetary tightening outside the euro area is overdone. If the ECB is wrong, then the extent of anticipated monetary tightening inside the euro area is underdone. Either way, the investment conclusion is the same. Our European strategists recommend an underweight position in German Bunds relative to U.S. Treasuries. Near-term risks to the euro are to the upside, especially versus sterling.

Global Equities: From Gloom To Boom

The surge in developed market equities since the U.S. election has pushed stocks deep into overbought territory. A correction is likely over the next few weeks.

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Markets tend to swing from one extreme to another. This time last year, investors were fixated on secular stagnation. Now they are convinced that we are on the edge of a new global economic boom. Neither position is justified. Global growth has picked up, and this should provide a tailwind to risk assets over the next twelve months. However, as discussed in the prior two Insights, there are still plenty of headwinds around. This suggests that the recovery will be a halting affair, with plenty of setbacks along the way.

We expect global equities to fall by 5-10%, paving the way for higher returns over the remainder of the year. Once that recovery begins, European and Japanese stocks will outperform their U.S. counterparts in local-currency terms. We continue to expect EM equities to lag DM.

Global Growth Is Accelerating, But Headwinds Persist

The global economy is on the mend. Measures of current activity are rebounding, as are a variety of leading economic indicators.

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Investors have taken notice: Market-based inflation expectations have risen, as have growth-sensitive commodity prices. Earnings growth expectations have surged, rising in the U.S. to nearly the highest level in a decade. Cyclical stocks have also bounced back, after having lagged the overall market for five years.

We agree with the market’s positive re-rating of global growth prospects, but worry that undue pessimism is starting to give way to excessive optimism. Two potential developments in particular could end up giving investors pause: a slowing of China’s economy later this year and the possibility that U.S. fiscal policy will end up being less stimulative than expected. Please see the next two Insights.

U.S. Equity Rally Is Fraying

While advance/decline lines have firmed, participation in the U.S. equity rally has been uneven and may be fraying around the edges.

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The number of groups trading above their 40-week moving average has been diverging negatively from the broad market in the last few months, suggesting diminishing breadth. The industrials (I) and financials (F) sectors (i.e. “IF”) have carried the market since November. Other deep cyclical sectors, such as energy, materials and tech, have mostly matched market performance. The “IF” rally is based on an expected upgrade to the economic growth plane that matches the surge in various sentiment gauges. If validation does not occur, then the “IF” rally will become iffy indeed, unless sector breadth improves.

Another unconventional sentiment gauge is observed from sub-surface market patterns. The number of defensive groups with a positive 52-week rate of change, in relative terms, is in freefall, plunging to virtually nil. In the last two decades, investors eschewing capital preservation and non-cyclical sectors so aggressively has typically preceded major market peaks.

The Fed’s tightening bias, contracting U.S. dollar-based financial liquidity amid the strong U.S. dollar all threaten to keep a lid on corporate sector sales prospects. As such, we remain biased toward non-cyclical and consumer sectors. We expect momentum to steadily build in these sectors towards sustained outperformance by mid-year.