The July portfolio started off strong but mostly in line with market, notching a 3.44% gain over the first two weeks compared to a 3.06% gain for the S&P. Below is a summary of our monthly portfolio. The overall strong performance was bolstered by a handful of tech and health tech names (AYX, VEEV, & EYE). Our other top performers, NXST and JAG, come from the media and energy sectors, respectively. These stocks all have strong fundamentals and tailwinds driving their run up.
On the downside, financial stocks were a major drag on the portfolio (FAF, GWB, CMA). We’ve seen a net interest margin compression as the yield curve continues to flatten. This is typical of a late-stage economic cycle, and will likely only get worse as the Fed continues to raise interest rates. We were hoping that strong earnings from bulge-bracket banks would catalyze our smaller financial institutes. Unfortunately, even JPM’s strong earnings didn’t lift its stock price, and misses on some metrics by Wells and Citi set a more downward tone for the sector. We continue to view the banks as undervalued in the long term, but no longer expect the markets to recognize this over our monthly investment horizon. Adding to our portfolio woes, AT&T was hit with a surprise appeal from the DOJ on their acquisition of Time Warner. This was an unexpected event and caused the stock to drop about 4%. We still find T to be the best name in the Com Services space, but pending more news on the appeal, we wouldn’t be surprised to see further short-term losses.
Boosting stocks this week were rumors of a faster-than-anticipated resolution to the trade war with China. After Trump scheduled another round of tariffs, to the tune of $200B and this time focused on consumer products, China reopened trade talks with the United States. China only imports $130B worth of US goods each year, meaning a tit-for-tat retaliation was impossible. However, the bigger concerns for China were 1) the large amount of foreign denominated debt, and 2) the slow down of the Chinese economy.
Roughly $1T of Chinese debt is held in USD. As the yuan fell more than 6% against the dollar because of trade-war fears, this debt in real terms grew significantly. China was unwilling to face the higher interest rates and principal repayments. This prevented them from using their currency as a weapon and added immediate pressure to resolve the trade dispute.
Additionally, economists have been rapidly downgrading their earnings expectations for Chinese firms (see the chart below). A slew of negative economic data and slowing GDP growth proves worrisome for the PRC. The US continues to have the greatest currency-agnostic earnings growth expectations as the rest of the world falters. We expect markets in the near term to be affected by trade news, but with positive developments and a relatively stronger US position, there is potential for positive changes to stem from the trade resolution.