Trump underpins tech stocks …for now

The EU has a third more people than the US, has an older population and was in worse Covid shape than the US in early April. Today, however, US daily new cases are about 15x those in the EU; daily new deaths here are 7x those in the EU. The difference? The EU followed the recommendations of US medical scientists; Trump urged his supporters to ignore them.

The economic result for the US is a deeper, longer-lasting downturn than elsewhere in the OECD, huge amounts of Federal government assistance to keep the economy afloat–with a resulting budget deficit that could soon reach $6.0 trillion, vs. $0.6 trillion when he took office.

Rather than try to mitigate the suffering the US is going through, Trump appears to have decided to try to shift national attention away from his central role in creating this tragedy by creating a second, competing disaster. After the armed forces refused to help, Trump organized a gang of from other Federal agencies. Members wear identical camouflage combat gear and carry weapons. No identification on their bodies or vehicles, however. Not a thought about probable cause or excessive use of force, either. In other words, they’re shaped on the Gestapo/KGB/Stasi secret police model. Empowered by executive order and against the wishes of state and local officials, Trump envisions sending these groups into Democratic-leaning cities to instigate violence. Portland is his test case. News reports of the Navy veteran beaten in Portland (he decided to remind Trump’s minions they took an oath to defend the Constitution) show what’s going on. Kristallnacht in America is something no one would have believed possible four years ago. Talk about the banality of evil.

Relevance for the stock market? …a lot.

I’ve been writing for a while about the divergence between NASDAQ and the Russell 2000. The former is the part of the US stock market least tethered to the US by customers, revenues or physical assets; the latter represents the part most closely linked to domestic economic health. NASDAQ is up by about 55% since the beginning of 2018; the Russell 2000 is down by 4% over the same span. I read this 60 percentage point divergence as the stock market’s response to the ongoing economic damage Trump is doing to the US. The spread is very long in the tooth. It’s also so wide that it is begging for at least a temporary reversal of form. So far, however, every attempt at a counter-trend rally has been nipped in the bud.

How so? I think the pro-NASDAQ portfolio configuration has a second motivation. It is also the first step in capital flight from a country moving in the wrong direction.

Recently, coinciding with Trump’s more explicit white racist actions and the resurgence of Covid in the South and Midwest, we’ve begun to see a second aspect of capital flight–a 5%+ decline of the dollar vs. the euro over the past few weeks. The US currency has even lost ground to perennial weaklings sterling and the yen.

It’s hard to know how this all will play out. A Trump win in November is the easier case. I imagine it would create a seismic negative shift in global attitudes toward the US. That would result in a steady outflow of our most productive human and financial capital. The dollar would continue its decline. Maybe, government bonds would begin to sag, too. At some point, Washington would presumably close the border to outflows, a la Mexico 1982. NASDAQ would likely go up, led by firms announcing the relocation of intellectual property-creating operations abroad. Maybe dual listings in New York and China. China and the EU stand to be the big long-term winners.

I think a Trump loss would much more complicated. There’s the issue of repairing the enormous economic, financial and cultural damage he has done to the country. There are also the former heavy industry areas, core sources of Trump strength, which have been ignored by both parties for decades at great national cost. A counter-trend rally might finally happen–maybe even pre-election if a pro-Biden outcome were clear. Would it have legs, if so?

2 responses

  1. Upon looking more into the R2000 index, I was surprised to discover that the P/E ratio excludes companies with negative earnings, and that at least a third (?) of the companies in the R2000 are loosing money. With such a reality in mind, your point about the disparity between the R2000 and the NASDAQ is even more dramatic. But with so many companies in the R2000 loosing money, it’s hard to envision a big counter-trend rally there. At least as things stand now. Maybe that big disparity in the indexes is more than justified, at least until major economic help arrives??

  2. Thanks for your comment. You make good points. For what it’s worth, I’d been watching the R2000 steadily underperform through 2018, 2019 and into 2020, despite sharply easier money policy. When the market fell in February-March, the R2000 declined far more than other indices. But on the way back up, in late March through early June, it held its own with the others.

    I started to think that maybe two years of nothing from the R2000 was enough time in the penalty box, and that not losing more relative performance might might be an early indicator of a temporary rotation away from NASDAQ–which I would find comforting because it would imply someone on Wall Street had an eye on valuation.

    I was also looking at Microsoft, which was up by almost 150% since January 2018 and smaller things like Paycom, which had almost tripled, and finding it impossible to add. So I thought (and still think) that money has to go elsewhere. As it turns out, over the past two weeks NASDAQ has resumed outperforming. Oh, well. It may be that the EU and (ugh) Japan will be the place US investors find non-tech.

    Another thing: if the R2000 has been acting, even before Trump’s pandemic bungling, as if domestic business is in recession, why is no one challenging the administration claim to have made America “great” again?

    PS. I’m not troubled about the fact that a lot of small publicly listed US businesses aren’t profitable. What’s disturbing is that no one seems to want to bet that things will get better any time soon.

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