Trump puts world markets on edge – but relief for stocks may be at hand
For John Bolton, every problem looks like a nail. Credit: Gage Skidmore
Stock markets around the world took a large blow last week. The biggest factor at play was President Trump’s instigation of new tariffs on China over concerns of intellectual property theft – the second action on trade in as many weeks after the administration enacted steel and aluminium tariffs for the Chinese and other nations.
However the other reason concerned geopolitics, and perhaps the future of the world as we know it today. The sitting National Security Adviser at the White House H.R. McMaster was axed, and Trump replaced him with a former ambassador and mouthpiece for the military-industrial complex John Bolton. This appointment has palpably raised the prospect of an armed conflict between the United States and one of its adversaries, most likely to be Iran. Indeed, John Bolton called for Israel or the US to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities as recently as 2015, in an op-ed piece for the New York Times. Bolton was also a firm supporter of the war in Iraq, which many consider to be an illegal war driven purely for the benefits of American corporate interests, including oil companies.
Trump has seen more moderate and reflective members of his administration leave in recent months. Hope Hicks, who was known as having a calming influence on the President, left her post as White House Communications Director, shortly followed by Gary Cohn – Chief Economic Adviser. A former Goldman Sachs employee, Cohn had opposed Trump’s metal tariffs, and was one of the key players behind getting the popular tax reform bill passed last year. Soon after Rex Tillerson got the chop as Secretary of State, another moderate who favoured keeping the Iran nuclear deal and seeking a diplomatic resolution to tensions on the Korean peninsula. Trump replaced him with Mike Pompeo, the former CIA Director who holds a noted aggression towards Iran.
Jeremy Bash, a former Chief of Staff at both the CIA and Defense Department said on MSNBC that Trump was “assembling a war cabinet”. Given the direction of his team, this seems hard to argue with. With less mediating influences at his side, Trump will be less likely to hear opposing arguments from more dovish and reasonable staff. Instead his views on Iran will likely be blindly accepted in an echo chamber where voices of dissent are minimal. Given that Trump ran on a platform based partly on withdrawing the US from expensive overseas wars, the hypocrisy is stark.
A war in Korea or in the Middle East would likely bring untold suffering and raises the spectre of a possible nuclear exchange between major powers. Even more worrisome is the prospect of a conflict erupting over Syria, where Russian forces have moved to prop up the Assad regime. Just last month, The Guardian reported that scores of Russian mercenaries had been killed by US airstrikes in the country as they attacked pro-regime forces. If events like this continue to occur, the prospect of a confrontation between the US and Russia rises. It goes without saying what this could mean for the global economy.
None of this is good news for investors, or the world as a whole, except those in the military-industrial complex who hold stock in military companies!
Today though things look brighter. US stock futures are up, on reports the US and China are trying to resolve the trade dispute behind the scenes. European markets are also driving higher led by the Germany 30. We have our fingers crossed that the worlds foremost superpowers can be pragmatic, adult and reasonable – though with Trump at the helm of one of them, this is not guaranteed.
With so much at stake right now, any good news is likely to immediately boost stocks, so Invstrs should follow the news closely. Depending on your appetite for risk, this could be a good opportunity to buy the dip on some stocks after last week’s dismal market performance.
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