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Man FRM Early View

March 2018



Markets spent most of March on the back foot, as discussions around inflation and higher rates were replaced by new concerns of a potential trade war between the US and China. At least some of the actions from President Trump can be written off as purely posturing, not least certain tariffs which are expected to hurt US business more than help them and the flip-flopping between an aggressive stance one-day and a host of exemptions and a more conciliatory stance the next. But on the broader message of protecting America’s interests, he has been, at least for him, remarkably consistent.

Either way, markets are sufficiently jittery following the sell-off in February to not react well to developments that might hamper growth and risk stoking the already-smoldering fire of inflation. At least a talk of a trade war makes a refreshing change from talk of a nuclear war. The de-escalation of tension around North Korea and announcements of dialogue between Kim Jong Un and (separately) South Korea, the US and China, means that most of the ‘good news’ around the easing of geopolitical tension in the region is probably now in the equity market price. In our view, it is hard to see how the US/North Korea talks can lead to anything material – since Kim is unlikely to give up his only bargaining chip, his nuclear program – and the risks of this unravelling in the face of more jittery markets should not be underestimated.

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