Donald Trump’s in trouble and emerging markets may pay the cost, according to some of the world’s largest money managers.
Facing an increasingly grim legal and political landscape, the president is likely to double down on his strategy to distract from domestic concerns by fixing his focus abroad, said John Normand, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s head of cross-asset fundamental strategy in London. That could escalate his push for higher tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, among other things.
“Overweighting EM broadly isn’t the low-worry hedge to a tortuous impeachment process,” Normand wrote in a note Thursday, adding that he’s “modestly overweight” emerging markets due to their medium-term value.
Trump has repeatedly turned overseas at times of domestic distress. In recent months, the White House has slapped sanctions on countries from Venezuela to Turkey, just as investigations into Russian election meddling and hush-money payments deepened. A tit-for-tat with China on trade also intensified. South Africa’s rand led emerging-market losses Thursday after Trump leaped into the nation’s heated land reform debate.
“The motive behind Trump’s actions is sometimes hard to understand, but looking tough to the world is something that goes well with his America First policy and bodes well to his constituency,” said Pablo Goldberg, a money manager at BlackRock Inc. in New York.
Mike Pence, first in line for the presidency if Trump were impeached, would bring a “significantly higher degree of certainty” on U.S. trade and foreign policy, according to Sonja Gibbs, a senior director at the Institute of International Finance in Washington. By definition, that’s a more hospitable environment for emerging markets, she said.
For now, a more hawkish foreign strategy from Washington may not hurt all developing nations. The White House will probably want to score some victories before the November midterm elections, while it ups the ante on other fronts — like the trade tussle with China. One potential winner: Mexico, where officials say progress has been made toward a new Nafta deal, Gibbs said.
But it may be an exception.
“I fear the contagion risk to real economic activity,” said Chris Diaz, a money manager at Janus Capital Management in Denver, citing Trump’s measures on China and Turkey. “EM was already under some pressure due to the Fed removing liquidity, rising rates and some idiosyncratic issues. Then Trump is exacerbating the situation.”