Lessons from the Trump Presidency

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In November, investors were fearful about the effects of a Donald Trump presidency. Then, almost from the day he became president, the stock market took off and, with a few pauses, the Wall Street market has been flirting with new highs.

This is despite erratic behaviour from the new President on his twitter account; one high level casualty from his cabinet and a general consensus that investors may need strong nerves to survive Trump’s effect on equity markets.

But, while people continue to shake their heads about the new President, the US stock market still thinks he can do no wrong. Last week, despite foreshadowing news of his “phenomenal” tax plan, Trump instead did a 75-minute press conference, notable for boastful and rambling attacks on “fake media” – but with not a word on his tax policy. The Dow Jones and S&P indices were left unruffled at near peak levels.

Which seems to continue the lesson of the first weeks of the Trump presidency. Despite unprecedented shocks from the Oval Office, the stock market seems to be adjusting to Donald Trump. Remember, the market is always looking ahead and the current level of share prices may, in fact, be factoring in the likely inflation from the new President’s proposed policies.

If there is a lesson for investors from the first weeks of the Trump presidency, it may be that, in worrying about the all too obvious dangers, they should not overlook the plus factors – or other unknown unknowns.

But, for the moment despite their doubts, investors are still believers in the Trump rally. The buoyant mood on Wall Street, forecasts of higher world economic growth (plus the cautious agreement from our Reserve Bank) and the continued run in commodity prices all seem to favour the stock market bulls – for the moment.

Much will eventually hinge on the bullish impact of President Trump’s stimulatory fiscal measures including his ambitious promise of lower taxes. There still are some inevitable doubts on delivering this and other policies, but the new President does appear to be mellowing a few of his more extreme foreign policy stances. Still it’s probably fair to say that a majority of investors and economists still fear Trump’s economic policies could blow up.

For instance, widely-followed New York University economist Nouriel Roubini recently wrote that loose fiscal policy and tight monetary policy could hit workers and require more protectionist measures, which would hamper economic growth and flirt with the possibility of a global trade war. For the stock market, there is also danger from Trump’s habit of directly interfering in corporate matters.

But, while watching global macroeconomic issues, SMSF investors here might usefully concentrate on local factors, especially ominous rumbles in the banking and housing sector. There also have been some volatile market reactions to disappointing interim reports.

The biggest worry could come in the over-heated property investment market. Barely a day goes by without another warning about lending for property investments – and increasingly these are from the authorities and not from market commentators. Most recently, it was the International Monetary Fund and the banking regulator, APRA. As a result, several banks have announced they are pulling back from some lending for property investment.

Now, there also have been scares – so far downplayed, but persisting – that the government might be looking at changing the capital gains discount for property investments and even fiddling with negative gearing. There are growing signs that the banking authorities are keeping a very close watch on lending and the system now seems to be in for a slow squeeze.

Even as the government continues to deny that any changes are in the wind, there is more overt support for adjustments and for some inquiry in the banking system. In short, the climate is changing in ways that no one can predict.

Cynics might suspect the government could be thinking, at the very least, of jawboning the property bubble. While this approach may be an effective intervention in a fevered residential property market, it risks triggering unforeseen reactions – which, for local investors, could be worse than Donald Trump spooking the stock market.

Important: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. Consider the appropriateness of the information in regards to your circumstances.

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