From Bill Hall: With the U.S. stock market scratching out a series of new all-time highs, I’ve decided to step back from the headlines and the related market mania to tell you about some significant upcoming geopolitical events that I’ve been warning my clients about.
All of these – regardless of their outcome – have the potential to seriously impact your portfolio… but, inexplicably, they are items that no one in the mainstream media is talking about. Read on and you’ll learn more.
As the good vibes continue to roll on Wall Street and with volatility seemingly in check, most everyday investors I come across have been lulled into a false feeling of complacency because of this year’s one-way market action to the upside. But as an experienced Wall Street veteran, I have that familiar eerie feeling deep down in my bones that this is just the calm before the storm and you need to be on guard to batten down the hatches to protect your portfolio at a moment’s notice.
Or better yet, keep some powder dry so you can be prepared to take advantage of some real buying opportunities because stocks will likely be significantly cheaper later this year than they are now.
When looking at the upcoming geopolitical calendar, I see that it’s jam-packed with potential land mines for investors.
Here are my top 5:
1. Netherland’s Prime Minister Election – March 15:
Historically, one of the more liberal countries in the European Union, the race in Holland for the Dutch parliament is leaning toward a far-right political party – the Party for Freedom (PVV) – led by Geert Wilders. Mr. Wilders’ policy proposals include a pledge to leave the EU and to ban all Islamic symbols, mosques, and the Koran. While the size of the Dutch economy may limit the immediate global economic impact, if a “Nexit” were to unfold, Wilders anti-refugee and protectionist sentiment would signal more change and set the stage for the other EU elections in 2017.
2. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Election – March 26
Here the race is less about the shift toward populism, but rather about the deteriorating relationship between the Hong Kong people and the Chinese administration. The backdrop to this race began unfolding with the Umbrella Movement in 2014. Last November, Chinese President Xi reiterated China’s policy of one country two systems, and quashed any ideas of political independence for Hong Kong. A recent report from Amnesty International finds Hong Kong’s human rights have deteriorated to their worst level since China took back control of the region in 1997.
3. France’s Presidential Primary Elections – April 23 and May 7
In December, President François Hollande announced he would not run for re-election in 2017, further energizing the anti-establishment movement in Europe. The French presidential candidate with the most buzz is far-right candidate and party leader Marine Le Pen, who would like to leave NATO. She’s also suggested that Portugal, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Greece and Cyprus should all join France in leaving the European Union. Polls currently have her ahead in the first round of voting, putting her in a close race for president. Even if she’s unsuccessful in her presidential bid, her party’s growing appeal is shifting French politics farther to the right. What’s more, her National Front party has the most support among French people who are 18-34 years old.
4. Iran’s Presidential Election – May 19
Hassan Rouhani won in a landslide in Iran’s 2013 presidential election as he defeated the extremist incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a moderate platform with promises to work with Western powers. However, a hardline candidate may again see an opening as the Iranian economy has been just scraping along. Tensions are on the rise in Iran ahead of this year’s elections because of the following: (1) their currency, the Iranian rial, traded at all-time lows against the U.S. dollar in December; (2) Trump’s tough talk about renegotiating the nuclear deal; and (3) Rouhani’s recent public clash with the country’s conservative judiciary.
5. Germany’s Chancellor Election – October 22
Angela Merkel is running for a fourth term and is currently expected to win, but the nationalist Alternative for Germany party (AfD) is growing in popularity. Following the horrific Christmas attack in Berlin, the AfD jumped to 15.5 percent of the vote while Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats dropped to 31.5 percent. This follows AfD’s outperforming Merkel’s party in her home state elections in September as they campaign against Germany’s open-door policies, which over the past year have allowed about 1 million refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to settle in Germany. If Germany experiences further terrorist attacks, the anti-EU, anti-immigration party may continue to gain in the polls and make Merkel’s re-election bid uncomfortable.
In addition to my Top 5, the overarching geopolitical risk that has all of us wringing our hands is how Russia, China, North Korea and Syria might react to the Trump administration’s unconventional policies. Indeed, the highly regarded geopolitical advisory firm, the Eurasia Group, has identified 2017 as the “most volatile” year for political risk since World War II.
Britain’s shocking vote to exit the EU in June 2016 and Donald Trump’s surprising victory this past November may both be behind us. But populist movements in Europe continues to gain momentum, and calls for drastic political change are mounting around the globe.
What does this mean for investors?
A few weeks ago, I reminded you of iconic investor Roy Neuberger’s sage investment wisdom: “Buy when others have fear and sell when others have greed.”
Currently, I see no “fear” priced into stock valuations.
My advice: Keep some powder dry because the geopolitical calendar is about to get very busy indeed! And get some experienced counseling, such as what I provide to the subscribers to my service Safe Money Report.
The Vanguard FTSE Europe ETF (NYSE:VGK) was unchanged in premarket trading Friday. Year-to-date, VGK has gained 4.48%, versus a 5.01% rise in the benchmark S&P 500 index during the same period.
This article is brought to you courtesy of Money And Markets.