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Trade war worries fade, but privacy concerns jolt markets anew

U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans for tariffs on Chinese imports initially helped spark market volatility the week of March 19, Ristuben said, as worries over a trade war between the U.S. and China escalated. However, comments by top Trump administration officials the week of March 26 helped calm markets a bit, Ristuben said. “Both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross walked back some of the language surrounding trade wars, with Mnuchin saying he’s hopeful a trade deal can be reached between the U.S. and China, and Ross stating that the tariffs could be viewed as bargaining chips in trade negotiating talks,” he explained.

However, the relative tranquility in markets proved to be short-lived, Ristuben noted, as concerns over the privacy practices of tech giants like Facebook bubbled to the surface on March 27, causing stocks to tank once again. “This was the second period of market volatility in 2018—the first being the sell-off in early February,” Ristuben noted—“and what’s interesting is that, in both instances, non-U.S. equity markets outperformed the U.S.”

Why? Ristuben and the team of Russell Investments strategists believe it’s a sign that the market views U.S. equities as very expensive, and non-U.S. equities as more attractively priced. “We’ve had concerns all along about the high valuation of U.S. stocks—and the market seems to be agreeing,” he said—“because whenever there’s been any disruptive news recently, it’s been expressed in U.S. stock prices.”

10-year Treasury yield drops as spread between long and short-term yields narrows

Switching to bonds, Ristuben said that he believes yields on long-term U.S. Treasury notes have probably come close to their high-water mark for the current market cycle. “As of March 30, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury is at 2.73%—and we expect it to peak around 2.8% in a year’s time,” he stated, adding that yields began dropping the day after the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed) raised interest rates by 25 basis points.

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