There are a host of economic troubles on the horizon, both old and new, and that has sparked debate over whether the rally to start 2012 is running out of gas. Greek debt woes, further hints that China is slowing down and lingering unemployment and foreclosures in America show that the problems are varied and widespread.
Oh yeah, and now there’s the risk of all-out war in Iran — which will not just send a shock into energy markets, but could seriously disrupt regional trade and chill investors’ appetite for risk.
Will the stock market crash in 2012 like it did last summer? Maybe. But as we saw in 2011, the sharp contraction prompted in part by the U.S. debt ceiling debacle wasn’t meant to last forever. Stocks and the broader economy bounced back nicely, and reasonably quickly. So don’t take these troubles as sign of a severe and long-lasting downturn, even if they result in some short-term losses.
However, it’s only prudent to protect yourself. After all, some sectors are going to be harder-hit than others if and when the global markets see a move lower. Here are three sectors you should tread lightly in right now — whether you are a bull or a bear — because these kind of investments will be worst-hit by any downturn in the markets:
There are a host of warning signs in China right now. The value of land sales across 130 Chinese cities fell 13% in 2011, according to the China Real Estate Index System. China’s “booming” automobile market grew a meager 2.45% in China across all of 2011. February saw the fourth consecutive month of declines in the key HSBC Purchasing Manager’s Index, a gauge of China manufacturing.
True, China still is growing. But it is growing slower. On Monday, for instance, China set its growth target for 2012 at 7.5%, down from the largely symbolic 8% rate it has used for the past eight years.
That rate still is double or triple almost every other significant economy in the world … but for investors who have set expectations so high, any slowdown could be painful.
Morgan Stanley China A Share Fund (NYSE:CAF) has rallied dramatically to start 2012, up about 16% to triple the Dow. The iShares FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index ETF (NYSE:FXI) also is up impressively, almost 13% year-to-date. Some of the biggest individual Chinese stocks also have soared, including 8% in 2012 gains China Mobile (NYSE:CHL), 17% gains for Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), and a staggering 26% for oil giant CNOOC Ltd. (NYSE:CEO) since Jan. 1.
Does that sound like these increasingly negative signs are being taken into account?
This region could prove the naysayers wrong, but even if it does, you have to figure a healthy level of optimism is already baked into China stocks. In such a scenario where Chinese equities have dramatically outperformed for the last few months, the upside is limited and the downside is significantly more severe.
If you really believe in China, stick with multinationals like Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) or General Motors (NYSE:GM) to play the growth without sacrificing diversification. Investing in pure-play China stocks seems shaky right now.
It might be hysterics to call the current bond environment a “bubble.” But then again, it may wind up a pretty apt description.
As long as interest rates are low, it costs very little to issue even more debt — so what’s the harm in borrowing? And as long as the stock market remains choppy, the relatively lower risk of the bond market seems attractive — so what’s the harm in hiding out in bonds?
Well, you can see how this cycle will play out. More debt is offered. More people buy it. That keeps rates low. So more debt is offered. Then more people buy it …