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The US economy is resisting a slowdown plaguing the rest of the world. Here's why one Wall Street expert worries its fortunes are about to change.

Business Insider | Jun 15, 2019, 03.35PM IST

Confused, worried trader

Reuters/Brendan McDermid

  • The US economy has been resilient amid struggles in other developed countries.
  • However, there are looming threats to this unique position, according to Alain Bokobza, the head of global asset allocation and equity strategy at Societe Generale.
  • He advised using commodities as a hedge against the global slowdown he expects to have taken hold by 2020.
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The US economy is about one month away from recording its longest expansion ever, even as other developed nations fight off recessions.

Its unique standing has not escaped Alain Bokobza, the head of global asset allocation and equity strategy at Societe Generale.

"The US economic cycle is, without doubt, showing resilience at present," he said in a recent note to clients. "In Europe and Asia, however, cyclical conditions are deteriorating, and confidence indicators are waning amid the trade war backdrop."

So why is the US holding up despite the decay elsewhere? Thank the Federal Reserve, which has hit the brakes on raising interest rates this year because it doesn't see inflation as a threat.

The Fed hasn't indicated that it's in a hurry to cut interest rates either, even though the global economic outlook has dimmed. Its statement and press conference next Wednesday will be parsed inside and out for clues on this front. After all, traders have priced in a 97% chance of one rate cut in September, according to Bloomberg's world interest rate probability data.

But this cautious approach is what will expose the US economy to the slowdowns elsewhere, according to Bokobza. He expects that the Fed won't ease monetary policy until it sees clear signs that growth is deteriorating. The Fed might be even more patient to defy the unprecedented pressure to cut rates coming from the White House.

Bokobza's concern is that by the time the Fed decides to act, the outcome would be to reverse a downturn, not to prevent one.

The most likely cause of a slowdown, in the eyes of many experts, is the trade war.

Read more: 'We're going to get rolled': Billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller breaks down why the US is headed for devastating losses to China in the trade and tech wars

A big stress test on this issue will unfold at the G20 meeting from June 28-29. US-China trade relations are poised to be front and center of discussions and coverage at the gathering, and President Donald Trump has already set the ball rolling: He threatened to slap more tariffs on Chinese goods if President Xi Jinping does not attend the summit.

Both leaders are still expected to meet to try and work out a deal. According to Bokobza, China's strategy at such negotiating tables has always to been to candidly show off the ways it can retaliate against any punitive action by the US. But as the last few months have shown, the Trump administration won't take this sitting down.

"This increases the likelihood of the trade war spiraling into a no-win situation for the countries involved," Bokobza said.

There's a glimmer of hope that both sides come to an agreement and avert an economic disaster. But Bokobza isn't so optimistic.

"Overall, however, better news-flow on the trade war may only serve as a temporary reprieve unfortunately from the looming, global cyclical slowdown in 2020," he said.

He advises investors to hedge against a trade-induced slowdown using commodities and oil stocks.

"The oil price has been badly hit recently by worries about growth prospects," he said. "This might be an opportunity to re-gear to this asset class which should prove to be robust when the USD starts falling at a later stage."

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