Trade and tariffs, important as they are indeed for economic activity globally, are a sideshow when it comes to the big picture in the stock market. Yes, commodity markets may ebb and flow on trade but this is not the mercantile 19th or early 20th century. Look at the divergence between the oil majors and the price of oil this year, for example.
The big secular trends in stocks are determined by technological innovation and regulations. Their momentum is determined by net share buybacks (IPO minus share buybacks). Valuations play such a minor role that the cynic in me would probably say that they are used by clever stock analysts to give us reasons to buy their research.
We may be approaching such a turning point in US markets where the confluence of technology and regulations start to hurt stocks: 1) US is falling behind China in 5G, which is possibly the most important technological development at the moment; 2) US regulators are intent on drastically changing the business model of US tech company behemoths.
And stock market momentum may eventually be turning as well, if current trends of increased IPO supply and policy towards curbing share buybacks continue.
I am not talking about a one-off stock market correction, the way we’ve had so far since the 1980s. I am not even talking about a bear market. If these trends play out the way I described, the result will be much more structural: I expect at best the US stock market to deliver half of the total average annual return it has had so far since the 1980s, and at worst, to have a prolonged multi-decade sideways trajectory, similar to what it went through in the three decades prior.