These issues are very real if you invest directly in China or play poker with Puerto Rican bonds. But for most investors in the U.S., the effects will likely be minimal and short-lived. We saw a lot of investors worried about Greece, but -- for now at least -- it has dropped out of the headlines and off investors' radar.
But even if an eventual so-called "Grexit" comes back into view, the country's economy is tiny, its problems have been long in the making and little Greek sovereign debt is in the hands of U.S. investors. It would have no broad economic impact on U.S. investors.
China, meanwhile, is big in the way that Greece is small. Still, its markets' declines since their June peak have not triggered similar drops elsewhere. Moreover, most of the routed shares have been on the local exchanges for Chinese retail investors. If losses hurt consumer confidence, future spending and growth, however, China could become a serious worldwide problem.
Puerto Rico? Some speculators might lose now that the the territory has defaulted on a bond payment, and public services on the island likely will decline. But Puerto Rico is not Lehman Brothers. It's not even Greece.
Here are a few things investors should be watching instead.
- The U.S. Federal Reserve is cautious about raising interest rates so that the bond market doesn't slow the economy or trip it into recession. But my hope is that it will raise rates 25 basis points in September, even though growth is slow in the U.S. and much of the world. I'll be focused on what Fed officials say at the Jackson Hole, Wyo. symposium in August. They might telegraph views ahead of their official Federal Open Market Committee meeting in September.
- Track the the euro-dollar relationship. Currency risk and a strong dollar's drag on corporate profits is one area that could have a direct impact on U.S. investors from a stock market perspective.
- Energy, particularly oil, stocks have taken a hit, as have commodities. One interesting play, however, is master limited partnerships. They don't strongly correlate over time with commodities or interest rates. We're getting a lot of inquiries about them, especially from high-net-worth investors looking for income and growth.
- We are not looking for huge returns in stocks but remain bullish on small-cap stocks because of their lower exposure to the dollar. The broader S&P 500 index should have more muted returns. Stocks are perhaps a bit overvalued. But in an environment of economic growth coupled with rising rates we favor overweighting stocks vs. bonds.
- Developed international markets look cheaper than the U.S. Be wary of emerging markets, however, because of the effects of a strong dollar, rising rates and falling commodity prices.
- Short-duration bonds and investment-grade intermediate bonds may not be sexy, and some may shy away because of the risk of rising rates. But they still can squeeze out positive returns.
China and Puerto Rico are in the news now, and Greece will likely be back again. Any one of these global macroeconomic issues can create some heightened volatility -- but not a long-term negative impact for the average U.S. investor.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.