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Trump Just Deepened the Tariff War -- Retail Investors Were the Smart Ones

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Be in the right place at the right time -- that's the name of the game.

That's exactly what retail investors are doing, but it's not completely by accident. They are onto something.

President Trump enacted an additional 10% tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods imported into the U.S. What's more, news just broke that the figure could go to 25%. An immediate risk-off trade ensued, with the 10-year treasury yield falling to 1.89%, the S&P 500 falling 0.81% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 0.98%.

Cyclical stocks -- or those whose sales growth and stock prices fluctuate more with changes in the economy -- got hit (some of those are directly hurt by the tariffs). Defensive stocks -- or those that remain steady and outperform cyclical stocks when economic growth expectations fall -- were clear outperformers Thursday.

And retail investors had their heads in the right place by adding more defensiveness to their portfolios of late.

Before we get to those stats, check this out.

These cyclicals fell hard Thursday:

  • Caterpillar (CAT) -3.25%
  • Boeing (BA) -2.19%
  • United Technologies (UTX) - 1%
  • Nike (NKE) - 3.2%
  • JPMorgan (JPM) - 2.37%
  • Goldman Sachs (GS) - 3.66%

These defensives outperformed Thursday:

  • Procter & Gamble (PG) - 0.28%
  • Colgate-Palmolive + 0.028%
  • Merck (MRK) + 0.66%
  • Allergan (AGN) + 0.24%
  • PepsiCo (PEP) - 0.039%
  • Coca-Cola (KO) - 0.64%
  • Consolidated Edison (ED) + 1.11%

Added tariffs or not, along with heightened "growth concerns, we saw investors move into traditionally defensive sectors like utilities and health care," E*Trade's Senior Vice President of Trading Chris Larkin said. "Investors have their plates full -- hunting for growth amid economic headwinds, shoring up portfolios to mitigate trade risk, and seeking dividend opportunities in this low-interest rate environment."

According to E*Trade's data, investors using the platform added to their utility stock positions by 9.54% on net in July over June. In June, they had reduced their utilities positions by 4.88%. Investors added 1.17% month-over-month to their health care positions in July. In June, they had reduced health care positions by 15.77%.

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