Global Trader: The Bear Goes Global

Here’s a little secret: U.S. stocks are still the envy of the world. Money still flows into Wall Street from all nations. The best companies headquartered all over the planet come here to make sure their shares are listed. It’s not just my own patriotic streak shining through. The numbers are loud and clear.

Right now, 72% of U.S. stocks are in the bear market zone, down 20% or more from their peak. It stings. But when you move out to foreign stocks that trade here, the carnage gets even more evenly distributed.

The U.S. dollar rules the world right now. Our currency is stronger against a basket of other countries’ money than it has been since 2002. Go back to 1986, and it’s only 15% from its highest levels in a generation.

We can thank the Fed for that. Everyone else is facing inflationary pressure and our aggressive central bank is really the only factor keeping our money from racing everyone else to the bottom. The numbers can get absurd, especially in major economies like Japan where deflation has been the problem for years or China where the government works relentlessly to keep food affordable to over a billion people.

The weaker the currency, the worse inflation stings the working class. People in countries like Turkey . . . and India . . . and Egypt . . . and everywhere need to be able to afford to feed their family and get to work. They need stronger currency. And that means the dollar needs to give up some room.

We saw this in the 1980s when Paul Volcker wrestled inflation into submission. But it meant making the dollar too strong for the world’s comfort. (Higher interest rates drive demand for a currency and in turn boost exchange rates.)

With USD at near parity with euros, people are muttering about teaming up to get the greenback back in line. I can’t say I blame them. Cheaper currency may hurt our ability to buy overseas, but it also helps our companies compete in a global market.

For now, however, the dollar runs the board. I wouldn’t buy a lot of foreign companies yet unless I see exchange rates start moving in the other direction.

I wouldn’t even buy foreign oil, for example, when we have leading names like ExxonMobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) here at home. Stick with the stronger currency. When our currency starts faltering, switch to something stronger as a hedge.

What’s working out there? Big Pharma. Names like AstraZeneca (AZN), Novartis (NVS) and Novo Nordisk (NVO) have skirted the bear zone so far. Great companies. Great global franchises. Add Medtronic (MDT) on the device side.

But it gets more interesting as you look down the food chain. Canadian banks are holding up relatively well. Toronto Dominion (TD) and Royal Bank of Canada are beating their southern counterparts despite the rate environment ruckus going on down here. Trust the charts. If you want Big Bank defense, go north.

Accenture (ACN) is also holding on relatively well. Anheuser Busch (BUD) is about as defensive as it gets. Even a depressed world will drink beer.

Otherwise, the bulge bracket is all about oil, and we’ve talked about that. Maybe you like Shell (SHEL) and BP (BP). I prefer XOM and CVX. Until the dollar turns, why buy companies denominated in British pounds?

Oil is bought and sold in USD. As dollars become more valuable, oil prices will superficially moderate . . . but British companies won’t see much benefit either way. And if anyone tells you a dollar crash is imminent, ask then when they predict it happening.