Trump election is a blessing and curse for Canadian market

Bryan Borzykowski, special to
People wait at the Customs and Immigration plaza at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York.
Robert Nickelsberg | Getty Images

Like most markets around the world, Canada's stock market has been jittery on the day after Donald Trump's election, but it's not the bloodbath that many people were expecting last night. In fact, the TSX Composite Index, like its U.S. equity market counterparts, was trading in positive territory.

Kevin McCreadie, an American who is now president and chief investment officer at AGF Investments, a large Canadian fund firm, admits that a lot of financial professionals are in a state of shock, but as an investor he views a Trump presidency as a blessing and a curse for Canada. "There are certain positive and negatives right off the bat," he said.

Here are four of the biggest market implications for Canada from a Trump administration — two good and two bad — that make sense based on what investing experts can gauge from Trump's broad policy statements.

1. Trump is good for traditional energy bets and commodities, which are big in Canada.

Donald Trump has indicated the he will invest at least $500 billion into infrastructure spending, including energy infrastructure, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline project. That's good news for Canada, where the energy sector accounts for about 20 percent of its stock market.

"He's going to be pro-classical energy, so that could be a win for energy plays," said McCreadie. "There will be a very heavy spend."

TransCanada, the energy company behind the Keystone XL Pipeline, was up 2 percent on Wednesday, but not much more than the energy sector as a whole. TransCanada has said ever since President Obama rejected the pipeline that it remains committed to the project.

Because of Trump's pro-energy stance, Canadian stocks could actually fair better than U.S. stocks overall due to the relative importance of the sector to the Canadian economy, said Clément Gignac, chief economist with IA Financial Group, and a portfolio manager with its investing affiliate.

Trump specifically spoke about infrastructure spending during his speech after Hillary Clinton conceded early Wednesday morning: "We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it."

Infrastructure spending is a positive for commodities in general, Gignac said. With a large, but suffering mining sector, any boost in commodity demand is good for Canada.

2. No surprise: NAFTA review could be a big negative, and at a precarious time for the Canadian economy.

Both investment mangers will also be watching to see if Trump's pro-growth tax-cut and spend policies really materialize. If he is successful in boosting U.S. economic growth, then that could increase Canada's growth, too, McCreadie said, as the country tends to benefit economically when its southern neighbor does well.

But while all of that is well and good, it may not matter if Trump renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement. Canada exports more than 75 percent of its goods to America and has benefited immensely from this two decades-long trade agreement. According to Global Affairs Canada, trade between Canada, Mexico and the United States has climbed form $288 billion in 1993 to more than $1 trillion in 2015.

With control of the House and Senate, it is now conceivable that Trump could make substantive changes to NAFTA. While McCreadie said that Canada is probably not on the top of Trump's to-do list — building a wall on the Mexican border, repealing Obamacare and cancelling the other big trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership, are likely higher up — any changes to the deal could have a negative impact on Canada.

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It's an especially precarious time for Canada, which has run into growth troubles over the last couple of years.

Stephen Poloz, the Bank of Canada's governor, has said repeatedly that the country needs to see better growth coming from its export sector, especially in light of what's happened in the energy industry and the fact that the country's housing sector, which has contributed significantly to economic growth in recent years, may be starting to see some softening.

U.S. protectionism will likely put the brakes on Canadian export sector growth and it may even prevent companies from setting up shop in Canada, Gignac said. "If you have a president who wants to renegotiate NAFTA then that can create uncertainty on exports and on capital expenditures," he said. "No company is going to make a big bet on Canadian investment as long as they don't know the rules of the game."

3. Extreme trade policy can result in broader inflation and rate hike risks.

McCreadie does preach some caution on panicking too much over trade, but there's a real risk that trade policy ripples through the broader economy.

"Disengaging some of this stuff would be tough — for 20 years Canada and Mexico have been entangled with U.S. manufacturing and its supply chains," he said. "And if we apply his comment of putting a 35 percent tariff on Chinese goods, will people actually pay 35 percent more? That's what it's going to come back to — consumers will have to pay more. So I think some of this is rhetoric."

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The pressure in the short-term could be on stock markets more broadly, Gignac said, though the U.S. market and Canadian market gave no hint of that on Wednesday. While Trump's plans remain something of an unknown, some of his past statements on economic and trade policy could increase inflation and interest rates, which would be be a negative for markets on both sides of the border.

If tariffs are put in place, and people have to pay more for goods, then inflation could rise, Gignac said. If inflation does climb, that could put pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in a more dramatic fashion. If rates climb too quickly — and U.S. rate hikes do impact Canada's bonds, even if its own overnight rate remains at its current low level of 0.5 percent — then that could have a negative impact on stocks, but especially on interest rate-sensitive sectors like real estate.

4. Gold could continue to be a sweet spot.

Canada's robust gold stocks could benefit from rising inflation and general uncertainty and the iShares S&P/TSX Global Gold Index (XGD) is indeed up significantly on Wednesday. Other base metal and commodity stocks could see gains under a Trump administration, too. "There will be more demand for commodities," Gignac said, who currently has about 4 percent of his portfolio in gold.

Until the market has a better idea of what President Trump will do with trade and growth, investors shouldn't panic, McCreadie said. He has put more cash in balanced portfolios — a mix of stocks and bonds — and at the same time cut back on his bond weighting somewhat, but he's not planning on doing much with his equity holdings.

For Gignac, Canadian stocks are still too pricey for him to buy into the volatility — they're trading at about 18 times earning — but if sentiment takes a turn for the worse and equity prices fall by about 10 percent, then he will consider adding more equities to his portfolio.

For now, though, Canadian fund managers will likely be taking a wait-and-see approach.

"We're in for a tough couple of days, but it's not 2008," McCreadie said. "If he can drive short-term growth through tax reform and fiscal spending, then that could boost the U.S. economy and filter its way into earnings and profits. That will benefit Canada as well, as long as the trade situation doesn't get out of hand."