North Korea Update, August 10, 2017

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Stocks are down again this morning on this topic, and the reason is because North Korea said it will shoot a missile within “30 or 40” miles of Guam in mid-August. That would be another escalation because it would extend the range of the North Korean missiles—and at that point the US might actually shoot one down. Undoubtedly some of you are getting calls from nervous clients about North Korea, and while I don’t view this as a major market issue, I do want to briefly cover the situation so you can handle any client calls.

Ignoring the rhetoric and bluster on both sides for a moment, two important things happened with regards to North Korea this week.

First, in what was a major positive, the UN passed very harsh sanctions on North Korea with a unanimous vote. That unanimous vote part is key, because both China and Russia supported the sanctions, implying the international community is finally on the same page regarding North Korea’s nuclear program.

Second, in what was a negative that resulted in the recent escalation of tensions, North Korea has apparently learned how to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and place it on an intercontinental ballistic missile. If true, that means they could theoretically strike Japan with a nuclear missile.

Those two events, one positive, one negative, are why this situation has escalated so quickly.

Going forward, despite the escalation in rhetoric, the net events of the past weeks need to be viewed as a positive. If China and Russia stay on board, then the chances of resolution (peaceful resolution) go up significantly. So while things seem bad now, in reality, the chances of a lasting solution have gone up since this time last week.

However, if you have clients who are worried about this and want to hedge up a bit, basically the “North Korea Defensive Playbook” would be as follows: 1) Buy Treasuries (belly and longer dated, so IEF or TLT), 2) Buy defense stocks (TRN, LLL, LMT, NOC ) and 3) Buy the yen via FXY and sell Japanese stocks (i.e. DXJ or EWJ). Now, to be clear, I don’t think you should do this now, but this is the playbook if any clients are asking what to do in case of a conflict.

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