Economic Headwinds and Tailwinds

Magnotta @AmyMagnotta, CFA, Brinker Capital

We continue to approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. The scale tipped slightly in favor of tailwinds to start the year as we saw a slight pickup in the U.S. economy, some resolution on fiscal policy, and even more accommodative monetary policy globally. However, we continue to face global macro risks, especially in Europe, which could result in bouts of market volatility. The strong market move in the first quarter, combined with higher levels of sentiment, and a potentially disappointing earnings season, may leave us susceptible to a pull-back in the near term, but our longer-term view remains constructive. While the second quarter may bring weaker growth in the U.S., consensus is for economic activity to pick up in the second half of the year.

Tailwinds
Accommodative monetary policy: The Fed continues with their Quantitative Easing Program and will keep short-term rates on hold until they see a sustained pickup in employment. The European Central Bank has also pledged support to defend the Euro and has committed to sovereign bond purchases of countries who apply for aid. Now the Bank of Japan is embracing an aggressive monetary easing program in an attempt to boost growth and inflation. The markets remain awash in liquidity.

U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are flush with cash that could be put to work through M&A, capital expenditures or hiring, or returned to shareholders in the form of  dividends or share buybacks. While estimates are coming down, profits are still at high levels.

Housing market improvement: The housing market is showing signs of improvement. Home prices are  increasing, helped by tight supply. The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index gained +8.1% for the 12-month period ending January 2013. Sales activity is picking up and affordability remains at high levels. An improvement in housing, typically a consumer’s largest asset, is a boost to confidence.

Equity Fund Flows Turn Positive:  After experiencing years of significant outflows, investors have begun to reallocate to equity mutual funds. Investors have added over $67 billion to equity funds so far in 2013 (ICI, as of  3/27/13), compared to outflows of $153 billion in 2012. Investors continue to add money to fixed income funds as
well ($70 billion so far this year).
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Headwinds

European sovereign debt crisis and recession: The promise of bond purchases by the ECB has driven down borrowing costs for problem countries and bought policymakers time, but it cannot solve the underlying  problems in Europe. Austerity measures are serving only to weaken growth further and cause higher unemployment and social unrest. After how it dealt with Cyprus, there is again risk of policy error in Europe.  We are also closely watching the Italian elections in June after February’s elections were inconclusive.

U.S. policy uncertainty continues: After passing the fiscal cliff compromise to start the year, Washington passed a short-term extension of the debt ceiling and more recently agreed on a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown. The sequester, which was temporarily delayed as part of the fiscal cliff deal, went into effect on March 1. The automatic spending cuts have not yet been felt by most, but it will soon start to show  up in the second quarter and will shave an estimated 0.5% from GDP. In addition, the debt ceiling will need to be addressed again this summer.

Geopolitical Risks:
Recent events in North Korea are cause for concern.

This commentary is intended to provide opinions and analysis of the market and economy, but is not intended to provide personalized  investment advice. Statements referring to future actions or events, such as the future financial performance of certain asset classes, market segments, economic trends, or the market as a whole are based on the current expectations and projections about future events provided by various sources, including Brinker Capital’s Investment Management Group. These statements are not guarantees of future performance, and actual events may differ materially from those discussed. Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market, including possible loss of principal. This commentary includes information obtained from third-party sources. Brinker Capital believes those sources to be accurate and reliable; however, we are not responsible for errors by third-party sources on which we reasonably rely.

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