Amy Magnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital
The global equity markets continued to climb higher in May. In the U.S. the S&P 500 Index hit another all-time high, gaining more than 3% for the month. The technology and telecom sectors were the top performing sectors in May, but all sectors were positive except for utilities. In a reversal of March and April, growth outpaced value across all market capitalizations, but large caps remained ahead of small caps. In the real assets space, REITs and natural resources equities continued to post solid gains despite low inflation.
International developed equity markets were slightly behind U.S. markets in May, but emerging market equities outperformed. After a weak start to the year, emerging market equities are now up +3.5% year to date through May, even with China down more than -3%. The dispersion in the performance of emerging market equities remains wide. Indian equities rallied strongly in May, gaining more than 9%, after the election of a new prime minister and his pro-business BJP party.
Despite a consensus call for higher interest rates in 2014, U.S. Treasury yields have continued to fall. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note ended the month at 2.5%, still above its recent low of 1.7% in May 2013, but well below the 3.0% level where it started the year. While lower than expected economic growth and geopolitical risks could be keeping a ceiling on U.S. rates, technical factors are also to blame. The supply of Treasuries has been lower due to the decline in the budget deficit, and the Fed remains a large purchaser, even with tapering in effect. At the same time demand has increased from both institutions that need to rebalance back to fixed income after such a strong equity market in 2013 and investors seeking relative value with extremely low interest rates in Japan and Europe.
As interest rates have declined, fixed income has performed in line with equities so far this year. All fixed income sectors were positive again in May. Municipal bonds and investment grade credit have been the top performing fixed income sectors so far this year. Both investment grade and high yield credit spreads continue to grind tighter. Within the U.S. credit sector fundamentals are solid and the supply/demand dynamic is favorable, but valuations are elevated. Emerging market bonds have also experienced a nice rebound after a tough 2013. Municipal bonds benefited from a positive technical backdrop with strong demand for tax-free income being met with a dearth of issuance.
We approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds, with a number of factors supporting the economy and markets over the intermediate term.
- Global monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with the Fed tapering asset purchases, short-term interest rates should remain near-zero until 2015 if inflation remains low. The ECB announced additional easing measures, and the Bank of Japan continues its aggressive monetary easing program.
- Global growth stable: U.S. economic growth has been slow but steady. Economic growth declined in the first quarter, but we expect it to turn positive again in the second quarter. Outside of the U.S. growth has not been very robust, but it is still positive.
- Labor market progress: The recovery in the labor market has been slow, but we have continued to add jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.3%. Unemployment claims have hit cycle lows.
- Inflation tame: With core CPI running below the Fed’s target at +1.8% and inflation expectations contained, the Fed retains flexibility to remain accommodative.
- U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are flush with cash that could be used for acquisitions, capital expenditures, hiring, or returned to shareholders. M&A deal activity has picked up this year. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.
- Less drag from Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, there has been some movement in Washington. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth this year. The deficit has also shown improvement in the short-term.
Risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:
- Fed Tapering/Tightening: If the Fed continues at the current pace, quantitative easing should end in the fourth quarter. Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, this withdrawal is more gradual and the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time. The new Fed chairperson also adds to the uncertainty. Should economic growth and inflation pick up, market participants will shift quickly to concern over the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike.
- Emerging markets: Slower growth could continue to weigh on emerging markets. While growth in China is slowing, there is not yet evidence of a hard landing.
- Election year: While we noted there has been some progress in Washington, we could see market volatility pick up later this year in response to the mid-term elections.
- Geopolitical risks: The events surrounding Russia and Ukraine are further evidence that geopolitical risks cannot be ignored.
Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover; however, we could see volatility as markets digest the continued withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve. Economic data will be watched closely for signs that could lead to tighter monetary policy earlier than expected. Equity market valuations are fair, but are not overly rich relative to history, and may even be reasonable when considering the level of interest rates and inflation. Investor sentiment remains elevated but is not at extreme levels. Credit conditions still provide a positive backdrop for the markets.
Our portfolios are positioned to take advantage of continued strength in risk assets, and we continue to emphasize high conviction opportunities within asset classes, as well as strategies that can exploit market inefficiencies.
||Favored Sub-Asset Classes
||Large cap bias, dividend growers
||Frontier markets, small cap
||Global high-yield credit, short duration
||Closed-end funds, event driven
||MLPs, natural resources equities
Source: Brinker Capital
Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting. Past performance is not a guarantee of similar future results. An investor cannot invest directly in an index.