Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: July 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Equity markets continued to grind higher in the second quarter despite continued tapering by the Federal Reserve, a negative GDP print, and rising geopolitical tensions. All asset classes have delivered positive returns in the first half of the year, led by long-term U.S. Treasury bonds. There has been a lack of volatility across all asset classes; the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) fell to its lowest level since February 2007.

Year to date the U.S. equity markets are slightly ahead of international markets. All S&P sectors are positive year to date, led by utilities and energy. Mid cap value has been the best performing style, helped by the double-digit performance of REITs. U.S. large caps have outperformed small caps, but after experiencing a drop of more than -9%, small caps rebounded nicely in June. Value leads growth across all market capitalizations.

Despite concerns surrounding the impact of Fed tapering on emerging economies, emerging market equities outperformed developed markets in the second quarter, and have gained more than 6% so far this year, putting the asset class ahead of developed international equities. Small cap emerging markets and frontier markets have had even Magnotta_Market_Update_7.09.14_1stronger performance. The dispersion of performance within emerging markets has been high, with India, Indonesia and Argentina among the top performers, and China, Mexico and Chile among the laggards. On the developed side, performance from Japan has been disappointing but a decent rebound in June bumped it into positive territory for the year-to-date period.

Despite a consensus call for higher interest rates in 2014, U.S. Treasury yields moved lower. The 10-year Treasury Note is currently trading at 2.6% (as of 7/7/14), still below the 3.0% level where it started the year. While sluggish 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 experiencing strong equity markets returns, and investors seeking relative value with extremely low interest rates in Japan and Europe.

With the decline in interest rates and investor risk appetite for credit still strong, the fixed income asset class has delivered solid returns so far this year. Both investment grade and high yield credit spreads continue to grind tighter. Emerging market bonds, both sovereign and corporate, 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 lack of new 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 quantitative easing slated to end in the fall, U.S. short-term interest rates should remain near-zero until 2015 if inflation remains contained. The ECB and the Bank of Japan are continuing their monetary easing programs.
  • Global growth stable: We expect a rebound in U.S. growth in the second quarter after the polar vortex helped to contribute to a decline in economic output in the first 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 6.1%.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are flush with cash. 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, Washington has done little damage so far this year. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth in 2014, and the budget deficit has also declined significantly.

Risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed Tapering/Tightening: If the Fed continues at the current pace, quantitative easing will end in the fall. 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. Should inflation pick up, market participants will shift quickly to concern over the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike. Despite the recent uptick in the CPI, the core Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCE), the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, is up only +1.5% over the last 12 months.
  • 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 Iraq, as well as Russia/Ukraine are further evidence that geopolitical risks cannot be ignored.

Risk assets should continue to perform if we experience the expected pickup in economic growth; however, we could see increased volatility and a shallow correction as markets digest the end of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program. Economic data, especially inflation data, will be watched closely for signs that could lead the Fed to tighten monetary policy earlier than expected. Equity market valuations look elevated, but not overly rich relative to history, and maybe even reasonable when considering the level of interest rates and inflation. Investor sentiment remains overly optimistic, but the market trend remains positive. In addition, 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.

Asset Class

Outlook

Favored Sub-Asset Classes

U.S. Equity

+

Large cap bias, dividend growers

Intl Equity

+

Emerging and Frontier markets, small cap

Fixed Income

Global high yield credit, short duration

Absolute Return

+

Closed-end funds, event driven

Real Assets

+/-

MLPs, natural resources equities

Private Equity

+

Diversified

 

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.

Investment Insights Podcast – December 24, 2013

Investment Insights PodcastBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

Last week, the Federal Reserve announced their new policy on tapering.  ISI Group calculates that if the Fed continues on this new track, they would buy $455 billion more of bonds in 2014 before the taper finishes.

  • Good news: New policy, gradual taper, means interest rates weren’t forced to spike
  • Bad news: Not likely of staying on track. Stronger employment data and economic growth early in 2014 would make the Fed taper at faster rate, driving interest rates up.
  • What we are doing about it: Product-specific, but tactics would include researching managers who perform well in a rising interest rate environment or utilizing inverse ETFs

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording.

The views expressed above are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice.

Japan: The Sun Also Rises?

QuintStuart P. Quint, CFA, Brinker Capital

This is part two of a two-part blog series. Click here to view part one.

What are the signposts?

Japan also might be recognizing its opportunity for major change out of years of frustration with both voters and the political establishment.  Current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assumed office in December 2012 on a platform of promoting economic growth with the use of “three arrows”: monetary, fiscal, and structural economic reform.  So far, he has won positive reviews on the “first arrow”.   Naming a new head of the Bank of Japan with support from both ruling and opposition parties has resulted in an aggressive acceleration of quantitative easing in Japan.  The goal is to change price expectations from deflation to inflation, and thus improve prospects for savings, investment, and economic growth.  Major companies also gave employees small positive wage increases for the first time in many years.  Consumer sentiment and financial markets thus far have responded positively.

Monetary policy is not enough to solve Japan’s woes.  Structural reform must be tackled, though it will not be easy and could take more time.  On the political front, the government must undertake electoral reform in accordance with a ruling from the Supreme Court that could potentially rebalance voting power to younger, urban voters who benefit from more reform.  The question is whether leaders on both sides have the political will to implement a real reform.  If not, Prime Minister Abe could lose approval and momentum to reform.

shutterstock_17785696Additional structural reforms include trade, energy, tax, health care, and agriculture.  Agriculture is key not only to the economy, but also to national security.  As an example, the average age of the Japanese farmer is around the mid-sixties.  Very few large farms with economies of scale exist.  The acreage of farmland in Japan is also declining.  Japan is vulnerable to rising food prices, particularly if other countries restrict exports, such as what occurred several years ago when rice prices spiked.