Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: June 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior 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.

Magnotta_Market_Update_6.10.14As 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.

Asset Class Outlook Favored Sub-Asset Classes
U.S. Equity + Large cap bias, dividend growers
Intl Equity + 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 approach

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 – April 17, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded April 16, 2014):

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording.

What we like: Strong stock market last year with $5.6 trillion added to shareholder wealth

4.17.14_chart

What we don’t like: Blowout tax-collection season as a result of this wealth creation; tax burden reaching into the middle class demographic

4.17.14_chart_3

What we are doing about it: Expect more demand for municipals

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording.

Source: Strategas Research Partners, Policy Outlook, April 16, 2014

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not inteded as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: March 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

The U.S. equity market suffered a mild pullback in the second half of January, but resumed its trend higher in early February. The S&P 500 Index gained 4.3% in February to close at a record-high level. The consumer discretionary (+6.2%) and healthcare (+6.2%) sectors led during the month, while telecom (-1.8%) and financials (+3.1%) lagged. From a style perspective, growth continues to lead value across all market caps.

International equity markets edged out U.S. markets in February, helped by a weaker U.S. dollar. Performance on the developed side was mixed. Japan suffered a decline for the month (-0.5%), but Europe posted solid gains (+7.3%).  Emerging markets bounced back (+3.3%) as taper fears eased somewhat; however, they remain negative for the year.

Interest rates were unchanged in February and all fixed income sectors posted small gains. The 10-year Treasury ended the month at 2.66%, 34 basis points lower than where it started the year. Credit, both investment grade and high yield, continues to perform very well as spreads grind lower. High yield gained over 2% for the month. Municipal bonds have started the year off very strong gaining more than 3% despite concerns over Puerto Rico. Flows to the asset class have turned positive again, and fundamentals continue to improve.

While we believe that the bias is for interest rates to move higher, it will likely be a choppy ride. Despite an expectation of rising rates, fixed income still plays an important role in portfolios as a hedge to equity-oriented assets, just as we saw in January. Our fixed income positioning in portfolios—which includes an emphasis on yield-advantaged, shorter duration and low volatility absolute return strategies—is designed to successfully navigate a rising or stable interest rate environment.

We approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we move into 2014, with a number of factors supporting the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with the Fed tapering asset purchases, short-term interest rates should remain near zero until 2015. Federal Reserve Chair Yellen wants to see evidence of stronger growth. In addition, the European Central Bank stands ready to provide support, and the Bank of Japan has embraced an aggressive monetary easing program.
  • Global growth stable: U.S. economic growth has been slow and steady. While momentum picked up in the second half of 2013, the weather appears to have had a negative impact on growth to start 2014. 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 stable. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.6%.
  • Inflation tame: With the CPI increasing just +1.6% over the last 12 months, inflation in the U.S. is running below the Fed’s target.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that could be reinvested, returned to shareholders, or used for acquisitions. Corporate profits remain at high levels, and margins have been resilient.
  • Equity fund flows turned positive: Continued inflows would provide further support to the equity markets.
  • Some movement on fiscal policy: 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. All parties in Washington were able to agree on a two-year budget agreement, averting another government shutdown, and the debt ceiling was addressed.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed tapering/exit: The Fed began reducing the amount of their asset purchases in January, and should they continue with an additional $10 billion at each meeting, quantitative easing should end in the fall. Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time, and the withdrawal is more gradual. The reaction of emerging markets to Fed tapering is cause for concern and will contribute to higher market volatility.
  • Significantly higher interest rates: Rates moving significantly higher from current levels could stifle the economic recovery. Should mortgage rates move higher, it could jeopardize the recovery in the housing market.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover; however, we could see volatility as markets digest the slow withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve. Valuations have certainly moved higher but are not overly rich relative to history. There are even pockets of attractive valuations, such as certain emerging markets. After the near 6% pullback in late January/early February, investor sentiment is now elevated again.

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.

Magnotta_MonthlyUpdate_3.4.14

Data points above compiled from FactSet, Standard & Poor’s, MSCI, and Barclays. The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change.

Yield in the Time of Cholera

CoyneJohn E. Coyne, III, Vice Chairman, Brinker Capital

I recently reread the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel from the 80s, Love in the Time of Cholera, and as I found myself being warped back to that decade, it naturally led made me reflect on the current municipal bond market! I’ll explain.

Because romance is nowhere near as risky as this market is today, it is easy to see how we can fall in love with the exciting, attractive yields in the after-tax world (around 8.5% on the long end). Nevertheless, there is something to be said for stability and safety in a time of incredible uncertainty especially with continuing interest-rate increases and, even more unnerving, a frightening credit risk landscape.

The rising-rate environment of the late 70s and early 80s played havoc on both the value and purchasing power of bonds held by individual investors. So whether for income or safety of principal, the holder was punished. And the credit markets were not nearly as challenged as today. Rates topped out in 1983, and we began the 30-year bond rally that has recently unraveled. I would imagine that during that extended period, an argument can be made that a passive-laddered approach might have been acceptable as opposed to active management—particularly in the bygone days of credit insurers like MBIA and AMBAC.

8.28.13_Coyne_Yield in the time of CholeraWell, not today. If investors want to navigate the treacherous credit markets while capturing these currently attractive yields they need a steady, experienced guide to help manage their portfolio. Advisors should be working with their municipal managers to craft strategies that can balance out their needs for income, safety and maintaining purchasing power.  Now that can make for a wonderful romance.

Detroit Files for Bankruptcy

Magnotta@AmyMagnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

On July 18, the City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, becoming the largest American city to seek bankruptcy in court.  This course of action was anticipated by many market participants as Detroit’s fiscal situation has been deteriorating for some time. The city has accumulated more than $18 billion in debt, including $12 billion in unsecured obligations to lenders and retirees, over $6 billion in bonds secured by revenues, and has run operating deficits for a number of years. Detroit has suffered from a confluence of demographic and economic factors, including a significant loss of population and declining tax revenues, as described in the bankruptcy court declaration filed by Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency financial manager (via Zero Hedge).

7.19.13_Magnotta_DetroitThis situation will be contentious as there are a number of parties involved, including bondholders, retirees, and other creditors that will seek recovery through the bankruptcy process.  Revenue bonds, which represent $6 billion of Detroit’s outstanding debt, have historically had high recovery values in bankruptcies.  The case will be watched very closely as the outcome could determine whether this type of restructuring becomes a model for other municipalities under significant fiscal pressure.

We do not view the actions of Detroit to signify broader credit weakness for U.S. municipalities.  Overall, municipal credit has been improving as revenues have rebounded.  The recent sell off in municipal bonds can be more attributed to the concern surrounding the Fed’s tapering of asset purchases and some technical pressures, not to underlying fundamentals.

At Brinker Capital, we favor active municipal bond strategies that draw on the resources of strong credit research teams and emphasize high quality issues and structures.  We have not felt it prudent to reach for yield in the current environment and will maintain our high quality bias.  With yields moving slightly higher, some value can be found in municipal bonds at the long end of the curve with yields at close to 5%.  Our municipal bond separate account strategies have no exposure to Detroit paper.  The mutual funds used within our discretionary products have very limited exposure to Detroit, the vast majority in bonds backed by revenues of the Detroit Water and Sewer Department.

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The Name is Bond, Muncipal Bond

Magnotta@AmyMagnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

As interest rates have moved higher over the last six weeks, municipal bonds have sold off along with other fixed income sectors, but to a slightly greater degree. From May 1 through June 17, the Barclays Municipal Bond Index declined -2.25%, compared to -1.98% for the Barclays Aggregate Index and -1.72% for the Barclays Treasury Index. While municipals are still in negative territory year to date, they are slightly ahead of taxable bonds.

6.19.13_Magnotta_InterestRatesBoth the technicals and the fundamentals in the municipal bond market remain on solid footing. From a technical perspective, supply and demand dynamics are favorable. New issuance isn’t keeping up with maturing debt, resulting in a reduction in total outstanding supply. With 10-year municipal bonds now yielding 2.4% and 30-year maturities yielding above 4%, we will likely see buyers step back into the market. The muni/Treasury ratio is north of 100%. In addition, June and July are typically large months for reinvestments, potentially creating more demand for municipals.

On the fundamental side, state and local government finances have improved. State revenues are back to pre-2008 levels across the board and are expected to increase. Local governments, which source their revenues primarily from property tax receipts, have received a boost from stabilizing home prices. Most states have taken steps to address their longer-term entitlement program and pension issues in some form. While credit is improving generally, there are still areas of concern. Headlines surrounding Detroit, MI, Stockton, CA and Puerto Rico could negatively impact the municipal bond market, but we do not see a concern regarding widespread municipal defaults.

The backup in interest rates has resulted in significant outflows from both taxable and municipal bond mutual funds over the last two weeks. ICI reports that municipal bond funds experienced $2.2 billion in outflows the week ending June 5 and $3.2 billion in outflows the week ending June 12. The recent sell-off could provide an opportunity for municipal bond investors, especially those focused on higher quality intermediate and longer-term bonds where valuations are attractive.

One For The Muni

Magnotta@AmyLMagnotta, CFA, Brinker Capital

Municipal bonds have delivered very strong positive returns since Meredith Whitney famously predicted hundreds of billions in municipal defaults during a 60 Minutes interview in December 2010. Municipal bonds outperformed taxable bonds (Barclays Aggregate Index) by meaningful margins in both 2011 and 2012.

iShares S&P National AM T-Free Muni Bond Fund

Source: FactSet

Municipal bonds have benefited from a favorable technical environment. New supply over the last few years has been light, and net new supply has been even lower as municipalities have taken advantage of low interest rates to refinance existing debt. While supply has been tight, investor demand for tax-free income has been extremely strong. Investors poured over $50 billion into municipal bond funds in 2012 and added $2.5 billion in the first week of 2013 (Source: ICI). This dynamic has been driving yields lower. The interest rate on 10-year munis fell to 1.73%, the equivalent to a 2.86% taxable yield for earners in the top tax bracket. Similar maturity Treasuries yield 1.83% (Source: Bloomberg, as of 1/15). We expect new supply to be met with continued strong demand from investors.

*Excludes maturities of 13 months or less and private placements.  Source: SIFMA, JPMorgan Asset Management, as of November 2012

*Excludes maturities of 13 months or less and private placements. Source: SIFMA, JPMorgan Asset Management, as of November 2012

While technical factors have helped municipal bonds move higher, the underlying fundamentals of municipalities have also improved.  States, unlike the federal government, must by law balance their budget each fiscal year (except for Vermont).  They have had to make the tough choices and cut spending and programs.  Tax revenues have rebounded, especially in high tax states like California.  Last week California Governor Jerry Brown proposed a budget plan that would leave his state with a surplus in the next fiscal year, even after an increase in education and healthcare spending.  Stable housing prices will also help local municipalities who rely primarily on property tax revenues to operate.

While we think municipal bonds are attractive for investors with taxable assets to invest, the sector is still not without issues.  The tax-exempt status of municipal bonds survived the fiscal cliff deal unscathed, but the government could still see the sector as a potential source of revenue in the future which could weigh on the market.  Underfunded pensions – like Illinois – remain a long-term issue for state and local governments.  Puerto Rico, whose bonds are widely owned by municipal bond managers because of their triple tax exempt status, faces massive debt and significant underfunded pension liabilities and remains a credit risk that could spook the overall muni market.  As a result, in our portfolios we continue to favor active municipal bond strategies that emphasize high quality issues.