Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: May 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

In April we saw a reversal of some of what occurred in the first quarter. U.S. large cap equities were positive on the month (S&P 500 Index gained +1.0%); however, U.S. mid and small cap stocks experienced declines of -0.9% and -2.6% respectively. International developed equity markets continued to outperform U.S. markets (MSCI EAFE gained +4.2%), led by strong gains in Europe. The Euro strengthened 4.5% against the dollar during the month. Emerging markets led developed markets (MSCI EM gained +7.7%), helped by double-digit gains in China and Brazil. In the real assets space, crude oil soared +25% in April after an -11% decline in the first quarter, while REITs experienced modest declines.

Global sovereign yields moved higher in April. The yield on the 10-year Treasury climbed 11 basis points and as a result the Barclays Aggregate Index fell -0.4%. While investment-grade credit was negative on the month, high-yield credit gained +1.2% as spreads tightened. Municipal bonds underperformed taxable bonds during the month.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizing risks remain. We feel we have entered the second half of the business cycle, but remain optimistic regarding the global macro backdrop and risk assets over the intermediate-term. As a result, our strategic portfolios are positioned with a modest overweight to overall risk. A number of factors should support the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy accommodation: Despite the Federal Reserve heading toward monetary policy normalization, the ECB and the Bank of Japan have both executed bold easing measures in an attempt to support their economies.
  • U.S. growth stable and inflation tame: Despite a soft patch in the first quarter, U.S. economic growth remains solidly in positive territory and the labor market has markedly improved. Reported inflation measures and inflation expectations are moving higher but remain below the Fed’s target.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies are beginning to put cash to work through capex, hiring and M&A. Earnings growth outside of the energy sector is positive, and margins have been resilient.
  • Less uncertainty in Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, Washington has done little damage so far this year; however, Congress will still need to address the debt ceiling before the fall. Government spending has shifted to a contributor to GDP growth in 2015 after years of fiscal drag.

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

  • Timing/impact of Fed tightening: The Fed has set the stage to commence rate hikes later this year. Both the timing of the first rate increase, and the subsequent path of rates is uncertain, which could lead to increased market volatility.
  • Slower global growth: While growth in the U.S. is solid, growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker. It remains to be seen whether central bank policies can spur sustainable growth in Europe and Japan. Growth in emerging economies has slowed as well.
  • Geopolitical risks: Issues in the Middle East, Greece and Russia, could cause short-term volatility.

While valuations have moved above long-term averages and investor sentiment is neutral, the trend is still positive and the macro backdrop leans favorable, so we remain positive on equities. The ECB’s actions, combined with signs of economic improvement, have us more positive in the short-term regarding international developed equities, but we need to see follow-through with structural reforms. We expect U.S. interest rates to normalize, but remain range-bound and the yield curve to flatten. Fed policy will drive short-term rates higher, but long-term yields should be held down by demand for long duration safe assets and relative value versus other developed sovereign bonds.

As we operate without the liquidity provided by the Fed and move through the second half of the business cycle, we expect higher levels of market volatility. This volatility should lead to more opportunity for active management across asset classes. 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 Comments
U.S. Equity + Quality bias
Intl Equity + Neutral vs. U.S.
Fixed Income +/- HY favorable after ST dislocation
Absolute Return + Benefit from higher volatility
Real Assets +/- Favor global natural resources
Private Equity + Later in cycle

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.

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