Investment Insights Podcast – October 27, 2015

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded October 27, 2015):

What we like: Tentative budget debt deal between Congress and President should fund government for next several months; better news and business activity out of China; U.S. consumer balance sheet good; wage growth positive; oil prices remain low

What we don’t like: Initial third quarter earnings just OK; some sales misses due to strong dollar and energy; manufacturing sector under great pressure

What we’re doing about it: Slow and steady wins the race; keeping an eye on any recession-related talk

Click here to listen to the audio recording

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

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: September 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

After a mild 4% pull-back from July 24 through August 7, the equity markets continued to grind higher while global bond yields fell. The S&P 500 Index gained 4% in August and crossed the 2000 level for the first time. Markets shook off elevated geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and the Middle East, and focused on stronger earnings from U.S. companies, better U.S. macroeconomic data, and the anticipation that central banks globally will remain supportive.

In the U.S., small cap stocks outpaced large caps in August, but large caps have a lead of more than 800 basis points on small caps year-to-date. Growth was ahead of value in August. In both large cap and small cap, growth has closed the gap and now lags value by only 50 basis points year-to-date; however, mid cap value still has a significant advantage over mid cap growth due to the very strong performance of REITs so far this year.

Developed international equity markets meaningfully lagged the U.S. in August, in part due to weaker currencies. Europe was slightly positive, but Japan declined more than -2%. Year-to-date, U.S. equities are almost 700 basis points ahead of the MSCI EAFE Index. However, emerging market equities posted another solid month and, after a very weak start to the year, are now ahead of U.S. equities. Brazil and India have each rallied more than 25% so far this year, while China has lagged with a gain of only 8%.

Global fixed income rallied along with equities in August. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury Note fell 22 basis points to 2.34%, which still looks attractive relative to yields in the rest of the world.

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All fixed income sectors positive for the month, led by credit and Treasuries. After high yield spreads widened in July and the asset class experienced significant redemptions, investors saw relative value and moved back into high yield in mid-August. The sector gained 1.6% for the month, and spreads still remain 40 basis points above the low reached in June.

We approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds, and 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 remains accommodative: Even as we approach the end of quantitative easing, U.S. short-term interest rates should remain near-zero until 2015 if inflation remains contained. The ECB has taken more aggressive action to support the European economy by lowering interest rates even further and announcing the purchases of covered bonds and asset-backed securities. The Bank of Japan continues its aggressive easing program.
  • Pickup in U.S. Growth: U.S. economic growth rebounded in the second quarter. Capital spending appears to be recovering. The improvement in the labor market continues and job openings are surging. Leading economic indicators suggest the recovery has momentum.
  • 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. Earnings growth has been ahead of expectations 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 this year, and the budget deficit has also declined significantly.

Risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed’s Withdrawal of Stimulus: Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, tapering is more gradual and the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time. Should inflation pick up, market participants will quickly shift to concern over the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike. However, the core Personal Consumption Expenditure Price (PCE) Index, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, is up only +1.5% over the last 12 months and we have not yet seen the improvement in the labor market translate into a level of wage growth that is worrisome.
  • Election Year/Seasonality: While we noted there has been some progress in Washington, we could see market volatility pick up in the next two months in response to the mid-term elections. In addition, September tends to be a weaker month for the equity markets.
  • Geopolitical Risks: The events in the Middle East and Ukraine could have a transitory impact on markets.

Risk assets should continue to perform over the intermediate term as we expect continued economic growth; however, we see the potential for 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, while down from excessive optimism territory, is still elevated, 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.

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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.

World Cup of Liquidity

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Portfolio Specialist, Brinker Capital

With the eyes of the world currently trained on Brazil, and the incredible spectacle of the globe’s most popular sporting event, there is another coordinated effort taking place on the world stage, albeit one with less fanfare and pageantry, but possessing a far greater effect on the global economy, and that is the historically accommodative policies of two of the world’s major central banks. The unprecedented amount of liquidity being thrust into the system by these institutions has helped fuel the current bull market in equities, which continues to push stocks listed around the world further and further into record territory.

World CupThe more powerful of these central banks, the Federal Reserve Bank of The United States, is attempting to gradually extricate itself from a portion of the record measures it has taken to revive growth following the Great Recession, which have caused its balance sheet swell to more than $4 trillion (New York Times) while not causing the economy to suddenly decelerate. “To this end, last week the Fed announced a continuation of the reduction of its monthly bond purchases by $10 billion, bringing the new total to $35 billion.” They also voiced their collective intention to keep short-term interest rates at their current historically low levels until 2015. Financial markets rallied following this news as investors focused largely on the Fed’s comments regarding rates, as well as the little-discussed fact that although their monthly purchases are being slowly phased out, the Central Bank continues to reinvest the proceeds from maturing bonds, thus maintaining a measure of the palliative effect. According to the New York Times, “Fed officials generally argue that the effect of bond buying on the economy is determined by the Fed’s total holdings, not its monthly purchases. In this view, reinvestment would preserve the effect of the stimulus campaign.” Although the American Central Bank is attempting to pare back its efforts to boost growth in the world’s largest economy, the accommodative measures currently in place look to remain so long after its bond purchases are concluded.

Preisser_Liquidity_6.23.17_2Mario Draghi, on June 5, made history when he announced that the European Central Bank (ECB) had become the first major Central Bank to introduce a negative deposit rate. As part of a collection of measures designed to spur growth and combat what has become dangerously low inflation within the Monetary Union, the ECB effectively began penalizing banks for any attempt to keep high levels of cash stored with them. In addition to this unprecedented step, Mr. Draghi unveiled a plan to issue four-year loans at current interest rates to banks, with the stipulation that the funds in turn be lent to businesses within the Eurozone, (New York Times). The actions of the ECB were cheered by investors who sent stocks listed across the Continent to levels unseen in more than six-and-a-half years, with the expectation that the Central Bank will remain committed to combating the significant economic challenges that remain for this collection of sovereign nations. To this end, Mr. Draghi suggested, during his press conference, that he is considering additional growth inducing measures, which may include the highly controversial step of direct asset purchases. Mr. Draghi gave voice to his resolve, and a glimpse of what the future might hold when he said, “we think this is a significant package. Are we finished? The answer is no” (New York Times).

The actions of both the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have directly contributed to the current rally in risk assets, but have also created a conundrum of sorts for investors; as though their historic measures have sent prices to record levels, the conclusion of these programs carry with them serious risks of disruption, as they too are unprecedented.

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

Winds of Change

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Portfolio Specialist, Brinker Capital

The winds of change have begun to blow through Washington, D.C. carrying with them whispers that the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States is contemplating a more immediate slowing of the unprecedented stimulus measures it has employed since the financial crisis than many analysts anticipate, which could have broad implications across the global landscape. Several signals have been offered by the American Central Bank in the past few weeks to prepare the marketplace for the impending reduction of their involvement, highlighting the delicate nature of this endeavor.

The Institution faces a daunting challenge in trying to scale back a program that has largely been credited with fueling a dramatic rise in asset prices, without interrupting the current rally in equity markets.  Although the U.S. economy has shown itself to be growing at a moderate pace, a measure of uncertainty lingers within investors as to whether this growth is robust enough to compensate for the paring back of the Bank’s historically unprecedented accommodative monetary policies.

As the depths of the ‘Great Recession’ threatened to pull the global economy into depression, the U.S. Central Bank undertook a herculean effort to bring the country back from the precipice of disaster. The tangible result of these efforts has been a deluge of liquidity forced upon the marketplace, which has given birth to a tremendous rally in share prices of companies listed around the globe, and helped to repair much of the damage inflicted by the crisis. The dramatic expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, since the inception of these programs, has culminated in the most recent iteration of these efforts—an open-ended program of quantitative easing, comprised of the purchase of $45 billion per month in longer dated U.S. Treasury debt and $40 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertaken in September of last year, that has brought the aggregate amount of assets acquired by the Bank to more than $3 trillion.

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The chart above depicts the increase in the size of the Fed’s balance sheet (white line) versus the S&P 500 Index (yellow line).

As the economic recovery has gained momentum in the United States, with notable improvements seen in both the labor and housing markets, concern has been voiced that the flood of liquidity flowing from Washington should be tapered, lest it potentially result in the creation of artificial asset bubbles, which in turn could present risks to price stability.

The first broach of the possibility of the Fed varying the additions it is making to its balance sheet came in a press release from the Federal Open Market Committee on May 1 which stated that, “The Committee is prepared to increase or reduce the pace of its purchases to maintain appropriate policy accommodation as the outlook for the labor market or inflation changes.” This statement was followed by the May 11th publication of an article authored by Jon Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal, who is widely considered to be a de facto mouthpiece for the Central Bank, “officials say they plan to reduce the amount of bonds they buy in careful and potentially halting steps, varying their purchases as their confidence about the job market and inflation evolves. The timing on when to start is still being debated” (Wall Street Journal). Comments issued on Thursday by the President of the San Francisco Fed, John William’s, referred once again to the possibility of the Central Bank’s program being scaled back, potentially sooner than many market participants anticipate, “It’s clear that the labor market has improved since September.  We could reduce somewhat the pace of our securities purchases, perhaps as early as this summer” (Bloomberg News).

Though the Fed has stated that it will continue its accommodative monetary policies until the unemployment rate in the United States has been reduced from its current rate of 7.5% to a target of 6.5%, it appears that the pace of this accommodation may change in the near term.  While the consensus among market participants is for this gradual reduction in quantitative easing to begin sometime this year, no one is sure of the scale or the exact timing.  As the Central Bank has played such an integral role in helping to engineer the current rally in equities, it will be imperative to closely monitor the deftness with which they handle the extrication of their involvement.