International Insights Podcast – Greece: How Bad Is It?

Stuart Quint, Investment Insights PodcastStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager and International Strategist

This audio podcast was recorded June 29, 2015:

Not surprisingly, Stuart’s podcast this week features the unnerving situation in Greece and the ripple effect it may have on a global scale.

Highlights of the discussion include:

In short…

  • The breakdown in negotiations between Greece and its creditors justifiably disappointed the markets.
  • Our sense is the end of the world has not come yet.
    • Primary links to Europe and world economy appear small and manageable.
    • Secondary links to Europe are murkier but not visible near term.
  • Watch economics and politics in peripheral Europe for further direction.

So, what about the near-term?

  • Do not underestimate Europe’s ability to prolong the agony (though it appears they are trying to force Greece’s hand even with the announced July 5 referendum).
  • Multiple scenarios could happen:
    • Best case is that Greece gets new government more willing to cut a deal
    • Worst case is Grexit and passive EU institutions

Does that mean it’s time to panic?

  • Primary links appear relatively minor and obvious
    • Most of Greece’s €340bn debt held by large government institutions (ECB, EU, IMF)
    • Direct trade links are small
    • Greek economy is small relative to Europe and the world
  • Secondary impacts less clear
    • Near-term hit to European confidence and economic growth
    • Medium-term credibility issue to the euro as a concept – in event of Grexit, should we worry about who is next?
      • Examples:
        • Italy – lower popular political support for euro (though ruling coalition supports Euro)
        • Spain – pending 4Q15 elections (one opposition party Podemos with minority of votes considers itself kindred to the ruling Greek Syriza party)
        • France – greater need for fiscal tightening, most popular anti-Euro populist party in LePen National Front

What to keep an eye on if things are getting worse or better

  • The euro
  • Peripheral bond spreads (Italy, Spain vs. Germany)
  • Greek referendum (Does it even happen? “Yes” a good result, but does it result in new negotiations and/or change of government?)
  • Popularity of other populist political parties in other parts of Europe (Spain, France, Italy)

Click here to listen to the full 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. Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: April 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

After 2014 was dominated by the strong performance of the narrow S&P 500 Index, the first quarter of 2015 showed better results for diversified portfolios and higher levels of volatility across and within asset classes—both positive developments for active management.

The focus remained on the Federal Reserve and the timing of the initial interest rate hike despite U.S. economic data coming in below expectations. The S&P 500 gained just 1% for the quarter, while mid caps and small caps fared better, gaining 4%. Growth outperformed value across all market caps, and high-dividend-paying stocks lagged amid concern of higher interest rates. The strong dollar also hurt U.S. multinationals as a high percentage of their profits are derived from overseas. Despite a strong February, commodity prices fell again in March and were the worst performing asset class for the quarter.

shutterstock_28211977While the anticipation of tighter monetary policy may have weighed on U.S. equity markets in the first quarter, looser monetary policy helped to boost asset prices in international developed markets. The MSCI EAFE Index surged 11% in local terms, but the stronger dollar dampened returns in U.S. dollar terms to 5%, still 400 basis points ahead of the S&P 500 Index. The euro fell -11% versus the dollar, the largest quarterly decline since its inception in 1999. Japan also benefited from central bank policy, gaining 10%.

Emerging market equities outpaced U.S. equities for the quarter, gaining 2.3%; however, dispersion was quite wide. All emerging regions delivered positive returns in local currency terms, although weaker currencies in Latin America had a significant impact for U.S. investors. For example, Brazil’s equity market gained 3% in local terms, but fell -15% in U.S. dollar terms. China and India posted solid gains of 5-6% for the quarter.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield bounced around in the first quarter, first declining 49 basis points in January, then climbing 56 basis points in February before declining again to end the first quarter at a level of 1.94%, 23 basis points lower than where it started. The Barclays Aggregate Index outperformed the S&P 500 Index for the quarter, with all sectors in positive territory. Credit spreads tightened modestly during the quarter and the high-yield sector outperformed investment grade. Municipal bonds were slightly behind taxable bonds as the market had to digest additional supply.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives but recognizes that risks remain. We feel we have entered the second half of the business cycle and 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: U.S. economic growth remains solidly in positive territory and the labor market has markedly improved.
  • Inflation tame: Reported inflation measures and inflation expectations in the U.S. remain below the Fed’s 2% target.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets are beginning to put cash to work through capex, hiring and M&A. Earnings growth outside of the energy sector is decent, 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 initial 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.
  • Significantly lower oil prices destabilizes global economy: While lower oil prices benefit consumers, should oil prices re-test their recent lows and remain there for a significant period, it would be a negative not only for the earnings of energy companies but also for oil dependent emerging economies and the shale revolution in the U.S.

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 +/- Oil stabilizes; interest rate sensitivity
Private Equity + Later in cycle

Source: Brinker Capital

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.

Why and How Will Housing Finance Be Reformed?

QuintStuart Quint, Sr. Investment Manager & International Strategist, Brinker Capital

The downturn in the housing market affected more than just the banks, but also the U.S. taxpayers. Nearly two out of every three dollars of mortgage debt is owned, guaranteed, or insured by agencies of the U.S. Government. The credit risk on the balance sheets of these agencies exposes the U.S. taxpayer to substantial risk in the event of a housing downturn.

The mandate to promote home ownership coupled with sub-optimal policies resulted in these agencies taking on excessive credit risk leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Substantial credit losses from declines in home prices damaged the balance sheets of government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These companies were effectively nationalized during the 2008 crisis. The U.S. Federal Government was compelled to intervene by making their debt an explicit guarantee backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. taxpayer.  While private capital withdrew from the market, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) expanded its mortgage insurance program, especially for first-time home buyers, in the depth of the 2008 crisis. Arguably, it might have prevented the housing crisis from getting worse, but the FHA has also been saddled with credit losses and is gradually reducing its participation in the market.

11.08.13_Quint_Housing_2Rare consensus within Washington exists for promoting housing-finance reform, though details on how to implement reform vary. There is little dissension for reducing the role of the Federal Government in the housing market and thus the liability of the U.S. taxpayer. The common vision is to shift the agencies’ role toward being a lender of last resort and reducing credit exposure to last-in catastrophic exposure. Private capital should be the first line of defense in the event of another housing downturn. Policy emphasis would also change from promoting home ownership for all, to attempting to facilitate financing for home owners and renters via financing of new apartment construction.

Difference among various parties pertains to the speed and extent that this transition should occur. Some advocate an immediate unwinding of the federal agencies, though this proposal appears to have little support from majorities in either party. A more gradual unwinding, which to some extent is already occurring, appears more likely.  Agencies would cease to hold mortgages on their balance sheets while retaining their role as credit guarantors for third-party investors in exchange for a fee.

11.08.13_Quint_Housing_2_2The Senate Banking Committee hopes to issue a bill on housing reform by the end of 2013.  Timing for deliberation by both houses of Congress is tricky, but it does appear that bipartisan support for the general parameters of housing reform exists. If done in a responsible, gradual manner, housing reform could ultimately reduce risk to the U.S. taxpayer and perhaps lessen the risk of another housing collapse. However, a hasty and disorderly exit of the agencies from the mortgage market could end up restricting the flow of capital, and thus the pace of recovery in the housing market.