Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: July 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Uncertainty over the start of the Federal Reserve’s rate hike campaign, the possibility of a default in Greece and Puerto Rico, and the drop in China shares each weighed on financial markets in June, resulting in a quarter of flat to negative performance across most asset classes. The increased volatility and higher level of dispersion across and within asset classes has benefited active management.

The S&P 500 Index fell almost -2% in June but was able to eke out a small gain for the quarter, despite the negative headlines. The healthcare and consumer discretionary sectors continued to lead, while bond proxies like dividend-paying stocks and REITs struggled. Energy stocks continued to lose ground as well despite a stabilization in crude oil prices. From a market cap perspective, small caps are leading large and mid caps, but the margin isn’t as wide as it is between growth and value. Through the first half of the year, all style boxes are positive except for large cap value, which is modestly negative. However, dispersion is wide, with small cap growth outpacing large cap value by more than 900 basis points over that time period.

Greece_OutlookThe rally in international equities slowed in the second quarter as fears surrounding Greece prompted a sharper sell-off in June; however, international markets still ended the quarter ahead of U.S. markets and continue to have a sizeable lead through the first half of the year. The U.S. Dollar Index (DXY) was weaker in the second quarter, but has still posted gains of more than 5% in the first half, dampening international equity returns for U.S. investors.

In developed markets, Japan, fueled by its expansive quantitative easing program, has been the top performer year to date, gaining almost 14%. Europe, despite a weaker second quarter, has gained more than 4%. Emerging markets soared in April, but gave most of the gains back in May and June to end the quarter in line with developed international markets. June’s significant decline in the Chinese local stock market, which had gained more than 110% since November, prompted a number of policy responses. However, for investors the vast majority of exposure is gained through listings on the more open Hong Kong exchange, which has not experienced gains and losses of even close to the same magnitude.

Anticipation of a Fed rate hike in the fall incited a rise in long-term U.S. Treasury yields, with yield on the 10-year note climbing 41 basis points during the quarter to 2.35%. As a result, the Barclays Aggregate declined -1.7% in the second quarter and is slightly negative through the first six months of the year. All fixed income sectors were negative for the quarter, led by U.S. Treasuries. The macro concerns caused both investment grade and high-yield credit spreads to widen, but due to its yield cushion, the high-yield index was flat for the quarter and remains the strongest fixed income sector year to date with a gain of +2.5%. Despite the recent widening, spreads are still at levels below where we started the year. Municipal bonds finished the quarter ahead of taxable bonds, but are still flat year to date. Increased supply weighed on the municipal market in the second quarter.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizes that risks remain. We’re solidly in the second half of the business cycle, but the global macro backdrop keeps us positive on 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 Fed heading toward monetary policy normalization, their approach will be cautious and data dependent. 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 is forecast to be positive in the second quarter and the labor market continues to show steady improvement. While wages are showing signs of acceleration, reported inflation measures and inflation expectations remain below the Fed’s target.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: M&A activity has picked up and companies also are putting cash to work through capex and hiring. 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:

  • 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: Economic 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.
  • Contagion risk relating to the situations in Greece and China must continue to be monitored.
  • Geopolitical risks could cause short-term volatility.

Despite higher than average valuations, neutral investor sentiment and a weaker technical backdrop, we believe the macro picture supports additional market gains over the intermediate-term. However, with headline risk of events in Greece and the Fed set to normalize monetary policy, a larger pull-back is not out of the question. The S&P 500 Index has gone more than 900 days without a 10% correction, the third longest period on record (Source: Ned Davis Research). However, because of our positive macro view, we’d view a pull-back as a buying opportunity and would expect the equity market to continue its uptrend.

Fed_OutlookWe expect U.S. interest rates to continue to normalize; however, U.S. Treasuries still offer relative value over sovereign bonds in other developed markets, which could keep a ceiling on long-term rates in the short-term. With the Fed set to increase the federal funds rate this year, we should see a flattening of the yield curve. Our portfolios are positioned in defense of rising interest rates, with a shorter duration and yield cushion versus the broader market.

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 both equity and bond market volatility. We expect this volatility and dispersion of returns to lead to more attractive opportunities for active management across and within 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. US
Fixed Income +/- Favor global high yield
Absolute Return + Favor fixed income AR, event driven
Real Assets +/- Favor global natural resources
Private Equity + Later in cycle

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.

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.