March 2016 Monthly Market And Economic Outlook

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

February was a fragmented month. Equity markets were down mid- to high-single-digits for the first half of the month but rebounded off the February 11 bottom to end the month relatively flat. While fears of slower growth in U.S. and China as well as volatile oil prices continued to serve as negative catalysts to equity markets in the beginning of the month, positive reports of strong consumer spending and  employment as well as signs of stabilization in oil prices helped dissipate fears. In response, the market rallied during the second half of the month, finishing in neutral territory.

The S&P 500 Index ended slightly negative with a return of -0.1% for February. Sector performance was mixed with more defensive sectors – telecom, utilities and consumer staples – posting positive returns. Underperformance of health care and technology sectors caused growth to lag value for the month. Small caps continued to lag large caps, and micro caps had a particularly challenging month, underperforming all market caps.

International equity markets lagged U.S. markets in both local and in U.S. dollar terms for the month. Weak economic data coupled with concerns over the effectiveness of monetary policy response in both Europe and Japan caused investor confidence to drop, negatively impacting developed international markets. Emerging markets were relatively flat on the month, remaining ahead of developed international markets as these export heavy countries benefited from more stable currencies and an upturn in oil prices.

U.S. Treasury yields continued to fall in the beginning of the month, bottoming at 1.66%, before bouncing back to end the month at 1.74% as equities rebounded. The yield curve marginally flattened during the month. All investment grade sectors were positive for the month and municipal bonds also posted a small gain. High yield credit gained 0.6% as spreads contracted 113 basis points after reaching a high of 839 basis points on February 11th. We remain positive on this asset class due to the underlying fundamentals and attractive absolute yields.

We remain positive on risk assets over the intermediate-term as we believe we remain in a correction period rather than the start of a bear market. The worst equity market declines are typically associated with recessions, which are preceded by aggressive central bank tightening or accelerating inflation, factors we do not believe are present today. However, we acknowledge that we are in the later innings of the bull market that began in 2009 and the second half of the business cycle, and, while a recession is not our base case, the risks must not be ignored.

A number of factors we find supportive of the economy and markets over the near term.

  • Global monetary policy accommodation: Despite the Federal Reserve beginning to normalize monetary policy with a first rate hike in December, their approach should be patient and data dependent.  More signs point to the Fed delaying the next rate hike in March. The Bank of Japan and the ECB have been more aggressive with easing measures in an attempt to support their economies, and China is likely going to require additional support.
  • U.S. growth stable and inflation tame: U.S. economic growth has been modest but steady. GDP estimates are running at 2.2% for the first quarter (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta). Payroll employment growth has been solid and the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9%. Wage growth has been tepid at best despite the tightening labor market, and reported inflation measures and inflation expectations, while off the lows, remain below the Fed’s target.
  • Washington: The new budget fiscal policy is poised to become modestly accommodative, helping offset more restrictive monetary policy.vola

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

  • Policy mistake: The potential for a policy mistake by the Fed or another major central bank is a concern, and central bank communication will be key. In the U.S. the subsequent path of rates is uncertain and may not be in line with market expectations, which could lead to increased volatility.
  • Slower global growth: Economic growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker, and a significant slowdown in China is a concern.
  • Wider credit spreads: While overall credit conditions are still accommodative, high yield credit spreads remain wide, and weakness is widespread.
  • Another downturn in commodity prices: Oil prices have rebounded off of the recent lows; however, another significant leg down in prices could become destabilizing.

On the balance, the technical backdrop of the market remains on the weaker side, but valuations are at more neutral levels. We expect a higher level of volatility as markets digest the Fed’s actions and assess the impact of slower global growth; however, our view on risk assets tilts positive over the near term. Higher volatility has led to attractive pockets of opportunity that as active managers we can take advantage of.

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. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Monthly Market And Economic Outlook: November 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

The market correction in the third quarter, prompted by the Federal Reserve’s decision to stay on hold and worries over China, resulted in investor sentiment reaching levels of extreme pessimism. Risk appetites returned in October and global equity markets rebounded sharply. The start to earnings season was also better than expected. With a gain of +8.4%, the S&P 500 Index posted its third-highest monthly return since 2010, bringing the index back into positive territory for the year. Fixed income markets were relatively flat, but high yield and emerging market debt experienced a rebound in the risk-on environment. Year to date through October, the S&P 500 Index leads both international equity and fixed income markets, a headwind for diversified portfolios.

Within the U.S. equity market sector leadership shifted again but all sectors were in positive territory. The energy and materials sectors, which have weighed significantly on index returns this year, both experienced double-digit gains for the month as crude oil prices stabilized. The more defensive consumer staples and utilities sectors underperformed. Large caps outpaced small and mid-caps, and the margin of outperformance for growth over value continued to widen.

International developed equity markets kept pace with U.S. equity markets in October despite a slight strengthening in the U.S. dollar. Performance in Japan and Europe was boosted on expectations of additional monetary easing. Emerging markets were only slightly behind developed markets, helped by supportive monetary and fiscal policies in China and stabilizing commodity prices. All regions were positive but performance was mixed, with Indonesia gaining more than +15% while India gained less than +2%.

U.S. Treasury yields moved slightly higher during October, and they have continued their move upward as we have entered November. Investment-grade fixed income was flat for the quarter and has provided modest gains so far this year. Municipal bonds outperformed taxable bonds. After peaking at a level of 650 basis points in the beginning of the month, the increase in risk appetite helped high yield spreads tighten more than 100 basis points and the asset class gained more than 2%. Spreads still remain wide relative to fundamentals.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizing risks remain. The global macro backdrop keeps us positive on risk assets over the intermediate-term, even as we move through the second half of the business cycle. 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, their approach will be patient and data dependent. The ECB and the Bank of Japan have both executed bold easing measures in an attempt to support their economies. Emerging economies have room to ease.
  • U.S. growth stable and inflation tame: U.S. GDP growth, while muted, remains positive. Employment growth is solid as the unemployment rate fell to 5%. Wage growth has been tepid at best despite the tightening labor market, and reported inflation measures and inflation expectations remain below the Fed’s target.
  • U.S. companies remain in decent shape: M&A deal activity continues to pick up as companies seek growth. Earnings growth outside of the energy sector is positive, but margins, while resilient, have likely peaked for the cycle.
  • Washington: Policy uncertainty is low and all parties in Washington were able to agree on a budget deal and also raised the debt ceiling to reduce near-term uncertainty. With the new budget fiscal policy is poised to become modestly accommodative, helping offset more restrictive monetary policy.

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

  • Fed tightening: After delaying in September, expectations are for the Fed to raise the fed funds rate December. The subsequent path of rates is uncertain and may not be in line with market expectations, which could lead to increased 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. A significant slowdown in China is a concern, along with slower growth in other emerging economics like Brazil.
  • Geopolitical risks could cause short-term volatility.

While the equity market drop was concerning, we viewed the move as more of a correction than the start of a bear market. The worst equity market declines are associated with recessions, which are preceded by substantial central bank tightening or accelerating inflation. As described above, we don’t see these conditions being met yet today. The trend of the macro data in the U.S. is still positive, and a significant slowdown in China, which will certainly weigh on global growth, is not likely enough to tip the U.S. economy into contraction. Even as the Fed begins tightening monetary policy later this year, the pace will be measured as inflation is still below target. While we expect a higher level of volatility as the market digests the Fed’s actions and we move through the second half of the business cycle, we remain positive on risk assets over the intermediate term. Increased volatility creates opportunities that we can take advantage of as active managers.

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. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Has Quantitative Easing Worked? A Two-Part Blog Series Perspective

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

Part one in a two-part blog series discussing quantitative easing measures on a domestic and global scale.

As policy rates hover near (or below) zero, the focus has been on the timing and magnitude of rate hikes by the Fed and other central banks. Don’t worry, I’m not here to add my speculative voice to that crowded discussion. Instead, I want to provide a quick ex-post assessment of another tool that has left the spotlight after being largely phased out by the Fed. I’m talking about quantitative easing (QE)—the buying of massive amounts of financial assets—or large-scale asset purchases (LSAPs) as they are termed by some economists.

At its core, QE attempts to influence the supply and demand for financial assets, thereby shifting preferences towards spending and investment and away from saving. (For those interested in getting further into the weeds on QE’s theoretical underpinnings, check out Ben Bernanke’s 2012 Jackson Hole speech, Jeremy Stein’s remarks that same year, or this release by the IMF.) Among the U.S., U.K., Japan, and the ECB, the scope of QE to date has amounted to around 10-20% of 2014 nominal GDP. To put that into perspective for the U.S.’s case, that is about the magnitude of U.S. total federal discretionary spending over the trailing four years.

Solomon_QE_1

So, with the Bank of Japan and ECB contemplating expanding quantitative easing at their upcoming meetings, does the existing research generally conclude that QE globally has been a few trillion dollars well spent? Let’s take a closer look.

LSAPs have seemed to benefit U.S. equities unequivocally well, and international equities less so. Evidence on financial system vitality is mixed.

The algebraic explanation is relatively straightforward: the yield on risk-free securities is an element of the discount rate used to value stocks and other assets. Artificially keeping this rate low, as well as creating expectations that it will stay that way, increases the discounted present value of other financial assets. However, only in the U.S. has the annualized return of that country’s respective MSCI index over the past five years exceeded the return required by a general equity risk premium of 5.57% (from Fama & French, 2002) and country risk premiums as computed by Aswatch Damodaran of NYU (2015).

Solomon_QE_2

Evidence on QE’s ability to reduce stress within the financial system is mixed. Event studies show that QE announcements were followed by sharp reductions in financial stress indicators, which consist of variables including the TED spread, corporate bond spreads, and beta of banking stocks. However, some studies on Japan’s experience with QE assert that it took a substantial amount of time for bank lending to improve, as banks were burdened by nonperforming loans and uneasiness towards extending credit.

Solomon_QE_3

Furthermore, QE may have also distorted asset prices (some have gone far enough to use the term bond bubble) while creating “price-insensitive buyers,” a term used by Ben Inker of GMO to describe an investor for whom the expected return on the asset does not dictate their decision to purchase.

Look for part two of this blog series later in the week.

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: June 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Financial markets in May were mixed with modestly positive returns in U.S. equity markets (+1.3% for the S&P 500), modestly negative returns for international equity markets (-1.5% for the MSCI ACWI ex USA), and flat returns in U.S. fixed income markets (-0.2% for the Barclays Aggregate). U.S. economic data was on the weaker side, generally attributed to bad weather; however, the labor market continues to show improvement. The expectation is still for the Fed to commence rate hikes later this year.

In U.S. equity markets all sectors were positive for the month except for Energy and Telecom. The healthcare sector led with gains of more than 4%. Small caps led large caps for the month, and growth led value except in the mid cap segment.

International equity markets delivered a small gain in local terms, but the stronger dollar weighed on returns for U.S. investors. Japan gained more than 5% in local terms amid stronger economic data, while Europe gained less than 1% in local terms. Emerging market equities lagged developed markets in May, declining -4% in US dollar terms. China and Brazil were particularly weak performers. Despite weaker performance in May, both developed international and emerging markets lead U.S. equity markets so far this year by a sizeable margin.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield ended the month 10 basis points higher at a level of 2.13% and so far in June 10-year yields have backed up another 25 basis points (through June 5). However, because of the small coupon cushion in U.S. Treasuries today, only a small increase in yields can lead to a negative total return for investors. The credit sector was mixed in May, with investment grade experiencing declines and high yield delivering small gains. Municipal bonds continued to underperform taxable bonds. Year to date high yield leads all fixed income sectors.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizing risks remain. 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 is expected to turn positive in the second quarter and the labor market has markedly improved. Reported inflation measures and inflation expectations 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: 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.
  • Geopolitical risks: Could cause short-term volatility.

Despite higher than average valuations and neutral investor sentiment, the trend is still positive and the macro backdrop leans favorable, so we believe there is the potential for additional equity market gains. The quantitative easing programs of the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan, 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 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.

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. This volatility should lead to more attractive opportunities 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 +/- High-yield favorable
Absolute Return + Benefit from higher volatility
Real Assets +/- Favor global natural resources
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.

Investment Insights Podcast – February 11, 2015

Rosenberger_PodcastAndrew Rosenberger, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 5, 2015): We break away from our traditional format to hear Andy breakdown 2014 performance in terms of a diversified portfolio versus the S&P 500.

Highlights from the podcast include:

  • U.S. markets trumped mostly all other markets in 2014
  • Caution against knee-jerk reactions from investors to move portfolios from international to domestic
  • Encourage keeping an open mind to international opportunity given the 2014 pace of U.S. equities may be unlikely to continue
  • International markets are up year to date; U.S. slightly negative
  • Risks remain–new Greek government, elections in Spain, etc.

Listen here for the full version of Andy’s insights.

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.