Carousel of Political Discontent

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

Hung parliaments in three recent elections may have investment implications. On this latest podcast, Stuart discusses what’s happening in Spain, Austria and Australia.

Quick hits:

  • Recent elections in Spain, Austria, and Australia highlight that voters are divided and unable to render a clear mandate for government.
  • Other parts of Europe appear vulnerable.
  • Politics pose risk to financial markets; loose monetary policy likely to persist in many places.

What do Spain, Austria, and Australia have in common? (No, this is not a trivia question nor the opening line of a bad joke.)

Each country in recent weeks has held elections, all of which failed to elect governments backed by a majority of the vote (with one case leading to yet another election).  Tepid economic growth has led to divided voters that could make it more difficult for governments to enact policies needed to stimulate economies. They each are riding “a carousel of political discontent”.

Starting in Spain

On June 26, Spain held general elections for the second time in six months (results of which were overshadowed by the Brexit referendum).  Both elections failed to confirm one party with a sufficient majority to form a government.  In fact, the two centrist-right and left parties lost parliamentary seats to smaller fringe parties. However, the June election did result in a higher seat count for the ruling center-right party.  Hope exists for the incumbent center-right party to be able to form a coalition, though most likely without support of a majority of parliament.[1]

Sobering developments in Austria

In May, Austria tried to elect a president, an office with more ceremonial functions than real political power.  The two final candidates came from the Greens and the far-right Freedom Party, parties not belonging to the traditional establishment.  After a very slight victory (50.3% to 49.7%)[2] for the Green candidate, the Austrian Constitutional Court annulled the results and rescheduled the election for October.[3]  Austria potentially might be the first country in the EU to elect a president from the far right, a sobering development in light of populist antipathy to the Euro project.

Instability in Australia

Elections that were intended to solidify the ruling coalition in Australia could end up having the opposite effect.  The ruling Liberal-National party coalition has lost seats in both houses of Parliament and faces the risk of forming a minority government.  Yet again, fringe parties siphoned off votes both from the incumbents and main opposition party Liberals. Australia has already suffered through five different Prime Ministers in the last six years. The last thing it needs is another unstable government and the risk of political paralysis and potential new elections.

Notable similarities

Three different countries with three different cultures still share some common themes. Slow economic growth has contributed to disillusionment with establishment parties. The new wrinkle is that cohesion in the traditional opposition, as well as incumbent parties, is unraveling. Fringe parties representing both ideological (far right and left) as well as parochial interests are gaining. Though unable to govern themselves, these fringe parties potentially could play greater roles as “kingmakers” for establishment parties to form ruling coalitions. More focus would be spent on holding together the coalition and catering to parochial issues rather than carrying through reforms to stoke confidence in the economy. Weak coalitions are prone to collapse and thus, new elections.

What’s the impact on other countries?

Other candidates for this cycle of discontent stand out in Europe, particularly countries in the Euro.  With its past history of rotating governments, Italy might reemerge as the popularity of incumbent PM Renzi has taken a hit from reform setbacks and lack of economic growth. The fringe opposition party Five Star enjoys significant popularity as shown in victories in recent municipal elections. The party espouses holding a referendum on Italy’s membership in the Euro. It might see opportunity to challenge Renzi in October when a referendum on voting reform is scheduled. If Renzi were to lose that vote, early elections are likely to ensue.

France also stands out with a vigorous populist far-right opposition party in the National Front of Marine LePen.  General elections in 2017 with the incumbent government suffering from depressed approval ratings could introduce additional market volatility. Along with a stagnant economy, France has also suffered backlash against efforts to reform labor markets.

What needs to change?

Political malcontent with economic growth has the potential to continue and add to market volatility. It also could lead to paralysis on fiscal and structural reform needed to accelerate growth. One consequence is likely: central banks will not be retreating from active monetary policy anytime soon in the face of weak growth, even if much of their dry powder has already been spent. Government inaction will still be replaced by central bank stimulation unless the situation changes.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

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.

[1] http://www.abc.es/espana/abci-rajoy-cita-manana-moncloa-201607051229_noticia.html  accessed on July 5, 2016.

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-24/independent-van-der-bellen-wins-austrian-presidential-vote/7439372  accessed on July 5, 2016.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/01/austrian-presidential-election-result-overturned-and-must-be-held-again-hofer-van-der-bellen accessed on July 5, 2016.

Investment Insights Podcast – Japan: Sunset on the Horizon?

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

On this week’s podcast (recorded April 29, 2016), Stuart puts the focus on Japan and their struggling economy especially on the current political climate and its economic impact.

Why talk about Japan?

  • It’s the third largest economy in the world.
  • It’s one of the world’s leading lenders to the rest of the world, including the U.S.
  • Political fallout and economic downside loom if monetary easing policy is not accompanied with fiscal progress.

What’s the latest?

  • On April 27, the Bank of Japan decided not to add to currently high quantitative easing, greatly disappointing the markets.
  • The Japanese Yen appreciated over 2% (versus the U.S. dollar), that’s a negative given that two-thirds of the equity market is based towards overseas earnings.

How did Japan get here?

  • Back in 2013, Shinzo Abe inspired hope to reinvigorate the economy through the three arrows: monetary policy, fiscal stimulus, and structural reform.
  • The reality is there has been little-to-no follow through on fiscal policy or structural reform.
  • Bank of Japan has created a massive QE program, owning one out of every three long-duration government bonds.

Japan_Chart_1

So, did the quantitative easing measures work?

  • QE helped asset prices, but did not reset inflationary expectations nor economic growth (GDP around 1%).
  • Japanese corporations aren’t investing back into Japan, but rather overseas.
  • Negative interest rates have resulted in a deceleration in bank lending.

That’s not great, but what does that mean exactly?

  • Failure in Japan could also have implications for global markets.
  • Despite stagnant growth for parts of the last three decades, Japan remains the third largest economy and second largest equity market.
  • Japan is also one of the largest holders of U.S. Treasuries.

Shoot me straight here, has Japan entered into the “sunset” phase?

  • It appears likely that Japan still has liquidity to muddle through its problems for now, but one cannot rule out a more negative scenario with the latest inaction and failure to improve the economy.
  • Fiscal stimulus could come in light of the recent earthquake, but progress on tax code reform and increased spending would provide longer-lasting relief.
  • One potentially negative scenario could come in July if a larger-than-expected victory for the opposition happens–this could lead to general elections and the departure of Abe causing policy uncertainty and higher volatility.

Please click here to listen to the full 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.

Investment Insights Podcast – Markets Elect to Follow History

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded March 24, 2016), Bill weighs in on the presidential election race and its impact, or lack there of, on the markets:

Quick takes:

  • The Wall Street Journal survey indicates about 76% of respondents feel this election is introducing more uncertainty into the markets.
  • Evercore ISI research frames the election less as Democrats vs. Republicans and more as unconventional vs. mainstream.
  • While there is heightened uncertainty strewn across media headlines, the market reaction has been typical of past open presidential election races.

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

Investment Insights Podcast – Brazil: Does Instability Bring Hope?

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

On this week’s podcast (recorded March 21, 2016), Stuart weighs in on all things Brazil especially on the current political climate and its economic impact.

Why talk about Brazil?

  • It’s the eighth largest economy in the world.
  • It’s the largest economy in Latin America.
  • For the last several years, it’s been a large drag on emerging market economic growth.

So, what’s been happening?

  • Brazilian markets shifted from a bear to a bull in March, as currency rebounded and markets followed.
  • There is increased hope for major political change as the current administration under President Dilma Rousseff faces potential impeachment.
  • Rousseff’s approval rating has plummeted (62% now disapprove) since her reelection in 2014 amid political scandal and economic stagnation.

Let’s talk about this scandal

  • In what has been labeled “Operation Car Wash”, the two-year investigation centers around corruption between oil giant Petrobras involving dozens of corporate executives and political figures.
  • Rousseff was head of Petrobras until 2010, prior to taking office.
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula, who was to be Rousseff’s Chief of Staff, has been implicated on bribery charges.
  • Encouraged by massive protests, opposing politicians have called for a formal impeachment process to begin.

How does this begin to shape the Brazilian economy?

  • The prospect of a new start in Brazil bodes well for markets–Brazilian index has risen over 27% in 2016, currency has appreciated 10% in March alone.

That’s great, but there’s more to it

  • The path to impeachment is murky and should not be taken for granted.
  • Operation Car Wash has indicted politicians from both the current regime and the opposition.
  • Even with the possibility of a new government, political consensus on structural reform appears evasive for Brazil.
  • Pensions, infrastructure, and autonomy of the central bank are important to address in order to revive the Brazilian economy.

 Where does Brazil stand now?

  • Overall, the economy is in a difficult situation–GDP declined in 2015 and is set to decline again in 2016.
  • Inflation continues to rise and exceeds targets set by Central Bank.
  • Unemployment and bad credit also continue to rise.
  • Given that Brazil represents over half of the GDP and total population of Latin America, economic prospects are important for growth.

Please click here to listen to the full 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.

Investment Insights Podcast – Jolting The Economy

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded March 10, 2016), Bill highlights the latest news out of Europe and China:

What we like: Mario Draghi and the ECB announced a number of pro-stimulus policies; banks supportive in lending to businesses; more quantitative easing supports sovereign debt markets; Draghi trying to be the backstop to support the economy; China’s Five-Year Plan focused on stimulating economy

What we don’t like: Market is realizing that pure monetary stimulus is not enough; there is a global oversupply and printing more money or having markets lend more money isn’t enough to offset; investors are hearing the rhetoric but looking for results

What we’re doing about it: Keeping the same mindset that there will not be a recession; looking for opportunities within high-yield and energy

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

Investment Insights Podcast – The World of Negative Interest Rates

Rosenberger_PodcastAndrew Rosenberger, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 2, 2016), Andy discusses what the world of negative interest rates looks like and how it impacts investors:

  • Japan surprised markets by entering the world of negative interest rates, joining Sweden, Denmark, and the European Central Bank.
  • Just a few years ago it seemed that negative interest rates were impossible; but, today there is over $5.5 TRILLION dollars of government debt with negative yields.
  • Long-term impact to investors is, candidly, unknown. Short-term impact seems to lean towards lower yields globally, including the U.S.
  • Large yield differentials between developed countries (Germany, Japan, U.S.) are a major reason why the U.S. dollar continues to appreciate.
  • Demand created by large yield spreads is why we believe we won’t see meaningfully higher yields in the United States anytime in the near term and why we believe the Fed will back off their initially suggested pace of raising interest rates, perhaps even holding off overall.

For Andy’s full insights, 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. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast – The Rate Hike Has Finally Come

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded December 17, 2015), Bill recaps the Fed’s official decision to raise interest rates:

What we like: It’s finally over! After months and months of conversation and debate, investors can breathe a sigh of relief and now move forward; Yellen was reassuring in describing the stability of the economy and it’s resilience to the increased interest rates

What we don’t like: Notable industry thinkers are questioning the decision and timing of the rate hike; they question the overall resiliency Yellen seems so confident in

What we’re doing about it: Paying close attention to economic data released over the next quarter; interpreting how well the economy is growing and how much financial stress may be present; if commodities and manufacturing remain weak, than perhaps the Fed raised rates too soon

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

Investment Insights Podcast – Crisis in High-Yield Markets?

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded December 11, 2015), we look at Third Avenue’s high-yield fund collapse and its potential impact on the market as a whole. This week we lead with what we don’t like:

What we don’t like: Investor fear has risen with the closure of the Third Avenue Focused Credit Fund; belief now that there are wider problems in the high-yield markets; issues and pressure stem from the energy sector as oil prices have fallen a lot; larger fear that this will spread to the economy as a whole; investors will be looking across all sectors for potential problems

What we like: We tend to believe this is more contained and hopeful that there will be better opportunities in the high-yield space in the near future;

What we’re doing about it: Continue to maintain within high-yield while keeping an eye on investor sentiment

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

It’s Official: China’s Currency Admitted to IMF Major Leagues

Stuart QuintStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager & International Strategist

Here are the quick takes:

  • The IMF formally approved inclusion of the Chinese renminbi (RMB) into Special Drawing Rights (SDR)
  • Chinese RMB will not replace the U.S. dollar (USD) in the near term
  • Impact more symbolic near term, but progress will be measured over many years

The IMF formally indicated on November 30 it would include the Chinese RMB into its basket of approved reserve currencies. As stated in a previous blog, the inclusion of the RMB would appear to have limited near-term economic impact to the U.S. dollar.

Even with limited economic near-term impact, the inclusion of the RMB certainly has symbolic significance. Clearly, there is political benefit to the IMF’s recognition of the RMB in terms of enhancing China’s global prestige. The inclusion of the RMB might also serve as a carrot to deepen further structural reform as evidenced by China’s promise to have fully open capital accounts by 2020.[1]   Other countries hostile to the U.S., such as Russia and Iran, might view RMB investment as a way to hedge themselves against the risk of U.S.-led economic sanctions by conducting more trade away from the U.S. dollar.

However, the overall effects of the IMF SDR should not be overstated. The SDR is akin to a “recommended list” that cannot be enforced on central banks or markets. As an example, the weight of the USD was basically held flat at around 41%. (The new RMB weight was added at the expense mostly of the EUR). Furthermore, current holdings of central bank reserves deviate quite a bit from the SDR, with USD comprising 60% of total reserves (vs. 41% weight in the IMF SDR).[2] For comparison, central banks hold roughly 20% of reserves in EUR (vs. 31% weight in the IMF SDR). Some central banks hold currencies such as the Australian dollar (AUD) that are not in the IMF SDR.

Major potential shifts into the RMB will take place over a protracted period of years, but here are some milestones to watch:

  • Progress on further structural reform
  • Deeper liquidity in local Chinese bonds
  • Longer track record on responsible governance.

[1] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-22/china-said-to-weigh-pledge-for-opening-capital-account-by-2020-ig1sbvez .

[2] http://www.wsj.com/articles/proportion-of-euros-held-in-foreign-exchange-reserves-declines-1435686071

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, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

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

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

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

Transmission to Main Street has been dubious.

The Fed’s FRB/US model, which is the workhorse behind quantifying QE’s transmission mechanisms into the general economy, forecasted a 0.2 percentage-point drop in unemployment over a 2-year time horizon as a result of a $500 billion LSAP, according to then-Fed governor Stein in 2012. Given that the cumulative scale of QE in the U.S. totaled around $4 trillion over about 4.4 years, excluding intermittent periods between buying sprees, the FRB/US model would then forecast a reduction in unemployment of 1.6 percentage points. (This assumes that there are no marginally diminishing returns to QE dollars.) Building in a “lag” of six months, the actual U.S. unemployment rate fell by 4.0 percentage points during this period and currently hovers near 5%, right above what is often pegged as the natural rate of unemployment. To what extent that reduction is due to QE, though, is very difficult to answer—there is no “control subject” in real-world experiments. The next-best-option is the event study that looks at variables prior to and following some stimulus, although this risks blending the effect with some other variable. While unemployment has fallen near its natural rate, anecdotal evidence speaks to widespread underemployment

Other metrics look either ambiguous or decidedly impressive. Across the U.S., U.K., Eurozone, and Japan, industrial production growth has been significantly more volatile than it was pre-recession; unemployment has fallen, with exception of the Eurozone where it has marched further upward after a double-dip recession in 2013; household saving as a percent of disposable income has come down substantially. Lack of healthy inflation has proven to be the fly in the ointment. Nearly 30 countries have explicitly adopted inflation targeting (around half of those in the last 15 years), but the majority continue to be plagued by nagging disinflation or outright deflation. Consider the poster child Japan who pioneered QE over the 2001-2006 period in its commitment to purchase $3-6 trillion in Japanese government bonds (JGBs) per month until core CPI became “stably above zero.” While the Bank of Japan wrapped up with the program in March 2006 after witnessing year-over-year core CPI in Japan clock in just above zero for three consecutive months, this was more of a mathematical win. Headline inflation over the period picked up solely due to a rapid rise in the price of crude oil, which arguably has little connection to monetary policy. This is not to say that some commentators have not already called for an indefinite deflationary environment, or that QE’s effects on the money supply don’t appear ambiguous.

Getting back to using the U.S. as an example, income growth has not followed the drop in unemployment, and inequality has persisted. Annualized growth rates since 2010 have been near zero and well below their long-term averages, and the lack of growth is particularly pronounced in the lower income quintiles.

Solomon_QE_4

On another front, record-low mortgage rates are undoubtedly a product of QE but have not translated into pre-2008 home buying, even in the presence of rising FICO scores and real home prices that are hovering around their 10-year trailing average. In fairness to QE, though, there simply seems to be a lack of a relationship between the cost of borrowing money to buy a home, and the demand for borrowing that money, as evidenced by the chart below.

Solomon_QE_5

QE’s efficacy seems to have varied case-by-case, and there is a growing consensus that there are diminishing marginal returns to QE.

Of this last point, Japan and the ECB should take note. While the Bank of Japan refrained from expanding its QE program at its meeting this past Friday above the current $670 billion p.a. rate, such expansion remains on the table for its November and December meetings. A similar decision faces the ECB in December, and the rhetoric of ECB President Mario Draghi has been mostly dovish in tone. (The annual rate of asset purchases by the ECB currently stands at about $816 billion.) While both banks will ultimately adhere to their mandates in trying to combat deflation and negative export growth, perhaps expectations should be set low for how effective further QE will be in meeting those mandates.

Proponents of real business cycle theory would not be surprised at much of the above—that is, that aggressive monetary policy has failed to override a general shift in appetites for home-buying, tepid supply-glut disinflation, reduced appetite by banks to lend, and the preference by businesses towards doing nothing productive with bond issuance besides repurchasing their own equity. These “exogenous” factors may overpower the stimulatory nature of QE, or the problem may be one of model specification. (Getting back to the home sales/mortgage rate example, QE may do its job of lowering borrowing rates, but this may not ultimately stoke home-buying appetites, which is a failure of the assumed indirect transmission mechanism that underlies QE’s founding.) Whatever the case, while it has helped solve short-run liquidity problems by injecting cash into the financial system, QE has proven sub-optimal in terms of being a cure-all to the woe of general economic lethargy.

Further reading

  1. Fawley, Brett & Christopher Neely. “Four Stories of Quantitative Easing.” (2013)
  2. Krishnamurthy, Arvind & Annette Vissing-Jorgensen. “The Ins and Outs of LSAPs.” (2013)
  3. Klyuev, Vladimir et. al. “Unconventional Choices for Unconventional Times.” (2009)
  4. McTeer, Robert. “Why Quantitative Easing May Not Work the Same Way in Europe as in the U.S.” (2015)
  5. Raab, Carolin et. al. “Large-Scale Asset Purchases by Central Banks II: Empirical Evidence.” (2015)
  6. Schuman, Michael. “Does QE Work? Ask Japan.” (2010)
  7. Stein, Jeremy. “Evaluating Large-Scale Asset Purchases.” (2012)
  8. Williams, John. “Monetary Policy at the Zero Lower Bound.” (2014)
  9. Williamson, Stephen D. “Current Federal Reserve Policy Under the Lens of Economic History.” (2015)
  10. Yardeni, Edward & Mali Quintana. “Global Economic Briefing: Central Bank Balance Sheets.” (2015)

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, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.