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.

Investment Insights Podcast – Prospects and Possibilities of Brexit

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

On this week’s podcast (recorded March 1, 2016), Stuart takes to the mic to discuss what the impact could look like should Britain exit the European Union (EU).

Quick takes:

  • On June 23, the United Kingdom (UK) will hold a referendum on whether to remain or exit the EU.
  • The consensus leans towards the UK staying put, but polls in recent general elections were wrong.
  • The UK has more to lose from “Brexit” than the EU, but it could also highlight other cracks in Europe.

Markets have reacted by selling off UK markets, particularly the British pound, in light of the impending uncertainty and potential adverse impact of a “yes” for Brexit. So what potential impact could there be for the UK?

  • Direct trade – the EU accounts for roughly half of UK imports and exports; potentially three million jobs at stake¹.
  • Scottish independence – Scotland is more sympathetic to the EU and could seek another referendum for their independence from Britain; they currently make up roughly 40% of UK’s GDP.
  • Multinational headquarters – could start vacating out of London; banking sector could reduce operations in UK and uproot to Frankfort or Paris, as well as Asia.

What’s the potential impact to the EU?

  • Trade – while not as impactful, a UK departure is still negative especially with tepid economic growth in Europe
  • Political risks – France elections in 2017 could see more impetus to opposition party of Marine Le Pen, which is of an anti-Europe mindset; Catalonian desire to secede from Spain could be rekindled
  • Economics – Europe’s focus on broader economic and national security issues could become complicated

Please click here to listen to the full recording

[1] Webb, Dominic and Matthew Keep, In brief: UK-EU economic relations (Briefing Paper Number 06091, House of Commons Library), 19 January 2016, page 3 accessed on www.parliament.uk/commons-library on March 1, 2016.

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 – Why So Shaky, Markets?

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded January 7, 2016), Bill lends some insight into why markets have started the year so volatile, and what that means for the long-term outlook.

Two themes are at the heart of the current market weakness: (1) Chinese government has meddled too much with its market and currency and (2) Central banks have kept interest rates too low for too long.

China

  • Stock prices are two to three times more expensive relative to Germany, U.S., Japan and others
  • China halted trading (twice) so investor’s couldn’t get to their investments, causing panicked behavior among investors
  • Officials manipulated down the value of the yuan in an effort to stimulate exports, creating more fear in investors
  • Things must be weak enough where officials think that they have to stimulate exports

Central Banks

  • Central banks around the world have kept interest rates near zero, but now that is shifting
  • U.S. has raised rates and there is talk of raising them again in 2016; but Europe and Japan remain at near-zero levels, creating a credibility issue
  • Investors now questioning why U.S. is going in one direction and Europe and Japan in another, and what that means to their investments

The combination of Chinese market manipulation and central bank credibility is surely causing fear, and perhaps some irrational investing, but it’s important to temper those voices. While the current volatility may take some time to pass, it feels more like a market correction and less of a large-scale economic issue.

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.

In the Conversation: No Surprises Here

Tom WilsonTom Wilson, Managing Director, Wealth Advisory &
Senior Investment Manager

After completing their two days of meetings, The Federal Reserve decided to leave the Federal Funds Rate unchanged. As noted in yesterday’s blog, this was the consensus opinion of what would take place today.

The Fed noted that general business conditions had improved since their last meeting in July. They specifically noted the continued improvement in the labor markets, strength in the housing sector, and modest improvement in consumer and business spending. On the negative side, they stated that export growth has been soft and that inflation continued to run below the committee’s longer-term target. In addition, Fed chair Janet Yellen commented that weakening global growth had also contributed to today’s low level of inflation.

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.

Investment Insights Podcast – Unrest in Ukraine and Investment Implications

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

Stuart joins us this week to share some comments on the developing situation in Ukraine and its impact on investors.  Click the play button below to listen in to his podcast, or read a summarized version of his thoughts below.

Podcast recorded March 3, 2014:

Ukraine’s struggles are overwhelming. Political, economic, and now military challenges confront the country. Politically and militarily speaking, the U.S. and the European Union (EU) have few tools at this time and modest willpower to oppose Russian intentions in Ukraine. And given that the ruling government is merely a caretaker for the May elections, it seems unlikely there will be a bailout package offered by the International Money Fund (IMF) any time soon. Default on existing international and local obligations appears likely in the near term.

Russia is not without its own constraints, though, as the Russian economy is directly tied to Europe. Three out of every four dollars of foreign direct investment in Russia come from Europe.[1]  The EU also remains Russia’s most important trading partner with 55% of Russian exports destined for Europe.[2]

Let’s take a look at the potential scenarios: (1) Russian annexation of the Crimea, (2) negotiated settlement with later elections that would most likely bring about a grand coalition government, probably with leanings toward Moscow, and (3) military escalation (civil war, Russian forces occupy eastern Ukraine, either of which results in a smaller Ukraine or outright disintegration as a sovereign state).

So what investment implications might this have? (1) The near term is helpful for fixed income, with commodities benefiting from any disruption of supply (oil, gas) and flight to safety (gold), and (2) negative impact most of all for European (Russia supplies 30% of European gas supply[3]) and emerging markets (mainly Russia, but also other markets with the need to import capital could suffer from currency weakness and higher interest rates demanded by investors).

A negotiated settlement involving recognition of Russian claims in exchange for a roadmap to stabilize the rest of Ukraine would reverse many of these trends.  Indeed, a similar situation occurred when Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008, but the crisis in Ukraine has potentially more serious implications given its proximity to Western Europe and that it carries a large population of over 45 million people.[4]

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.