February 2016 Monthly Market And Economic Outlook

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

It was a rough start to 2016 for investors. Fears of weaker growth in the U.S. and China and volatile oil prices weighed on global equity markets. With signs of slower growth in the U.S., investors began to worry about the impact of additional tightening moves by the Federal Reserve. Global equities and commodities experienced mid-single digit declines and high-yield credit spreads widened further. U.S. Treasuries benefited from the flight to safety and yields declined. After strong gains in 2015, the strength in the U.S. dollar moderated to start the year.

The S&P 500 Index declined -5% in January. The more defensive sectors – telecom, utilities and consumer staples – were able to produce gains against the backdrop of weaker economic data, but all other sectors were negative on the month. Small caps lagged large caps, while microcaps experienced double-digit declines. Growth lagged value across all market caps, due to the underperformance of the healthcare, consumer discretionary and technology sectors.

International equity markets were in line with U.S. markets in local terms, but lagged slightly in U.S. dollar terms. Emerging markets finished slightly ahead of developed markets in January, despite continued weakness in the equity markets of China and Brazil. The equity markets of both Europe and Japan fell during the month; however, Japan was able to erase some losses on the last trading day of the month when the Bank of Japan moved to implement a negative interest rate policy on excess reserves held at the central bank.

Yields fell across the curve in January as investors preferred the safety of government bonds. The 10-year Treasury note fell 39 basis points to end the month at a level of 1.88%. The decline was felt in both real yields and inflation expectations, and long duration assets benefited. The yield curve flattened marginally. Municipal bonds continued their solid performance run with a 1% gain. Investment grade credit spreads widened, but the asset class was still able to eke out a gain. The high-yield index, on the other hand, experienced another 80 basis points of spread widening and declined -1.6% for the month. Technical pressures still weigh on the high-yield market; however, we have yet to see a meaningful decline in fundamentals outside of the energy sector, at an absolute yield above 9% today, we view the asset class as attractive.

We remain positive on risk assets over the intermediate-term as we view the current market environment as 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. 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 remain below the Fed’s target.
  • Washington: 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:

  • 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 have moved significantly wider, and weakness has spread outside of the commodity sector.
  • Prolonged weakness in commodity prices: Weakness in commodity-related sectors has begun to spill over to other areas of the economy, and company fundamentals are deteriorating.
  • Geopolitical risks could cause short-term volatility.

On the balance the technical backdrop of the market is weak, but valuations are back to more neutral levels and investor sentiment, a contrarian signal, reached extreme pessimism territory. Investors continue to pull money from equity oriented strategies. 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 leans positive over the near 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

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: February 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

After such a strong move higher in 2013, U.S. equity markets took a breather in January as the S&P 500 Index fell -3.5%. Volatility returned to the markets as concerns over the impact of Fed tapering and emerging economies weighed on investors. Investor sentiment, a contrarian indicator, had also climbed to extreme optimism levels, leaving the equity markets ripe for a short-term pullback.

In U.S. equity markets, the utilities (+3%) and healthcare (+1%) sectors delivered gains, while energy and consumer discretionary each declined -6%. Mid caps led both small and large caps in January, helped by the strong performance of REITs. Fourth quarter 2013 earnings season has been decent so far. Of the one-third of S&P 500 companies reporting, 73% have beat expectations.

U.S. equity markets led international markets in January, helped by a stronger currency. Performance within developed markets was mixed, with peripheral Europe outperforming (Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal), while Australia, France and Germany lagged.

Emerging markets equities significantly lagged developed markets in January, as the impact of Fed tapering, slower economic growth and higher inflation weighed on their economies. Countries with large current account deficits have seen their currencies weaken significantly. Latin America saw significant declines, with Argentina down -24%, Chile down -12% and Brazil down -11%. Asia fared slightly better, with the region down less than -5%. Emerging Europe was dragged lower with double-digit losses in Turkey.

Fixed income had a solid month of performance as interest rates fell across the yield curve. The 10-year Treasury note is now trading around 2.6%, 40 basis points lower than where it started the year. The Barclays Aggregate Index gained +1.5% in January, its best monthly return since July 2011. All major sectors were in positive territory for the month; however, higher-quality corporates led high yield. Municipal bonds edged out taxable bonds and continue to benefit from improving fundamentals.

We believe that the bias is for interest rates to move higher, but it will likely be choppy. Rising longer-term interest rates in the context of stronger economic growth and low inflation is a satisfactory outcome. Despite rising rates, fixed income still plays a role in portfolios, as a hedge to equity-oriented assets if we see weaker economic growth or major macro risks as experienced in January. Our fixed income positioning in portfolios, which includes an emphasis on yield advantaged, shorter duration and low volatility absolute return strategies, is designed to successfully navigate a rising or stable interest rate environment.

We continue to approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we move into 2014, with a number of factors supporting the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with the Fed beginning to taper asset purchases, short-term interest rates should remain near zero until 2015. In addition, the ECB stands ready to provide support, and the Bank of Japan has embraced an aggressive monetary easing program in an attempt to boost growth and inflation.
  • Global growth strengthening: U.S. economic growth has been slow and steady, but momentum picked up in the second half of 2013. Outside of the U.S., growth has not been very robust, but it is still positive.
  • Labor market progress: The recovery in the labor market has been slow, but stable. Monthly payroll gains have averaged more than 200,000, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 7%.
  • Inflation tame: With the CPI increasing +1.5% over the last 12 months, inflation in the U.S. is running below the Fed’s target.
  • Increase in Household Net Worth: Household net worth rose to a new high in the third quarter, helped by both financial and real estate assets. Rising net worth is a positive for consumer confidence and future consumption.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets with cash that could be reinvested, returned to shareholders, or used for acquisitions. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.
  • Equity fund flows turned positive: Equity mutual funds have experienced inflows over the last three months while fixed income funds have experienced significant outflows, a reversal of the pattern of the last five years. Continued inflows would provide further support to the equity markets.
  • Some movement on fiscal policy: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, there seems to be some movement in Washington. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth next year. All parties in Washington were able to agree on a two-year budget agreement, averting another government shutdown. However, the debt ceiling still needs to be addressed.

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

  • Fed Tapering: The Fed will begin reducing the amount of their asset purchases in January, and if they taper an additional $10 billion at each meeting, QE should end in the fall. Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time and the withdrawal is more gradual. The reaction of emerging markets to Fed tapering is cause for concern and will contribute to higher market volatility.
  • Significantly higher interest rates: Rates moving significantly higher from current levels could stifle the economic recovery. Should mortgage rates move higher, it could jeopardize the recovery in the housing market.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover; however, we could see volatility as markets digest the slow withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve. Valuations have certainly moved higher, but are not overly rich relative to history. There are even pockets of attractive valuations, such as emerging markets. We are not surprised that we have experienced a pull-back in equity markets to start the year as investor sentiment was elevated and it had been an extended period of time since we last experienced a correction. However, we expect it to be more short-term in nature and maintain a positive view on equities for the year.

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We feel that 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.

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Data points above compiled from FactSet, Standard & Poor’s, MSCI, and Barclays. Asset Class Returns data compiled from FactSet and Red Rocks Capital. The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change