The Impact of Student Loans on Your Own Retirement

Roddy MarinoRoddy Marino, CIMA, Executive Vice President
National Accounts & Distribution

An education is one of the greatest gifts a parent or grandparent can give to the next generation. The problem for many, however, is that it comes at the cost of their own retirement.

People over the age of 60 represent the fastest-growing segment of individuals taking out loans for education. Over the past decade, student loans taken out by individuals over the age of 60 grew from $6 billion in 2004 to $58 billion in 2014. To put the dollars into perspective, consider another staggering statistic—the numbers of senior citizens with student debt exceed 760,000. Some have co-signed loans or taken Parent PLUS loans to help children or grandchildren get an education. Other seniors carry old debt from when they returned to school to get advanced degrees or in the pursuit of new skills needed for a career change.

A mistake some retirees make is they incorrectly assume that they will never have to repay their student debt. Only two things can make federal college debt go away: satisfaction or death of the borrower.

shutterstock_44454148Federal student loans aren’t forgiven at retirement or any age after. Bankruptcy won’t even discharge a federal student loan, and the consequences to a senior who defaults on a federal loan are severe. The government can garnish Social Security benefits and other wages. Recent reports indicate over 150,000 retirees have at least one Social Security payment reduced to offset federal student loans. This number represents a drastic increase from the 31,000 impacted in the year 2002.

The government can withhold up to 15% of a borrower’s retirement benefits and can also withhold tax refunds in the event the borrower defaults on a college loan.

If repayment is not possible, you may want to explore a few options to minimize the impact on cash flow once you are on a fixed income. You could stretch out the term of the loan as long as possible through extended payments, or enter into an income-driven repayment plan. Typically, borrowers must pay 10-20% of discretionary income in an income-contingent scenario.

Both strategies could reduce your monthly payments; however, ultimately either strategy will result in higher total payments. To put it simply, debt of any kind is best retired before you retire.

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.

“Taking Stock” Interview with Bloomberg

Wilson_HeadshotThomas K.R. Wilson, CFA, Managing Director, Wealth Advisory & Senior Investment Manager

Tom joined Bloomberg’s “Taking Stock” with Kathleen Hays and Pimm Fox. They discussed the impact of the upcoming election on markets, fixed income investment options, and the strength of consumers. Listen below:

Wilson_Bloomberg

April 2016 Monthly Market And Economic Outlook

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

After an extremely volatile quarter, the broad equity market indexes ended just about where they started. Risk assets began the year under heavy pressure, with the S&P 500 Index declining more than -10% to a 22-month low on February 11. Concerns over the global growth outlook and the impact of further weakness in crude oil prices weighed on investors, and investor sentiment hit levels of extreme pessimism. Then we experienced a major reversal beginning on February 12, helped by a rebound in oil prices after Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to freeze production, and more dovish comments by the Federal Reserve. Expectations regarding the pace of additional rate hikes by the Fed have been tempered from where they started the year.

All U.S. equity sectors ended the quarter in positive territory except for healthcare and financials. Dividend paying stocks significantly outperformed, resulting in a strong quarter for both the telecom and utilities sectors, and value indexes overall. From a market capitalization perspective, mid-caps outperformed both large and small caps, helped by the strong performance of REITs, another yield-oriented asset class.

Developed international equity markets lagged U.S. equity markets in the first quarter despite benefiting from a weaker U.S. dollar. Japan and Europe were particularly weak despite additional easing moves by their central banks, while the commodity-sensitive countries, such as Canada and Australia were positive for the quarter. Emerging markets outperformed U.S. equity markets for the quarter despite declines in China and India. Brazil was the strongest performer, helped by a rebound in the currency, expectations for political change, and the bounce in commodity prices.

ECBBonds outperformed stocks during the quarter, and did not even decline during the risk-on rally. Additional easing from the European Central Bank and a negative interest rate policy in Japan prevented U.S. bond yields from moving higher.

All fixed income sectors were positive for the quarter, led by corporate credit, which benefited from meaningful spread tightening, and TIPS, which benefited from their longer duration. Municipal bonds delivered positive returns, but lagged taxable fixed income.

We remain positive on risk assets over the intermediate-term; 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. The worst equity market declines are typically associated with recessions, which are preceded by aggressive central bank tightening or accelerating inflation, factors which are not present today. While our macro outlook is biased in favor of the positives and a near-term end to the business cycle 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 remains accommodative: Despite the Federal Reserve beginning to normalize monetary policy with a first rate hike in December, their approach is patient and data dependent. 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.
  • Stable U.S. growth and tame inflation: U.S. economic growth has been modest but steady. Payroll employment growth has been solid and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.0%. 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.
  • U.S. fiscal policy more accommodative: With the new budget fiscal policy is poised to become modestly accommodative in 2016, helping offset more restrictive monetary policy.
  • Solid backdrop for U.S. consumer: The U.S. consumer should see benefits from lower energy prices and a stronger labor market.

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

  • Risk of 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. Negative interest rates are already prevalent in other developed market economies.
  • Slower global growth: Economic growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker, and a significant slowdown in China is a concern.
  • Another downturn in commodity prices: Oil prices have rebounded off of the recent lows and lower energy prices on the whole benefit the consumer; however, another significant leg down in prices could become destabilizing.
  • Further weakness in credit markets: While high yield credit spreads have tightened from February’s wide levels, further weakness would signal concern regarding risk assets more broadly.

The technical backdrop of the market has improved, as have credit conditions, while the macroeconomic environment remains favorable. Investor sentiment moved from extreme pessimism levels in early 2016 back into more neutral territory. Valuations are at or slightly above historical averages, but we need to see earnings growth reaccelerate. We expect a higher level of volatility as markets assess the impact of slower global growth and actions of policymakers; however, our view on risk assets tilts positive over the near term. Higher volatility has led to attractive pockets of opportunity 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: 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.

Monthly Market And Economic Outlook: October 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

A slowdown in China, which generated anxiety over the outlook for global growth, combined with the Federal Reserve’s decision to postpone the first interest rate hike, while warning of global developments, led to uncertainty and significant equity market volatility during the third quarter. The S&P 500 Index declined -12.4% from its May high through August 25 and ended the quarter with a -6.4% decline—the worst quarter since the third quarter of 2011. U.S. equity markets held up better than international equity markets, both developed and emerging. Longer-term Treasury yields declined during the quarter while credit spreads widened in response to the risk-off environment. Crude oil prices reached another low in late August, also weighing on global equity and credit markets.

Leadership within the U.S. equity market sector shifted in the third quarter. Utilities was the only sector to post a gain for the quarter. Healthcare gave back all of the gains it generated in the first half of the year, ending the quarter among the worst performing sectors with a decline of -10.7%. Energy and materials continued their declines, the former down more than -21% year to date. Large caps outpaced small and mid caps, but style performance was more mixed. Growth had a significant advantage within large caps; however, value led across small caps.

U.S. equity markets fared better than international developed equity markets in the third quarter, significantly narrowing the performance differential for the year-to-date period. The strength in the U.S. dollar moderated in the third quarter. Japan fell -14% in local currency terms on weaker-than-expected economic data, and the yen rebounded. The Europe ex-UK region was a relative outperformer, while commodity countries were relative underperformers. Emerging markets suffered steeper declines than developed markets. Fear of a hard landing in China and a weak economy and debt downgrade in Brazil weighed on the asset class.

High-quality fixed income held up well during the equity market volatility. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury fell approximately 30 basis points to end the quarter at 2.06%. The Barclays Aggregate Index gained 1.2% for the quarter, with all sectors in positive territory. Municipal bonds also delivered a small gain. However, high-yield credit experienced significant spread-widening during the quarter, with the option-adjusted spread climbing more than 150 basis points to 630, and the index falling -4.8% in total return terms. While high-yield credit weakness is more pronounced in the energy sector, the softness has spread to the broader high-yield market.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizing that 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 cautious 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 rebounded in the second quarter and consensus expectations are for 2.5% growth moving forward. Employment growth is solid, with an average monthly gain of 229,000 jobs over the last 12 months. Wages have not yet shown signs of acceleration despite the tightening labor market, and 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. However, weakness due to low commodity prices could begin to spread to other sectors.

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

  • Fed tightening: After delaying in September, the Fed has set the stage to commence rate hikes in the coming months. Both the timing of the first rate increase, and 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.
  • Washington: Congress still needs to address a budget to avoid a government shutdown later this year, as well as an increase to the debt ceiling. While a deal on both is likely, brinkmanship could impact the markets short-term.
  • Geopolitical risks could cause short-term volatility.

While the recent drop in the equity market is concerning, we view 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 often preceded by substantial central bank tightening or accelerating inflation. As described above, we don’t see these conditions being met. 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 if the Fed begins tightening monetary policy later this year, the pace will be measured as inflation is still below target. However, we would not be surprised if market volatility remains elevated and we re-tested the August 25th low as history provides many examples of that occurrence. Good retests of the bottom tend to occur with less emotion and less volume as the weak buyers have already been washed out. Sentiment has moved into pessimism territory, which, as a contrarian indicator, is a positive for equity markets.

As a result of this view that we’re still in a correction period and not a bear market, we are seeking out opportunities created by the increased volatility. We expect volatility to remain elevated as investors position for an environment without Fed liquidity. However, such an environment creates greater dislocations across and within asset classes 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.

Monthly Market And Economic Outlook: August 2015

Amy Magnotta

Amy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Developed equity markets rebounded in July amid easing of the debt crisis in Greece and improving U.S. economic data. However, concerns over a slowdown in China, renewed weakness in Brazil and a further sell‐off in commodity prices weighed on emerging market equities. Fixed income was the beneficiary of a flight to quality, with sovereign yields moving lower and the asset class delivering positive returns. The exception being high yield as credit spreads moved wider during the month. The default by Puerto Rico does not appear to have caused a broader sell‐off in the municipal bond market.

Year to date U.S. equity returns have been muted overall, but we have seen significant dispersion by style as growth has significantly outpaced value across market capitalizations. From a sector perspective, healthcare and consumer discretionary have led while energy, utilities and materials have lagged. U.S. equity markets have lagged developed international equity markets, despite continued strength in the U.S. dollar. Year to date the MSCI EAFE Index has gained more than 8%, boosted by strong gains in Japan and areas within the Eurozone. However, emerging market equities have posted broad‐based losses so far this year. The wider dispersion across and within asset classes has provided more attractive opportunities for active management.

Solid performance in July moved the fixed income asset class back into positive territory for the year to date period. All sectors with the exception of investment grade credit are in positive territory. The higher coupon has given high yield an edge year to date despite wider spreads. After a solid month, municipal bonds have pulled in line with taxable bonds year to date. With the expectation that the Fed will raise short‐term rates this year, our portfolios continue to be positioned in defense of rising interest rates, with a shorter duration and a yield advantage versus the broader market.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizing risks remain. We’ve entered 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 Federal Reserve 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: U.S. GDP growth rebounded in the second quarter and the labor market continues to show steady improvement. The slower recovery we’ve experienced following the financial crisis may lead to a longer period of expansion than in previous cycles. 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. Global M&A activity is up 41% from a year ago (Source: Thomson Reuters). 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 in the coming months. 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.

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. Concerns surrounding the risks outlined above could lead to a pull‐back in the markets; 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.

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.

International Insights Podcast – Europe and Negative Interest Rates

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

This audio podcast was recorded March 19, 2015:

Stuart’s International Insights Podcast focuses on a new and growing phenomenon in European fixed income–negative interest rates

Highlights of the discussion include:

How did we get here?:

  • ECB QE drove bond values up and yields down
  • One out of every five euros of government debt trades with a negative interest rate (0 such securities existed in the summer of last year)
  • Non-ECB banks Switzerland and Sweden cutting interest rates to dissuade capital inflows in an effort to manage exchange rate
  • Asset managers and insurance companies trying to fund longer-term liabilities but they earn lower or negative spreads without price appreciation.

Potential implications:

  • Scenario 1: Little to no economic growth
    • Near-term, stimulative to European equities
    • Potentially helpful to the U.S. dollar, but less so for export earning of large U.S. companies
  • Scenario 2: Moderate to high economic growth
    • ECB potentially steps back to review QE perhaps pushing bond yields upward
    • Fixed income globally would be most at risk

Click here to listen to the full 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, a Registered Investment Advisor.

An Update on Oil

Ryan DresselRyan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

As of January 29, 2015, the price per barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil stands at $44, down just about 60% since its 52-week high in June 2014 (See chart below). For each 10% drop in oil, forecasters seemed to gawk at the possibility of further price decline, citing global demand projections, U.S. energy independence from The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and increased consumption from emerging markets. What they omitted from their projections, however, was the impact that U.S. and Canadian production had on OPEC from a political standpoint.

Crude Oil WTI (NYM $/bbl) Continuous (CL00-USA)

Source: FactSet

OEPC has not adhered to an individual country production quota since 2011, but with oil prices around $100 per barrel in recent years, it was relatively insignificant news. These high prices actually worked against OPEC by encouraging too much competition from North America. During that time, North American energy companies were in the midst of ramping up production from shale, oil sands and other sources that were previously expensive to produce (refer to graphic below). In fact, United States domestic production has nearly doubled over the past six years[1]. Eventually in mid-2014, global demand for oil began to lag supply, caused by weak economic growth in Asia and Europe, which sent the price of oil plummeting.

Source: BofA Merrill Lynch Global Commodity Research

Source: BofA Merrill Lynch Global Commodity Research

Facing pressure from these new low prices, OPEC met on November 27, 2014 to discuss curbing production in an effort to support higher price levels. Since OPEC’s production quota was abandoned, each member country was unwilling to reduce its output.

The indecisiveness at this meeting signaled some very profound conclusions to the market. First, it re-confirmed that OPEC continues to become a disorganized collection of countries, rather than an organized cartel. This is important because it implies that OPEC is no longer acting as a balancing agent in global markets, which can significantly increase volatility. The second conclusion made by the market was that Saudi Arabia is unwilling to cede its crude oil market share (12.2% of global production as of September 2014[2]). In a bold statement made last December, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali Al-Naimi, confirmed these assumptions:

“If I reduce, what happens to my market share? The price will go up, and the Russians, the Brazilians, U.S. shale oil producers will take my share,” Al-Naimi told the Middle East Economic Survey last month. “Whether it goes down to $20 a barrel, $40 a barrel, $50 a barrel, $60 a barrel, it is irrelevant.”

The final conclusion from the November meeting was that smaller countries who depend on oil as a large part of their government revenue, cannot afford to cut production. These countries include Iran, Iraq, UAE, Venezuela and Nigeria among others. Due to the fact that Saudi Arabia’s reserves far exceed other OPEC members (See graphic below), they can afford to wait out low oil prices while others cannot.

Source: IEA, BofA Merrill Lynch Global Commodity Research

Source: IEA, BofA Merrill Lynch Global Commodity Research

What to Watch For:

There are many factors to watch as it relates to oil and its impact on various asset classes, interest rates, credit quality, and foreign exchange rates. The two most important factors are U.S. producer inventories and the Saudi production rate.

As of January 23, 2015, U.S. oil inventories reached their highest December levels since 1930 (383.5 million barrels)[3]. According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, it takes U.S. shale producers 6 -12 months to react to rising or falling prices. If aggregate inventory levels remain near max capacity while the U.S. production rate falls, it would indicate that drilling projects are being cancelled and would likely have a large impact on small, highly-levered shale players. In turn, this could increase the number of defaults on energy company debt, which would have a negative impact on fixed income markets. The timing of these potential defaults could be accelerated as the foreign exchange rate of the U.S. dollar continues to rise. A stronger U.S. dollar makes it more expensive to finance debt levels[4]. As previously mentioned, it is clear that the Saudis want to retain their market share and continue to drive out production from their competitors.

Internationally, it will be important to monitor global economic growth (especially in China and India), which affects demand. If demand stays relatively low, it will put additional pressure on smaller OPEC members to plead with the Saudis to cut production or take unprecedented actions to support their economies. Those countries may have their patience tested, as the International Energy Agency forecast an annual demand increase of just 900,000 barrels per day in their January report (unchanged from December)[5].

Geopolitical risk is also an important factor to watch. The instability in neighboring Yemen could threaten Saudi Arabia’s production. Elsewhere, ISIS and the conflict between Ukraine and Russia add uncertainty to the global crude oil supply.

As the price of oil continues to decline, investors are attempting to take advantage. The four biggest oil exchange-traded products listed in the U.S. received a combined $1.23 billion in December, the most since May 2010, according to Bloomberg[6]. Regardless, the market may require patience as the Saudis’ political chess game plays itself out while crude oil prices continue to decline.

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.


[1] International Energy Agency, 2014

[2] U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2014. http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/iedindex3.cfm?tid=50&pid=57&aid=1&cid=&syid=2010&eyid=2014&freq=M&unit=TBPD

[3] American Petroleum Institute, January 23, 2015

[4] Drilling, producing, and transporting oil is a very expensive process. As such, many U.S. energy producers require debt financing to fund capital investment. The total debt level of energy companies is approximately 16% of the U.S. High Yield Debt Market, which is almost four times higher than in 2004. Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH) has determined that at least 40 publicly held North American-focused E&Ps have reduced their 2015 capital expenditure guidance since December 8th by an average 31% from 2014 spending levels.http://www.naturalgasintel.com/articles/100977-domino-effect-of-lower-oilgas-ep-capex-now-hitting-offshore-midstream

[5] Oil Market Report, International Energy Agency. January 16, 2015. http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/news/2015/january/iea-releases-oil-market-report-for-january.html

[6] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-01-07/oil-investors-pour-most-money-into-funds-in-4-years

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: January 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Despite geopolitical tensions in Russia and the Middle East, the end of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program, weakness in growth abroad, and a significant decline in oil prices, U.S. large cap equities posted solid double-digit gains in 2014. International equity markets lagged U.S. markets, and the spread was exacerbated by the major strength in the U.S. dollar. Despite consensus calling for higher interest rates in 2014, yields fell, helping long-term Treasuries deliver outsized returns of more than 25%. The weakness in energy prices weighed on markets in the fourth quarter, with crude oil prices falling by almost 50%, the type of move we last saw in 2008. However, it wasn’t enough to prevent the S&P 500 from hitting all-time highs again in December. Volatility remained relatively low throughout the year. We did not see more than three consecutive down days for the S&P 500, the fewest on record (Source: Ned Davis Research).

In the U.S., the technology and healthcare sectors were the largest contributors to the S&P 500 return; however, utilities posted the biggest return, gaining more than 28%. Large caps significantly outperformed small caps for the year, despite a big fourth quarter for small caps. The spread between the large cap Russell 1000 Index and small cap Russell 2000 Index was 760 basis points. Growth outperformed value in large caps and small caps, but value outperformed in mid caps due to the strong performance of REITs.

BRICU.S. equities outperformed the rest of the world in 2014. The S&P 500 Index led the MSCI EAFE Index by more than 1,800 basis points, the widest gap since 1997. In local terms, international developed markets were positive, but the strength of the dollar pushed returns negative for U.S. investors. Emerging markets led developed international markets, but results were mixed. Strength in India and China was offset by weakness in Brazil and Russia.

As the Fed continued to taper bond purchases and eventually end quantitative easing in the fourth quarter, expectations were for interest rates to move higher. We experienced the opposite; the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell 80 basis points during the year, from 3.0% to 2.2%. Despite a pick-up in economic growth, inflation expectations moved lower. In addition, U.S. sovereign yields still look attractive relative to the rest of the developed world. As a result of the move lower in rates, duration outperformed credit within fixed income. All sectors delivered positive returns for the year, including high-yield credit, which sold off significantly in the fourth quarter due to its meaningful exposure to energy credits.

Our macro outlook remains unchanged. When weighing the positives and the risks, we continue to believe the balance is shifted in favor of the positives over the intermediate term and the global macro backdrop is constructive for risk assets. As a result our strategic portfolios are positioned with an overweight to overall risk. A number of factors should support the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy accommodation: We anticipate the Fed beginning to raise rates in mid-2015, but at a measured pace as inflation remains contained. The ECB is expected to take even more aggressive action to support the European economy, and the Bank of Japan’s aggressive easing program continues.
  • Pickup in U.S. growth: Economic growth improved in the second half of 2014. A combination of strengthening labor markets and lower oil prices are likely to provide the stimulus for stronger-than-expected economic growth.
  • Inflation tame: Inflation in the U.S. remains below the Fed’s 2% target, and inflation expectations have been falling. Outside the U.S., deflationary pressures are rising.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are flush with cash. Earnings growth has been solid 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. Government spending will shift to a contributor to GDP growth in 2015 after years of fiscal drag.
  • Lower energy prices help consumer: Lower energy prices should benefit the consumer who will now have more disposable income.

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

  • Timing/impact of Fed tightening: QE ended without a major impact, so concern has shifted to the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike. While economic growth has picked up and the labor market has shown steady improvement, inflation measures and inflation expectations remain contained, which should provide the Fed more runway.
  • Slower global growth; deflationary pressures: While growth in the U.S. has picked up, growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker. The Eurozone is flirting with recession, and Japan is struggling to create real growth, while both are also facing deflationary pressures. Growth in emerging economies has slowed as well.
  • Geopolitical risks: The geopolitical impact of the significant drop in oil prices, as well as issues in the Middle East and Russia, could cause short-term volatility.
  • Significantly lower oil prices destabilizes global economy: While lower oil prices benefit consumers, significantly lower oil prices for a meaningful period of time are not only negative for the earnings of energy companies, but could put pressure on oil dependent countries, as well as impact the shale revolution in the U.S.

While valuations are close to long-term averages, investor sentiment is in neutral territory, the trend is still positive, and the macro backdrop leans favorable, so we remain positive on equities. In addition, seasonality and the election cycle are in our favor. The fourth quarter tends to be bullish for equities, as well as the 12-month period following mid-term elections. However, we expect higher levels of volatility in 2015.

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; overweight vs. Intl
Intl Equity + Country specific
Fixed Income +/- Actively managed
Absolute Return + Benefit from higher volatility
Real Assets +/- Oil stabilizes in 2H15
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.

 

Investment Insights Podcast – November 6, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded November 5, 2014):

What we like: Current economic environment we are in; recession doesn’t appear to be close; U.S. Dollar is stronger; oil prices lower

What we don’t like: Europe; need to see more evidence of monetary action that will work

What we’re doing about it: Closer look at U.S. equities; considering future entry points in Europe

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.