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.

March 2016 Monthly Market And Economic Outlook

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Brinker Capital. Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Monthly Market And Economic Outlook: 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: September 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Global growth concerns, specifically the impact of a slowdown in China, and the anticipation of Fed tightening beginning in the fall prompted a spike in volatility and a sell-off in risk assets in August. The decline occurred despite decent U.S. economic data. U.S. equity markets held up slightly better than the rest of the developed world while emerging markets fared worse. U.S. Treasury yields were unchanged on the month, but credit spreads widened in response to the risk-off environment. Crude oil prices hit another low in late August, also weighing on global equity and credit markets.

The S&P 500 Index ended the month down -6%, but experienced a peak to trough decline of -12%. Prior to that it had been more than 900 trading days since we last experienced a 10% correction. All sectors were negative on the month, with healthcare and consumer discretionary, which had been leading, experiencing the largest declines. Small caps experienced a -6% decline as well, while mid caps held up slightly better. Growth meaningfully lagged value in small caps, but style performance was less differentiated in the large cap space.

International developed equity markets lagged U.S. markets in August, despite a slightly weaker U.S. dollar. Japan edged out European markets. After leading through the first seven months of the year, international developed equity markets are now behind the S&P 500 U.S. equity markets year to date. Emerging market equities have experienced a steep decline, down more than -15% so far in the third quarter, amid the volatility in China and continued economic woes in Brazil and broad currency weakness.

August wasn’t a typical risk-off period as longer-term U.S. Treasury yields were unchanged on the month and yields on the short end of the curve rose slightly. The Barclays Aggregate Index declined -0.14% in August. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities were flat for the month, but spread widening in both investment grade and high yield led to negative returns for corporate credit, with lower quality credits experiencing the largest declines. Municipal bonds were slightly ahead of taxable bonds in August and lead year to date.

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 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 consensus expectations are for 2.5% growth moving forward. Employment growth is solid, with an average monthly gain of 243,000 jobs during the past year. While wages are showing beginning 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. 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 sectors.
  • 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.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain:

  • 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. 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 recent equity market drop is cause for concern, 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 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 if the Fed begins tightening monetary policy in September, 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 25 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.

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: July 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Uncertainty over the start of the Federal Reserve’s rate hike campaign, the possibility of a default in Greece and Puerto Rico, and the drop in China shares each weighed on financial markets in June, resulting in a quarter of flat to negative performance across most asset classes. The increased volatility and higher level of dispersion across and within asset classes has benefited active management.

The S&P 500 Index fell almost -2% in June but was able to eke out a small gain for the quarter, despite the negative headlines. The healthcare and consumer discretionary sectors continued to lead, while bond proxies like dividend-paying stocks and REITs struggled. Energy stocks continued to lose ground as well despite a stabilization in crude oil prices. From a market cap perspective, small caps are leading large and mid caps, but the margin isn’t as wide as it is between growth and value. Through the first half of the year, all style boxes are positive except for large cap value, which is modestly negative. However, dispersion is wide, with small cap growth outpacing large cap value by more than 900 basis points over that time period.

Greece_OutlookThe rally in international equities slowed in the second quarter as fears surrounding Greece prompted a sharper sell-off in June; however, international markets still ended the quarter ahead of U.S. markets and continue to have a sizeable lead through the first half of the year. The U.S. Dollar Index (DXY) was weaker in the second quarter, but has still posted gains of more than 5% in the first half, dampening international equity returns for U.S. investors.

In developed markets, Japan, fueled by its expansive quantitative easing program, has been the top performer year to date, gaining almost 14%. Europe, despite a weaker second quarter, has gained more than 4%. Emerging markets soared in April, but gave most of the gains back in May and June to end the quarter in line with developed international markets. June’s significant decline in the Chinese local stock market, which had gained more than 110% since November, prompted a number of policy responses. However, for investors the vast majority of exposure is gained through listings on the more open Hong Kong exchange, which has not experienced gains and losses of even close to the same magnitude.

Anticipation of a Fed rate hike in the fall incited a rise in long-term U.S. Treasury yields, with yield on the 10-year note climbing 41 basis points during the quarter to 2.35%. As a result, the Barclays Aggregate declined -1.7% in the second quarter and is slightly negative through the first six months of the year. All fixed income sectors were negative for the quarter, led by U.S. Treasuries. The macro concerns caused both investment grade and high-yield credit spreads to widen, but due to its yield cushion, the high-yield index was flat for the quarter and remains the strongest fixed income sector year to date with a gain of +2.5%. Despite the recent widening, spreads are still at levels below where we started the year. Municipal bonds finished the quarter ahead of taxable bonds, but are still flat year to date. Increased supply weighed on the municipal market in the second quarter.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizes that risks remain. We’re solidly in 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 Fed 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: Despite a soft patch in the first quarter, U.S. economic growth is forecast to be positive in the second quarter and the labor market continues to show steady improvement. 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. 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 later this year. Both the timing of the first rate increase, and the subsequent path of rates is uncertain, which could lead to increased market volatility.
  • Slower global growth: Economic growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker. It remains to be seen whether central bank policies can spur sustainable growth in Europe and Japan. Growth in emerging economies has slowed as well.
  • Contagion risk relating to the situations in Greece and China must continue to be monitored.
  • Geopolitical risks could cause short-term volatility.

Despite higher than average valuations, neutral investor sentiment and a weaker technical backdrop, we believe the macro picture supports additional market gains over the intermediate-term. However, with headline risk of events in Greece and the Fed set to normalize monetary policy, a larger pull-back is not out of the question. The S&P 500 Index has gone more than 900 days without a 10% correction, the third longest period on record (Source: Ned Davis Research). 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.

Fed_OutlookWe expect U.S. interest rates to continue to normalize; however, U.S. Treasuries still offer relative value over sovereign bonds in other developed markets, which could keep a ceiling on long-term rates in the short-term. With the Fed set to increase the federal funds rate this year, we should see a flattening of the yield curve. Our portfolios are positioned in defense of rising interest rates, with a shorter duration and yield cushion versus the broader market.

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. Our portfolios are positioned to take advantage of continued strength in risk assets, and we continue to emphasize high conviction opportunities within asset classes, as well as strategies that can exploit market inefficiencies.

Asset Class Outlook Comments
U.S. Equity + Quality bias
Intl Equity + Neutral vs. US
Fixed Income +/- Favor global high yield
Absolute Return + Favor fixed income AR, event driven
Real Assets +/- Favor global natural resources
Private Equity + Later in cycle

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.

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 – July 18, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded July 16, 2014) the subject matter pertains to the Congressional Budget Office’s release of their long-term outlook. It’s important to note that this forecast is a 75-year time horizon; so focus should be on the near-term debate in Washington:

What we like: Raised the long-term growth rate of the economy; lowered healthcare costs and interest rate costs which is a positive in the near term

What we don’t like: Healthcare and interest rate costs in the long term; interest rates likely to rise eventually; Social Security likely to rise in the near future; defense spending cutbacks

What we are doing about it: As citizens, being thoughtful when exercising the right to vote; keeping an eye on higher interest rates and impact on fixed income

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording or click here.

Source: CNBC

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.

Stalemate

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Portfolio Specialist, Brinker Capital

The ongoing dysfunction in Washington D.C. reached a fever pitch this week, as the failure of lawmakers to agree on a bill to fund the Federal Government resulted in the President ordering its first shutdown since 1995.  The inability of Congress to effectively legislate has led to the furlough of more than 800,000 Federal workers, and a shuttering of all non-essential services.  Although equity markets around the world have remained relatively sanguine about the current state of affairs inside the beltway, the looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department has declared to be no later than October 17, has heightened the stakes of the current impasse immeasurably, as a breach of this borrowing limit would have dire consequences not just for the United States, but for the global economy in aggregate.  It is the presence of this possibility that provides us with cautious optimism that a resolution might be forthcoming; as our belief is that the closure of the government and the subsequent pressure being applied by the electorate to end the stalemate has pulled forward the debt ceiling debate, which may result in a bargain that addresses both issues.  However, we intend to remain hyper-vigilant about the progress of these negotiations as we fully recognize the severity of the impact of a failure to honor our nation’s debts.

10.4.13_Preisser_Stalemate_1The current standoff has resulted from a multiplicity of factors, chief amongst which is a fundamental ideological difference between the parties over the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare”, which went into effect this week.  It is the vehemence of both sides in this debate combined with the extreme partisanship in the Capital that have made this situation particularly perilous.  Despite assertions to the contrary, the shuttering of the government comes at an exorbitant cost.  According to the New York Times, “ the research firm IHS Inc. estimates that the shutdown will cost the country $300 million a day in lost economic output…Moody’s Analytics estimated that a shutdown of three or four weeks would cut 1.4 percentage points from fourth-quarter economic growth and raise the unemployment rate.”  With consensus estimates for GDP currently at only 2.5% per annum, the present state of affairs, if not soon rectified will take an ever increasing toll on the nation’s economy.

Since 1970 there have been a total of 18 shutdowns of the Federal Government, including this most recent closure.  Although each situation was unique, what is common amongst them is that investors have, on average, approached them with relatively little trepidation.  According to Ned Davis Research, “during the six shutdowns that lasted more than five trading days, the S&P fell a median 1.7%.”In fact, optimism in the marketplace has tended to follow these periods of uncertainty.  Bloomberg News writes that, “the S&P has risen 11 percent on average in the 12 months following past government shutdowns, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on instances since 1976.  That compares with an average return of 9 percent over 12 months.”

Source: Ned Davis Research Group

Source: Ned Davis Research Group

There is one glaring difference between this year’s shuttering of the government and those of recent history, and that is the presence of the debt ceiling.  According to the New York Times, “the Treasury said last week that Congress had until Oct. 17 to raise the limit on how much the federal government could borrow or risk leaving the country on the precipice of default.”  Though we can look to the past as a guide to use to try and gauge the impact of a government shutdown, there is no way to accurately predict the effect of a failure of the United States government to fulfill its obligations, as this would be unprecedented. The need for Congress to raise the debt ceiling cannot be overstated, as the very sanctity of U.S. sovereign obligations depends upon it.  The importance of this faith to the global economy was captured by Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, “Financial markets have long treated U.S. bonds as the ultimate safe asset; the assumption that America will always honor its debts is the bedrock on which the world financial system rests.”

The State of Municipal Bonds

 Amy Magnotta, Brinker Capital

In December 2010, analyst Meredith Whitney made a prediction of hundreds of billions of defaults in the municipal bond market. While we have experienced defaults, we have not yet seen anything close to the magnitude of that statement. Prior to that statement, in October of that same year, Brinker Capital released a paper that discussed our positive view on the municipal bond market due to technical factors and improving municipal credit. Because we invest in municipal bond managers with strong, deep credit research teams and a focus on high quality issues and structures, we encouraged our investors to remain invested in municipal bonds. Investors have been handsomely rewarded with close to 20% cumulative returns in municipal bonds since they bottomed in January 2011.

The financial health of municipalities is again hitting the headlines. Moody’s has warned of more problems for California cities after San Bernardino, Mammoth Lakes and Stockton have each sought bankruptcy protection. Scranton, Pennsylvania, which made the news after the mayor cut the pay of all city employees to minimum wage this July, is now seeking help from hedge funds in an effort to delay a bankruptcy. Even Puerto Rico municipal bonds, widely held by municipal bond strategies because of their attractive yields, are being seen as a greater credit risk.

We don’t believe the headlines are representative of the broader municipal bond market. There are more than 50,000 municipalities across the country, each with their individual issues. This makes municipal credit research in this environment extremely important, especially without the fallback of bond insurance. A positive corollary of these types of headlines is that it forces change. Many state and local governments have made the necessary changes to their budgets to set them on a sustainable path, but many still have more to go. Often, the largest owners of a municipality’s bonds are their own constituents – they need to maintain a good relationship with these investors in order to access financing in the future.

We feel the technical factors in the municipal bond market remain positive. Demand is very strong. While supply has been higher in recent years, most of it is refinancing, so net new supply remains at low levels. The budgets of state governments continue to improve while local governments remain under pressure. Rates are low, offering the opportunity for refinancing. The fights over pension and healthcare benefits for public workers will continue, but these issues do not present an immediate cash flow problem. However, this is a broad characterization of the municipal bond market. We will continue to invest with managers that have deep credit research teams and focus on high quality issues, seeking to avoid the problem issues as a result.