Amy Magnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital
After a pullback that began in mid-September, the equity markets bounced back sharply in the last two weeks of October. The equity markets shrugged off the end of the Fed’s quantitative easing program and slower economic growth outside of the U.S., viewing the weakness as a buying opportunity. After being down -7% during the correction, the S&P 500 ended the month at a new high. Utilities and healthcare were the top performing sectors, while energy and materials were negative on the month. Small caps bounced back even harder than large caps with the Russell 2000 gaining +6.6% in October, yet small caps have not yet eclipsed their July highs. Year to date through October, mid cap value has been the best performing style, gaining +11.9% due to the strong performance of REITs and utilities.
International equity markets were mixed in October. Developed markets, including Europe and Japan, were generally negative, while emerging markets ended the month in positive territory, led by strong performance in India and China. The U.S. exhibited further strength versus both developed and emerging market currencies. International equity markets have significantly lagged the U.S. markets so far this year; the spread between the S&P 500 Index and MSCI ACWI ex USA Index is 1200 basis points through October.
During the equity market sell-off U.S. Treasury yields declined. The yield on the 10-year note fell almost 50 basis points to a low of 2.14% on October 15, then moved slightly higher to end the month at 2.35%. It was a good month for the fixed income asset class, with all sectors posting positive returns led by corporate credit. High-yield credit spreads widened out 100 basis points in the equity market sell-off, but recaptured 75% of that move in the last two weeks of October. High-yield spreads still remain 100 basis points wider than the low reached in June, and the fundamental backdrop is positive. Municipal bonds had another solid month, benefiting from a continued supply/demand imbalance and improving credit fundamentals.
Our macro outlook has not changed. When weighing the positives and the risks, we continue to believe the balance is shifted even more 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 remains accommodative: Even with QE complete, Fed policy is still accommodative. U.S. short-term interest rates should remain near-zero until mid-2015 if inflation remains contained. The ECB stands ready to take even more aggressive action to support the European economy, and the Bank of Japan expanded its already aggressive easing program.
- Pickup in U.S. growth: Economic growth in the U.S. has picked up. Companies are starting to spend on hiring and capital expenditures. Both manufacturing and service PMIs remain in expansion territory. Housing has been weaker, but consumer and CEO confidence are elevated.
- U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that flush with cash. M&A deal activity has picked up this year. Earnings growth has been ahead of expectations 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. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth this year, and the budget deficit has also declined significantly. Government spending will again become a contributor to GDP growth in 2015.
Risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:
- Fed’s withdrawal of stimulus: Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, tapering was gradual and the economy is on more solid footing this time. Should inflation measures pick up, market participants will quickly shift to concern over the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike. However, the core Personal Consumption Expenditure Price (PCE) Index, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, is up only +1.4% over the last 12 months and we have not yet seen the improvement in the labor market translate into a level of wage growth that is worrisome.
- Global growth: While growth in the U.S. has picked up recently, concerns remain surrounding growth in continental Europe, Japan and some emerging markets. Both the OECD and IMF have downgraded their forecasts for global growth.
- Geopolitical risks: The events in the Middle East and Ukraine, as well as Ebola fears could have a transitory impact on markets.
Despite levels of investor sentiment that have moved back towards optimism territory and valuations that are close to long-term averages, we remain positive on equities for the reasons previously stated. 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.
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.
||Favored Sub-Asset Classes
||Large caps growth
||Emerging and frontier markets, small cap
||Global high-yield credit
||Closed-end funds, global macro
||Natural resources equities
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.