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.

Investment Insights Podcast – July 1, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded June 30, 2014), Bill addresses some of the things we don’t like first, then gives greater insight into what we are doing about it:

What we don’t like: Interest rates are stubbornly low; expectations were that they would rise over the first-half of the year; low interest rates hurt retirees ability to generate income

What we like: How we are handling this financial repression

What we are doing about it: Emphasizing three themes in fixed income: yield, shorter maturity bonds, and inclusion of absolute return

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

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.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook – July 2013

Magnotta@AmyMagnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Risk assets were off to a decent start in the second quarter but then retreated after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s testimony to Congress on May 22 laid the ground work for a reduction in monetary policy accommodation through tapering their asset purchases as early as September. While the U.S. equity markets were able to end the quarter with decent gains, developed international markets were relatively flat and emerging markets experienced sizeable declines. Weaker currencies helped to exacerbate these losses.

After starting to move higher in May, interest rates rose sharply in June and into early July, helped by the fears of Fed tapering. The yield 10-year U.S. Treasury has increased 100 basis points over the last two months to a level of 2.64% (through 7/10). The increase in rates was all in real terms as inflation expectations fell. Bonds experienced their worst first half of the year since 1994, in which we experienced four short-term rate hikes before June 30.

7.12.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook_2While we have seen these levels of rates in the recent past (we spent much of the 2009-2011 period above these levels), the sharpness of the move may have been a surprise to some fixed income investors who then began to de-risk portfolios. In June, higher-risk sectors like investment-grade credit, high-yield credit and emerging market debt, as well as longer duration assets like TIPS, fared the worst. With growth still sluggish and inflation low, we expect interest rates to remain relatively range-bound over the near term; however, we do expect more volatility in the bond market. Negative technical factors like continued outflows from fixed income funds could weigh on the asset class. Our portfolios remain positioned in defense of rising interest rates, with a shorter duration, emphasis on spread product and a healthy allocation to low volatility absolute return strategies.

After weighing on the markets in June, investors have begun to digest the Fed’s plans to taper asset purchases at some point this year. Should the Fed follow through with their plans to reduce monetary policy accommodation, it will do so in the context of an improving economy, which should be a positive for equity markets.

7.12.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook_3We continue to approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we move into the second half of the year. A number of factors should continue to support the economy and markets for the remainder of the year:

  • Monetary policy remains accommodative: The Fed remains accommodative (even with the scale back on asset purchases short-term interest rates will remain low), the ECB has pledged to support the euro, and now the Bank of Japan is embracing an aggressive monetary easing program in an attempt to boost growth and inflation. This liquidity has helped to boost markets.
  • Fiscal policy uncertainty has waned: After resolutions on the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling and sequester, the uncertainty surrounding fiscal policy has faded. The U.S. budget deficit has improved markedly, helped by stronger revenues. Fiscal drag will be much less of an issue in 2014.
  • Labor market steadily improving: The recovery in the labor market has been slow, but steady. Monthly payroll gains over the last three months have averaged 196,000 and the unemployment rate has fallen to 7.6%. The most recent employment report also showed gains in average hourly earnings.
  • Housing market improvement: An improvement in housing, typically a consumer’s largest asset, is a boost to net worth, and as a result, consumer confidence. However, a significant move higher in mortgage rates, which are now above 4.5%, could jeopardize the recovery.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are flush with cash that could be reinvested or returned to shareholders. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.

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

  • 7.12.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook_4Fed mismanages exit: If the economy has not yet reached escape velocity when the Fed begins to scale back its asset purchases, risk assets could react negatively as they have in the past when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn.
  • Significantly higher interest rates: Rates moving significantly higher from here could stifle the economic recovery.
  • Europe: The risk of policy error in Europe still exists. The region has still not addressed its debt and growth problems; however, it seems leaders have realized that austerity alone will not solve its problems.
  • China: A hard landing in China would have a major impact on global growth. A recent spike in the Chinese interbank lending market is cause for concern.

We continue to seek high conviction opportunities and strategies within asset classes for our client portfolios. Some areas of opportunity currently include:

  • Domestic Equity: favor U.S. over international, dividend growers, financial healing (housing, autos)
  • International Equity: frontier markets, Japan, micro-cap
  • Fixed Income: non-Agency mortgage backed securities, short duration, emerging market corporates, global high yield and distressed
  • Real Assets: REIT Preferreds
  • Absolute Return: relative value, long/short credit, closed-end funds
  • Private Equity: company specific opportunities

Asset Class Returns
7.12.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook_1