Amy Magnotta, CFA, Senior 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.