Coffee Break 11/26/2018

LAST WEEK IN A NUTSHELL

  • Yesterday, a EU Leaders summit took place with the objective to tie loose ends of the “Brexit” deal.
  • Purchasing Manager Indexes were published and confirm a slowdown in activity in key countries, including the US and the euro zone.
  • The European Commission shared its budget opinions on all members’ spending plans. Italy was outlined for breaching the budget deficit and public debt ceilings, which opened up the penalty process. 
  • Sales and shopper turnout in the US was a given for Thanksgiving and the next 5 weeks until Christmas as unemployment rate is historically low and consumer confidence is close to an all-time high.

WHAT’S NEXT?

  • The US and the Chinese presidents will meet at the G20 summit and discuss the current tense trade relations between the two giant economies.
  • “Brexit” has another deadline coming as Theresa May needs to secure parliamentary approval now that the divorce deal has been agreed upon with Brussels.
  • Key Central Banks, including the Fed and the ECB, will be in the spotlight.
  • The Candriam’s Macro and Asset Allocation roadshow is about to take off and we will present our 2019 outlook. 

INVESTMENT CONVICTIONS

  • Core scenario
    • In the US, we expect growth to be close to 3% in 2018, and to slow down in 2019 to 2.6% due to fading fiscal stimulus, trade policy uncertainty and tightening financial conditions as the Fed maintains its rates normalisation.
    • Outside the US, the economic cycle is less dynamic. European momentum is disappointing and policy risks remain.
    • As the US-China relationship appears fractured, China is easing in the face of a slowdown (monetary, fiscal, and currency). It is worth remembering that China would also have to agree to any trade deal, and has the capacity to hold out against current sanctions.
    • Gradual rise in inflation in the US and in the euro zone, but no inflation fear.
  • Market views
    • US economy remains strong, and does not reveal any economic imbalances.
    • The tax reform, buybacks and no valuation excess vs. bonds keep pushing US equities up over the medium term.
    • Based on fundamentals, we see potential for a narrowing divergence between the US and the rest of the world. The various political risks are a headwind.
  • Risks
    • Trade war: Higher tariffs and protectionism are slowing down global economies, deteriorate international relations and ultimately corporate margins. The G20 summit end-November could be a catalyst.
    • Emerging markets slowdown: Emerging markets are among the most vulnerable regions when global growth slows down. The evolution of the USD liquidity is also key for the region due to outstanding debt in this currency.
    • EU political risks: Political pitfalls could fuel euro scepticism further as opinions diverge on a growing number of issues, i.e. “Brexit”, Italian budget, German leadership reshuffle, trade negotiation outcome with the US.
    • Domestic US politics: Democrats could slow down Donald Trump’s legislative agenda. Passing legislation will be a result of compromises and “beautiful deals”.

 

RECENT ACTIONS IN THE ASSET ALLOCATION STRATEGY

We remain tactically overweight equities. From a regional perspective, we remain overweight US and euro zone equities. We continue to hold a negative view on the UK, due to the unresolved “Brexit” issues, while being neutral emerging markets and Japan. In the bond part, we keep a short duration and a cautious view on Italy

 

CROSS ASSET VIEWS AND PORTFOLIO POSITIONING

  • We have tactically kept our equity exposure overweight and still have a constructive medium-term view based on fundamentals. 
    • We are overweight US equities. Economic momentum is less favourable as fiscal stimulus boost is fading. We expect slower, but positive, earnings growth in 2019. Fed hiking is a headwind but slowdown underway could moderate the Fed’s hawkishness as it is “data dependent”.
    • We remain overweight euro zone equities. Slow growth and political uncertainties are increasingly weighing on the stock market. However, any conflict resolution is a potential trigger for a strong rebound.
    • We remain underweight Europe ex-EMU equities. The region has a lower expected earnings growth and thus lower expected returns than the continent, justifying our negative stance.
    • We are neutral Japanese equities. Japanese stocks reflect less domestic risk as “Abenomics” will continue for three more years. The positive economic momentum encouraged us to become neutral on the asset class.
    • We are tactically neutral emerging markets equities. While we believe in the growth of Emerging markets, they are badly hit by the trade war, the developed markets’ slowing growth and the USD strength.
  • We are underweight bonds and keep a short duration
    • With a tightening Fed and expected upcoming inflation pressures, we expect rates and bond yields to keep rising. In addition to rising producer prices, rising wages, fiscal stimulus and trade tariffs could push inflation higher.
    • The expanding European economy could also lead EMU yields higher over the medium term. We expect interest rates to gradually increase with a 12-month target of 0.90% for the German 10Y yield. We remain underweight Italian bonds. The ECB remains accommodative, but has confirmed that it will end its QE in December.
    • We have a neutral view on corporate bonds overall as there is little spread compensation for risk. A potential increase in bond yields could hurt performance.
    • Emerging market debt faces headwinds with trade war rhetoric and rising US rates, but we believe spreads can tighten from current levels. The carry is among the highest in the fixed income universe. It represents an attractive diversification vs other asset classes.