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Q2 Outlook: Pining for silver linings


The vol strikes back

Equity market volatility made its long-awaited return last quarter. But it’s too soon to say the bubble has burst just yet – in our eyes, the February sell-off was a correction rather than anything more dramatic. The fundamental backdrop remains supportive of stocks – and the “Goldilocks” environment of moderate economic growth and low inflation endures. A number of emerging risks do however mean more bears are on the prowl.


Equities to outperform bonds

What kind of risks are we talking about? First and foremost, central banks are gradually withdrawing their accommodative policies, which will make financial conditions less supportive of risk assets. This is bound to have an effect on their return potential, especially with valuations looking rich.

Other risks include further appreciation of the yen and euro hurting the Japanese and eurozone economies and the re-emergence of protectionism. As it stands, we believe there’s only a 20% chance of a full-blown trade war. That said, we’ve yet to hit peak rhetoric and the key protagonists (Trump and China) still seem intent on taking us to the brink. Global equity markets - Europe in particular - could suffer until they pull back. But pull back they probably will.

If you can see past the clouds, US economic growth still looks firm.  And because this bout of brinkmanship is more negotiating tactic than it is declaration of trade war or a U-turn on globalisation, we still expect equities to outperform bonds in Q2, albeit by a lesser margin than before. 


Break on through...

With the US labour market having become tight, we expect wage inflation to exceed 3% in the coming months. That’s going to feed into higher prices, so we’re overweight US breakevens.


...but beware (some) Treasuries

The exceptional conditions that have artificially suppressed yields since the Global Financial Crisis should continue to fade. Our long-term model suggests ten-year US Treasury yields could rise some way past 3%, so we’re underweight over the long term. Shorter-term however, they retain some of their safe haven appeal should risk aversion spike.  


Neutral, but opportunistic in the US

Although we expect solid top-line earnings growth of around 7% for S&P 500 companies this year, wage growth is likely to dent their profitability and therefore index returns. That means we’re neutral on US equities overall. We’ll bide our time after the recent sell-off – but we will act when the time is right.

For all that, it should still be possible to outperform by taking (and timing) tactical, sectoral and thematic calls. For example, we successfully called growth over value last quarter and believe the story still has room to run. But a note of caution: going short value would mean underweighting banks, which we expect to perform well, so we’re long in banks to offset this

Elsewhere, we still prefer domestically rather than globally oriented stocks, in part because Trump’s trade tantrums could hurt global firms. We’ve closed our overweight in defence stocks as they now appear fully valued, and we’re avoiding consumer discretionary versus staples as the former’s performance has been artificially inflated by just two names: Amazon and Netflix. Amazon, of course, has been firmly in the President’s cross hairs in recent weeks.


Cautious on US high yield

High-yield mutual funds and ETFs have just experienced a record eight consecutive weeks of outflows, although the asset class did weather the spike in volatility in February rather well. But with valuations looking stretched, we’re slightly underweight US high yield.

The jury’s out on Japan

The Japanese economy is doing well, growing more strongly than at any time in the past two decades. And yet while Japanese equities’ fundamentals are supportive both domestically and globally, and they’re trading at a 25% discount to the S&P 500, any rise in the value of the yen would hurt their performance. Taking all this into account, we’re very slightly overweight.


Persevering with eurozone equities

We’re not giving up on eurozone equities just yet. They might be expensive, but they’re still 20% cheaper than US stocks and backed by strong fundamentals. Political risk appears to have eased with Angela Merkel’s return to power in Germany and the relative quiet in Spain. We remain wary of political developments in Italy, but are more constructive on its economic situation. So why have eurozone equities performed so poorly recently? Most likely because of the euro’s rise against the dollar. Since we expect this trend to stall (and perhaps even retreat), we maintain a slight overweight overall. 


Drilling down

Allocating to eurozone small-caps could be a good way of hedging against a single currency surge, while the region’s banks look attractive with the yield curve steepening. We still prefer consumer discretionary to staples, and we also like construction as it should benefit from a pick-up in property prices. At the country level we remain overweight Greek stocks, although we’ve temporarily downgraded French equities from overweight to neutral.

Underweight UK assets

With inflation persistently above the BoE’s long-term target we’re still slightly underweight gilts due to the threat of monetary tightening. Brexit is looming large and the FTSE 100 has underperformed since the start of 2017, so we remain slightly underweight UK equities.


Bullish on emerging equities…

The economic backdrop in most emerging markets is still buoyant, and their central banks are likely to remain accommodative so we’ve moved overweight emerging equities. We see good potential in Taiwan, Malaysia and South Africa, although we’ve moved underweight in India for now.


… but not bonds

We’re not so bullish on bonds from the emerging world. Rising Treasury yields represent a headwind for hard-currency emerging sovereign debt, whose spreads are already tight, so we’re underweight. 


No rich seam for commodities

The drivers of the oil price are numerous and complex, but overall fundamentals have rapidly declined from excellent to average. With the oil price around USD 65 / bbl we’re remaining neutral for now.

Within metals we’re still slightly overweight copper. Its relative valuation seems about fair, but we see medium-term upside due to its role as an inflation hedge. And we’re slightly overweight gold for similar reasons: it’s a good hedge against rising prices and any escalation in trade wars.

 

Source: All data & opinion Lyxor Cross Asset Research & Equity teams, as at 28 March 2018 unless otherwise stated. Past performance is no guide to future returns.  

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