Perspectives for strategic asset allocation
Observations Markets & News
The combination of rising rates (impacting financing rates), Quantitative Tightening, and intensified bond issuance (impacting term premium) will increase strains on financial assets, especially lower quality credit and balance sheet intensive securities.
Key managers run low risk. Many asset classes are at key inflection points, mainly US rates, US equities (global growth) and the USD.
Sooner or later this is likely to expose the negative convexity that has been built up in various types of assets, investment strategies, and portfolios during the past decade. As such, the current environment is an opportune time for investors to review and re-balance the convexity risk in their portfolios.
Risk premia rises because of Fed policy and due to a White House that is imposing trade tariffs on even the closest allies. ‘America First’ stands for nationalism which has historically lead to isolation in the short-term and to wars in the longer-term. Each passing month highlights how the market regime has changed, with rising interest rates, the culmination of Central Bank asset purchase programs, increasing geopolitical tensions, and trade wars increasing uncertainty and driving volatility higher.
European business confidence is hurt by nationalism spreading in Europe. Brexit remains a known unknown risk. Italian rates suffered.
In Eurozone wage and price pressures rise. Economic backdrop downshifted. June 8: German production fell 1% in April vs. estimated 0.3% increase. Shock decline in factory orders reported earlier (4 months of sliding manufacturing orders). Factory orders fell -2.5% in April. German exports fell -0.3% in April. French industrial production also declined. In Euro area a slower pace of expansion is the new normal.
Macroeconomic conditions remain remarkably benign in the US and most major economies. Economic growth remains robust the world over. US employment is continuing to grow at a steady rate of around 200,000/month, as it has for the past seven years.
With the Fed likely to keep edging up short-rates, and the yield curve already flat, we expect US 10-year treasury yields to break above 3% in the coming months. The labor market is tight, wages are trending up and inflation pressures are building.
The current situation for sovereigns was compared to Prince Rupert’s Drop[i] (“larme de verre”), in that what is perceived as a strong, balanced system one day could blow up the next.[ii]
YTD the top 5 US stocks attribute 52% of the YTD performance of the S&P500. Dispersion is back, which is good for long/short strategies.
Mining and mining services stocks generally outperform when bond yields are rising. Tech companies with growing revenue and earnings at high levels are independent of economic growth.
The cost of fixed income is being repriced globally, one market after the next. We have reached the end of QE and zero interest rate policy in the US.
Corporate bond ETFs stand at USD300B, more than seven times the inventory on bond dealers’ balance sheets estimated at USD40B.[iii]
USD yields could move substantially higher in order to entice international investors to finance the rising US deficit[iv]: US corporates need to refinance $4 trillion of bonds over the next five years (Wells Fargo Securities, May 9, 2018; $ca. $700 bn in 2018, $750bn in 2019 and $880 bn in 2020). About $3 trillion is investment grade, mostly in the lowest rungs BBB / Baa, with the rest in high-yield. Higher borrowing costs look to coincide with tigther credit conditions. If companies will be forced to refinance at higher rates, credit conditions could erode leading to a vicious circle of more downgrades and pushing bond buyers to seek out better-rated issuers. A positive is the Republican tax overhaul with the new legislation leaving some firms with more cash.
Emerging Markets Currencies & Debt
EM show symptoms of a broader weakness in the structure of global financial markets. Negative turn in EM debt since mid- April.
EM currencies with large current account deficits and a large portion of their debt in foreign hands (Turkey & Argentina) have sold off steeply. Countries on borderline of economic weakness could get sucked into the vortex (e.g. Indonesia, South Africa, India, Brazil).
EM debt at a record USD11trn with liquidity at US$4.9trn in 2017.[v] A rise in USD rates speeded by the turn of QE to being a net negative, could destabilize bond markets globally creating a serious headwind for all fixed-income asset prices.
Oil is in a bull market. The extension of the OPEC cut through the balance of 2018 cemented a bullish underlying supply/demand balance. Risk of an oil spike has increased if EM demand improves and US production disappoints. Almost all oil capex has been directed toward US shale production.[vi]
Exploding demand in rare earths such as lithium, cobalt and graphite because of increasing popularity of electric vehicles.[vii]
Wise to look for diversifying assets and / or strategies. Long vol trades tend to be too expensive in equities and in bonds. Yet, implied vol is likely to move higher before long. Merger Arb or event driven strategies profiting from M&A offer attractive risk/rewards. Examples for hedges are long Japanese yen as a general risk aversion trade, short Australian dollar as a hedge against a China slowdown, short US high yield and CMBS due to deteriorating credit quality and an increase in borrowing rates, and short Italian government bonds as a hedge to escalating European political risk. Short sovereign debt or CDS on corporates could profit if either rates rise and/or spreads widen.
June 19, 2018
[i] Equinox Partners
[ii] Wikipedia: “Prince Rupert's Drops (also known as Dutch tears) are toughened glass beads created by dripping molten glass into cold water, which causes it to solidify into a tadpole-shaped droplet with a long, thin tail. These droplets are characterized internally by very high residual stresses, which give rise to counter-intuitive properties, such as the ability to withstand a blow from a hammer or a bullet on the bulbous end without breaking, while exhibiting explosive disintegration if the tail end is even slightly damaged. In nature, similar structures are produced under certain conditions in volcanic lava.
The drops are named after Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who brought them to England in 1660, although they were reportedly being produced in the Netherlands earlier in the 17th century and had probably been known to glassmakers for much longer. They were studied as scientific curiosities by the Royal Society and the unravelling of the principles of their unusual properties probably led to the development of the process for the production of toughened glass, patented in 1874.”
[iii] Gavekal, May 8, 2018, “The Illusion of Liquidity, and Its Consequences”
[v] Bank for International Settlements: between 2010 and 2017 the total value of emerging market debt securities outstanding more than doubled from US$5trn to around US$11trn. Yet over the same period, according to the Emerging Market Traders Association, trading volumes in emerging market debt fell, sliding from more than US$6.5trn in 2010 to US$4.9trn in 2017.
[vi] Horseman Global, BBL Commodities
[vii] Regal Funds Management
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