Investors need to price the risk of recession in 2023
A recession in 2023 is not our central case, but investors ought to price the risk of it happening, in order to reduce the probability that it will. We would be surprised if the Federal Reserve were to raise rates seven times in 2022, mainly because that would automatically cause the consensus to reduce its forecasts for US growth in 2023. The Fed’s hawkishness in 2016 had a similar effect and we see early signs of this happening in two of our main models. Investment Grade has hit a five-year low in our US$ fixed income model. Investors are now concerned about credit quality for the first time in years. Industrials have just been downgraded to underweight in our US equity sector model, which nearly always indicates that investors are worried about the outlook for the real economy.
The opposite to US growth is not US value
If investors decide to get out of the growth style in the US, there are several other strategies they can follow apart from US value: (1) low volatility in US equities; (2) growth in non-US equities; (3) low volatility in other US asset classes; (4) non-US value. The problem with the value style is that cheap stocks tend to stay cheap, unless there is a clear and obvious catalyst for them to outperform, like a massive earnings surprise (as in Energy) or a surge in corporate activity (which may happen in the UK). We think the most popular destination for flows out of US growth will be low volatility in US equities, into sectors such as Consumer Staples and, possibly, Utilities.
Everything depends on the slope of the yield curve
We see lots of commentary suggesting that the value style is going to outperform the growth style in Europe and the US. We also see this being used as a reason for rebalancing global equity portfolios away from the US and towards Europe. We disagree with both ideas and also with the big idea behind them, which is that government yield curves are going to shift higher and/or steepen at the same time. Indeed, the recent behaviour of US Financials suggests that investors are becoming concerned about the yield curve inverting over the medium term. We also think that the new emphasis on ESG guidelines makes the value/growth trade much more complex than it used to be.
End of summer lull makes us cautious about big calls
We are always wary of making big calls on the basis of thin summer markets, so here are three quick ideas. First, Japan produced an important technical buy signal just before Prime Minister Suga announced his resignation. It is very similar to the one at the start of the Abenomics rally in 2012. Second, the recommended weight of US equities to the rest of the world is at a 10-year high and it does not normally hold this level for more than a month. Third, we think European industrials are out of line with US Industrials and potentially vulnerable.
Exposure to some sectors may be justified but timing is critical
Our recommended exposure to Chinese equities is effectively zero, but EM Equities (of which China is by far the largest part) are critical to the success of any global balanced portfolio. So, we have looked at individual Chinese sectors to see which ones have been the most successful diversifiers compared to their US counterpart. The good news is that it is easy to identify those which fail the test badly: Financials, Industrials, Telecom and Small Caps. The bad news is that only Technology has offered successful diversification over the whole of our test period, but now is not a good entry point. There may also be opportunities in Consumer Staples and Healthcare, but, again, we prefer to wait for a better entry point.
Earnings estimates need to be revised down
We have started to apply our probability approach to consensus earnings estimates. For Europe ex UK, we cover 45 industry groups as well as the index. There is still a 100% probability that consensus estimates for the index will be higher in 12 months’ time than they are now. But the average score for individual industry groups peaked in February and has started falling. There are eight industries where the probability of an increase is now less than 50%. More importantly, a downturn in the average industry score is normally a indicator that the index score is also about to decline.
After Small Caps, Energy could be next
The recent outperformance of Small Caps is starting to generate headlines, but we think there is more to come, especially in Europe. We don’t see any need to take profits, nor do we think that Small Cap outperformance is a reliable indicator of an upcoming peak in the equity index. We do accept that it may be too late to start a big overweight position, So, if you are looking for the next big thing, you may want to consider Energy.
The immediate danger lies in Asia, not the US
Everyone is suddenly on bubble alert, but our numbers suggest that the main danger lies in Asian equities, not the US. China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, India, Japan, Australia and Indonesia all have weekly RSIs above 70%, which is our warning signal. US equities are still below this threshold, apart from Small Caps, which broke above it three weeks ago.
Energy, Healthcare and Communications in the spotlight
Elections don’t change things, except when they do. The combination of the Saudi oil cut and Democrat control of the Senate could usher in a period of materially higher oil prices. The Senate victory also means that social media companies may be threatened with more regulation and even a possible break-up. But does the new administration have the political capital to take on Big Pharma at the same time? The outlook for the Healthcare sector may be more hopeful than the Blue Wave doomsters suggested.
The value trade won’t work everywhere
This report is a real-time survey of how the great rotation is progressing in different regions of the world. Our conclusions are (1) Many of the important sector infection points happened back in September; so talking about them now in terms of factors suggests that people missed them the first time round. (2) The UK has much the most aggressive sector rotation and China the least. (3) There are different winners and losers in each region and any attempt to apply one paradigm to all of them is likely to fail. (4) Many value-rich sectors in each region have hardly moved, suggesting that the value trade has already been differentiated into those sectors which have catalysts and those which don’t.