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.
Global equities are about to start rotating faster than usual
We expect global equities to start rotating faster than usual on a country/regional basis. We discuss the technical rationale in some detail, but the important message is that this not about the recent winners such as the US and India, or the losers like China and Korea, but all the others, which are somewhere in the middle. There are several European countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, which are at risk of dropping down the ranking, while selected EM countries in Asia and Latin America could benefit. If our analysis is correct, this should happen before Christmas.
China’s problem may be Europe’s opportunity.
Our recommended weight for Chinese equities has just hit its all-time low since the beginning of this century. They have been in extreme underweight territory for their longest period ever. We think this is more than a temporary misunderstanding. It could represent the breakdown of the pro-China consensus that has dominated US investment thinking for over a decade. There may be parallels with what happened when the US became disillusioned with Russia 10 years ago. US investors who want international equity diversification will be forced to have another look at Europe.
Global Pharma no longer threatened by US price controls
The global Healthcare sector has begun to rally hard after hitting an all-time low in terms of its recommended weight relative to benchmark. It had previously been ignored because it doesn’t fit well into the current debate about growth vs value. We think it is time for another look, chiefly because the risk of price controls on US prescription drugs is much lower than previously feared. There is no time for Congress to consider this legislation before the run-up to the mid-term elections, and politicians may find that public opinion has changed after the success of anti-Covid vaccines.
Three rules for how to do it
Nothing in the last two weeks has changed our view that a correction in global equities is coming. If you are one of those investors who has waited all year to buy the dip, we have three rules about how to do it. One, decide your tactics in advance and don’t pay too much attention to the narrative behind the correction. Two, don’t add complexity to a market timing trade by using it to rebalance your equity portfolio. Three, if you want to front run a correction, make sure you have enough defensive exposure at a sector level. Our top pick here is European Telecom.
US investors have few diversification opportunities in Europe
Eurozone equities may be cheap when compared to the US, but that’s not really important. Over the last10 years, US investors have never been able to generate a superior risk-adjusted return by diversifying into the Eurozone index, no matter what tactical allocation strategy they follow. The picture is marginally better if we look individual sectors over a shorter time-frame, but Japan and Asia ex Japan, do much better on this test.
New infections may be about to rise in Europe
The bond sell-off this week reflects a very bullish consensus about the pace of recovery from the pandemic, which we believe is not supported by the data. Daily infection rates have stopped falling in the EU and the governments of Germany, France and Italy may be forced to increase restrictions on mobility and economic activity. This would send a shockwave through bond markets – certainly in Europe and probably the US.
Underweight US Equities, Overweight Small Caps
In 2021, we expect our models to recommend an extended underweight in US Equities and an overweight in Small Caps, particularly Europe, The US underweight is controversial and has often been wrong, but investors need to know that we have been significantly overweight for most of the last 10 years. The underweight worked well in the recoveries of 2003-04 and 2009, and we participated on both occasions. The same is true of our overweight on Small Caps, which is our preferred way of playing the economic recovery and equity rotation at the same time.
What works and what doesn’t
Given the likelihood of a second wave of the pandemic at some stage during the rest of this year, we have gone back through 25 years of data in over 40 countries, to see if there are any lessons about what to do in the immediate aftermath of a very bad sell-off. We find that buying the dip is not always a successful strategy and certainly not as successful as selling the bounce. By far the best strategy is avoiding the really bad weeks completely, which is easier said than done. The uplift from doing this is so significant that it dwarfs any other strategy. Even partial success is worth the effort – and the risk of missing out.
Already producing better risk-adjusted returns
The recent volatility shock is as big as the one in the middle of the GFC and it isn’t over yet. It has also happened three times faster, in three weeks rather than nine. Fear is inevitable, but the are some interesting opportunities, especially in Asia. Countries like Taiwan and South Korea have managed the corona virus better than the US or Europe, while China is already recovering. If you wait for the bounce in the West, you may miss it in the East.