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.
Scope for equity position sizes to get much larger
The start to 2022 feels so hectic partly because the end of 2021 was so boring. The active weight in our sector models – our proxy for the risk appetite of equity investors – was at multi-year lows all through December. We think it is now close to bottom and there is no technical reason why it could not rise strongly in coming weeks. An increase of 40% in position size would only take us back to bottom of the top quartile in terms of risk-budget utilisation. We also think that the narrative of rotating from growth to value is a little simplistic. Many of these moves can be explained simply by looking at changes in estimate momentum.
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.
Even the strong dollar is not as important as you think
Clients often ask whether they should incorporate a currency view into their asset allocation process, to which the short answer is No. Although we don’t normally publish it, we have a model which prioritises currency selection over asset class selection. There are times when it outperforms our standard model (and now is one of them), but over the long run it produces lower returns, with higher volatility and deeper and longer drawdowns. Two conditions are required for the Currency-First model to outperform – a global bull market in risk assets and easy monetary policy in the US. Neither one, on its own, is sufficient. If you believe the latest FOMC minutes, our standard asset class model should start to outperform again, sometime in the first half of 2022.
The bottom is not bouncing to the top
There has been a lot of excitement about factor rotation in equities, but it’s mostly based on the back of two days’ trading at the start of this week. We agree that rotation is going to pick up, but from a very low base and our work suggests that it’s going to be from the top to the middle and vice versa. We think that the laggards, like Financials, Energy and Telecom could underperform for some time to come. If the factors in question are meaningful, they will show up in sector performance fairly soon. If not, perhaps they are not as important as reported.
Are we in a quant crash and what does it mean?
This week has seen a sudden upsurge in factor rotation at the individual stock level in the US. It may be too soon to call this a quant crash and we would be wary of attributing this to some macro-economic story, like a change in Treasury yields. The best explanation may be that it was so darn quiet immediately beforehand – something which our equity sector models show very clearly.