The consensus for a strong dollar is more fragile than it appears
Our asset allocation models have been significantly dislocated by the strength of the US dollar. Our previous note – Currency First Is Second Best – showed that we had a model for working round the problem, even if it was difficult to know when to use it. This note introduces our G7 currency model, which we have been live-running for about two years. We don’t use it to make trade recommendations because we think the risk-adjusted returns are normally unattractive compared to those in other models, but it is occasionally useful in times of extreme market stress. The model itself is based on a mean-reversion approach and it is now close to its largest underweight position in USD over the last two years. This time last year, it was close to a two-year maximum overweight, when the consensus view was the dollar would be weak in 2021. If we were forced to commit capital, we would position for a weaker USD, but we think the right time to do this is January, not December.
Chinese Technology could lead a rally in EM Equities
We spend a lot of our time dissuading clients from going bottom-fishing, mainly because it doesn’t work very well. But there are times when we may need to do it to protect ourselves from the risk of being underweight a sector or country which rallies very fast. This week we highlight a combination of charts (EM Equities and China vs the World and Chinese Technology vs China) which have all sent recent signals suggesting that we may need to close our underweight positions in a hurry. There is a risk/opportunity that Chinese Technology could lead sharp and unexpected rally in EM Equities.
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.
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.
Multi-asset diversification works, but hasn’t done so recently
Successful diversification using publicly-traded alternative asset classes, like commodities, REITs and TIPS is possible. We can select from a family of systematically-managed portfolios, which allow us to capture the upside of diversification and avoid most of the downside. However, the big takeaway from this process is that multi-asset diversification itself has been largely redundant since the end of the financial crisis, thanks to the actions of the Federal Reserve. Since that time there have been two false dawns, when it looked as though the concept was about to make a comeback and we may be on the verge of another one now. If it turns out to a real dawn, we have the regime management skills to exploit it. If not, we should be able to get out without too much harm.
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.
But we don’t know when, why or how much
With very few exceptions, our main risk-appetite indicators are at or close to maximum risk-on. We see evidence of peaking behaviour in global equities vs global fixed income, in US Credit, and cyclicals vs defensives in the US, Japan and the UK. There is one indicator – Italian vs German government bonds – which is already past its peak. Most investors understand this and intend to use any correction as a buying opportunity. However, it still makes sense to take some risk off the table now, if only to put it back on at a lower price. We are also concerned that investors may be ignoring an uptick in geo-political risk.
Push and pull factors suggest that the timing is right
We think that global equities could be on the cusp of switching to a new big idea, moving out of US Technology and into something else. It may be US infrastructure, depending on who wins the election and controls the Senate, but the growth of the Chinese consumer has been thrown into sharp relief by the relative impact of Covid on China vs the West. Oil at $35/bbl is a significant stimulus and a similar idea (overweight in EM Equities) worked very well in 2002-05. We have a big overweight on both Consumer sectors in China and we highlight 10 consumer-related companies in Europe which derive more than 10% of sales from mainland China.
Time to take profits in US Tech
The US Tech sector has just flashed an important warning signal. Our recommended weighting has just dropped below its 52-week moving average. This has happened seven times in the last 25 years and the result is always a significant reduction in exposure. Six times out of seven, the sector has not bottomed until it was deep in underweight territory.
Rally in Financials is thematically important for the region
Our charts for Eurozone equities relative to the rest of the world have suddenly gone vertical. The change started in late June and the charts have improved in each of the last four weeks. It is now supported by improving lead indicators in cyclical sectors, like Materials and Industrials, and deep value sectors like Financials. The latter are key to the rehabilitation theme. Without them, a Eurozone rally will be anaemic; with them it could be surprisingly powerful.