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.
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.
Reducing industrial cyclicals and adding to consumer cyclicals
Perhaps the most obvious symbol of the changes under way is the fact that Europe, not the US, has been our preferred equity region since late May. This isn’t the result of one single trend or a dramatic headline. It has happened gradually, as marginal buying shifted from the US to Europe. It is the same with the shift from industrial to consumer cyclicals. No-one doubts the coming industrial recovery, but our charts suggest it is already in the price, so investors are starting to look for the next big idea.
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.
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.
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 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.
Some US Tech giants are already rated underweight
We re-iterate our call to take profits in US Tech. We have downgraded Communications to neutral this week and we already have Google/Alphabet as an underweight. The Tech sector broke down through an important technical signal in late August and is now accelerating towards a downgrade. Leading stocks like Microsoft have been downgraded and only Apple looks robust at current levels. The majority of the large stocks we cover have lower scores than they did at the end of summer.
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.
US sector signals suggest a reappraisal during results season
Our US equity sector model has been unusually quiet of late, but we are picking up signals that this is about to change. The lead indicator for the scale of potential changes is close to a one-year high and the level of conviction attached to this reading is at a two-year high. We expect the rotation to start at the bottom and work upwards. Energy and Materials look interesting, while Staples, Utilities and, possibly, Healthcare look challenged.