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.
What ESG may mean for the Energy sector
US investors are significantly more positive about the Energy sector than their European counterparts. There could be many explanations, but we are increasingly concerned that there is a buyer’s strike in Europe. This could have unintended consequences – first of all for the implementation of a low-carbon style on a global basis, and second on the outlook for inflation in 2023 and beyond. Changes in our investment style in Europe may have moved too far in advance of changes in our lifestyle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cause for concern in Technology and Financials
China’s stock market is always subject to official intervention, so the signals need to be interpreted carefully. However, there are two new red flags in our equity sector model, relating to Technology and Financials. Technology has suddenly started to deteriorate, which has historically been a good lead indicator for the US Tech sector. Financials are heading for a multi-year low relative to the index, which could have important implications for China’s FX policy regime.