Tactical Shift

A sharp rise in interest rates catches the bond market by surprise and creates a challenge for the bull case for stocks. This week, we look at how rising rates are shaping the outlook.

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After an initial strong run, signs of stress may now be emerging in the global recovery. Moreover, we note that financial markets appear priced for strong growth, record profits, and limited financial stress among corporate issuers. Given this backdrop, we now tactically reduce equity exposure to neutral following fourteen months of significantly overweight equity exposure.

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As the economy reopens, we believe growth is set to surge. The United States is well along the path on vaccination, which is unleashing months of pent-up demand. Meanwhile, other parts of the world are lagging in vaccinations and confronted with potential challenges, including a stronger dollar. Given continued signs of progress and growth in the United States, we refocus tactically around domestic and high-quality assets. We also maintain a tactical overweight to equity over bonds, given incoming data as we enter the third quarter.

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Key Points: Vaccines Spur Growth Rebound U.S. Profits Recover to Pre-Pandemic Levels High U.S. Savings to Fuel Growth Stronger Dollar Favors Domestic Tilt Valuations, Rates, and Taxes are Risks Much has changed in the past quarter. A new administration and new congressional leadership has emerged in Washington. Meanwhile, a COVID-19 vaccination rollout is accelerating throughout the United States and some other parts of the world. Speculative fervor has rippled through some parts of equity markets while bond investors fret about rising interest rates. This quarter we address how these changes are shaping the environment, creating challenges and opportunities for tactical…

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While risk-taking remains in fashion and more stimulus is on the way, we are trimming back some equity exposure. We now forecast some tempering in the outlook ahead (Chart A, below) after a long stretch of improving conditions. As a result, we reduced stock exposure to 67% from 80% and increased bond exposure to 33% from 20%. CONQUEST tactical asset portfolios remain overweight stocks versus bonds, only less so. Chart A WCA Fundamental Conditions Barometer High Hopes Since the governments and central  banks around the world went “all-in” to save the economy from the pandemic last spring, wealth has exploded….

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Viewpoint 2021

Many are expecting vaccinations to lead to a robust recovery this year. Return to normal and restart of the in-person economy should encourage growth and be celebrated. At the same time, the return to growth could also weaken the case for continued fiscal and monetary ease. And once restarted, the globe faces challenges. The tensions and ailments that existed before the pandemic are still with us. The path appears to be forward but it will not likely be a straight line. Last year’s pandemic-induced downturn was out-and-out different from recessions past. For this reason, we should see recovery as a…

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What Next?

Even though stocks should rise over time, we think the pace of the market rally is set to slow because extraordinary government supports for the economy are set to fade, and valuations have run ahead of fundamentals. Changing Tack It is hard to bet against stocks for the long-term. Since the 1920s, stocks have produced a positive return every 20 years based on S&P 500 annual returns. Stocks tend to beat bonds and cash over time, supporting the idea that markets tend to reward risk. But this fact obscures the reality that stock investing also involves periodic drops. Not everyone…

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It is hard to conclude almost anything with certainty amid this pandemic. Are schools open? Or closed? Or half-open and half-closed? There seems to be less unanimity in Congress on policy issues. The size of continued supplemental unemployment benefits was at issue before this weekend’s executive order. Republicans favored a $200 additional benefit, and Democrats wanted $600. President Trump’s $400 figure falls neatly in the middle of the $200-$600 range, but questions over the order and funding for the order remain. The “muddled middle” will have to suffice for now, but, by comparison, today’s situation is far better than where…

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Tactical asset allocation in CONQUEST portfolios is discussed in this quarterly series. In this quarterly installment, we discuss how CONQUEST is adapting to rapid changes brought about by the outbreak of Covid-19. An encouraging start to the year gave way to the unsettling reality of a global pandemic last month. In very short order, financial markets responded to extraordinary societal changes. Since February 19, global stock markets shed a record $25 trillion (30%) in a matter of days after Covid-19 became a pandemic. Bond markets and commodities also exhibited volatility and complicated movements. Not since 1987 have markets adjusted with…

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Viewpoint 2019

Against a backdrop of worry over trade and rising interest rates, the United States economy continues to perform well. While equity markets generally declined in 2018, investors in the United States generally fared better than overseas. Moreover, most companies saw revenue, profits, and dividends grow in 2018, and we expect more to come in 2019. This annual Viewpoint, along with quarterly updates, provides an organized way of looking at the economy, financial markets, and your portfolio. The full report is available by clicking the link below.

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The U.S. economy is accelerating into the second half of the year with growth tracking toward 4% in the second quarter. However, the yield curve has flattened significantly as the Fed presses forward with rate increases, and trade concerns create some unease. Consequently, our own read of the data has become more mixed and we have tactically reduced exposure to stocks during the first half. Portfolios are overweight value versus growth, and foreign developed versus emerging. The fixed income posture is tilted toward high quality and shorter duration credit versus long-duration Treasuries. We also have a tactical tilt toward REITs…

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THE WEEK AHEAD Flush earnings still help, but higher interest rates and trade concerns hurt the bull case for stocks. MACROECONOMIC INSIGHT Not much happens when businesses, investors, and consumers decide to pull in their horns. Fortunately, the past couple of years have had most people feeling relatively optimistic about the outlook. Consumers are benefitting from full employment, rising wages, and increased wealth. Business owners and investors are reaping the benefits from a growing economy and large profits. For the past several years, no attractive “risk free” investment alternative existed to compete against riskier assets. One way to think about…

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We see the economy on a growth track, but after a year of strong returns and historically low volatility, some moderation to growth and risk appetite seems reasonable. Continued economic growth, without a notable pickup in inflation, remains our dominant view. Last year’s tax changes, and new federal spending initiatives, have the potential to lift investment and speed up growth. Risks to our outlook include rising trade and geopolitical tension, elevated asset prices in some areas, and rising interest rates. During the quarter, we made a few tactical adjustments to portfolios. We tilted portfolios toward large cap domestic value, and…

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2018 Viewpoint

Our 2018 Viewpoint begins on an optimistic note. Growth continues to pick up by most accounts, businesses are again investing, and asset values are near records. Confidence necessary for risk taking is apparent, and inflation remains at bay. On the other hand, we are now confronted with higher valuations in many asset classes, which we feel should eventually weigh on long-run returns. This annual Viewpoint, along with quarterly updates, provides an organized way of looking at the economy, financial markets, and your portfolio. Full Report Click Here

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It is not very often that emerging market equities trade with valuations this low compared to the S&P 500.  Typically, emerging markets trade with a lower multiple than developed given greater risks.  Yet, there have been few times over the last twelve years when emerging markets were valued this low on a price-to-earnings ratio basis compared with the United States.  Lower relative valuations reflect a variety of concerns including commodity prices, credit quality, currency, and growth.  All of these are valid things to be concerned about and we’ve written about them before.  Still, we have seen emerging markets underperform their developed market counterparts for…

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