Insight & Commentaries

Viewpoint 2023

We start 2023 coming off a tough 2022 for both stock and bond investors, where both assets suffered significant declines. However, inflation issues and higher interest rates, which dominated market focus last year, will likely fade in intensity in 2023.

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Reexamining Quality

High-quality stocks beat low-quality stocks in every problematic market for the past twenty years, but not in 2022 (table below). In each bearish phase, high quality held up better than low. However, this was not the case this year. Year-to-date, the WCA High-Quality index is down 15%, while the WCA Low-Quality index is down just 5%. While this trend is changing with recent performance once again favoring high quality (more on this below), this year’s performance of high-and-low quality needs some examination. High vs. Low-Quality Performance in Bad Markets Before doing so, we remind readers that quality is important but…

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The International Monetary Fund delivered a sobering assessment of growth in their latest outlook. High inflation, war in Ukraine, and lingering supply issues are culprits. While credit spreads and earnings forecasts appear reasonably steady, our own assessment of data points to slowdown. As we look for signs of a turn, the weight of evidence points to some continued caution for now.

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Last week, the European Central Bank (ECB) raised a red flag, saying some member banks have ignored warnings of risks associated with leveraged finance, according to Bloomberg News. The ECB hit a handful of European banks with capital charges in an attempt to encourage the banks to exercise greater caution. These actions come amid growing concern in Europe over a looming energy crisis, ongoing war in Ukraine, and struggles at some financial institutions. These pressures are evident in both confidence indicators like business confidence (graph A, below) and measures of financial stress (graph B, below). Graph A Graph B Rise…

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Earnings drive stock prices over time. This simple truth is evident in the past century’s market performance. Over the past 100 years, both the S&P Composite index and S&P Composite index earnings gained about 6-7% per year. The profits, along with the market’s appraisal of the value of those earnings, rose and fell year-to-year. Sometimes, those swings in earnings and valuations were large, creating excitement and anxiety. What drove the earnings growth? Fortunately, we see an excellent and rational cause for the growth in earnings. As the chart below shows, we can trace growth in stock prices to economic growth…

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Central Bank all in to fight inflation Markets signal inflation to fade Rates to push higher still Policymaker credibility key to fight Valuations more attractive. We remain cautious based on incoming data and enter the final quarter underweight risk assets.However, policy priorities seem to be having some positive effect on expected inflation, despiteupsetting financial markets. This is a difficult and complex environment, and we continue to followour tactical discipline in navigating a very unusual year. While we are not out of the woods yet,valuations are becoming better as are longer-run expectations for returns.

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Good Advice

Investors have done well to heed Marty Zweig’s advice “Don’t fight the Fed” since he published his 1970 book, Winning on Wall Street. The idea has generally stood the test of time. The most recent two major recessions and market declines, those in 2000-2002 and again in 2007-2008, were preceded by Federal Reserve (Fed) policy tightening. So too were the recessions and bear markets of 1973-1974, 1980-1982, and 1991-1992. The 1987 market crash was, likewise, preceded by rising rates. In each case, efforts by the Fed to rein in inflation via tighter monetary policy proved effective in fighting inflation, but…

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We critique existing “style” investing frameworks as popularized in various “value” and “growth” indices. We cite three critical problems with how the indices are constructed, and discuss risks that come with overly strict adherence thereupon. Lastly, we offer an alternative framework as a potentially better way to think about investments.

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The economy is either in recession or booming. This is what the headlines are telling us each week. So, against this muddled stream of seemingly conflicting and contradictory information, we look for signs regarding which way we are headed. Consider the following evidence for the “recession” case and the “boom” case.

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While we usually comment on financial assets like stocks and bonds, real estate also plays an important role in the broader economy and financial markets. With signs of possible cooling now emerging in property markets, we consider what a slowdown in real estate could mean for the U.S. economy and financial markets at large.

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In 2018-2019, real estate company Zillow showed “for sale” inventory of U.S. homes between 1.2 and 1.4 million units. After the pandemic in 2020, that “for sale” inventory began a sharp decline to 440 thousand units in March 2022. In other words, in March, the supply of homes was about 1 million units short of, or 60-70% below, pre-pandemic levels based on Zillow’s data. At the same time supply was falling, demand was surging. Existing home sales surged by 1 million units above normal in 2020-2021, and new mortgages for purchases surged 40%. Remote work trends, federal stimulus, and record-low,…

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Set against a backdrop of rising inflation and interest rates, calls for a “technical recession” are growing. Our check of the data leads us to maintain our near-term, tactical “underweight” to stocks. However, the correction in stock prices contains a silver lining as valuations have become better, boosting long-run return expectations.

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