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Policy, Politics and Performance: 3Q in Review

Policy, Politics and Performance: 3Q in Review

  • 10.10.17
  • Markets & Investing
  • Article

The Raymond James Investment Strategy Committee discusses current market trends, economic conditions, and international influences for investors to consider.

Each quarter, the Raymond James Investment Strategy Committee completes a detailed survey sharing their views on the investment environment, and their responses are the basis for a discussion of key themes and investment implications covered in this quarter’s Investment Strategy Quarterly. Read commentary from the committee meeting held September 5, 2017 below, or download the entire publication for a more thorough view of the markets and the economy.

Major Influences

Major macro factors affecting the economy and financial markets over the next six to twelve months include U.S. earnings growth, Federal Reserve policy, tax reform and interest rates.

U.S. Economy

The majority of the committee is neutral (2.5 – 2.9%) to somewhat negative (2.0 – 2.4%) on real U.S. GDP growth over the next six to 12 months. Inflation is expected to remain about the same at 1.5% for the same time frame.

  • “Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will distort much of the economic data and possibly shave a few tenths off of 3Q17 GDP growth, but we should see a rebound in the fourth quarter.”
  • “Much of the economic data were looking spotty ahead of the hurricanes, with overall growth trending at a lackluster to moderate pace.”
  • “The showdown over the FY18 federal budget and debt ceiling has been postponed to December 8. A budget agreement is necessary before tax reform efforts can get underway. Broad tax reform (lower rates and reduced deduction) is nearly impossible, as nobody wants to give up their deductions, but lower tax rates are still expected at some point (just on a smaller scale).”

– Scott J. Brown, Ph.D., Chief Economist, Equity Research

U.S. Equity

The majority of the committee is neutral to bullish on U.S. equities over the next six to 12 months.

  • “We’ve transitioned from an interest-rate driven to an earnings-driven secular bull market that has years left to run.”

Jeff Saut, Chief Investment Strategist, Equity Research

  • “The S&P 500 continues to sustain its momentum due to improving economic activity and earnings growth, along with renewed optimism over tax cuts. While participation in the S&P 500's advance had been narrowing (causing technical concerns), relative performance for the small and mid caps has sharply improved over the past month. This came on the heels of President Trump and Congressional Democrats agreeing on a three-month extension to the debt limit, which spurred the return of the reflation trade and was supported by the Trump administration's tax proposal.“
  • “The path of tax changes (timing, size, and details) will likely increase volatility now that it has been brought to the forefront of the Congressional agenda and will continue to be a significant influence on the equity market in the coming months. If we do see choppiness, the downside should be limited. We would be buyers of those pullbacks until something changes with these pillars of support - a healthy global economy, earnings growth, low interest rates, and fairly loose monetary policy around the world. They remain supportive of equities longer term.”

Michael Gibbs, Managing Director, Equity Portfolio & Technical Strategy 

International Equity

Almost 90% of the committee is bullish to some degree on non-U.S. developed equities, while 75% are bullish on emerging market equities over the next six to twelve months.

  • “There are several events coming up in the next few months. The first, and probably the least important, is the German election. Angela Merkel is going to win it.” 1
  • “Emmanuel Macron has the opportunity to actually push through some proper change in France. If France moves, then you’ll see the tone and the shape of the whole European debate move as well. I’m the most optimistic I’ve been about European reform right now. I actually do think this time it is changing.”
  • “The third aspect is Brexit, which remains – to be honest – totally boring. Debates continue, which is good because it means the whole timetable gets kicked out. Rather than a very hard, fixed two-year period, in practical terms it will probably be somewhere between four and six years, having less impact on economies.”
  • “The opportunity set in Europe remains good. I do believe in the reform process, and I believe this is the source of gains from a global asset allocation basis for European markets. I think similarly about Asia and am still really impressed by Chinese economic reform efforts.”

 – Chris Bailey, European Strategist, Raymond James Euro Equities*

Fixed Income

We don’t see anything trend-wise changing in the near term, and should continue to see rates trickle down.

  • “We are certainly seeing intermediate and long-term interest rates trickling down. The support on the short end of the curve has been central bank interference. We have to acknowledge that the markets are also being driven by cash. Combined, central banks are currently over $19 trillion in size now – that’s the size of U.S. GDP.”
  • “For a lot of reasons, interest rates aren’t going up quickly any time soon. Along with central bank cash, there is interest rate disparity among most other economic powers with rates well below ours. This is seen through strong indirect participation in Treasury auctions, which is also placing downward pressure on rates.”
  • “We’ve seen a shift within some of the sectors, too. Munis have become more expensive and corporates are cheapening. But the belly of the curve is still staying whole. You’ve got to go out about 15 years on the muni curve to get 85% of the total value, while the corporate curve provides 85% of its value around 11 years out. At the very short end, even some short-term instruments like CDs are starting to play a role.” 

Doug Drabik, Senior Strategist, Fixed Income

  • “To me, the Fed’s balance sheet unwind is a non-event. The numbers that I’ve looked at suggest a two-year unwinding of $600 billion, maybe 25 or 30 basis points assuming the Fed sticks with their plan, which they really haven’t done for the last four or five years. We were supposed to get a number of rate hikes this year. We may be done, so I think dovishness stills rules the globe. Central bank balance sheets are still expanding.”

  • “The amount of liquidity, risk-taking, and the lack of discipline in the debt markets, at least on the taxable side, is extraordinarily loose.”

– James Camp, CFA, Managing Director of Fixed Income, Eagle Asset Management*

Energy and Oil

As of September 30, energy was 6.1% of the S&P 500 market cap, just about the lowest level in 14 years. Our view is that this is absolutely a place that ought to be overweighted, because it’s hard to see how much lower it can get.

  • “In regard to Hurricane Harvey, one-fifth of U.S. refining capacity, which is 4% of the world’s refining capacity, was offline. That’s an extremely impactful statistic, much more impactful compared to Hurricane Katrina. However, structural damage looks very, very small. Yet, shutting down and restarting a refinery takes time. It will take a period of weeks, maybe months at the most, until these are up and running again.”

  • “The amount of crude production that was offline was never particularly needle-moving, which is why we didn’t see a run on crude prices. At the peak, Gulf of Mexico outages were 400,000 barrels a day compared to refining, which was ten times the scale.”

 – Pavel Molchanov, Senior Vice President, Energy Analyst, Equity Research

Housing

As far as housing is concerned, nothing has changed in the past few months. We’re tracking along very modestly with housing starts.

  • “We need houses – the same message as last quarter. We just can’t build moderate- to low-priced housing. The economics just don’t work, and we don’t see that changing any time soon.”
  • “It’s a healthy environment. We’ve got residential fixed investment going up. That’s a data point that we track very closely. Typically when it’s increasing, the economy is doing well. If it turns and starts to head the other way, we’re going to get very nervous. In a lot of ways, it’s an indicator of what the consumer is doing. Right now, that all looks good to us.”
  • “We have 6 - 7% inflation in residential real estate. I’m talking 6 - 7% inflation replacement cost relative to income growth. That’s not a good equation, and we don’t see that changing.”

– Paul Puryear, Director of Real Estate Research, Equity Research

Alternative Investments

In terms of fee transparency, managers are responding to investors’ demands and concerns. They are coming up with somewhat more creative ways of addressing fee structure concerns.

  • “We are seeing allocations to global macro funds creep up. We haven’t seen very much in terms of volatility and dislocations across the globe over the last few years. For those investors that are expecting an uptick in volatility levels, global macro funds tend to play well in more volatile environments and when there are those global dislocations.”
  • “We’re also seeing allocations picking up in long-short equity, as people are looking to continue to participate in equity markets but with some sort of downside protection. The long-short equity funds have actually been doing quite well as we are starting to see an increase in alpha creation on the short side.”

 – Jennifer Suden, CFA, CAIA, Director of Alternative Investments Research, PCG Investment Products

Read the full October 2017 Investment Strategy Quarterly
Read the full October 2017 Investment Strategy Quarterly

1 As expected, Angela Merkel and her party won a plurality of the vote in the national election held on September 24, 2017

*An affiliate of Raymond James & Associates, Inc., and Raymond James Financial Services, Inc.

All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of Raymond James & Associates, Inc., and are subject to change. There is no assurance that any forecasts will occur. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of capital. International investing involves additional risks such as currency fluctuations, differing financial accounting standards, and possible political and economic instability. These risks are greater in emerging markets. Small and mid-cap securities generally involve greater risks. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. Asset allocation and diversification do not guarantee a profit nor protect against loss. Companies engaged in business related to a specific sector are subject to fierce competition and their products and services may be subject to rapid obsolescence.