Investors have gotten so used to low inflation that it is sometimes hard to imagine seeing it rise. However, Morgan Stanley is warning that inflation is rising across the globe and investors need to keep an eye on it. In Europe, Asia, and the US, inflation has risen from 1.1% to 1.4%, and it is bound to move higher, according to Morgan Stanley’s chief global economist. Interestingly, MS argues that the Euro area and Japan will see a higher rise in inflation than the US.
FINSUM: If inflation rises more strongly in other developed markets than the US, will that lead to even more foreign buying of US bonds because yields in those locations are so much lower? In other words, will there be even more demand for US bonds?
Global and US stocks are teetering on the brink of a major correction right now. US indexes fell around 3.5% and fears over the spread of coronavirus and its impact on the economy continue to rattle the psyche of markets. One analyst summarized the deepening fears of the virus’ potential impact this way, saying “When countries are closing borders, the threat of an outbreak is becoming more pronounced in Europe and the Middle East and supply chains are just going to be more disrupted, how do we model risk when we can’t even model economics with any confidence?”.
FINSUM: There was an early morning bounce in Asian markets that fizzled. The news today is not any better than yesterday. It is easy to imagine the bottom temporary falling out of markets.
Apple’s stock has suffered significantly last week since it announced that it would likely miss its revenue targets because of the virus outbreak in China. The stock is down 7% since the announcement and there is increasing speculation the damage may not be transient. The whole incident calls into question whether the country is too reliant on China for production (and also for sales). Many Wall Street analysts have pushed lost revenue for this quarter into other quarters, but it is not at all inconceivable to think that some of the sales may be lost permanently as consumers could have bought rival products, or just won’t switch at all (especially those in China).
FINSUM: Apple should probably work to adjust its supply chain as a reaction to this, but that seems unlikely. Hard to tell how this plays out; it depends on the news cycle.
Bernie is a long, long way from the White House. He has not even won his party’s bid. Yet, his odds of winning the Democratic ticket, and thus his effect on markets are growing. The reality is that even if you think Trump is likely to win the election, Bernie is probably going to have a big effect on markets this year because of how tight polls are likely to be. With that in mind, here is some advice to protect your portfolio. Analysts are still working through how Bernie might impact specific sectors, but there is one area where all agree he will be devastating—defense. Bernie favors heavy cuts to the defense budget—a position unique to him among the Democratic field of candidates. Therefore, selling defense companies or buying puts on the defense sector seems smart. Such puts are still quite cheap, so not a bad time to prepare.
FINSUM: If Sanders wins the bid he is going to have a stronger impact on markets every week (provided the polls stay close). Best to start thinking about this now as it may be a theme for the rest of the year.
New data on the EU economy has just come in and it isn’t pretty. Overall, the bloc grew just 01% in the fourth quarter, while Italy and France actually contracted. According to Commerzbank, “The spectre of recession is back … Economic growth in the eurozone came to a virtual standstill at the end of the year . . . The ECB is likely to view this with concern”. Ironically though, this may be positive for market as the ECB is likely to take an even more dovish approach.
FINSUM: It feels like we just did a time warp back to around 2013, when central banks were ready to stick to ZIRP for years. We all know how stocks performed then!
While many are worried about the domestic economy and whether the US is headed for a recession, those invested in emerging markets should perhaps be even more concerned. One of the fears specialists in the area have is that there is probably about $200 bn of unreported Chinese loans on the books of emerging market borrowers. China is not obligated to report these loans anywhere, so no one is quite sure of the size of the exposure. The risk is that as the economy sours, and these credits debts become distressed, China could impose some severe conditions on borrowers, which could cause emerging markets to seize up.
FINSUM: We could see this becoming an issue, especially because China will be feeling distress itself, which means it is likely to use a heavy hand. Even if nothing comes of this, it will likely weigh on EM asset prices in the near-term because of the uncertainty.
It has taken a long time for bond ETFs to begin getting even a tiny bit of the attention stock ETFs have gotten, but the trend has finally taken hold in earnest, and that s good news for investors. While active bond funds have done well in recent years (perhaps due to it being considered easier to outperform a bond index than a stock index), bond ETFs have now started to surpass them in growth. This is adding much more liquidity to bond funds, which benefits investors substantially. Both active and passive bond funds have taken in over $200 bn each in 2019.
FINSUM: While “liquidity mismatch” worries will continue to linger, the fact is that bond ETFs make a lot of sense (perhaps even more than stock ETFs?) because they circumvent minimum-buy and illiquidity issues, allowing many more people to access hard-to-reach corners of the bond market.
Many have been wondering when junk bonds were going to start feeling pain. Despite the previous risk of recession, junk bonds did quite well over the last several months. However, since the big flare up over coronavirus, they have started to be seriously wounded. On Friday, junk bond spreads to Treasuries were at 366 bp—very low. As of yesterday, they were at 418 basis, a 50bp+ rise in two trading days, showing how much investors fear the economic impact of coronavirus.
FINSUM: We think these spreads are going to keep moving higher, even if stocks level out. Bond investors are a suspicious bunch and an economic slowdown would hit high yield companies harder than average.
A new report shows that fixed index annuities sales have been surging. FIAs saw sales jump 57% in 2019, and there appear to be two reasons why. Firstly, the defeat of the DOL’s fiduciary rule completely reopened the market to a product that had been in serious trouble in the period leading up to the rule. Additionally, due to de-risking, variable annuities have become less attractive, and more money has been moving into fixed index annuities, which also offer higher rates than fixed annuities. Generally speaking, “Broker-dealers have embraced the solution as products become more transparent and consumer-friendly”, says Cerulli Associates.
FINSUM: The whole sales process for FIAs has really cleaned up its act and the marketing materials and structures are more accessible now. We expect this market to keep rising.
Gold has been doing well this year alongside all the market turmoil and uncertainty. While one could construe recent progress on a trade deal with China as potentially bad for gold—given its status as an uncertainty hedge—the reality is that rates are headed lower via Fed cuts. This means the Dollar will weaken, and in turn help gold. Societe Generale, for instance, is advising a maximum allocation to gold, saying investors should have 5% of their portfolios in it. Additionally, a resolution to the trade war would probably also weaken the Dollar as there would be less desire to take advantage of its safe haven status.
FINSUM: Basically Soc Gen is arguing that gold will benefit from both lower rates and a risk-on trade. The former aspect seems sound, but gold benefitting from less anxiety? Sounds a weak supposition to us.
Financial advisors often wonder about the best way to get client money into private equity. The industry has long had very high hurdles for investing directly in funds, and publicly traded funds that try to replicate private equity returns are still nascent. However, there is another good way to get PE like returns by proxy—buy publicly traded private equity company stocks. KKR is a very well known firm that is currently trading very cheaply and seems like a good buy. The stock rose 50% last year but badly trailed its rivals in a year that saw many PE companies double in value as they shifted from partnerships to corporations.
FINSUM: The market seems to be underpricing KKR’s ability to create management fees based on its dry powder, which is causing the weaker valuation.