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23 November 2018

Economic survey data on a weakening trend outside US.

The fly in the ointment for investors trying to look through political developments

Following a difficult autumn, investors are likely to be weighing whether 2018’s risks are almost in the rear-view mirror. Brexit could conceivably be settled by January, with minor changes to the Withdrawal Agreement; the Italian budget stand-off could be resolved by a telephone call. In terms of financial conditions, the Fed may raise rates in December but could guide to a pause, reflecting economic or market turbulence. Similarly, the ECB could acknowledge that the weakening trend in eurozone data warrants a continuation of QE, or at least some very doveish forward guidance.  Finally, following the mid-term elections, rebel Trump’s politically motivated trade war on China is now without a cause, at least in the short-term. Speculation of a US/China trade “deal” at the upcoming G20 meeting in Argentina is rising, which could perhaps at least represent a cease-fire in hostilities. Such a shift in sentiment may seem far-fetched, but should at least be considered alongside more bearish scenarios.

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17 September 2018

2018 Earnings forecasts stable over the summer.

Only marginal declines in EMs suggest that fears of an imminent crisis are overblown

There is a relatively strong correlation between the direction of earnings forecasts and the short-term relative performance of equity markets. Over the last 12m, US markets have outperformed peers as Trump’s corporate tax reductions and fiscal stimulus have provided a tailwind for US earnings. In the UK, although weighted earnings forecasts have risen, UK stocks have trailed behind, impacted in our view by the negative domestic sentiment in terms of Brexit. Similarly in continental Europe, market sentiment has been impacted by international and domestic political events. Intriguingly, the median emerging market forecast has only fallen by 2% since the Q1 peak, similar to the UK and Europe, suggesting fears of an imminent crisis are not at present feeding through to the corporate sector.

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23 July 2018

Earnings estimates: Marginal declines could point to trouble ahead.

Regions outside US now showing modest downgrades

Outside the US, most equity sectors have suffered modest downward revisions to 2018 earnings forecasts over the past four weeks. Within the US, 2018 earnings forecasts are effectively unchanged over the same period. It is too early in our view to be certain that this loss of momentum in non-US estimates is the start of a downtrend but it is consistent with the recent sharp declines in industrial commodities. The good news for 2018 – such as US tax cuts and continuing Eurozone expansion was always in our view a H1 phenomenon. The more challenging narratives such as rising US interest rates were in contrast likely to endure for longer. Furthermore, trade war uncertainty has reached a new peak.

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20 June 2018

Earnings revisions: No sign of a trade war (yet).

US estimates rising again while Europe and UK remain stable

In our view developed market equities remain in a benign de-rating phase, moving only sideways as profits rise and unconventional monetary policy is withdrawn. Critical to this view is a robust set of profits growth figures for 2018. Despite a significant slowing of economic momentum in the UK and Europe, consensus forecasts there still call for 8-9% 2018 earnings growth on a median basis. In the US, profits forecasts have seen another leg higher in recent months. The median US company is now expected to deliver close to 20% earnings growth in 2018. While there remain legitimate concerns and “headline risk” in respect of US trade policy, in our view and for the near-term, investors seem unlikely to dash for the exits with profits growth this strong.

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25 May 2018

Energy drives estimates higher – but oil now under pressure.

Risks rising as Russia and OPEC debate turning the taps back on in H2

While it may seem that global investor sentiment has broadly improved over the last 3 months, following the rapid recovery in equity markets, returns have been dominated by the energy sector, Exhibit 1. With Russia and Saudi Arabia now discussing production increases to head off a loss in market share to US shale, this momentum in the oil price may now ease. Separately, despite volatility in emerging markets we note that profits forecasts have been largely stable in 2018, suggesting that any underperformance is due to the rising dollar rather than weakening profits trends. In developed markets, the median 2018 earnings estimate in the US continued to rise over the last month while in Europe and the UK estimates are stable, despite a marked slowdown in the economic data.

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9 May 2018

2018 Earnings forecasts: Another Trump bump for energy.

Rising oil price continues to support 2018 earnings forecasts

While our concerns on valuation remain in place, in the short-term market performance is more closely linked to the trend in forecasts profits. Those looking for a reason to sell equities on this basis are likely to be disappointed. As we approach the half-year point, median earnings growth forecasts for the US remain robust at 18% while eurozone and UK equities are at 8%. For now, our base case remains that the benign derating – equities moving sideways while interest rates and profits increase - will continue.

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20 April 2018

High equity valuations face macro headwinds.

Factors behind record run of corporate profitability may be fading

We have had a cautious view on global equities for longer than has been comfortable. In truth, over the last 12 months this view has been 50% right at best. European markets, including the UK, have delivered relatively little capital growth. However the US and emerging markets have moved significantly higher. When the headlines are focussed on geopolitical events, it is also easy to lose sight of the anchor of equity valuations. We have updated our equity valuation measures and find that the US market in particular remains notably expensive while European markets still appear overvalued. We recognise that this has in part been justified by the record run of corporate profitability but the factors driving this phenomenon may now be going into reverse.

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16 April 2018

2018 Earnings forecasts: Still robust, for now.

Corporate sector soldiers on despite increasing geopolitical tensions

Geopolitics will in our view continue to present headline risk for the rest of the year. The US/China trade détente has broken apart as the US administration addresses the prospect of China challenging for dominance in the world economy. This weekend’s military response to the use of chemical weapons in both Salisbury, UK and Syria may for now be described as “mission accomplished” but it remains to be seen what the response would be to any further provocation. At the same time, there has been a run of disappointing economic data in the eurozone. Nevertheless, earnings estimates remain relatively stable for now in aggregate as the recent strength of the oil price leads to upgrades in energy, offset by modest downgrades in other sectors.

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15 March 2018

2018 Earnings forecasts: US stable, modest declines in Europe.

Watch for ebbing economic momentum as survey data peaks

Despite the increase in equity market volatility, there has been little follow-through to economic fundamentals to date. US earnings forecasts have stabilised and are indicating mid-teens profits growth for 2018, of which approximately one-half appears to be due to US tax reform. US economic surprise also remains relatively strong. In Europe however, unweighted earnings estimates have continued to fall, if modestly, and perhaps more importantly here economic surprise indices have turned sharply lower. We view this as partly due to Brexit uncertainty in the UK and a rising EUR exchange rate in continental Europe.

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18 January 2018

Earnings: The real Trump bump.

Median per share earnings upgrade of 4% for S&P 500 following tax reform

Analysts’ profits forecasts have edged modestly higher in the first month of the year in continental Europe and the UK, as would be expected during a period of above-consensus global economic data. In the US however, tax reform has added to the cyclical economic strength, pushing median 2018 profits forecasts dramatically higher, up 4% over the past month alone. This represents 2/3rds of our total expected benefit to US earnings from tax reform. Earnings revisions data supports our strategic view of strong momentum carrying over into Q1/Q2 2018. However we also note that economic surprise indices may have peaked in January and combined with forecast rate increases, markets may yet tread water as the year progresses.

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14 December 2017

Market volatility unsustainably low as bonds and equities diverge.

Bonds and equities appear to be simultaneously pricing two scenarios – so why is volatility so low?

There is now a growing disconnect between low global government bond yields which appear to indicate that the global recovery of 2017 may prove transient and high equity market valuations which discount an extended period of strong profits growth. In addition, starting from Q1 17 there has been an astonishing and sustained decline in equity market volatility. While there is nothing which suggests a market regime change is imminent, we continue to believe that re-normalisation of monetary policy is likely to result in the re-normalisation of volatility, bond yields and equity valuations over the 2018-19 period. This is not in our view a good time to be seeking to maintain returns by increasing portfolio risk.

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24 November 2017

Economic surprise accelerating.

Positive economic surprise still offering short-term support for risk assets

The positive economic surprise data seen over the last 3m continues to strengthen. If anything, the data is moving faster than any monetary tightening leading to a benign environment for risk assets such as equities. What is more of a conundrum is the lack of response in global bond yields, even as the final developed market central bank to move, the Bank of Japan, is now hinting that it is past peak monetary accommodation. Earnings forecasts for 2017 remain robust with median growth close to 10% for developed markets and a similar level of growth forecast for 2018.

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19 October 2017

Profits forecasts stable – but no positive surprises.

Stronger PMI indices not following through to profits growth

While Q3 has brought something of a renaissance in economic surprise and purchasing managers’ indices we can at present see no sign of this improved sentiment in profits forecasts for 2017. Our weighted average consensus earnings forecast index remains steady for each of the UK, US and Europe ex-UK and the equal-weighted measures have declined, if modestly, since mid-year. In prior periods, our earnings forecast index tended to move slightly ahead of PMIs and economic surprise. The more recent data has not followed this pattern and highlights that what is good for the overall economy is not by necessity good for corporate profits. Furthermore, with central banks on a tightening path the risk for equity markets is that tighter policy is not offset by stronger profits growth.

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28 September 2017

Earnings momentum – 2017 forecasts drifting slowly lower.

Weakening trend in 2017 revisions indices evident since mid-year

One of the key drivers of equities during H1 2017 was the relatively strong level of earnings momentum in each of the US, UK and continental Europe. This was in some respects a carry-over from the surge in positive sentiment towards the end of 2016 but which now appears to have run its course. It is easy to forget that as recently as 18m ago, investors were anticipating a major calamity in China’s economy, sharply impacting sentiment in the basic industry and other cyclical sectors which in the event did not occur. However, the data now highlight a modestly declining trend in 2017 earnings forecasts since mid-year, even as economic sentiment remains robust.

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12 September 2017

Interesting times for central bankers.

If growth is picking up, why are bond yields still so low?

It appears the low volatility/high valuation regime in equity and credit markets is continuing into the autumn. This is despite an important and imminent US Fed balance sheet reduction announcement. Furthermore, October brings details of the ECB’s plans to reduce the net purchases of its own QE program. While central bankers are quick to claim credit for any improvement in economic conditions, the decline in long-term bond yields over the summer questions the durability of the expansion as the yield curve flattens. It also remains to be seen if investors will re-appraise the low level of risk premia in global markets as QE is withdrawn.

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16 August 2017

Earnings momentum remains stable for now.

Economic surprise driving EUR v USD but no FX hit to eurozone profits estimates

It may be the perfect environment for passive strategies as the lack of catalysts during 2017 has led to a continuation of the low volatility yet highly-valued equity market regime. In particular, it has been a robust year for corporate profitability. 2017 earnings growth forecasts remain pinned around 10%. Even while the medium-term outlook for markets looks challenging on valuation grounds as extraordinary monetary stimulus is unwound, those looking for a significant correction in the short-term should beware as corporate earnings trends remain robust at present.

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17 July 2017

Fed policy: Don’t forget your flip-flops.

US inflation and growth numbers undershoot expectations

It is just a few weeks since the US Fed raised interest rates and central bankers globally opined on a removal of monetary accommodation (albeit slowly) as the global recovery gathered momentum. Unfortunately, some inconvenient facts are already casting their shadow. The Atlanta Fed US GDP nowcast for Q2 17 has fallen to 2.4% from 4% at the start of June, with disappointing US retail sales contributing to the downgrade. Furthermore, core CPI has undershot expectations with the year-on-year figure now at 1.7% for June, compared to 2.3% at the start of the year. Fortunately for central banks, the holiday season has started and the focus may be elsewhere. However, some re-calibration of the trajectory of US monetary policy may already be necessary.

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21 June 2017

Equity risks are rising: economic surprises turning lower.

Economic surprise turns lower and positive earnings momentum easing in Europe

We are viewing with increasing concern the building evidence of disinflation in industrial commodity and energy markets. Economic surprise indices have turned sharply lower on a global basis, a move which cannot be fully explained by seasonal factors. In this context we were surprised by the relatively hawkish recent policy statements by the US Federal Reserve and Bank of England. For the US Fed, it was very much a case of one and not done at the recent FOMC meeting, where US rates were increased again. For now, earnings growth forecasts near 10% for each of the US, UK and continental Europe remain intact but we also detect ebbing momentum in this data compared to 6m ago.

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14 May 2017

Earnings forecasts: a short-term support for markets.

Rising estimates notable in continental Europe

While economic surprise indices may now be rolling over, US earnings forecasts for 2017 are effectively unchanged since January. In the UK and continental Europe forecasts have risen relatively sharply since the start of the year, reflecting in the UK a continued tailwind from sterling weakness and in continental Europe the long-awaited improvement in economic activity.

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13 March 2017

Ready for the rollover?.

Tentative evidence of slowing economic momentum

Despite buoyant global asset markets, we are seeing increasing evidence of slowing economic momentum. In the US, bank loan growth has slowed significantly since Q4 16 and the Atlanta Fed’s GDP nowcast is only indicating 1.2% US growth for the current quarter, compared to over 2.5% as recently as early February. In the UK, the services PMI peaked in January and is now declining while in Europe - a bright spot in terms of economic surprise – disappointing German factory orders cast some doubt on the durability of any recovery. China’s M2 money supply growth has also ebbed since Q1 16, suggesting an easing of basic materials prices, should prior correlations still hold.

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3 March 2017

Earnings trends: Gap risk endures in US.

As US markets rise, US earnings forecasts fall

Equity investors have clearly taken some comfort from Trump’s recent address to the US Congress. While the speech was delivered with some unanticipated polish, there was in our view little new policy detail and we were surprised by the resulting surge in global equity markets. In our view, investors and the corporate sector will struggle to incorporate Trump’s fiscal initiatives into capital spending plans and profits expectations until more detail becomes available Therefore, in an enviroment where US earnings forecasts are declining, we continue to question the sustainability of the bull market in US equities.

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17 February 2017

Earnings estimates stuck in low gear.

Still no sign of Trump bounce in corporate profits outlook

Now, several months after Trump’s election there has been ample time for the corporate sector to re-evaluate the 2017 outlook in respect of improved economic optimism. However, we have found that earnings upgrades have not to date followed positive economic surprises. In the past, short-term market direction has been closely linked to earnings momentum and the current absence of upgrades points to a period of sluggish market performance.

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16 January 2017

Earnings Revisions: Waiting for upgrades?.

Though global equities continue to benefit from significantly increased investor optimism, US and continental European earnings forecasts for 2017 have remained stubbornly static over the last 3 months. However, in the UK 2017 earnings estimates continue to move higher, tracking the decline in sterling and providing a degree of fundamental support for the FTSE100. For US and continental European equity markets, the increasing divergence between 2017 profits forecasts and their respective price performance, when added to the lack of valuation support, puts a question mark over how much further the rally can run.

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22 November 2016

Earnings revisions: Gap widens between U.S. equities and earnings forecasts.

Though the bullishness is palpable, U.S. equity markets are not being driven higher by 2017 earnings forecasts, which have declined during November. In the absence of upgrades, we would now question how far the slogan of “Make America Great Again” can push U.S. equities. In the UK, market indices appear better supported as earnings forecasts are still increasing, even as the stock market has lagged. In Europe, in euro terms both the market and estimates have remained stable over the last quarter.

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24 October 2016

US and European earnings trends: Better to travel than to arrive.

While political volatility may be on the increase, consensus profits forecasts have in contrast remained on a stable trend over the second half of 2016. In the UK, 2017 forecasts have now recovered their modest post-Brexit drop, in part due the positive impact of the decline in sterling. US estimates for 2017 have also only fluctuated in a very narrow range during the last six months. In continental Europe the post-Brexit declines have stuck and there has been an additional modest decline in forecasts during October.  This period of relative stability in earnings forecasts is in sharp contrast to the significant declines which spooked investors for much of 2015 and Q1 2016.

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1 September 2016

UK economy and corporate profits: Refusing to follow forecasts.

Since July, there have been over 250 UK corporate earnings reports or trading statements, which we have been tracking for any sign of Brexit-related weakness. Within these corporate filings we can find little evidence, in either outlook statements or in managements’ referendum commentary, to suggest a slowdown in trading is underway.

On the contrary, over 80% of company earnings reports indicate that trading is in-line with earlier expectations. Furthermore, 16% of companies report that trading is ahead of expectations against only 3% reporting that trading has fallen below expectations. In addition, recent data on house prices and manufacturing surveys seem to confirm that fears of a Brexit-induced slowdown in the UK have proved overblown, over the summer at least.

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4 May 2016

Earnings forecasts: absence of a negative is not a positive.

Profits forecasts for the US, UK and Eurozone have been stable for the last 2 months. In the context of last year’s relatively dramatic declines in profits expectations (the worst year in a decade) this is a welcome development for equity investors.

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15 March 2016

Corporate profits - Too early to call an upturn.

In today’s world of rock star central bankers it can feel like every move in the markets is down to the nuances of monetary policy. Last week’s ECB meeting was a prime example – EUR down on a larger than expected QE package and then minutes later a complete reversal as ever-lower interest rates were downplayed during the press conference.

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RSS - Strategic Insight
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*Multiple Sectors
29/11/2018
Equity strategy and market outlook - November 2018

In this month’s strategy piece, Alastair George believes that 2018 has been the year that the US Fed normalised US monetary policy. Evidence of this is in the restoration of normal market volatility, lower global equity valuations and a strong US dollar, in addition to higher US interest rates. With Fed chair Powell suggesting in recent days that US rates are just below the broad range of the Fed’s estimates of the neutral level, expectations of a pause in US rate increases have risen, even if this observation is only consistent with previously published Fed projections. Even given the possibility of a further easing of Fed rhetoric in coming weeks, the investment outlook remains difficult to read in our view due to key political risks directly ahead, the most significant of which are the potential for a no-deal Brexit and US trade policy with respect to China. On balance, earnings risk keeps our cautious view on global equities in place. We are mindful of the 2015 experience where the resources and energy sectors continued to decline despite attractive valuations, until earnings forecasts stabilised. We can also see the relative merits of a risk-free 2.8% annual return on US two-year Treasury notes in the circumstances.

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