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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equities remain in a benign de-rating phase, moving only sideways as profits rise and unconventional monetary policy is withdrawn.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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12 June 2018

Guaranteed security? Investment implications of US foreign policy.

North Korea summit opens the way to an easing of sanctions and international recognition – while G7 allies are left reeling

North Korea has recently made enormous progress towards re-integration with the world economy on its own terms, and in particular security guarantees for its incumbent administration. Development of nuclear missile capability in 2017, followed by the willingness to discuss the destruction of this same capability only a year later does indeed highlight that Kim Jong-un may be, in Trump’s words, a very worthy and smart negotiator. Potentially, the prize is as large as a return to the world community of nations. The contrast with the disarray at the meeting of the traditional G7 allies days earlier was striking - and these trade disagreements are the greater risk for markets in our view.

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7 June 2018

Global implications of rising US yields.

Tighter monetary policy and larger US fiscal deficits point to higher yields ahead – and a higher risk premium for emerging markets

Events in Italy may have highlighted a crowded short position in long-term bonds, with US 10y yields falling by 0.25% to 2.75% during a week of political uncertainty. However, US bond market investors still have to contend with rising short-term interest rates and a substantial increase in the issuance of US Treasuries to finance Trump’s tax reform. Furthermore, this is happening at the same time as the US Fed attempts to reduce the size of its balance sheet. Current 10y yields appear too low in the context of a continued economic expansion and emerging market policymakers are becoming concerned.

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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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23 March 2018

Market declines: US LIBOR or US trade war?.

Headlines scream trade war while a surge in US LIBOR is tightening US financial conditions

It is very easy to point the finger at US trade sanctions against China as a reason for the recent declines in equity markets. The prospect of a near-term confrontation, in respect of access to markets and IP protection (a free competition zone perhaps rather than a free trade area), is clearly unhelpful for global equity sentiment. China’s transition from a catch-up nation to an economic competitor always had to be resolved at some stage. However the second dynamic at work during Q1 18 is a rapid rise in US LIBOR, over and above that of official US interest rates. This is tightening monetary conditions rather faster than policymakers may have intended.

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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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6 February 2018

Volatility spike: Investors have only themselves to blame.

The only mystery is why markets were so placid in the first place

Perhaps controversially, we view the intellectual horsepower being consumed by the legions of writers commenting on every second’s movement in markets over the last few days not dissimilar to the wasted electricity consumed to validate speculative bitcoin transactions. Both activities are in our view of relatively modest economic value, even if there is currently heightened demand. There have been, in a historical context, only modest declines from the highs for major stock markets, albeit concentrated in the stronger local currency year to date performers of the US and Japan. In volatile times, investors must remain focused on the long-term outlook.

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1 February 2018

Rising bond yields: Mini-drama perhaps, but not a crisis.

Rising yields a ‘known’ risk – declining economic momentum would be a bigger concern

This week’s modest declines in equity markets may be the largest of the last nine months but that is only an illustration of just how far equity market volatility has fallen. The narrative of rising bond yields and inflation expectations is being used to explain the market declines. This is understandable and we ourselves have previously highlighted the anomalously low level of global bond yields. However, rising yields are a known risk for 2018 and unlikely to create a major sell-off in equity markets by themselves. We would be more concerned if there was firm evidence of a meaningful slowdown in economic momentum. Such evidence is - for now - largely absent in either Europe, the US or China.

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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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20 December 2017

Canaries in the monetary coal mine?.

High profile difficulties in a hot corporate debt market are intriguing

Steinhoff and HNA Group are from different regions and sectors. Yet they are making the headlines for the wrong reasons as the market raises questions over their debt sustainability. What these firms do have in common is that have pursued a policy of debt-financed acquisitions during this cycle. Now, LIBOR rates are pushing markedly higher. These signals of tightening credit bear watching in our view, even if they are presently not a cause for immediate alarm. It is however our important to be alert to early signs of a turn in credit availability. This is likely to first occur at the margin of the credit risk spectrum, as in 2007/8.

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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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4 December 2017

US tax reform a modest positive for US equities and dollar.

Estimated total corporate tax benefit of US$ 74bn per year is not a game-changer

The prospective headline cut to the US corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% is a positive but not as significant as it may look at first sight. Historically, the US corporate sector has enjoyed an effective tax rate closer to 25% due to ample scope for deductions. The US Congressional Budget Office believes that the total revenue lost from the US business taxes from the Senate tax bill would be $744bn over 10 years. Following implementation, this would represent approximately a 6% increase in net income for the US corporate sector from 2019.

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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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14 November 2017

Valuations: An important part of the puzzle.

Price/book multiples highlight worrying trend in risk appetite

In this cycle valuations have been, so far, the dog that did not bark. Globally, the median sector price/book multiple has risen from the trough of 2008 to a new peak. Such an expansion in market valuations is similar to that seen in the 1980-1987 period. Between 2012 and today we have come full circle in terms of tactical asset allocation. Earlier, we could not understand why investors were so uninterested in adding risk to portfolios despite such high expected returns in equities. Now, equity valuations suggest only modest long-term returns are on offer and there is greater prospect of short-term disappointment. It is however proving equally difficult to attract investors’ interest in this signal for caution. Perhaps the metaphorical - and silent - valuation dog knows the psychology of the current marginal investor rather too well.

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2 November 2017

Government bonds in the firing line.

The next twist in the story is likely to push global yields higher

It is always important to put aside preconceptions and let all the data speak – and not just that which confirms prior beliefs. At present, the data which best models the long-term outlook (valuations) are suggestive of relatively weak returns in global equities and this has informed our cautious positioning. Furthermore, bond yields and interest rates remain unusually low on a historical basis. Yet for the short-term, economic surprises are currently positive, business sentiment strong and profits growth relatively robust. It is this short-term data which also needs to be heard.

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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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9 October 2017

Economic data surprising to the upside in Q3.

Strong PMI indices add weight to the case for tighter monetary policy

While valuation concerns for equity markets remain in place, recent economic data in the US and eurozone also points to something of a mini-surge in economic momentum over the last 3 months. PMI data has been coming in ahead of expectations and economic surprise indices have turned higher in all regions. During 2017, investors have had to balance their longer-term valuation concerns with generally robust profits growth and improving economic sentiment. While soft data such as PMI indices should not significantly shift portfolio asset allocations, a hiccup before the end of the year is now looking less likely.

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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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21 September 2017

US rates: Has the fuse been lit?.

Conditions for synchronised, if gradual, tightening of policy appear in place

To our surprise yesterday’s Fed statement and projections not only re-confirmed the probability of a rate increase later in the year but also continue to forecast three further rate increases in 2018. Furthermore, the Fed announced the pace of reduction in its balance sheet which, while an initially modest US$10bn per month in October will rise to US$50bn per month by the end of 2018.  The initial market reaction has been for the yield curve to flatten further as investors price in an increased probability of a Q4 rate rate increase while US 10y bond yields rose by only 3bps. Equity markets may be sanguine for now but we view this monetary headwind as a slow-burn fuse which may challenge investors again during 2018.

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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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11 August 2017

North Korea: A problem not of Trump’s making.

Missile development program slowly shifts the political balance

North Korea’s recent successful test of a missile capable of reaching much of the US mainland is clearly a concern but it is not because such an attack is imminent or likely. The history of military rocket development suggests that it will still be some years before North Korea could be assured of a successful, let alone multiple, strike on the US or even Guam. However, in the event of any attack, the overwhelming superiority of US forces would undoubtedly ensure the destruction of North Korea. Therefore in many respects Trump’s most aggressive comments this week were a statement of the obvious and investors should accordingly not over-react, even as volatility has risen during thin trading over the holiday season.

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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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29 June 2017

A tipping point as monetary policy shifts.

Central banks on both sides of the Atlantic appear to be becoming more hawkish

In recent weeks, policymakers at each of the US Federal Reserve, Bank of England and ECB have become notably more hawkish. This is a new development as throughout the period 2010-2017 central bank balance sheets have been steadily expanding as the quantitative easing (QE) baton was passed around the globe. With asset prices rising strongly over this period many commentators have been quick to infer that the end of QE signals market trouble ahead. While certainly a headwind, we believe investors should not rush to judgement. There remain many acts to play out in this story before it is finished.

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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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12 June 2017

Fed rate decision: One and done - or not done?.

One and not done would spook markets in our view

On Wednesday 14 June, we believe the US Fed is highly likely to raise the target range for the federal funds rate by a further 0.25%. We believe the opportunity the move policy rates further away from the zero “lower bound” will not easily be passed-up as US unemployment figures improve and as importantly without spooking markets, which have priced this move in. However, a signal of “one and done” for 2017 – or at least “one and wait and see” will be critical to keep markets buoyant. In addition, investors will be watching for benign comments in respect of any adjustments to the Fed’s balance sheet policy.

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1 June 2017

Volatility: Low, but downside protection in demand.

We struggle to understand why market volatility has fallen so far in 2017

One of the notable aspects of equity market performance during 2017 has been the rapid fall in market volatility. Trailing 90-day realised volatility for the S&P 500 has reached 7% in recent weeks. Over the last 20 years, these are levels are matched only during a brief period over 2005-2006. We do not see an especially strong parallel with 2005 as at that point US equities were still moderately valued and the US economy was expanding after a mild recession. We believe investors are once again becoming complacent; but also note the skew towards higher priced put options suggesting within the options market at least that downside protection is at a premium.

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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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23 March 2017

Market wobble? Still time to re-position portfolios.

No clear trigger for recent market declines

Even if some calm has now returned, the market declines this week are perhaps a little more disconcerting than usual as they have occurred with no obvious trigger and followed an extended period of very low volatility. This makes the situation a little more uncertain, as specific triggers can often be analysed, quantified and discounted. There is therefore the danger of investors becoming fearful of the unknown - and risk averse - should the declines become more serious.

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16 March 2017

Just what the Fed wanted.

A rate increase and a rising market – but was it really dovish?

Having primed markets to fully expect a US rate increase, the FOMC followed through on the 15th March. If the aim was to deliver a rate increase without abruptly causing tighter financial conditions (code for declining equity and credit markets), then it was mission accomplished. Following the FOMC announcement the dollar eased against other currencies, bond yields fell and equity markets gained. However, despite comforting language within the statement we detected a more strategic, rather than data dependent, direction for US interest rates in the press conference Q&A.

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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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28 February 2017

Market indices riding on political outcomes.

Is now really the time to throw in the towel on active management?

When Trump addresses Congress this evening, global investors will be looking for more than promises. US equity investors are now waiting to price in the delivery of markedly higher US corporate profits. Market indices look expensive and thus the fortunes of passive investors seem unusually reliant on political outcomes; is it really the time to throw in the towel on active management?

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23 February 2017

FOMC minutes: Fairly soon = March or June?.

FOMC minutes highlight risk market will be caught offside by Fed in 2017

The most recent FOMC minutes suggest to us that March is a live meeting for the next US interest increase, in contrast to market expectations which imply a less than 20% probability of a hike. We believe the market continues to underestimate the resolve of the US Federal Reserve to use the opportunity of low unemployment and close to target inflation to re-normalize US interest rates.

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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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3 February 2017

Implicit forward guidance on asset prices?.

Outside Japan, global inflation measures have over the last 8 months been rising as fast as at any time in the previous 25 years on a headline basis. The US Fed has kept real interest rates much lower for much longer than in previous cycles and the orthodoxy in central bank circles still appears to be that interest rates should stay accommodative in order to avoid the risk of deflation with rates still close to zero. Keeping rates low as inflation and growth accelerates may feel pleasant for now but also runs the risk of Fed Chair Yellen’s “nasty surprise”.

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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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9 January 2017

Valuations trump noisy narratives: increased caution on global equities.

Price/book valuations point to sub-par equity returns over the next 12m

Judging only by current equity market valuations, global equity investors are significantly more likely than usual to achieve only below average returns over the next 12 months, if prior correlations remain a guide to the future. Average price/book multiples for world equities are once again at peak levels, similar to those prevailing in 2007 and 2000, and this is reinforced by a similar picture for P/E ratios. We believe investors should factor in the possibility that broad equity market exposure may result in weak or negative returns and stock-pickers cannot rely on a tailwind of benign markets over the next 12m.

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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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14 November 2016

Forward guidance - Trump style.

These are strange times in global markets. Trump’s election, previously feared as a universal negative for global markets, has been accompanied by remarkable strength in risk assets. We highlighted investor positioning as a factor last week but now question if there is there more to this rally? Could Trump’s fiscal policies represent a “whatever it takes” moment?

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10 November 2016

Trump’s double surprise.

It is quite clear that in the days leading up to the U.S. Presidential election, both markets and surveys got it wrong. Traditional polling once again failed to spot the depth of support for radical political change. This was after all the U.S., which has delivered the strongest post-crisis economic performance of any developed nation. 

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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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28 August 2016

Equity valuations – party like it’s 1999… and 2007?.

Amidst something approaching a euphoric relief rally in global markets following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, investors should not overlook equity valuation metrics, which have historically provided an excellent guide to returns over the long term. As Exhibit 1 shows, relatively low valuations preceded the bull markets in 1994-1999, 2002-2007 and 2009-2013. However, valuation metrics rarely form part of a market narrative and if they feature at all are often dismissed, usually as “it’s different this time”.

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22 July 2016

UK earnings trends - stable and few surprises.

There has been much speculation in regard to the economic and market impact of the UK’s vote to exit the EU. However, even four weeks after the date of the referendum, there is no hard data to rely on. In the circumstances, survey data may also be misleading, with the risk that it reflects a projection of the personal views of respondents rather than a cold analysis of future prospects.  However, early indications are that 2016 UK consensus earnings forecasts have remained stable, a continuation of the trend seen since February.

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21 June 2016

Brexit, Fed: a short squeeze.

If in the short-run the market is a voting machine, as attributed to value investor Benjamin Graham, yesterday’s 3% rise in European markets represents a vote of confidence in the Remain campaign winning the UK’s referendum on Thursday and a consistently more dovish US Fed for the remainder of the summer.

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13 June 2016

Fed boxed in by yield curve.

It is looking increasingly likely the US Federal Reserve has missed its chance to engage in a meaningful interest rate tightening cycle. Globally, 10-year government bond yields have fallen sharply – in many cases to new record lows, in part due to the recent US jobs data and in part the increasing uncertainty over Brexit. This flattening of the yield curve is a strong indicator for a period of sub-par US growth, even if survey data has, for now, improved somewhat during Q2. Whether or not we are looking at a technical US recession is perhaps, technical, as in any case a period of even weak growth is inconsistent with positive surprises for corporate profits and equities.

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31 May 2016

Beware of buy and hold.

The last few decades of the 20th century represented a golden era for equity investment with an average compound annual return, including dividends, of 14% pa in the period 1973-2000 for the US, UK and Europe. In this century to date, the annualised rate of return has fallen to 5%.

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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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11 April 2016

M&A in the UK - is Brexit opening a (relative) value opportunity?.

Whether down to the potential for Brexit or a widening current account deficit the decline in sterling over the last 6m has been substantial. On a quarter-on-quarter basis the trade-weighted value of sterling has fallen by 7%, representing a move of more than 2 standard deviations away from the mean.

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17 March 2016

Was there a “plaza” accord after all?.

Yesterday’s FOMC statement and Yellen’s press comments were unequivocally more dovish than the markets and we were expecting. Going into the meeting there was a reasonable case for preparing the markets for a rate increase in early summer, given declining unemployment and increasing US core CPI. As it turned out, external factors – perhaps a euphemism for undesirable moves in global markets and the US dollar – were in contrast almost overplayed. For us, “Peak fear” was last month’s story, so why bring it up now?

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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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10 February 2016

Yellen’s testimony - No change to the Fed’s view.

If Fed chair Yellen’s speech today was an opportunity to communicate a more dovish outlook for US interest rates it has been passed up. Yellen highlighted the decline in the US unemployment rate to 4.9%, in-line with the Fed’s own longer-run estimate of a sustainable level and only talked of the uncertainty in regard to recent external factors and financial market movements – and notably to both the upside and downside. This gives little ammunition for bulls expecting a quick and wholesale reappraisal of the trajectory of US interest rates.

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26/07/2018
Equity strategy and market outlook - July 2018

In this month’s strategy piece, Alastair George believes that global equity markets remain in a period of consolidation while US interest policy is normalised even as corporate performance remains strong. Furthermore, US bond yields still appear too low given the prospect of increased issuance, a reduction in the Fed’s balance sheet and strong US growth. In respect of the US trade war, we believe the recent comments on monetary policy and announcement of additional subsidies for US agriculture underscore the resolve and political incentive for the current US administration to maintain a confrontational stance with respect to China despite the positive recent EU/US announcement. We remain cautiously positioned on equities.

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