Search Follow us
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equities remain in a benign de-rating phase, moving only sideways as profits rise and unconventional monetary policy is withdrawn.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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
25 May 2018

Italy: Political risk strikes (again) in eurozone.

Political power and resolve of EU and ECB should not be underestimated (again)

The prospect of a populist Five Star/League coalition government in Italy has spooked Italian bond markets with yields soaring in recent weeks. Nevertheless, this price move may still be viewed in the context of a correction, given the clearly large difference in fundamental credit quality between Italy and Germany, both from a political level and as measured by the government debt burden as a percent of GDP. It is a situation which is likely to create investor anxiety but the precedent of Greece suggests that the ultimate political power of the EU and ECB is considerable. An “Italexit” scenario would create a high degree of market uncertainty but remains low probability in our view.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
5 May 2017

Not really an economic surprise….

Economic surprise indices and raw materials prices rolling over in Q2

One of the notable features of improving sentiment in global stock markets over the last 6 months has been its reliance on ‘soft’ economic data and a continuation of positive surprises. We cautioned in March that economic surprise indices were both seasonal and mean reverting and also highlighted the tightening of monetary conditions in China, historically linked to declines in iron ore prices. Six weeks later, global economic surprise has rolled over outside Europe while energy, coking coal and iron ore prices are falling sharply.

Read more...
3 May 2017

Sector view: Boring old insurance.

In a fully valued market, a defensive sector priced sensibly

Our view that developed market valuations remain somewhat extended remains place. However, there is one sector which does not appear overvalued or compromised by legacy liabilities and questions over the future sustainable return on equity. Nor does it appear directly in the line of fire of technology’s advance like retail, or subject to on/off policy switches in China which have contributed to the de-rating of the resources sectors. European insurers appear from a top-down perspective to offer sensible valuations, reasonable returns on equity and high dividend yields in a low interest rate environment.

Read more...
24 April 2017

French Election: Is populism already passé?.

Relief rally follows 1st round vote which puts Le Pen against a moderate

If last year was the year investors were caught out by misleading polls, today’s market action suggests that investors are being caught out by mistrusting them. A collapse in near-term euro volatility, sharply higher equity markets and a compression in the spread between French and German government bonds emphasises the relief that Le Pen was not in a run-off with a far left-wing candidate.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
16 February 2017

C’est l’économie… French and German bond yields diverge.

It’s not the unlikely election of Le Pen, it’s the economy ...

The recent divergence between French and German government bond yields has been widely attributed to a possible victory for the anti-euro Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election. In our view this is not the whole story. The widening gap in terms of borrowing costs also mirrors the increasing economic divergence between France and Germany. Therefore, the increased risk premium for French government debt should be expected to persist, even after the election of a mainstream candidate, adding to pressure on the euro project.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
5 December 2016

You can’t be given a bloody nose twice.

The vote ‘no’ to Italian constitutional reform in this Sunday’s referendum has cost the Italian prime minister Renzi his job and perhaps thrown the Italian government into turmoil. Markets are however not in turmoil. The euro is close to unchanged, having fallen modestly after the referendum result. European equity markets are sharply higher this morning. While Italian 10y government bond yields have breached 2%, this increase in yields is notably less sharp than at the time of Trump’s election. Investors who panic sold after Trump and Brexit have been reconditioned (correctly in our view) to not immediately re-price risk on the back of specific political events.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
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.

Read more...
17 October 2016

Sterling: Lower for longer as the EU strikes back.

The UK’s new Prime Minister Theresa May’s honeymoon period is clearly over. Days after emphasising the importance of national sovereignty and appearing to lean towards a ‘hard’ Brexit, a dawn raid on sterling and subsequent weakness has given opponents ammunition to attack the UK’s plan to leave the EU. Furthermore, tough talk from the UK government has been reciprocated from EU leaders and European heads of state. President of the European Council Donald Tusk may even have given the game away by linking the concept of a ‘hard’ Brexit to ‘no Brexit’. For sterling, we believe investors should look through the politics and focus on the economics.

Read more...
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”.

Read more...
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?

Read more...
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.

Read more...
10 March 2016

ECB - Using the bazooka.

With survey data pointing to a marked slowdown in the eurozone manufacturing sector, Exhibit 1; forward inflation expectations at 1.4% significantly lower than at December’s meeting; and a cut in the ECB’s projections for economic growth from 1.7% to 1.4% for 2016, anything other than a forceful response would have been received very poorly by markets. This would in our view also have been tantamount to a policy error. But unlike December, this time markets got what they wished for – an increase in the size and composition of eurozone QE.

Read more...
RSS - Strategic Insight
Sector report cover
*Multiple Sectors
28/06/2018
Equity strategy and market outlook - June 2018

In this month’s strategy piece, Alastair George believes that the US vs rest of the world trade confrontation is becoming the dominant narrative. We cannot rule out at this point that negative responses in financial markets may be a prerequisite to negotiating a face-saving route out of the situation for all sides. However, earnings estimates show few signs of the impact of tariffs or disappointing UK and eurozone economic data and robust growth for 2018 remains the consensus forecast. Profits forecasts have even risen in the US in recent months and the median US company is now expected to deliver close to 20% earnings growth in 2018. However, offsetting the benefits of strong US profits growth is the prospect of tighter US monetary policy and larger fiscal deficits. The recent trade protectionism-related flight to safety is understandable but in our view current US 10-year Treasury yields still appear too low. Emerging markets may continue to struggle as the Fed remains focused on US domestic condition. There is no change to our cautious outlook. We continue to believe developed equity markets are in a period of consolidation. Valuations are moving closer towards long-run averages with markets simply trading sideways as profits grow while monetary policy is normalised.

Download the report