|By Fisher Investments Editorial Staff, 02/15/2017|
In this podcast, we interview Content Analyst Elisabeth Dellinger on recent talk of protectionism, border taxes and trade.
Falling uncertainty gave stocks a tailwind in 2016 as investors moved past the Brexit referendum and US presidential election. By year end, persistent skepticism gave way to budding optimism, and the proverbial “animal spirits” stirred. This year, it should be continental Europe’s turn. France, Germany and the Netherlands all hold national elections, while Italy is expected to call snap elections as well. Many fear populist, non-traditional, anti-EU parties on both the far right and left are on the rise and will grab national power. Though these parties are gaining in polls and winning local elections, they still lack the political infrastructure to meaningfully impact policy or make the market’s most-feared scenarios—like another country’s exit from the EU or even the eurozone—a reality. Thus, when the “worst-case” scenario doesn’t come to pass, the likely result is relief.
European politics are factionalized and scattered. In the US, the two-party system dominates, with minor third party movements cropping up occasionally. But in the parliamentary system—used often in Europe and elsewhere around the globe—there is room for more parties and more platforms. Lately, parties with minority support have popped up across Europe, forcing fragile coalitions and muddying the legislature’s ability to take decisive policy action. This feature alone screams more gridlock than widely imagined, reducing legislative risks for stocks.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, many attributed Industrials stocks’ rise to expectations for increased US infrastructure spending—one of Trump’s big campaign promises. However, that doesn’t make it wise to pile into infrastructure-related sectors solely based on Trump’s pledges. It’s still too soon to say exactly what the administration focuses on as the new president formally takes the reins, but expectations for an outsized infrastructure impact have likely outpaced reality.
Already moderating his promises a bit, Trump has lowered his infrastructure spending plan from the campaigned $1 trillion to $550 billion—roughly 3% of GDP. Now $550 billion worth of spending could be impactful if spent all at once (and presuming it didn’t crowd out private investment in the process). However, it’s likely spread out over many years—muting its stimulative power—and probably wouldn’t start until 2018, just in time for midterms. It’s also unrealistic to expect an infrastructure bill—or any bill— to pass through Congress undiluted or without bringing up other political landmines like raising taxes or deficit spending. In other words, there is a lot of potential for gridlock to get in the way.
Updating infrastructure has benefits, but the economy doesn’t need a massive infrastructure bill to keep growing—the private sector has done fine driving most of the growth this expansion. Past infrastructure spending bills haven’t moved the needle because they require years of planning, and spending typically gets bogged down across myriad national government agencies—not to mention conflicts with state and municipal needs. Consider the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which lacked readily available projects and drove little meaningful revenue for Industrials companies. And 2015’s five-year, fully funded (by the Fed’s dividends) $305 billion Highway Bill has thus far had a muted effect, going almost unnoticed.
|By Fisher Investments Editorial Staff, 01/19/2017|
In this podcast, we talk to Content Group Manager Todd Bliman on how investors can navigate the modern financial news media.
|By Fisher Investments Editorial Staff, 12/12/2016|
MarketMinder’s editorial staff sits down with Fisher Investments Capital Markets Analyst Brad Pyles. (Recorded 11/17/2016)
|By Fisher Investments Editorial Staff, 12/12/2016|
MarketMinder’s editorial staff sits down with Fisher Investments Capital Markets Analyst Brad Rotolo. (Recorded 11/3/2016)
From Brexit and Trump to Italy, Brazil and the Philippines, 2016 has been a year of political upheaval and theatrics. And it isn’t over yet. South Korean President Park Geun-hye is embroiled in an influence peddling scandal that has outraged the country and likely numbered her days in office. She has offered to step down from office in April 2017—10 months before her term is slated to end—but lawmakers in the National Assembly instead introduced an impeachment bill, which gets a vote Friday December 9. While Park’s political fall looks inevitable, Korea’s political issues needn’t derail its other positive drivers. For global investors, whether or not you own any Emerging Markets stocks, this is another lesson in the importance of thinking long-term and not getting hung up on short-term events.
The movement against Park appears more about her actions (which you can read all about here), not a broader distaste with the government or the state of society. After decades of chaebol (Korea’s huge, family-run mega conglomerates/corporate fiefdoms) dominating political decisions and the economy, corruption has emerged as the societal cause du jour (see this summer’s draconian corruption bill), and Park appears a victim of the times. The scandal also coincides with some economic softness, as a slowdown in global trade hit export-oriented businesses hard. In response, the country’s largest sectors—which account for a fifth of GDP and employ nearly 15% of the workforce—have undergone significant corporate restructuring. More recently, scandals at several chaebol only further weighed on sentiment.
South Korea has also faced some geopolitical uncertainty in recent months. Besides long-running issues with North Korea, which has made progress in its nuclear program, new tensions with China have arisen as South Korea recently deployed an advanced US missile system. In addition, Donald Trump’s victory made many call into question the future of Asia’s trade relationship with the US given his campaign rhetoric and dismissal of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There is also a potential domestic political headwind, as the legislature’s opposition party favors tax hikes, with eight different proposals put in the supplementary budget bills. With one of the world’s stronger fiscal positions (40% debt to GDP), such a move makes little economic sense, but the negative fallout is likely short term.
There’s more where that came from. Photo by yodiyim/Getty Images.
At long last, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reached an agreement to cut production on Wednesday. While details are scarce, comments from oil ministers indicate the group will cut oil production to 32.5 million barrels per day (Mbpd), from recent levels of 33.5 Mbpd. Despite the hype, however, the change is basically window-dressing. It probably won’t much alter global supply or improve the outlook for Energy firms. Their earnings are tied to oil prices, which likely remain lackluster for the foreseeable future (albeit with short-term volatility).
This is OPEC’s first official action of this sort since oil began crashing in 2014. OPEC surprised markets that November by declining to cut production, as had been widely expected at the time. Oil supplies were growing briskly, primarily due to new output from US shale production, which got a boost from developments like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The resulting oversupply led to the last two years of oil weakness. With Wednesday’s agreement to cut production, OPEC is arguably moving back to its traditional role of attempting to target a price range for oil.
In a year where populism has swept the ballot box, is Italy next? On December 4, the country will hold a referendum on whether to reform the size, powers and appointment process for Parliament’s upper house, the Senate. If the referendum is approved, the Senate’s powers would be greatly curtailed and size reduced. It would shrink from 315 members to 100, the government would no longer have to win a Senate confidence vote, fewer measures would require Senate approval and senators would be appointed by Italy’s Regional Councils instead of directly elected. If passed, it would foster government stability and make it easier to pass badly needed reforms. But if it fails, many fear it will destabilize Italy’s pro-euro government, potentially propelling anti-euro populists to power and raising the risk of a domino effect across the eurozone. In our view, however, fears of broader market impact are likely overstated.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi proposed the referendum to mitigate the Senate’s ability to block legislation and increase the Italian government’s stability, through elimination of one confidence vote. However, he also indicated his government will step down if the referendum is defeated. Opposition parties, such as the Five Star Movement (M5S), are against the referendum, as they believe it gives too much control to the Prime Minister. Many believe a Renzi resignation could give M5S an opening to enter the national government.
Italy doesn’t allow the publication of polls 15 days prior to an election or referendum, but the last polls indicated the “No” vote was ahead by about three points. PredictIt, a betting website similar to the late, great InTrade, puts the odds of the “No” vote prevailing at ~80%. But as US elections and the Brexit vote showed, polling and prediction have been unreliable lately. The considerable number of undecided voters (~20%) also suggests any poll isn’t conclusive.
A few months ago, 10-year Treasury yields hit an all-time low of 1.36%, as investors piled into Treasury bonds in the wake of the Brexit vote.[i] Since then, Donald Trump’s win and expectations for higher inflation have sent yields up 70 basis points (0.70%).[ii] As rates have risen, so have fears about the end of the alleged 35-year bond bull market—and the possibility of a bond bear market, should rates climb higher. Since bond prices and interest rates move inversely, many seemingly fret higher rates mean bonds are doomed to poor long-term returns—arguing bondholders should ditch them post-haste. In our view, this overlooks important nuances suggesting the case for investors who need fixed income exposure hasn’t changed.
First, let’s look at the last 35-ish years of yields—that long-term bond bull. Fast-rising inflation and aggressive Fed rate hikes pushed 10-year yields to 15.84% in 1981. But after the Volcker Fed put inflation in check, rates began a secular move downward to recent lows. However, this wasn’t a straight line down.
As Exhibit 1 shows, bond yields went through several cycles where yields increased. Since 10-year US Treasury yields peaked in September 1981, rolling 12-month yields rose 35% of the time.[iii] Even if yields do experience a long-term climb, odds are investors will see plenty of periods where yields fall. Having an actively managed fixed income strategy can help take advantage of these opportunities.
With oil up from its most recent low, many see a prime opportunity in Energy stocks. However, despite oil’s nascent rebound, the bigger picture hasn’t changed. The primary headwind facing Energy is an oil oversupply, which puts downward pressure on prices. Even if prices don’t plunge anew, this force still impacts the sector’s future profits. For investors, the question isn’t, “how much have prices risen recently?” Rather, it’s, “are there any meaningful supply constraints that will alleviate pressured profits?” All evidence today suggests there aren’t, making it premature to load up on Energy stocks.
Demand growth likely remains steady, as it has since 2012, but supply probably won’t abate any time soon. Domestic producers are quick to bring supply back online at the first signs of price strength. As seen in Exhibit 1, US producers have responded to stronger oil prices by putting rigs back to work, with a narrow lag time of only three months. In many shale regions, new wells are profitable with oil at $40 a barrel, according to estimates by ConocoPhillips. Indeed, the abundance of US supplies—accessible at ever-lower costs—led ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to refer to domestic shale as a source of “enormous spare capacity,” which has visibly changed the industry. That quick producer response and abundant supply dampens the likelihood oil prices significantly rise over the next 12-18 months.
Exhibit 1: Rig Count Response to Oil Prices
|By Fisher Investments Editorial Staff, 10/11/2016|
MarketMinder’s editorial staff sits down with Fisher Investments Capital Markets Analyst Scott Botterman.
|By Fisher Investments Editorial Staff, 10/11/2016|
MarketMinder’s editorial staff sits down with Fisher Investments Capital Markets Analyst Austin Fraser.
Political uncertainty is stoking fear across much of the developed world. In the US, pundits pontificate about the potential negative market impact from either a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency. Similarly, recent and upcoming votes in the eurozone’s four biggest economies—Spain, Italy, France and Germany—have contributed to an environment of fear and loathing across the Continent, causing many to miss the region’s overall fine economic results. Time and again, forecasted political “disasters” have had a limited impact on the fundamental environment in Europe. The Brexit vote increasingly appears to have had little economic impact, with the most recent data pointing to the 14th consecutive quarter of expansion in Q3. Even long-beleaguered European Financials stocks are doing better, as issues like negative interest rates and regulatory changes have failed to live up to fears. While the upcoming votes might bring minor political shifts, all appear unlikely to result in big, sweeping change. Instead, they likely push governments deeper into gridlock—an underappreciated positive—which reduces uncertainty and legislative risk.
Spain is likely headed to its third general election in a year after its fragmented parliament failed to form a government following June’s election. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the center-right Popular Party (PP) was unable to win a confidence vote to form a minority government with upstart, centrist Ciudadanos. If neither Rajoy nor the opposition Socialist Party is able to form a government by Halloween, Spanish voters will return to the voting booth—potentially on Christmas Day.
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Market Wrap-Up, Thursday, February 16, 2017
Below is a market summary as of market close Thursday, February 16, 2017:
- Global Equities: MSCI World (+0.2%)
- US Equities: S&P 500 (-0.1%)
- UK Equities: MSCI UK (+0.4%)
- Best Country: Denmark (+1.5%)
- Worst Country: New Zealand (-1.7%)
- Best Sector: Utilities (+0.9%)
- Worst Sector: Energy (-0.7%)
Bond Yields: 10-year US Treasury yields fell 0.04 percentage point to 2.45%.
Editors' Note: Tracking Stock and Bond Indexes
Source: FactSet. Unless otherwise specified, all country returns are based on the MSCI index in US dollars for the country or region and include net dividends. S&P 500 returns are presented including gross dividends. Sector returns are the MSCI World constituent sectors in USD including net dividends.