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30 sep 2019

Five ways to position your equity portfolio into year-end

We’re entering the final quarter of 2019 after a bumpy summer of trade disputes and recession fears. How should investors position equity portfolios to see out the year?  

Bond and equity market valuations are sending conflicting signals. The bond market has $16.1trn of negative-yielding debt, which has pushed investors into riskier assets. This looks inconsistent with typical allocation at such an advanced stage of the economic cycle. Either the bond market is overly pessimistic, or equities are too positive. If it’s the latter, any readjustment would likely be painful. Ultimately, a slowdown in activity or mild recession is to be expected after more than a decade of growth.

Looking ahead, political uncertainty will remain a wild card and sentiment will likely be a drag on global equities, particularly as central banks have little room for manoeuvre on rates policy. Selectivity and asset quality will remain key to maintain performance in equity portfolios in the quarter ahead.

With all that in mind, here we share five ways to position your equity portfolio into year-end.  

1. US equities: Likely to stay resilient

We expect US economic growth to bottom out over the next quarter, which should help the Fed anchor market expectations on its future policy actions. The Fed’s current policy on rates is aligned with mid-cycle monetary policy adjustments. More than 75bps of rate cut would be interpreted as policy reaction to counter a recession phase.

The US remains our preferred equity market due to the US economy’s domestic focus. The US stock market also tends to be less volatile than other global regions. The US is a more closed economy and has more headroom for policy support.

We believe the Fed will cut again at the December meeting. Any move by President Trump to offer the US consumer some relief from the US/China trade war would also support the market. New tariffs on Chinese goods in the months ahead could add another 0.2-0.3% to inflation in the short-term. 

2. European equities: Caution advised 

There are three main reasons to be careful on European equities, despite recent signs of stabilisation: lingering risks linked to Brexit, vulnerable consumer confidence and economic growth, and the risk of another escalation of trade tensions, with the potential for US tariffs on European luxury goods.  

In our view, easing financial conditions and fiscal support may not be enough to offset the lack of earnings growth and the slowdown in global trade. We have preference for high quality stocks and volatility reduction strategies. Small caps should also be more sensitive to any deterioration in activity, so we favour large caps.    

3. European sectors: Load up on defensives

With low earnings prospects and heightened geopolitical risks, we maintain our preference for defensive sectors.

We like sectors exhibiting strong balance sheets and better earnings growth potential such as Healthcare, Consumer Staples and Utilities. These sectors would prove more resilient in a slowdown in economic activity. We keep a neutral stance on Financials as, despite its attractive valuations, the sector suffers low rates and weak profitability prospects. While the ECB’s new tiering system on banks deposit will provide some relief, the outlook for banks is more driven by long-term bond yields and the outlook for economic growth.  

Defensive sectors outperform when the economic environment deteriorates

                         Chart 1

Source: Lyxor International Asset Management, Macrobond, data as at 30/08/2019

4. EM equities: Cheaply priced, but be selective

Valuation in emerging markets (EM) equities are attractive compared to developed markets, with the former’s price to book value trading at 35% discount (see chart below). However, the developing world will remain very sensitive to trade war developments and economic growth prospects in China. The tariffs war exacerbates the downside in the Chinese Yuan and spreads to other Asian currencies. This weigh on growth of China’s trading partners too – see our Trade War Impact Indicator for a reminder of the most vulnerable countries. Overall, we expect greater dispersion in returns among EM countries.  A trade truce would offer greater respite to the most affected. We also believe that an allocation to Chinese equities should be managed independently of a broader emerging equities portfolio.  

Emerging markets at discount relative to Developed market equities

chart 2

Source: Lyxor international Asset Management, Refintiv, MSCI, data as at 31/08/2019

5. Indian equities: More upside expected  

India is one of the few bright spots within the developing world. The local equity market relies on internal growth engines and is less dependent on exports than China. While the country still faces many challenges, the government’s latest move to reduce corporate taxes is a bold measure to revive growth. The test in coming months will be to see whether corporates share some of the profitability boost into the economy via greater investment or price cuts on products to stimulate demand. In our view, ongoing policy initiatives and a dovish central bank should provide further upside to Indian equities in a context of attractive valuations. 

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Conflicts of interest 

This research contains the views, opinions and recommendations of Lyxor International Asset Management (“LIAM”) Cross Asset and ETF research analysts and/or strategists. To the extent that this research contains trade ideas based on macro views of economic market conditions or relative value, it may differ from the fundamental Cross Asset and ETF Research opinions and recommendations contained in Cross Asset and ETF Research sector or company research reports and from the views and opinions of other departments of LIAM and its affiliates. Lyxor Cross Asset and ETF research analysts and/or strategists routinely consult with LIAM sales and portfolio management personnel regarding market information including, but not limited to, pricing, spread levels and trading activity of ETFs tracking equity, fixed income and commodity indices. Trading desks may trade, or have traded, as principal on the basis of the research analyst(s) views and reports. Lyxor has mandatory research policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to (i) ensure that purported facts in research reports are based on reliable information and (ii) to prevent improper selective or tiered dissemination of research reports. In addition, research analysts receive compensation based, in part, on the quality and accuracy of their analysis, client feedback, competitive factors and LIAM’s total revenues including revenues from management fees and investment advisory fees and distribution fees.

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