LAST WEEK IN A NUTSHELL
- The US economy added 1.8 million nonfarm payrolls. This is better than expected. The economy has recovered about 40% of the 22 million jobs in the pandemic-induced recession.
- Global PMI data showed the fastest growth since January and came out at 50.8. Both the July US Manufacturing ISM and the euro zone Manufacturing PMI beat expectations with 54.2 and 51.8.
- The Bank of England met and backed the government´s decision to end its furlough scheme in October. It stated the economy´s strong recovery but mentioned the weak business investments.
- As Congress could not agree on the next round of pandemic relief aid, US president Donald Trump, by executive action, extended unemployment insurance ($400 weekly supplement to unemployment checks). But congressional approval will still be needed on the measures.
- Tensions between China and the US are increasing after Donald Trump administration´s executive orders banned US residents from doing business with TikTok or WeChat.
- Key countries, such as Japan, the UK and Russia will release GDP updates along with industrial production and retails sales updates for July setting the path of the economic recovery into Q3.
- Inflation-linked data will be released. Little change is expected although the current context of increasing commodity prices and a falling USD could be in favour of an increase.
- The euro zone will release the ZEW Indicator of Economic Sentiment and the preliminary Michigan University Consumer Sentiment will be published in the US. A pursuit of the improvement is expected.
- Core scenario
- Our central scenario forecasts the pursuit of a gradual recovery of financial markets, mainly thanks to abundant liquidity and government support. In the coming months, markets should nevertheless continue to trade in a wide and choppy range. Uncertainty is on the rise in the US because of the uncurbed coronavirus crisis and because of the current political context. The very generous enhanced unemployment benefits, that ended late July, have given households enough disposable income to replace their revenues and even send the saving rate upwards. The next step is however increasingly uncertain: Congress has failed to agree on a new stimulus package and the virus is still present. The strength of the financial market and the cautiousness of investors remain at odds.
- The European policy response has given some reassurance: policymakers have successfully addressed several flaws in the past weeks which could result in a decline in euro zone equities’ risk premium. The past weeks could be seen as the fiscal equivalent to the monetary “Whatever it takes”The European policy response has given some reassurance by agreeing on the recovery plan for Europe: a combination of the long-term EU budget and Next Generation EU – a total of 1.8 trillion EUR. It ought to result in a decline in euro zone equities’ risk premium. However, for now, Europe is weighed down by a strengthening EUR vs USD and, in the absence of a vaccine, a beneficial rotation towards cyclical and value sector stays at bay.
- Our main convictions are as follows:
- First, stay with the medium-term “winners” of the crisis, such as Technology, Healthcare, Sustainable themes.
- Second, we added positions in assets when they were trading at historically attractive valuation levels. We have identified Banks among value sectors, Emerging market debt and cheap currencies. We have also increased some regional accents (Europe and Emerging Markets -especially Chinese A-shares- vs. US and Japan).
- Market views
- Volatility is here to stay as visibility on the epidemic and its aftermath remains low.
- The spreading of the virus remains the main threat as it could not be curbed everywhere and/or the threat of a second wave is increasing depending on the region.
- Fiscal and monetary policy responses will outlive the virus. Monetary policy responses aim at ensuring ample liquidity and, for some regions, further asset purchases programmes. For now, their actions seem to provide a safety floor to financial markets.
- From a short-term perspective, some reassurance can be found in the bottoming and steadily ongoing recovery of economic indicators, the rise, albeit slightly less dynamic lately, in economic surprises and stabilising earnings revisions. Financial markets have integrated the improvement fast and might be ahead.
- From a longer-term perspective, besides a vaccine, H2 earnings will be key and determine the shape of the recovery. A V-shaped recovery seems to be the most likely one with a flatter second leg. The market does not seem to take into account the possibility of a second crisis or even stagnation.
- The coronavirus pandemic is the main threat to the economic recovery. Only a vaccine could reverse the trend. Several companies are in the final stages of testing.
- US election risk. The handling of the coronavirus crisis, economic strains, social unrest and a potential fiscal stimulus cliff early August are triggering uncertainty at a time when valuation is no longer appealing vs. historical levels. A Democratic sweep on election day could represent a risk for the stockmarket due to a possible tax reform and increased regulation.
- The US-China relations will likely remain on edge and are clouding global growth. Neither country can afford a revival of a trade war. After a tit-for-tat battle that saw the closing of consulates in both US and Chinese cities, the Trump administration is now issuing recommendations that Chinese companies listed on US stock exchanges be delisted unless they provide US regulators with access to their audited accounts.
- Trade negotiations between the UK and the EU. EU negotiator Michel Barnier expects the “moment of truth” for any potential trade deal in October. A “thin” free trade agreement is a realistic assumption.
RECENT ACTIONS IN THE ASSET ALLOCATION STRATEGY
We remain overall underweight equities, and given the current context, we keep our protection on US and European equities. We maintain gold and JPY as portfolio hedges. Besides our deep convictions in the structural reduction of the euro zone risk premium and in an overweight EMU equity vs US equities, we also believe in a weaker USD vs the EUR. We are therefore underweight USD vs EUR. We are neutral UK equities as the country has the potential to catch up with the rest of Europe based on better economic data, government fiscal support and a better control of the epidemic. We are overweight emerging markets equities (via Chinese A shares) vs. underweight Japanese equities. Finally, we keep an exposure to emerging debt and investment grade bonds.
CROSS ASSET STRATEGY
- Our equity exposure is slightly underweight, but with an increased selectivity in regional equity allocation.
- We are overweight euro zone vs. underweight US equities. The coordinated reponse of member states to the virus has strengthened ties while valuation still offers a relative discount vs the US and positioning is just starting to pick up. Usually, a recession-resilient country, the US now appear more fragmented than Europe. Besides the likely imminent fiscal cliff and electoral uncertainty, valuations are no longer attractive vs. historical levels. Also, buybacks, an important driver in the past 5 years, should be much lower.
- We are opportunistically neutral UK equities. There is potential in a short-term catch-up by UK equities. The strong underperformance in the rebound shows a disconnection between the index and the state of the economy.
- We are overweight emerging markets equities (via Chinese A shares) vs. underweight Japanese equities. China is rapidly recovering from the coronavirus crisis while Japan is likely to suffer from declining profit forecasts.
- We keep key convictions in various thematic investments. Technology, Oncology and Biotech sectors prove relatively resilient in the current context and reveal high growth potential driven by innovation and pricing power. Climate action and circular economy themes enable exposure to key solutions for a cleaner future. We believe that sustainability will continue to gain in importance for the social and environmental aspects. A robust governance appears to deliver better results during the pandemic, both at company and state level.
- We are underweight bonds, keeping a short duration, but highly diversified as the current environment has the potential to create opportunities on bond markets.
- We are underweight government bonds which provide no return potential except in risk-off phases. We prefer peripheral bonds vs. core European countries.
- In a multi-asset portfolio, diversification into credit appears attractive. We are overweight US and EUR investment grade as central banks’ buying represent a support.
- We are also overweight Emerging debt, including corporate bonds, with a preference for hard currency and ESG.
- We have an exposure to the NOK, which appeared attractive during the crisis, as well as gold and the JPY, which are risk mitigators.