Below is a quarterly update of Euro Pacific Bank’s mutual fund and separately managed account positioning, related market commentary, and outlook.
As unemployment normalizes in Europe there is scope for GDP to grow at levels above other economies like the US and the UK which are far ahead in the economic cycle. From a peak of over 12% in 2013, unemployment has fallen to 8.8%; as it continues to fall and domestic demand rises, GDP is likely to rise. On a relative basis, European equities still offer good opportunities, as do equities in Japan.
Equity markets continued to surpass expectations during the fourth quarter, as they have done for much of 2017. There was support from upgrades to GDP growth forecasts in Europe, Japan and Emerging Markets, although that has been coupled with cautious monetary normalization due to weak increases in Consumer Price inflation.
The earnings recession of 2015-16 in the US is over. NASDAQ earnings growth rebounded strongly in 2017 and Japan has benefited from a somewhat weaker Yen, a rebound in international trade and better domestic growth.
There is an opportunity for investing in global infrastructure. In general terms, with little upside pressure on interest rates, inflation-linked returns are likely to remain in demand.
Structural changes in demographics, debt and technology are likely to keep inflation in check in the long-term. However, central banks are showing increasing concerns about asset price stability, hence the moves in the US to reverse Quantitative Easing and the move to taper it in Europe. With the market only pricing in two 25 basis point hikes in the US next year, there is potential for volatility in the bond market.
However, it should be noted that previous hikes have caused a flattening of the yield curve. With fixed income showing increasing levels of inverse correlation to equities, it remains a suitable and important asset class in the portfolio.
The Armageddon feared by many in the bond market has yet to materialize but risks remain.
Gold continues to provide diversification benefits. However, despite rallying during the summer when tensions between the US and North Korea were heightened, it has failed to progress further.
Valuations are looking increasingly stretched in the US but the more extreme cases can be avoided by screening and targeting of sectors, or factors such as value.
After years of low/declining earnings in Europe, earnings per share are now growing on a broad front and equity markets have responded strongly. Our exposure to UK equities have also been rewarded by better earnings growth in 2017, and our bias for FTSE250 rather than focus on larger companies has been justified and beneficial.
Property in the UK, at least the listed REITs market, has seen a very significant sell-off in the wake of Brexit. Discounts to NAV of around 30-35%, with strong income support, may offer an opportunity, given that the sector has been de-risking in large part.
Emerging Market equities exited a five-year bear market at the end of 2015 as investors anticipated a trough in the earnings cycle. This was broadly confirmed in 2017. The portfolio maintains targeted exposure to the Indian equity market where the growth prospects from favorable demographics and structural reforms continue to attract investors.
There are long-term opportunities in emerging markets but some caution is warranted given the increasing popularity of the asset class. Additionally, emerging markets have benefited from a weak dollar in 2017 so any reversion in 2018 may put equities under pressure.