By Riverfront Investment Group

Q4 2019: Taking away the ‘worst case scenario’ discount: Equity markets hate uncertainty and will assign what we call a ‘worst-case’ scenario discount to stocks when an outcome is unclear. As clarity increases, the ‘worst-case scenario’ regarding an event or issue can be proven to be unlikely and thus the discount is unnecessary, in our view. Over the fourth quarter, global markets received some of the clarity they had been searching for in the forms of an election in the UK, a Phase-1 trade deal between the US and China and the conclusion of the impeachment hearings in the House. While none of these events erased the uncertainty, each made the ‘worst-case scenario’ (‘hard’ Brexit, escalating trade war, and Senate ratification of impeachment) far less likely. As a result, risk assets such as emerging market equities generally performed well, while defensive assets like bonds posted lower returns.

2019 MARKET RETURNS:

Q4 2019 Total Returns

WE REMAIN CONSTRUCTIVE ON STOCKS IN 2020:

  • Lack of alternatives:  Growth-seeking investors have few options given low/negative real rates around the world.
  • ‘Cavalry’ on call: The Cavalry or Policymakers have shown a willingness to act when faced with evidence of economic weakness.
  • Election Year: Incumbent presidents are generally expected to do all they can to boost the economy to help them get re-elected.

However, we believe that 2020 may be the year that rewards the nimble who are willing to rotate between sectors and asset classes. This is because as uncertainty fades, business and consumer confidence improves; we believe this will ultimately lead to additional spending and investment. While a strengthening economy is generally good for all equities, we believe that the kinds of companies and asset classes that perform the best will be different than those that outperform when economic growth is less robust. A few of the places where that leadership change could occur include the following:

  • International could perform well:  With Brexit becoming more clear and European economies showing signs of bottoming, we could see a global synchronized recovery similar to 2017, in our opinion.
  • Cyclicals and Small/Mid-Cap (SMID) could perform well:  Questions on the economy should also lessen and could lead to increased business confidence and corporate spending, in our view. This is good for cyclicals and SMIDs because they are more economically-sensitive. We also expect a strengthening global economy to lift interest rates, helping Financials.
  • Fixed Income/Low Volatility could lag:  With uncertainty, defensive asset classes have been afforded premium valuations. As uncertainty fades, we expect that premium to fade.

WHAT ABOUT IRAN AND IMPEACHMENT?

In our view, a tug of war is currently playing out in the market with regard to recent news events:

  • On one side of the rope are the worries, namely:  Impeachment and Iran
  • On the other side of the rope are the opportunities: a signed Phase-1 trade deal with China and a ratified USMCA (sometimes referred to as the ‘new NAFTA’).  Both trade deals are expected over the coming weeks.

Thus far, the ‘opportunities’, in our view are winning. The fact that equity markets continue to shrug off the worries reminds us of James Carville’s famous quote: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’  In other words, when investors are faced with competing news, the news that contains clear economic consequences tends to be where investors pay the greatest attention.

In addition to the gains already accruing to equity holders, we have observed two additional positives coming from the ‘tug of war’:

  1. The market’s resilience is a signal that significant underlying demand exists to buy equities, and that sidelined investors are starting to chase the market, in our view.
  2. Continuing worries such as impeachment and Iran add additional bricks to the ‘wall of worry’ that has historically been a pre-requisite for continued equity advancement. We believe that a formidable ‘wall of worry’ keeps investors from becoming overly optimistic, which can create dangerous bubbles.

IN CONCLUSION:

Rising markets should be a tailwind for our global allocation portfolios, in our opinion. In keeping with our cautiously optimistic outlook, our balanced portfolios with horizons of longer than 5 years are currently roughly 6 percentage points overweight equities.

This article was written by the team at RiverFront Investment Group, a participant in the ETF Strategist Channel.

Important Disclosure Information

The comments above refer generally to financial markets and not RiverFront portfolios or any related performance. Past results are no guarantee of future results and no representation is made that a client will or is likely to achieve positive returns, avoid losses, or experience returns similar to those shown or experienced in the past.

Information or data shown or used in this material is for illustrative purposes only and was received from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy is not guaranteed.

In a rising interest rate environment, the value of fixed-income securities generally declines.

When referring to being “overweight” or “underweight” relative to a market or asset class, RiverFront is referring to our current portfolios’ weightings compared to the composite benchmarks for each portfolio. Asset class weighting discussion refers to our Advantage portfolios. For more information on our other portfolios, please visit www.riverfrontig.com or contact your Financial Advisor.

Small-, mid- and micro-cap companies may be hindered as a result of limited resources or less diverse products or services and have therefore historically been more volatile than the stocks of larger, more established companies.

Investing in foreign companies poses additional risks since political and economic events unique to a country or region may affect those markets and their issuers. In addition to such general international risks, the portfolio may also be exposed to currency fluctuation risks and emerging markets risks as described further below.

Changes in the value of foreign currencies compared to the U.S. dollar may affect (positively or negatively) the value of the portfolio’s investments. Such currency movements may occur separately from, and/or in response to, events that do not otherwise affect the value of the security in the issuer’s home country. Also, the value of the portfolio may be influenced by currency exchange control regulations. The currencies of emerging market countries may experience significant declines against the U.S. dollar, and devaluation may occur subsequent to investments in these currencies by the portfolio.

Foreign investments, especially investments in emerging markets, can be riskier and more volatile than investments in the U.S. and are considered speculative and subject to heightened risks in addition to the general risks of investing in non-U.S. securities.  Also, inflation and rapid fluctuations in inflation rates have had, and may continue to have, negative effects on the economies and securities markets of certain emerging market countries.

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MSCI Emerging Markets Index measures equity market performance of emerging markets. The index consists of 23 countries representing 10% of world market capitalization.

The MSCI EAFE Index is designed to represent the performance of large and mid-cap securities across 21 developed markets, including countries in Europe, Australasia and the Far East, excluding the U.S. and Canada.

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