February 2023 / ASSET ALLOCATION VIEWPOINT
Global Asset Allocation: February Viewpoints
Discover the latest global market themes
1. Market Perspective
- While evidence of slowing inflation and moderating central bank tightening have reduced the probability of a hard economic landing, global growth is still expected to slow as tighter financial conditions flow through the global economy.
- The US Federal Reserve struck a dovish tone as they acknowledged that inflationary pressures have eased but remain elevated, warranting a data‑dependent approach in determining the extent of future rate increases.
- The European Central Bank (ECB) reaffirmed its commitment to its rate tightening path until inflation moves towards its 2% target. After the surprise move of easing yield curve control, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) defied speculation for another policy adjustment amidst decades-high inflation levels.
- Moderating pressures from higher rates and a stronger US dollar continue to benefit emerging market (EM) economies and offer a reprieve for their central banks. While uncertainty remains, sentiment towards China has improved as the country rapidly shifts away from its stringent zero‑COVID policies, providing a boost to the global economy.
- Key risks to global markets include central bank missteps, resilient inflation, steeper growth decline resulting in a hard landing and geopolitical tensions.
2. Portfolio Positioning
As of 31 January 2023
- We trimmed our underweight to stocks on a more balanced outlook following evidence of improving trends, including lower inflation, the easing pace of central bank tightening, China reopening and Europe staving off an energy crisis. While risks have moderated, valuations remain challenged by expectations for slowing economic and earnings growth ahead
- We remain modestly overweight cash relative to bonds, earning attractive yields and providing liquidity should market opportunities arise
- Within equities, we are overweight Japan and emerging markets on attractive relative valuations, improving sentiment surrounding China reopening and an outlook for a softer US dollar. While the outlook for Europe has improved with the continent dodging higher energy prices due to a mild winter, we remain underweight the region after the strong rebound since October.
- Within fixed income, we remain overweight emerging market debt, where yields still offer reasonable compensation for risks, despite recent outperformance. We remain underweight investment grade corporate bonds and neutral high yield, waiting for a potential better entry point when the economy slows further.
3. Market Themes
Two in a Row?
After outpacing the rest of the world by more than 170% over the past nine years between 2013 and 2021, US equity markets notably lagged the rest of the world last year. Despite deeply negative returns across global markets in 2022, markets outside the US broadly outperformed in both local currency and US dollars, even with a persistently strong US dollar. Perhaps this was not unsurprising as some positive tailwinds appeared on the horizon late in the year, including growing evidence of slowing inflation pressures leading some central banks to hint at moderating their pace of interest rate hikes. In Asia, China surprised the world in early December with reopening from COVID lockdowns, while at the same time Europe seemed to avert an energy crisis by benefitting from warmer weather and aggressive steps to control energy usage. Lower yields in the US on the back of falling inflation are also contributing to a lower dollar, providing further support for markets outside the US, particularly emerging markets. While much uncertainty remains around the trajectory of global growth for 2023, markets outside the US could be up for a second year of outperformance as they are supported by still attractive relative valuations, higher dividend yields and more cyclical exposures that could benefit from China’s reopening and a less dire outlook for Europe.
In a rare year with both equity and bond markets down by double digits, much noise was made about the death of the US traditional 60/40 balanced portfolio and the need to include allocations to less correlated sources of return. Last year’s high inflation and rising interest rates led to increased correlations between stocks and bonds as both fell in unison, leaving bonds unable to fulfill their typical role of providing ballast, particularly during risk-off periods. Despite correlations between stocks and bonds remaining elevated, noise around the death of the 60/40 portfolio has been silenced as strong returns in both stocks and bonds have led to a more than 5% return for the 60/40 in just the first month of the year. The rally in both asset classes has been supported by evidence of falling inflation and lower rates. Our analysis has shown that, in historical periods like today when inflation is declining from elevated levels, correlation between stocks and bonds can remain elevated. While perhaps still not providing diversification, if the disinflationary trend continues, the two asset classes could perform well, bringing back the 60/40 portfolio from one of its worst years ever.
For a region-by-region overview, see the full report (PDF).
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