September 2021 / MARKET OUTLOOK
Global Asset Allocation: September Insights
Discover the latest global market themes
1. Market Perspective
- Global economic growth remains above trend, albeit past peak levels, supported by central bank liquidity, progress on vaccine distribution and continued reopening momentum despite the spread of the delta variant.
- Policy accommodation is expected to gradually tighten as central banks weigh economic growth outlook and increased coronavirus risk against more persistent inflation and improving labour markets.
- Long-term interest rates could trend higher amid the growth and inflation outlook, but upside may be limited as growth moderates and imbalances driving inflation ease while short-term rates could begin to price in tighter central bank policy, leading to flatter yield curves.
- Key risks to global markets include the path forward for the coronavirus, elevated inflation, central bank missteps, higher taxes, a stricter regulatory environment and increasing geopolitical concerns.
2. Portfolio Positioning
- We remain modestly underweight equities relative to bonds and cash as the valuations look less compelling amid peaking growth and stimulus. Higher rates, elevated inflation and potential tax increases could pose challenges to equities.
- Within equities, we continue to favour value-oriented equities globally, US small-caps and emerging market stocks as we expect cyclically exposed companies to continue to benefit from still supportive but slowing economic growth and continued global reopening.
- Within fixed income, we continue to have a bias toward shorter-duration and higher-yielding sectors through overweights to high yield bonds and selected emerging market debt given a constructive credit outlook.
3. Market Themes
Rock and a Hard Place
Coming out of the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell signalled that the Fed could begin to wind down its monthly bond buying by year-end, if the economy and coronavirus cooperate, and acknowledged that the Fed is in no hurry to raise short-term interest rates. The equity market interpreted Powell’s comments as very dovish, with the S&P 500 rallying to record‑high levels on hopes that monetary policy will remain loose for longer. Powell also addressed concerns about inflation, calling it hot but temporary, attributing it to coronavirus-related supply disruptions. Recent softer‑than‑expected payroll data could also weigh against tightening as the Fed waits for more substantial progress towards employment goals. A scenario of moderating growth, waning employment and lingering inflation could put the Fed between a rock and a hard place—with tapering too quickly potentially jeopardising the nascent job market and complacency on inflation possibly forcing them to act more decisively down the road.
Coronavirus-related shutdowns curtailed spending by both consumers and corporations alike as expenditures on services fell significantly and corporations cut spending and dividends. Consumers working in lower-earning service sectors were the hardest hit with job losses, although they found support from fiscal aid. Higher earners, for the most part, were marginally impacted as they maintained their jobs and were able to save from less spending on services, travel and commuting. Now businesses and consumers are both seeing elevated levels of liquidity, as S&P 500 companies hold a record USD 2 trillion in cash and as household worth remains at an all-time high. Unleashed pent-up consumer demand remains as back-to-school shopping and the holiday season kicks off while, at the same time, corporations are looking to increase dividends and share buybacks. The potential for this cash hoard to come off the sidelines could provide a strong tailwind for cyclically exposed companies against a backdrop of fading fiscal and monetary support.
For a region-by-region overview, see the full report (PDF).
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