What a Year. What Now? Part III
Pittsburgh Quarterly asked the region’s top experts to respond to these questions: As the U.S. economy gradually recovers from the pandemic, which sectors of the market do you like now? How are you positioning client portfolios? We thank them for giving readers their responses, which follow. Read part one and part two.
Linda Duessel, Federated Hermes
We are about to witness a rolling global boom in economic growth such as hasn’t been seen in decades. This fact, combined with the outperformance of growth stocks — really, technology — for over 10 years is a perfect recipe for value stocks. Think financials, industrials and materials that have been ignored during that same time frame and whose valuations are attractive. To be sure, technology companies are hugely profitable, and we like them very much, but the value stocks are still on sale. The United States, even with its record highs, remains the haven in the world of investing. But a global boom would set up international markets nicely, particularly the COVID-suffering, structurally aging, blew-it-on-the-vaccine, can’t-get-along-with each-other mess that is Europe. Laggards — that’s where the value is.
James Armstrong, Henry Armstrong Associates
We think that it’s best to build a portfolio of very strong companies that can survive, and thrive, under a wide variety of economic conditions. Given that superb companies are rare, and that most economic predictions prove to be inaccurate, we don’t think it wise to shuffle companies in and out of the portfolio to “reposition” as economic cycles unfold. The reality of the economic world is that inevitable shocks, surprises and unexpected conditions will occur. And change can be rapid. Decades of our own experience prove to us that it is far better to focus on owning the strongest companies for long periods of time, and let their management teams steer their businesses through whatever the economy may bring.
John Augustine, Huntington Bank
We still favor stocks over bonds and have seen our equity team, beginning in February, broaden its holdings to include more cyclical stocks. This included adding packages of stocks from the Consumer Discretionary, Basic Materials and Industrial sectors, as this is where the outsized profit growth is expected this year.
Ed Gallagher, Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company
We believe that the equity markets and the economy are absolutely connected, but with nuances in their respective time horizons. Markets pay heed to current economic events, but more importantly, they are a discounting mechanism of how the current environment relates to the future one. The global economy continues to fill the economic hole from last year, as economic growth is set to gain vigor amid a broader reopening and return to normal as more people get vaccinated. As a result, we continue to forecast strong and broad economic growth in 2021 across nearly all segments of the U.S. economy. With that as a backdrop, we believe that the economic recovery will lead to higher stock prices in the intermediate term, but with a much broader equity market participation and leadership than has occurred over the past few years. During the third quarter of 2020, we started to shift our prior overweighting in U.S. Large Cap growth (technology) to areas like large cap economically sensitive cyclical value stocks and U.S. Small Cap, which tends to do well during trends of steepening yield curves and rising inflation expectations. With regards to the specter of inflation in the coming years and a potentially weak/flat U.S. dollar, we have also increased our allocation to Emerging Markets. We continue to hold a neutral outlook for commodities, as they can provide value due to their diversification benefits and correlation to inflation. With regards to Fixed Income, we have maintained our allocation to Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) and Municipal Bonds due to the fear of higher individual taxes looming and a 26-year low in issuance of new securities. With all of that said, the recent cycle where a few segments of the market performed extremely well, was heavily influenced by a few events that are unlikely to happen again in the future. We would encourage investors to revisit their plans, goals and timeframes, with an emphasis on diversification.
Greg Curtis, Greycourt
We are recommending that clients stick close to their long-term asset allocation strategies. Lightening up on stocks is akin to “fighting the Fed,” almost always a bad idea. On the other hand, overweighting stocks risks exposing portfolios to a whipsawing market, as the pandemic waxes and wanes. Value stocks and cyclical stocks should outperform. The recent rise in bond yields suggests that fixed income may be more interesting going forward than it has been in the past. In any event, regardless of the relative attractiveness of bonds, they play a very important role in controlling portfolio risk, and therefore investors’ allocation to bonds should remain approximately at target levels. Bond-averse investors could substitute cash if desired.
Michael R. Foster, J.P. Morgan Private Bank
The global recovery continues at a rapid pace, making comparisons to past recessions moot. As the dust settles on COVID, our conviction increases that this shock is more natural disaster than macro-recession. Economist expectations for full-year GDP growth are still being revised higher. The boom is just beginning, and we think tactical investors should focus on playing offense rather than defense. In equities, we want to focus on areas that have exposure to economic acceleration, such as: financials; companies levered to physical and digital infrastructure investment; increased mobility and transportation; and digital entertainment and de-carbonization. In bonds, we favor extended credit over core fixed income. In commodities, we prefer industrial metals such as copper over precious metals such as gold. For more strategic investors, we think it helps to frame portfolio decisions in the context of what job the investment does for a portfolio. That is why we continue to focus on three key investment themes:
- For yield, we think you should rely on extended credit, real estate and infrastructure.
- Harness growth and megatrends; consider innovation, financial technology and next-generation vehicles.
- Diversify through the recovery and use alternatives and active management to capitalize on unique opportunities.
Don Heberle, PNC Financial Services
We continue to believe that high volatility will dominate the market landscape over much of 2021 due to lingering uncertainties, such as the pace and timing of the reopening of the global economy, earnings growth trajectory and the continued rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Importantly, a high volatility regime does not necessarily translate into disappointing market returns. It simply means larger-than-normal price swings (in both directions) will be the norm, rather than the exception.
In this environment, we’re seeing larger, growth-oriented exposures, such as companies that are continuing to be the workhorse of corporate earnings and driving consistent dividend growth. A strong argument for Emerging Markets in the equity asset-class universe also can be made as several associated factors seemingly present a strong argument for potential long-term relative outperformance i.e., demographics, long-term economic growth potential and the earnings outlook for the year.
In fixed income, we view last year’s price performance as very difficult to repeat. There are signals that income-oriented investors are pushing further along the risk curve in order to capture incremental yield, which may not provide adequate compensation at these levels. We view emerging market debt, seconded by leveraged loans as potentially attractive options, with high-yield and investment-grade bonds being another area of interest in the fixed income space.