We provide our observations regarding the global economy and capital markets, the death of “dumb” value investing, and…
We assess the opportunities and risks we see as the investment environment changes throughout the world …
We share our views on how investors should act in the face of expected changes in global central bank policies and current elevated asset prices.
Here is the letter Ted Neild, Gresham’s chief investment officer and president, sent Gresham clients and other friends highlighting this year’s Annual Outlook.
At the beginning of the year in our Annual Outlook, we noted that subdued economic growth, low inflation and easy monetary policy were likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Additionally, divergent policies across the globe would create volatility and investment opportunity for flexible investors unbound by traditional investment constraints.
We assess how elevated valuations, Fed tightening and oil price declines impact a range of investment themes.
In our 2015 Annual Outlook: Divergent, we predict that an increasingly desynchronized world will likely lead to more volatility and investment opportunity, we assess where caution may be warranted and opportunity may present itself, and we look at the impact of declining oil prices. We also discuss what investors should do in the current environment.
In this year’s Annual Outlook, we assess the relatively anemic global economic environment, review capital markets’ accomplishments in 2013, and discuss our expectations and strategies for 2014 and beyond. We also explain why we believe it is time for investors to revisit their long-term asset allocation guidelines and be prepared to withstand the inevitable market corrections ahead.
The world is awash in a sea of liquidity, as all four major central banks of the developed
world are synchronized in their aggressive implementation of easy money policies. Despite
this liquidity, the global economic recovery remains the slowest on record, still hindered by
the excessive leverage built-up prior to the financial crisis four years ago. While these easy
money policies have produced some positive outcomes, little money is currently making its
way into the real economy, but is now spilling over into capital markets, distorting prices
and increasing risks to investors. While we believe many areas of the capital markets
remain attractive, investors must be cautious in deploying capital to ensure that they are
adequately rewarded for the risks they are taking.
The world continues to ride the same train of global imbalances. While short-term solutions have
allowed us to arrive at the next station, few are attempting to address the long-term issues. We believe
that capital markets will continue to assail the weakest links in the financial system, which, hopefully,
instills the required discipline for policymakers to make needed, but difficult, decisions. Unfortunately
for long-term investors, this suggests that we will continue to encounter a series of market crises,
leading to continued market volatility that can test investor resolve. During this period, it is important
that investors are cognizant of the risks in their portfolios and remain alert for the opportunities
created. While current markets continue to be driven by governmental policy rather than underlying
fundamentals, we do see several powerful secular trends and risks that should shape the foundation
of a portfolio for the long term.
The biggest surprise of the year was how well asset classes performed. U.S. equity markets were up 15% and bond markets were up 6.5%, both of which are reasonably good by historical averages.
Policy makers in developed economies are likely to remain accommodative, as domestic employment and growth concerns will dominate our trading partners’ concerns regarding the debasement of the U.S. dollar. The very solutions aimed at solving the crisis, may be accelerating many of the secular changes that guide our long-term investment activity. We remain concerned about the wide divergence of inflationary expectations, the potential debasement of the dollar and the long-term secular shift of global economic growth to a series of emerging economies away from developed nations largely responsible for driving economic growth over the last fifty years. In this environment, which may possibly last for a number of years, we expect market volatility and the potential for extreme market outcomes to remain higher than usual.
The credit crisis continues to erode the global economy at an accelerating pace. Governmental authorities are responding aggressively in an effort to thaw credit markets and avoid a severe and prolonged recession. While we are seeing signs of the banking system stabilizing and market volatility subsiding, we still face the question of whether these efforts will ultimately succeed. The range of possible economic and market outcomes remains wide, mandating a cautious approach for risk conscious investors such as ourselves. During this difficult period, we remain focused on limiting losses and protecting against permanent impairment of capital.
The second half of 2007 provided a stark example of the reasons we have felt that the risk/reward equation for investment markets was uninspiring. In particular, it confirmed and perhaps exceeded our expectations that credit markets would likely constitute Ground Zero in any financial upheaval. We can now say with much greater confidence that the problems in credit markets have spilled over into the general economy. However, we are fortunate that the credit crisis began at a time when global economic and business trends were relatively good, providing some cushion to the expected economic downturn. While the debate over whether the U.S. economy is headed for, or already in, a recession has become more of a technical exercise for economists, there is no debate that corporate profits, particularly those in the financial and consumer discretionary sectors, are slowing and general business conditions are weakening.
Broad U.S. stock market indices increased slightly, up a little over 1% during the first quarter. Smaller companies did slightly better but the real disappointment was in the very largest companies, as the top 50 declined almost 2%. The best performers were in the mid-cap range, which advanced by a little over 4%, in part because that is where the merger and acquisition boom is centered.
For the year 2005, U.S. stock markets appreciated modestly, as shown in Exhibit 1 to the right. Within sectors, energy was the star performer, up 32%, followed by utilities, up 16%. Otherwise, it was hard to find broad areas of support. Other sectors provided lackluster to down results, as market leadership was narrow. Discretionary consumer goods brought up the rear, down 6%, which includes the very poor performing auto and related companies.
Stock markets enjoyed an above average year in 2004, thanks to a surge in the fourth quarter. For the year, stock markets were led by energy and basic materials companies, reflecting a surge in oil and commodities prices, and industrial companies riding the profit expansion. Many larger, high-quality, consumer-oriented companies disappointed, especially the drug companies, as did technology.