Written by Nathan White, Chief Investment Officer
Volatility in the equity and bond markets has been at historic lows. The economy has been strong enough to support stocks, but not too strong to disturb bonds. While still on the expensive side, equity markets are being sustained by growing earnings. They are also still anticipating an increase in economic growth based on upcoming fiscal and policy measures. If the intended reforms keep getting delayed, it could result in a return of volatility in the second half of the year.
Global growth has been improving, and so far looks to be around 3.4% for the year compared with 2.3% for the U.S. As growth in places like Europe has improved, the ECB is setting up to follow the Fed’s footsteps in tapering its extremely accommodative monetary stance. Central banks are becoming more hawkish and could be worried about financial stability. That means they need to keep/start tightening to stay ahead of any issues and build up their ammunition. But for now, asset prices keep improving in this low inflation environment.
Recently there have been indications that the leaders of the first half of the year seem to be overdone. Whether it is simply profit taking or an outright rotation remains to be seen. We could see a churning process throughout the summer as the market tries to digest the first half gains and anticipate the environment and factors that will affect the second half of the year. For now, 75% of industries are still in uptrends. The majority of our models are bullish, but we have seen deterioration in some areas. We would like to see a broader advance across all segments rather than just the narrow leadership that has occurred. Our sentiment models are flashing caution, as they are in the overly optimistic zone. Earnings growth must continue in order to support current high valuations in the face of rising bonds yields.
Growth names doing well in a low economic growth enviroment?
On the face of it, you would think growth stocks would do better in a high-growth environment, as opposed to the current moderate economic growth conditions. Well, markets aren’t always logical. As the stocks that benefitted from the Trump rally stalled along with his reform agenda, growth stocks took over and became first half leaders. Sectors such as Technology and Healthcare have been the best performers. In an environment of moderate growth, investors placed a premium on names that are currently growing. Much of the focus was concentrated in large mega-cap names such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. These five names accounted for about one third of the S&P 500’s year-to-date gain. They are basically defensive names in a low-growth environment. Our exposure to these names has accounted for most of TopFlight’s gains as well.
Our seasonality model, which has performed well the last few years, was a laggard in the first half of the year. The energy sector tends to dominate this model in the first half of a year, but energy stocks have been poor performers due to the drop in oil prices. Seasonality signals are not high conviction through summer months. Small-cap stocks have also been trailing large-cap stocks, as they are more economically sensitive. We have observed this in our small cap momentum stocks as well.
Outlook for the second half of the year
If a rotation out of the first half leaders develops, we could see a move from growth into value. This would better benefit the energy and financials relative to the technology and large cap growth names. We have had a slant toward value and small-cap in the first half of the year. These stocks will potentially benefit from a shift of growth to value in the second half of the year. We will keep exposure to the high-flying names for now, but want to keep exposure to the value names that have lagged, as they could benefit from a rotation in the second half of the year. If the Trump agenda gets close to becoming reality again, then our small-cap and value exposure could take off.
With oil breaking down, it creates an opportunity in the energy names. Sentiment on the sector is extremely low, and large financial traders drive oil prices in the short run. In the end, low prices are the cure for low prices in commodities. We don’t know where the bottom will be, but are watching this sector for potential plays in the stronger names.
Interest rates are slowly heading higher. The Fed has raised rates twice this year and is indicating one more increase later in the year and additional ones next year. The Fed also announced it will start to reduce its massive holdings later this year. This will put pressure on bond prices — warranting caution with one’s bond exposure. We still do not recommend buying long maturity bonds, especially as yields have fallen. The extremely low yields are still not worth the risk of owning at these elevated prices. However, we are still in a waiting game until we can lock in higher yields. We have a significant amount of capital to deploy, and we want to wait for a more favorable environment. As yields have come down on longer maturity bonds, they have moved higher for short-term bonds due to the Fed raising rates. A flatter yield curve calls for shifting into cash rather than bonds. We favor short-term corporate bonds where the yields have moved up but the prices have not. We only want to use Treasury bonds as protection as opposed to an outright investment.
We are watching some oversold names in the REIT and telecom space. For example, in the heavily damaged retail space, Tanger Factory Outlet Center (SKT) is looking attractive. With its modern stores and attractive locations, it has been drawing customers away from traditional malls. Its retail tenants comprise unique desired brands along with a discount aspect enabling Tanger to boast a 95% occupancy level. The stock also has a 5.2% yield.
Disclaimer: 1. Investment performance reflects time-weighted, size-weighted geometric composite returns of actual client accounts. 2. Investment returns are net of all management fees and transaction costs, and reflect the reinvestment of all dividends and distributions. 3. The S&P Index is a market-value weighted index comprised of 500 stocks selected for market size, liquidity, and industry group representation The Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is a benchmark index made up of the Barclays Government/Corporate Bond Index. 4. Benchmarks are used for comparative purposes only. The Paragon Top Flight Portfolio is not designed to track the S&P Index and will have results different from the benchmark. The Paragon Managed Income Portfolio is not designed to track the Barclays Bond Aggregate Index. 5. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Paragon Wealth Management is a provider of managed portfolios for individuals and institutions. Although the information included in this report has been obtained from sources Paragon believes to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy. All opinions and estimates included in this report constitute the judgment as of the dates indicated and are subject to change without notice. This report is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.