Lower liquidity means rising risk
2018 will not be remembered kindly by investors, with volatility a common thread across all markets. Central banks began to pull back from crisis-era monetary policy, challenging what had become fixed income market conventions of low volatility, limited drawdowns and low yields.
As the Fed shrinks its balance sheet, the European Central Bank prepares to end asset purchases, and the Bank of Japan slows easing, yields are adjusting higher and risk premium is coming back to the fore. Lower central bank liquidity naturally leads to higher volatility, creating an environment that will reward careful security selection in 2019. Such a narrative tends to benefit companies with strong balance sheets committed to a sustainable capital structure. When it comes to selecting high-quality securities, European investment grade debt offers better opportunities than US credit over the next 12 months. Valuations are becoming stretched in the US and it makes sense to take profits and put them to work in overlooked markets.
Periods of significant equity market turbulence, like the one seen towards the end of 2018, have typically been foreshadowed by a widening of credit spreads. However, corporate credit was resilient to the volatility in equity markets, outperforming on a beta-adjusted basis. This was to be expected to some extent given the relative underperformance of the asset class in 2018, low supply and cautious investor positioning.
Investors should not get complacent as it is yet to be seen whether the moves in equities this year hint at something more sinister to come in 2019. As the capital market narrative develops next year, we would argue for a defensive stance on global credit on the expectation that cooling global growth and elevated corporate debt will eventually act to push spreads wider.
A climate of reduced liquidity that focuses investors on high-quality securities may offer up opportunities in some asset classes. Securities at the lower quality end of the spectrum, on the other hand, such as leveraged loans and high yield credit, are likely to fare worse, with growing evidence that the end of the credit cycle is nigh. Companies have taken advantage of the buoyant environment to ramp up supply and ease or remove covenants, to the detriment of investors. Similarly, high yield names in the BBB segment may be subject to ratings downgrades next year as earnings soften.
A pausing Fed may lift Treasuries
Treasuries had a tough 2018, but we expect 2019 to bring the market some relief.
Our view is for the Fed to pause rate hikes in the middle of the year, as tighter financial conditions and effects of trade tariffs begin to weigh on the real economy. Calling a halt to rate rises after two 2019 hikes in March and June will anchor 10-year Treasury yields at around the 3 per cent mark.
While inflation is the central risk to this outlook, we don’t expect prices to rise meaningfully. Wages may be firming against a backdrop of stronger-than-expected US growth, but unit labour costs are stable. Productivity is rising in tandem with wages, helping to ease the inflationary pressure. As a result, our base case is that inflation stabilises, barring any shocks from higher commodities prices.
Source: Fidelity International, November 2018
The Fed has grown more confident, but it has little incentive to be overly hawkish. A December hike is fully priced in, and risky assets are showing signs of ‘yield fatigue’, particularly in the reaction of equity markets to the rise in US Treasury yields, which turned a traditionally negative correlation positive. As Treasury valuations fell, so did equities, indicating a broad level of fear in the market over the potential effects of removing such supportive policies for asset prices.
As with previous episodes of such turbulence, we view it as a temporary phenomenon, and see correlations reverting to their negative long-term norm. With yields unlikely to rise further from here over the next year, we see value being created in the US Treasury market, particularly at the longer end of the curve.
Source: Fidelity International, November 2018
Emerging from the storm
Higher US yields and a stronger dollar proved a challenging combination for emerging market debt. Looking ahead, however, a rebound is on the cards.
US liquidity withdrawal, slowing growth momentum and higher inflation will still be themes that the asset class will have to contend with next year, but much of the bad news is already priced into the market, creating pockets of real value. At 6.8 per cent, the yield on the JP Morgan EMBIGD index is the highest since the global financial crisis, and now fully compensates investors for the risks that still lie ahead.
Currency devaluations have already done much to rebalance economies of countries such as Argentina and Turkey. Furthermore, an extra boost could come in the second half of next year from a more cautious Fed. As such, there are significant opportunities in the form of undervalued EM currencies. After a traumatic year and sizeable repricing, our top picks are now the Argentine Peso and Malaysian Ringgit.
Looking forward, China’s inclusion in the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index, a key bond benchmark, in April, will reignite capital inflows in 2019. We see upside to Asian investment grade bonds for two additional reasons. At a fundamental level, companies in are deleveraging, strengthening their balance sheets. At a technical level, we’re seeing a resurgence in domestic buying that is positive for prices. At an aggregate level we prefer corporates to sovereigns, as they remain a better allocation on a risk-adjusted basis. At a macro level, we see Chinese authorities responding strongly to the slowdown in economic growth with looser fiscal and monetary policy, supporting risk assets. We also expect policymakers to prioritise support for infrastructure projects in the near-term to help cushion the pace of the country’s slowdown.
Elsewhere, we are watching for sovereign debt opportunities in some of the smaller, fast growing, pro-reform frontier countries such as Ivory Coast, Argentina, Ecuador, Ukraine and Albania. Middle East sovereign bonds, such as Saudi Arabia and UAE should benefit from elevated oil prices and index inclusion next year. And, in local rates, the debt of countries such as South Africa, Peru and Mexico, offer high real yields, credible central banks and steep curves.
While there is no doubt that EM debt faces possible headwinds, from a strengthening dollar, escalating trade tensions, and continued bouts of market volatility, the rapid rise in risk premia in 2018 has created attractive entry points to add risk in 2019. Again, as with Europe and the US, the narrative for the sector is centred around picking out areas of value in a potentially volatile environment.
In conclusion, the outlook is for an unsettled global market environment; one that is prone to periods of volatility as debt investors adjust to dwindling liquidity and tighter monetary conditions. Against such an uncertain backdrop, we see opportunities to differentiate high-quality corporate names from less attractive, lower-quality peers, a soft ceiling on US Treasury yields as well as favourable valuations in emerging market debt securities.
The tide may be ebbing, but not all boats will hit the floor.
Price return, 12 months to (%):
JPM EMBI Global Diversified
Barclays Global Aggregate Corporate USD
Source: Refinitiv, Fidelity International, October 2018
Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns
What question should we tackle next?
Email your suggestion firstname.lastname@example.org
The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up so you may get back less than you invest. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.
These materials are provided for information purposes only and are intended only for the person or entity to which it is sent.
These materials do not constitute a distribution, an offer or solicitation to engage the investment management services of Fidelity, or an offer to buy or sell or the solicitation of any offer to buy or sell any securities or investment product.
Fidelity makes no representations that the contents are appropriate for use in all locations or that the transactions or services discussed are available or appropriate for sale or use in all jurisdictions or countries or by all investors or counterparties.
Investors should also note that the views expressed may no longer be current and may have already been acted upon by Fidelity. They are valid only as of the date indicated and are subject to change without notice.
This material was created by Fidelity International. It must not be reproduced or circulated to any other party without prior permission of Fidelity.
This communication is not directed at, and must not be acted on by persons inside the United States and is otherwise only directed at persons residing in jurisdictions where the relevant funds are authorised for distribution or where no such authorisation is required. Fidelity is not authorised to manage or distribute investment funds or products in, or to provide investment management or advisory services to persons resident in, mainland China. All persons and entities accessing the information do so on their own initiative and are responsible for compliance with applicable local laws and regulations and should consult their professional advisers.
This content may contain materials from third-parties which are supplied by companies that are not affiliated with any Fidelity entity (Third-Party Content). Fidelity has not been involved in the preparation, adoption or editing of such third-party materials and does not explicitly or implicitly endorse or approve such content.
Fidelity International refers to the group of companies which form the global investment management organisation that provides products and services in designated jurisdictions outside of North America Fidelity, Fidelity International, the Fidelity International logo and F symbol are trademarks of FIL Limited. Fidelity only offers information on products and services and does not provide investment advice personal recommendations based on individual circumstances.
Issued in Europe: Issued by FIL Investments International (FCA registered number 122170) a firm authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, FIL (Luxembourg) S.A., authorised and supervised by the CSSF (Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier) and FIL Investment Switzerland AG, authorised and supervised by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA. For German wholesale clients issued by FIL Investment Services GmbH, Kastanienhöhe 1, 61476 Kronberg im Taunus. For German institutional clients issued by FIL Investments International – Niederlassung Frankfurt.
In Hong Kong, this content is issued by FIL Investment Management (Hong Kong) Limited and it has not been reviewed by the Securities and Future Commission. FIL Investment Management (Singapore) Limited (Co. Reg. No: 199006300E) is the legal representative of Fidelity International in Singapore. FIL Asset Management (Korea) Limited is the legal representative of Fidelity International in Korea. In Taiwan, independently operated by FIL Securities (Taiwan ) Limited, 11F, 68 Zhongxiao East Road, Section 5, Xinyi Dist., Taipei City, Taiwan 11065, R.O.C. Customer Service Number: 0800-00-9911#2.
Issued in Australia by Fidelity Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009, AFSL No. 409340 (“Fidelity Australia”). This material has not been prepared specifically for Australian investors and may contain information which is not prepared in accordance with Australian law.