Please see below for Legal and General’s latest Asset Allocation Team’s Key Beliefs article received by us the afternoon of 25/01/2021:
Never have more people searched for the term ‘stock market bubble’ on Google. Data stretching back to 2004 show that January 2021 is set to eclipse January 2018, when searches for the term both preceded and followed a 10% drop in the S&P 500 over nine trading days. As we have highlighted before, investor optimism is pretty well inflated and, while most sentiment indicators don’t look stretched, many are elevated.
Burst case scenario
Not everyone is optimistic, though. One scholar of market bubbles, Jeremy Grantham, opened his new outlook: “The long, long bull market since 2009 has finally matured into a fully-fledged epic bubble.” Grantham has a good track record in predicting the moments when bubbles burst, so should we be worried? We think the famed investor may be right but, as he concedes, we believe the market could still run a lot further. Our own bubble index shows that the probability of a market bubble has indeed been rising. In fact, it is now the highest it has been since 2008.
What has driven this? We have seen an increase in capital raising through IPOs and SPACs, some of which echo the tech bubble of the late 1990s. US retail investor activity has also taken off, with easier access through investment platforms and, for some, new money to play with from stimulus cheques. However, we are just emerging from the COVID-driven economic recession. This means many macroeconomic indicators have improved, policy is supportive, and there is plenty more cash on the side lines ready to be deployed, regardless of further fiscal stimulus.
So while the market is definitely reminiscent of a bubble forming, it could easily still get much stronger from here. We therefore believe it’s too early to call a bubble now.
The moderates yield
If you weren’t able to watch any of the US presidential inauguration, I recommend viewing US National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s recital of “The Hill We Climb”, a powerful and gritty poem of hope for the future of the US, from a self-proclaimed presidential candidate for 2036.
In the more immediate future, the most relevant aspect of the new Biden administration to financial markets will be the prospect of more fiscal stimulus. The central case is for another virus relief package worth $1 trillion to be passed in the coming months, with an additional $1 trillion recovery package potentially following later. The quicker the economy recovers, of course, the smaller later packages will be.
Politically, though, we see the path of least resistance actually being for more fiscal spending rather than less. With a razor-thin majority, power accrues to the moderates, which means only consensus policies can pass. We expect it will be easier to build such a consensus on extra spending (giving things away) than on extra revenues (taking things away). While Democratic moderates have supported virus relief and the current package so far, several are not on record as supporting Biden’s tax proposals. Finally, voters don’t appear to care as much about deficits anymore, so senators probably won’t either.
Treasury yields could be the place where changing fiscal dynamics are priced, and indeed US yields have risen more than others in recent weeks after the Georgia runoffs, but as it stands we are comfortable with an overall neutral position on duration. In fact, we prefer US markets to UK gilts, which have only seen more modest yield rises despite the so-far successful vaccine rollout and expectations for a fiscally conservative budget.
Flexible recipe for fixed income
Multi-asset portfolios are like giant cakes, baked with multiple ingredients. We have decided to add a new ingredient to our cake: Chinese bonds. Technically it’s not new, as they are a growing part of emerging-market bond allocations in portfolios, but we have moved to an explicitly positive view.
We believe Chinese bonds add a lot of diversification to our fixed income holdings as China hums to a slightly different economic tune from the rest of the world, with a different monetary policy framework too. Historically, Chinese bonds have had a low correlation to other bonds. Their yields are relatively high, and we are particularly interested in bonds that could continue to provide protection in macro downturns as we believe many traditional bond markets will struggle to provide the defence they offered in the past.
This is just one of the steps we have been taking in portfolios to try to manage investor outcomes in a low interest-rate environment, with greater roles for non-traditional fixed income assets as well as defensive currencies and other strategies.
Regularly ‘picking the brains’ of investment managers and experts by reading articles like these can help update your own view of the markets and current global affairs.
Please keep reading these blogs to keep your view of the market well informed and up to date.
Stay safe and well
Paul Green 26/01/2021