The Importance of Financial Planning

Monthly Investment Note: September 2023

The House View Summary:
Dusting off the málaí scoile, September is back to school time and the adjustment back to routine and familiarity, the family taxi service and preparing for another academic year. Hopefully everyone has managed has had some time to rejuvenate the spirits for the final push to the end of the year. We had a plethora of global macroeconomic data during the break period often providing contradictory signals and coalescing to produce a muddy picture of the global economy which I have tried to breakdown as follows;

  • US resilience
  • EU & China laggards
  • Earnings beat expectations
  • The glorious Seven
  • Inflation Combat
  • Bond Market adjustments

In the US, Consumer confidence, labour market and industrial production throughout the summer months remained robust and despite eleven interest rate hikes, economically, the US economy did not slow as quickly as commentators anticipated. US inflation data actually increased to 3.2% in July from a previous of 3% which bucked the year to date trends of reduction from 6.4% in January. It was always known that reducing inflation by the last percent to achieve the 2% Fed target would be fraught with difficulty. Bearing in mind that often, monetary policy takes time to shake through the system, it could just be a matter of time before, we this in the key economic performance indicators. The bottom line is that with the current growth projections, the US is unlikely to tip into recession in 2023 though projections for 2024 do not yet rule this out.

In Europe, Inflation showed a very minor reduction to 5.3% (from 5.4%) and the recent drop in the PMI (purchasing managers indices) suggests likely recession in the coming months. The bottom line is that Europe is struggling economically and the ECB must decide in September, on whether to act hard or soft on future interest rate hikes in the coming months, to steer the economic cycle back to a growth phase. Broadly speaking, while central banks continue to analyse the data, we can continue to expect pro-longed higher interest rates until reversion of inflation rates back to the long-term desired level of 2%. This must be achieved with interest rate adjustment but as mentioned on the last note, our biggest flag for concern continues to be the ability to repay credit in a highly indebted corporate world with the case in point being some of the biggest property developers in the world’s second biggest economy.

Speaking of which, the long-heralded reopening of China has indeed fallen short of expectations with lower exports, foreign direct investment and land sales all declining. So, while the economy will likely still reach its targeted growth of 5% in 2023, in reality, this is far short of expectations from an economy emerging from the throes of COVID.

Turning to Q2 earnings, with the delivery season now almost completed, we saw contraction of US earnings by ca. 3% overall and in Europe by ca, 5% confirming an earnings recession. While it would be expected that the US would likely emerge from this period of earnings recession earlier, (within the next 6 months), European companies are likely to take longer to adjust back to growth; probably down to the faster implementation of the monetary policy by the FED. Guidance on the return of European companies back to earnings growth again is Q2 2024.

Continuing the theme of earnings, the glorious seven (Microsoft, Apple, Tesla, Google, Amazon, Nvidia and Meta) once again outshone their US 500 peers with the all encompassing “AI” narrative and really helped to drive US equities growth so far this year. The markets recognise that Artificial Intelligence is indeed transformational changing technology which will drive future innovation across business sectors. But, despite these heady factors, the fundamentals cannot be ignored. The parody of inflation & economic growth has stumped commentators thus far but with inflation having decidedly dropped in both the US & EU, it is now at the stubborn end 3.2% (US) and 5.4% (EU) where the Central banks must decide whether it is better to continue or hold off on further interest rate hikes in order to achieve their stated goal of 2%. What is not in doubt is that Central Banks are near the end of interest rate hikes cycle and this requires us to consider our options on the credit markets.

Speaking of which, we saw bond markets corrected over the last coupe of months as the continued strength in the US economic data prompted a sell off in US treasuries raising the all important US 10 year yield to 4.34%. It should be noted that the US two year yield remains significantly higher (4.89%) at writing, maintaining the inverted yield curve, an economic feature which very often predicates a recession within 18 months. Fundamentally, this means that the bond market has corrected for higher interest rates for longer, making yields which are available, more competitive and valuable as a part of a diversified portfolio. When Central banks make it clear they are finished raising rates, credit quality should add value to portfolios containing bonds.
Against this economic backdrop, we note that a globally diversified portfolio of equities continues to deliver good value. For portfolio’s not requiring full on risk assets and, with the terminal interest rates starting to appear, our view on long duration bonds has changed from a HOLD to BUY while still acknowledging the utility of the counter correlated hedge funds. Money market funds are now providing higher yields and thus also an attractive option to holding cash on deposit. We also acknowledge the aforementioned liquidity risk as being a significant risk to credit providers and continue to add the counter correlated hedge funds as a risk hedge to diversified portfolios at the lower risk end.

Sources: Central Banks: Federal Reserve, ECB, CBOI, Monthly Market updates from Vanguard, Zurich New Ireland & Bloomberg & Davy Select. All views and details contained are for information purposes only, are subject to change & are not advice. We recommend you seek independent clarification for your particular circumstances. Lifetime Financial Planning makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness nor suitability of any of the information contained within and will not be held liable for any errors, omissions or any losses arising from its use.