2012 Global Outlook
Submitted by Rachelle on Mon, 01/09/2012 - 12:54
The domestic economy demonstrated some remarkable resilience in the fourth quarter as GDP continued to expand and the unemployment rate continued to decline. These improvements were all the more impressive in light of the many headwinds this economy faced: European sovereign debt crisis, slowing economies in the emerging markets, a downgrade for our US Treasury debt, and a complete lack of fiscal support due to the ongoing dysfunction in Washington. Imagine the results we could have achieved had one or more of those headwinds been resolved.
We’ve been of the belief for more than two years now that this economic recovery would be one characterized by fits and starts rather than the “new normal” belief that it would simply be low and slow growth. This past year certainly proved that point and we suspect 2012 will do it again. The headwinds facing the economy are real and not likely to go away any time soon. The European Union has announced at least 5 “solutions” to their debt crisis in the past couple years—none of which have actually solved anything. The US downgrade speaks to the mounting debts being assumed by the government—the economy isn’t deleveraging, it’s simply shifting the leverage from households and financial institutions to the federal government. We expect little fiscal support from Washington prior to the November elections as the two parties are clearly at a philosophical impasse.
We expect 2012 to be very similar to 2011. The economy might be able to ride the recent momentum for another quarter, but lacking a resolution to some of these headwinds we suspect the middle quarters will be sluggish. The fourth quarter should see an improvement in growth and employment as the November elections bring renewed hope for the economy.
We expect the Federal Reserve will initiate another round of quantitative easing in the first half of 2012 as economic conditions deteriorate once again. Such an action will have the effect of devaluing the dollar and increasing commodity prices. Offsetting those rising commodity prices will be at least one more year of declines in residential real estate.
Short-term interest rates will remain low for some time. The Federal Reserve has committed to keeping them low until at least mid-2013—we suspect it could be even longer than that. Should the Fed initiate a third round of quantitative easing the intent will be to lower longer-term borrowing rates—as noted above, we expect that to happen in the first half of 2012.
Domestic Equity Markets
If a weak dollar is good for domestic equities then a strengthening dollar is likely to have the opposite effect. While the European sovereign debt contagion may not pose a direct threat to domestic banks and corporations, slowing economic growth in Europe and Asia will definitely impact revenue growth for domestic companies. Overall, corporate earnings have remained strong and should limit the market’s downside risk, but we don’t anticipate the outsized earnings growth that we saw the past couple years. A major positive for the domestic equity market is the amount of money on the sidelines—any significant declines in valuations will likely be met with renewed buying interest.
Domestic Bond Market
We expect interest rates to remain low for some time and if the Federal Reserve initiates another round of quantitative easing longer-term rates could even go lower—that’s a good environment for bonds. Unfortunately, bond yields are already very low and hard to get excited about. Non-traditional fixed income securities such as senior bank loans, convertible bonds and preferred stocks continue to provide the most attractive risk/reward characteristics. Corporate bond yield spreads relative to US Treasury debt remain attractive particularly when one considers the increasing supply of US Treasury debt relative to corporate debt. In our tax-exempt portfolios we continue to emphasize higher quality issuers as declining property values and tax bases are having an adverse effect on many state and local municipalities.
Europe is a mess and we doubt the Continent can avoid a recession. An economic slowdown in Europe will directly impact growth rates for the emerging market economies. Longer-term we expect the emerging markets and the emerging middle class within those markets to drive global growth but the next 6-12 months could be challenging.
Given the Euro Zone’s austerity measures, we believe that deflation poses an even greater risk in the developed international markets than it does in the U.S. In the emerging markets, where the economic growth rates are higher, we would expect that growth to be accompanied by higher inflationary expectations.
We expect the sovereign credit risk issue to remain an investor concern in the months (maybe years) ahead. As we speculated in our last Global Outlook, the bond vigilantes did in fact put upward pressure on bond yields in Italy, Portugal, Spain and even France. Until the European Union has a viable solution to this crisis we can expect to see continued upward pressure on longer-term rates, but we do expect that the austerity measures will eventually serve as an effective counterbalance to that pressure. Based on our outlook for higher inflation rates in the emerging markets, we would expect interest rates in those countries to trend higher. International bonds offer higher yields than comparably rated domestic debt but they are also fraught with greater risks, many of which are difficult to quantify.
The dollar remains the unquestioned global reserve currency. This is particularly evident in times of global turmoil such as we’ve witnessed with each round of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. Until the crisis is resolved we would expect the dollar to strengthen and the Euro to decline. However, if the European Union does finally arrive at a viable solution we would expect the dollar to resume its long-term devaluation trend versus both developed and emerging markets. The U.S. has actively pursued an inflationary monetary stimulus policy whereas the rest of the developed world is pursuing deflationary austerity measures.
For the past two years, as the dollar goes, so go the prices of commodities—except in the opposite direction. Longer-term we believe limited supply and rising global demand will naturally drive prices higher, regardless of how the dollar performs.
Global Equity Markets
We would continue to underweight most developed international markets as the growth prospects in most of those economies remain stagnant. Emerging markets, which have been under pressure for the past year, are beginning to reach attractive valuation levels.
Global Bond Markets
While we remain concerned about the cascading sovereign credit risk crisis, we believe current yield levels offered by some of the non-Euro Zone issuers compensate investors for those risks. Longer term we believe foreign government bonds will outperform U.S. Treasury bonds due to their higher yields and less inflationary central bank policies.
Jim Robinson CEO & CIO—Telemus Capital Partners
Telemus Investment Management, LLC, Telemus Wealth Advisors, LLC, and Beacon Investment Company, LLC, registered investment advisors, are wholly-owned affiliates of Telemus Capital Partners, LLC. Telemus Investment Brokers, LLC, member FINRA and SIPC, is a wholly-owned affiliate of Telemus Capital Partners, LLC
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