Rising populism and stagnant economic growth are creating a profound change in the macro landscape. We saw the initial tremors in 2016 with Brexit and the US election. In 2017, we expect the new US administration to drive seismic shifts, with many implications for equity investors.
- We believe the macro environment is shifting from low growth to pro-growth. We expect more aggressive fiscal and pro-business policy, which could lead to stronger US and global growth. Improved business sentiment could reignite corporate “animal spirits,” economist John Maynard Keynes’ term for the confidence and willingness to invest that are essential for economic growth.
- Pro-growth policy could help extend the equity bull market. Stronger economic growth could support revenue-driven earnings growth in the US. Higher interest rates and inflation are likely to follow. We think equities can continue to do well in that environment as long as the underlying driver is healthy economic growth.
- We believe changing policy and recent equity market reaction could result in modestly positive equity returns in 2017, with higher dispersion. Cyclical, valueoriented and small-cap stocks have outperformed following the election, reflecting investor anticipation of a more pro-growth environment. Further share price appreciation may be moderate because earnings growth is likely to materialize later in 2017 and 2018. As US policy details become clearer, we expect higher volatility and increased differentiation in individual equities as investors assess the impact on specific companies and industries.
- This backdrop increases the potential for alpha and its importance to total returns. We believe active managers have more opportunities to generate alpha through stock selection when the dispersion of returns is higher and correlations are lower. Alpha can contribute more meaningfully to portfolio performance when equity market returns are modest, as we are expecting for 2017.
- The dynamic macro and policy environment affects our views across regions and sectors. We are more positive on the outlook for US earnings, but acknowledge that US equity valuations are high. Our continued neutral view on Europe balances the potential benefits from stronger global growth with political risks in the region. We are more positive on Japan, in light of the potential for a weak yen and rising inflation. Emerging markets (EM) continue to offer alpha opportunities and portfolio diversification but we note the near-term macro risks from rising interest rates, increasing protectionism and a strong dollar. Bank stocks could be among the biggest winners as they benefit from rising interest rates, lower taxes and an abatement of regulatory headwinds. We remain positive on infrastructure assets, especially relative to bonds, but we think the “builders” of infrastructure, such as engineering, construction and basic material companies, are now fully priced.