How Should You Invest Now?

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How Should You Invest Now?

Introduction

Invest – In an era characterized by significant economic shifts and evolving financial landscapes, staying abreast of market trends is crucial for investors. The recent insights from BlackRock and JP Morgan shed light on the dynamic nature of fixed income and equity markets. This article delves into the key takeaways from these reports, providing a comprehensive analysis of the current investment climate and strategic recommendations for navigating these changes effectively.

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The Resurgence of Fixed Income

  • The fixed income market has experienced a notable transformation, primarily driven by the higher-for-longer interest rate environment. According to BlackRock’s commentary, total income has returned to credit markets due to sustained high interest rates. This environment has enhanced the appeal of various bonds, particularly investment grade, mortgage-backed securities, and high yield bonds.
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  • With 86% of global fixed income assets now yielding 4% or more, long-term investors can achieve solid income without assuming excessive risk. This is a significant increase compared to less than 20% yielding 4% or more in the decade leading up to the pandemic.
  • Investors are advised to focus on regions and segments where they are better compensated for risk. For instance, European credit markets are preferred over the U.S., and private credit over public. The resilience of U.S. investment grade companies, which have managed their debt maturities well, further supports the attractiveness of this asset class. Notably, U.S. companies have less than 10% of outstanding debt coming due annually through 2030, reducing the risk of refinancing at higher rates.

Equity Markets: A Tale of Resilience and Caution

  • The equity markets have shown remarkable resilience, with U.S. stocks reaching new all-time highs, driven by decelerating price growth. For example, the U.S. Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) index for May was flat month over month, indicating a slowdown in price growth. However, the looming U.S. payrolls data and ongoing wage pressures warrant close monitoring to gauge future trends. In May, U.S. PCE inflation was reported to be 3.8% year over year, down from a peak of 6.8% in June 2022.
  • Globally, developed market equities have delivered positive returns, with a 2.8% total return over the second quarter of 2024. Moreover these returns were concentrated in larger companies, while rate-sensitive small-cap stocks and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) suffered from confirmation of the higher-for-longer interest rate environment. Conversely, fixed income investors had to endure another quarter of negative returns, with global investment grade bonds delivering negative returns of -1.1%.

Strategic Investment Insights

  • BlackRock’s strategic recommendations underscore the importance of geographic and asset-specific granularity. In the short term, the focus is on equities where expected returns are more attractive than in credit. The preference is for U.S. stocks, particularly those benefiting from the AI theme, and selective opportunities in Europe and Japan. Notably, the MSCI USA Index has shown a year-to-date return of 15%, highlighting the strength of the U.S. equity market.
  • Additionally for fixed income, the emphasis is on short-term bonds, given the increased income cushion provided by the higher rate environment. Investors are advised to be neutral on long-term U.S. Treasuries due to two-way risks and to prefer European over U.S. credit due to tighter spreads in the latter. For instance, the spread on U.S. investment grade credit is near its tightest levels in two decades.

The Role of Private Credit and Emerging Markets

  • Private credit is highlighted as a key area for strategic investment, expected to gain lending share as banks retreat. Despite rising default rates in U.S. direct lending, which have reached 3.5%, the long-term outlook remains positive due to lender flexibility and steady demand for non-bank lending. This trend underscores the growing significance of private markets in the future of finance.
  • Emerging markets (EM) present selective opportunities, particularly in countries like Mexico and India, which are poised to benefit from structural mega forces. However, caution is warranted due to weaker growth trajectories and limited policy stimulus from China. The preference is for EM debt over equity, given the relative value and quality of hard currency debt. For example, EM debt has yielded an average return of 5.2% year-to-date, compared to 3.8% for developed market bonds.

Addressing Inflation and Economic Stability

  • Inflation remains a persistent concern, with services inflation staying above levels consistent with central bank targets. This has led to recalibrated expectations for central bank rate cuts, contributing to the “higher-for-longer” interest rate environment. For instance, the Euro area inflation rate is expected to remain above 3% through 2024, challenging the European Central Bank’s target of 2%. Investors must navigate this landscape by balancing risk and return, focusing on assets that provide compensation for the assumed risks.

Key Takeaways for Investors

  1. Diversify Regionally: Focus on regions where investors are better compensated for risk, such as European over U.S. credit markets. European credit spreads are not as tight relative to the U.S. or to their own historical levels, making them more attractive. For example, the spread on European investment grade credit is currently around 1.5%, compared to 1% in the U.S. Historically, European credit has offered better risk-adjusted returns, making it a strategic choice for investors seeking diversification and stability.
  2. Favor Short-Term Bonds: With the higher-for-longer rate environment, short-term bonds provide an attractive income cushion. The current yields on short-term U.S. Treasuries are around 5%, a significant increase from the near-zero yields seen pre-pandemic. This makes short-term bonds a safer bet for income-focused investors, reducing the need to take on additional risk. For instance, the yield on 2-year U.S. Treasuries has risen from 0.25% in 2020 to 4.75% in 2024, reflecting the new interest rate regime.
  3. Selective Equity Investment: Emphasize sectors and themes with strong growth potential, such as AI in U.S. equities. The MSCI USA Index, reflecting the robust performance of the U.S. equity market, has delivered a notable 15% year-to-date return, underscoring the potential for growth in specific sectors. In comparison, the MSCI Europe Index has returned 10% year-to-date, highlighting regional performance variations. By focusing on high-growth sectors, investors can capture significant upside potential.

Key Takeaways for Investors

  1. Private Credit Opportunities: Leverage the growing role of private credit as banks retreat, despite rising default rates. With U.S. direct lending default rates at 3.5%, the flexibility of lenders and the sustained demand for non-bank lending highlight the attractiveness of this asset class. Historically, private credit has provided higher yields compared to public credit, with current yields averaging around 8%, compared to 4% for public high-yield bonds. This makes private credit a compelling option for yield-seeking investors.
  2. Monitor Inflation Trends: Keep a close watch on inflation metrics and central bank policies to adjust investment strategies accordingly. The Euro area’s persistent inflation above 3% presents challenges and opportunities for strategic investment decisions. Historically, inflationary periods have led to increased volatility in currency markets. For instance, the EUR/USD exchange rate has fluctuated significantly in response to differing inflation expectations and monetary policy adjustments. Monitoring these trends can help investors hedge against currency risks and capitalize on market movements.

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Source:

  1. https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/literature/market-commentary/weekly-investment-commentary-en-us-20240701-leaning-into-income-from-fixed-income.pdf
  2. https://am.jpmorgan.com/content/dam/jpm-am-aem/global/en/insights/market-insights/mi-monthly-market-review.pdf

Other reads:

  1. Are Geopolitical Tensions Creating New Opportunities?
  2. How Central Bank Policies Shape Your Investment Strategy?
  3. How Can Artificial Intelligence Transform Your Portfolio?

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About the Author

Alessandro is a Professional Financial Markets researcher and he loves to share with you the most interesting charts and comments.

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