Much has been made of the made of Chancellor George Osborne’s success with austerity and the UK’s eruption back into growth, confounding his critics. However, ‘austerity’ has been more of a publicity exercise. Government spending as percentage of GDP has fallen only slightly, but is still higher than it ever was before the financial crisis.
One of the points we have been emphasizing to clients in recent months is that US small caps are looking increasingly less attractive compared to large caps. Small caps have benefited from excess liquidity and a belief that as the US economy recovers, smaller companies, with their greater domestic focus, are the place to be. Yet price and valuations are making it more and more difficult to justify the trade.
One of the themes we have been tracking in the past 6 months is the slowdown in global money growth and excess liquidity. The focus on the second derivative is important here. The level of growth in liquidity and money growth indicators is decent but the annual growth rate is rolling over.
One of the equity themes we have been highlighting in the recent month is ongoing mismatch between high expectations in Europe relative to lacklustre growth in profitability and growth. European equities are overvalued based on what our models are telling us about earnings and revenue growth this year.
About a month ago, we flagged a buy signal on spot corn for clients. Corn has rallied about 10% since then and more upside is ahead. Corn prices have been a strong downtrend since mid-2012 declining to the same levels seen in 2009-2010 before the rally in 2011. Looking at the technical picture this may now be about to change.
We have seen strong coincident activity in the UK in recent months, helped in part by a government-engineered boost to the housing market, which has lifted consumer spirits and caused retail sales to surge. Our leading indicator anticipated this upturn in the economy, and it continues to see no blots on the horizon (ie over the next 6 to 9 months), although this month it has leveled off slightly rather than continuing to climb.
Small business confidence in the US has improved from the depth of the crisis in 2008/09, but has moved sideways in the past 12 months. A return of confidence to pre-crisis levels has been identified by many as one of the key missing components of the recovery to date. We are getting closer, but it seems that investors need to wait a bit longer.
Many emerging markets were in recession last year and are only slowly emerging. Tight financial conditions and flat to inverted yield curves will make the recovery slow and fraught with risks. Global growth will be lower as a result.
The composite eurozone January flash PMI showed accelerating expansion led by Germany, but the PMI readings are still only showing moderate growth, considerably below the momentum achieved, for example, in the 2009/2010 green-shoots revival. What growth we do see will be low in comparison with earlier times and if real money growth continues to lose momentum, we might even see renewed weakness.
The debate on EM economies (and equities) is heating up. Initially this week, we had the financial world equivalent of the pillory with the widely reported closing of a high profile US hedge fund’s EM fund due to heavy losses in 2013. Solemn nodding followed by EM naysayers suggesting that this is truly a sign of the death-knell of EM as an asset class. The stakes are being raised elsewhere too with the media pitting seasoned investment professionals on both sides of the fence in recent weeks.