Looking back, the recovery in the equities market following in the pandemic induced bear market has been nothing short of staggering helped by unprecedented stimulus and a global vaccine roll-out. Whereas most of the recovery during 2020 was driven by multiple expansion, the rally this year is mainly fueled by earnings upgrades. At the time of writing, most major equity indices are up between 10% and 20% year to date – pretty much mirroring the earnings upgrades we have seen so far this year. Despite the strong performance on an index level, the sentiment has indeed turned a bit more cautious recently.
We see three main drivers for this: the economic growth momentum is peaking in the US, the relatively hawkish Fed comments in May, and the rapid spread of the so-called Delta variant of the covid virus. This recent cautiousness has resulted in outperformance of defensives, bonds and growth stocks – typically benefiting from a “stay-at-home scenario”. In fact, Morgan Stanley’s “stay-at-home” basket of stocks has outperformed their “re-opening” basket by 25% since mid-May. Which leads us to the question: what can we expect from the second half of 2021?
First, we do expect a reversal the most recent pull-back of the “re-opening” stocks. An important catalyst for this will be the realization that the Delta variant is not as threatening to the recovery as initially feared. Even though the variant is spreading quickly, fatalities as largely falling in the regions/countries where it is rampant – especially in the developed world where vaccination rate and population immunity is high. We expect a similar development as when the B.1.1.7 variant hit the market in February leading to stay-at-home stocks outperforming. As the market realized it had overestimated the risk of the B.1.1.7 variant, we saw a rally in yields and value stocks from mid-February to mid-March. This should favor sectors such as Airlines, Hotels, Restaurants, Beverages and Leisure.
Secondly, we expect economic growth to continue to surprise positively as the global re-opening gathers further steam. We see pent up demand from the consumer who is coming out of the crisis with a strong balance sheet and promising job prospects. Corporate capex should rally helped by the unprecedented fiscal stimulus from governments around the world and renewed optimism as the world is normalizing. In addition, corporate cash piles have increased to unprecedented levels following the Covid induced dip. With stronger growth comes higher interest rates and we would not be surprised to see the yield of the US 10 Year treasury approach 2% by year end (currently 1.45%). In this economic scenario we would expect Financials, Cyclicals and Value to outperform Defensives and Growth.
Thirdly, in terms of regional performance, we particularly like Europe. The European growth momentum won’t peak until 2H21 and the region has a relatively high exposure towards the cyclical and value part of the market benefiting from the reflationary environment we are in. Europe will also benefit from the Recovery Fund which is launching this summer. Furthermore, the region is relatively cheap and still under-owned despite decent inflow during the last couple of months.
What are the risks?
The world of investing is as always full of risks that you never even knew about before it hits you, but we would highlight the two most obvious ones. The first one is that a new strain or variant of the covid virus proves resistant to existing vaccines which in turns leads to new lockdowns. The second risk is that the inflation runs much higher for longer leading to central banks stepping harder on the breaks than expected curtailing growth.
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