Why investors shouldn’t be seduced into caution

HSBC GAM global chief strategist says move to cash ultimately proved costly as he gives his 2020 outlook

Why investors shouldn’t be seduced into caution

The big lesson for investors in 2019 was not to be automatically seduced into a cautious strategy. In an age of uncertainty, going to cash at the start of the year felt safe and sensible but ultimately proved costly.

Joseph Little, global chief strategist for HSBC Global Asset Management, said there remains many political and economic unknowns and unprecedented macro situations playing out. The big question is how intensely these issues play out again in 2020.

He said: “As investors, we need to be vigilant. There are a number of big, unresolved issues and a sequence of other key political events that could play out adversely - or perhaps better than expected - for the macro economy and financial markets.”

He added: “Our baseline scenario for 2020 is relatively favourable. We anticipate slow and steady growth, low inflation, accommodative policy and single digit profit growth. In our view, a recession seems like more of an issue for 2021, or even beyond.”

The last 18 months have been characterised by US macro outperformance but Little warned that next year, HSBC expects a small reversal of that trend and some growth convergence. With the boost from tax cuts fading in the US, uncertainty related to trade policy appears to be weighing on investment, and labour market indicators are moderating. However, policy easing and robust consumer finances should prevent growth dropping below trend.

With US core inflation remaining below 2%, he believes it’s likely to converge to target only gradually. He added: “The Fed’s primary concern is that inflation may continue to undershoot its target. That means that while policy is on hold for now, rate hikes are more likely than rate cuts, but our assumption is that we’ll see one further cut next year. “

Asia leading EM recovery
Since Q1 2019, growth in China has recovered somewhat and any further pick-up is likely to be gradual given that headwinds from trade uncertainty are likely to persist and policy easing has been relatively modest.

Little said that, despite this, policy makers stand ready to provide further support if needed, limiting the chances of a renewed slowdown.

Meanwhile, the bottoming of growth in China has coincided with tentative signs of stabilisation in other emerging markets (EMs). Asian EMs in particular appears to be recovering.

“With only modest Chinese growth and trend-like US growth, it is unlikely that EMs will experience a strong upturn, but the recent improvements in the Asian technology and trade cycles bode well for near-term growth momentum.

“With US policy set to remain mildly accommodative, no obvious trigger for a rapid appreciation of the US dollar, and with muted local EM inflation pressures, the conditions appear to be in place for reasonable EM macro performance in 2020.”

Pro-risk asset allocation
HSBC remains pro-risk in its asset allocation heading into 2020. It believes market pricing remains attractive for some riskier asset classes such as European and EM equities, and for parts of fixed income where rate duration is not very high and yields are attractive, such as Asian credit.

However, Little warned that investors have to be realistic about the kinds of returns that are achievable.

He said: “Downside risks such as a global growth recession look more remote at this point, but prevailing uncertainty limits the upside that we can expect from our strategy.

“As we move into 2020, we advocate smart diversification. Government bonds have had an extraordinary return profile over the past couple of years and have been incredibly successful hedges for global equity risks. But the forces that have supported bonds so far may be gradually beginning to reverse. That suggests the asset class may be a less reliable diversifier going forward than it has been in the past.

“As asset allocators, we need to adapt to that change. The key to success in the ‘age of uncertainty’ will be to continue to be dynamic in how we build our asset allocation.”

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