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Investment Traffic Lights

Our tactical and strategic view

General market overview

After a burst of volatility in the first quarter of 2018, financial markets settled down in April, despite a flurry of breaking news stories from and about the White House, including news on trade policies. If fully implemented, new U.S. tariffs and related measures might well have a negative impact on share prices, but investors seemed to take the news in stride, believing that a full-blown trade war would be avoided. At the same time, markets also had to contend with the corporate reporting season. Although many companies managed to surpass earnings expectations, their stocks were still punished. That was true across a wide variety of sectors. Among the victims was one of the leading U.S. construction-equipment manufacturers, whose quarterly figures were at first applauded by the market but whose stocks slipped sharply when its top management told analysts during a teleconference that the first quarter could have marked the peak of the current year. Some investors swiftly extended this notion to the overall market, fearing that this might be as good as things are likely to get and that the cyclical peak has already been reached. Looking at the usual pattern of missing and beating consensus forecasts, the U.S. reporting season was very positive – roughly 80% of all companies beat the forecasts (the best result since 2010), and have done so by an average of 8.9% (twice the historic average) # , whereas the reporting season in Europe was rather neutral. Partly, this reflected currency effects, i.e. the strong euro in the first quarter, which dragged down earnings of many European exporters. In Japan as well, a strong currency (in this case the strong yen) was blamed for the very conservative corporate outlooks in the first quarter. However, annual consensus forecasts were not really corrected downwards in the wake of the reporting season, which is somewhat unusual. But there were no upwards corrections either.

This divergence in reported earnings might have been expected to give the U.S. stock market a renewed boost compared to those of other developed markets. Instead, European and Japanese stocks performed so well in April that they almost managed to catch up with the U.S. stock market. This means that all major stock markets have more or less returned to their levels seen at the beginning of 2018.

Investors in currencies, fixed income and commodities definitely experienced a more exciting April. Although sharp rises were rather sporadic, even smaller increases enabled some asset classes to break long-term records. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield thus managed to surpass the 3% mark for the first time since the turn from 2013 to 2014. As the 2-year yield has simultaneously risen to 2.5% for the first time since 2008, the yield curve (10-year minus 2-year) flattened to 43 basis points , its lowest level since 2007. You have to go even further back in history to find a match of another indicator: The yield spread of 10-year U.S. Treasuries and Bunds, which rose to almost 2.4%, a level last seen in 1989. Even the dollar could no longer withstand these movements. Although it had traded in a very tight range vs. the euro since February, the dollar broke out to the upside of this band in the last week of April.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the path of oil prices. OPEC has managed to restrict supply so that today, oil prices are almost three times as high as at their low in early 2016.

Outlook and changes

How do these April developments impact our outlook? In particular, how will the confluence of political developments, corporate profitability, and economic activity affect the markets? Let’s start with the economy. We assume that growth was only temporarily constrained in the first quarter and will soon gain steam, starting with a strong second quarter. First-quarter performance should be considered an even less reliable guide for 2018 economic growth than usual, because of, guess what, the weather. In 2018, we saw unusual weather patterns in both the United States and Europe, including heavy snow hitting London. Whether the weather was good or bad is in the eye of the beholder – this justification should no longer concern all that many investors anyway. Two reasons which without any doubt weakened performance in Europe were fewer working days than in the previous year and an extraordinarily severe wave of influenza.

We continue to hold a positive view on equities. The reporting season has been overall encouraging so that we feel quite comfortable with our forecasts: Earnings growth of roughly 10% in Europe and between 15% and 20% in the United States and in emerging markets. In our view, equities in the United States and in Europe are more likely to move up rather than down by 5% in the near term. We have downgraded Japan to neutral for the time being, since corporates tended to communicate very cautiously during the reporting season and the political situation of Prime Minister Abe remains opaque. Europe and the emerging markets appear to be more attractively valued than the United States. However, trade disputes remain the elephant in the room, and decisions will be taken in May that could decide whether the elephant makes itself more comfortable or starts withdrawing again.

We have made no changes at a sector level but do acknowledge that the picture has brightened for several defensive segments, such as utilities, where we nevertheless keep an underweight. Although energy continues to appear particularly suited as a hedge against geopolitical tensions, the current cash-flow generation is not really convincing. Our downgrade of the materials sector last month has been proven right – particularly metals and mining are burdened by weaker demand from China. This sector risks being additionally impaired if a strengthening dollar starts to put further downward pressure on prices. Consumer demand has remained rather strong in the first four months, however with sharply diverging trends. Although non-cyclical consumer stocks underlined their defensive qualities on weaker market days again, they are still struggling. For this reason, we favor cyclical consumer stocks.

One of our most important changes is upgrading the dollar vs. the euro to positive. Apart from fundamental reasons for strategically favoring the dollar – especially the record level of the yield spread between U.S. and German government bonds mentioned above – the picture has also turned more interesting from a tactical viewpoint.

As already mentioned, many rates only made minor moves in April, but nevertheless managed to break some long-term records. While we cannot ignore these moves, we do not feel compelled to change our strategic forecasts. We still believe in a moderate rate cycle that will peak at levels way below those seen in previous cycle peaks. We therefore stay neutral on U.S. Treasury yields. We upgrade 10-year UK and 30-year German government bonds to neutral, after their yields rallied during April. We turn more positive on emerging-market bonds, as in our view the repricing has gone far enough to compensate for trade-related risks.

Past performance of major financial assets

Total return of major financial assets year-to-date and past month

Sources: Bloomberg Finance L.P., Deutsche Asset Management Investment GmbH as of 5/2/18

Tactical and strategic signals

Equities*

  1 to 3 months (relative to the MSCI AC World) until March 2019

Regions

United States

Europe

Eurozone

Germany

Switzerland

United Kingdom (UK)

Emerging markets

Asia ex Japan

Japan

Latin America

Sectors

Consumer staples

Healthcare

Telecommunications

Utilities

Consumer discretionary

Energy

Financials

Industrials

Information technology

Materials

Real estate

Style

Small and mid cap

Fixed Income*

  1 to 3 months until March 2019

Rates

U.S. Treasuries (2-year)

U.S. Treasuries (10-year)

U.S. Treasuries (30-year)

UK Gilts (10-year)

Italy (10-year)1

Spain (10-year)1

German Bunds (2-year)

German Bunds (10-year)

German Bunds (30-year)

Japanese government bonds (2-year)

Japanese government bonds (10-year)

Corporates

U.S. investment grade

U.S. high yield

Euro investment grade1

Euro high yield1

Asia credit

Emerging-market credit

Securitized / specialties

Covered bonds1

U.S. municipal bonds

U.S. mortgage-backed securities

Currencies

EUR vs. USD

USD vs. JPY

EUR vs. GBP

GBP vs. USD

USD vs. CNY

Emerging markets

Emerging-market sovereigns

Alternatives*

  1 to 3 months until March 2019

Infrastructure

Commodities

Real estate (listed)

Real estate (non-listed) APAC

Real estate (non-listed) Europe

Real estate (non-listed) United States

Hedge funds

Comments regarding our tactical and strategic view

Tactical view:

  • The focus of our tactical view for fixed income is on trends in bond prices, not yields.

  • The tactical view for equities is based on our relative view of the region/sector vs. the MSCI AC World Index. A red signal therefore doesn't mean that we expect a negative total return but rather that we expect other regions/sectors to perform better.

Strategic view:

  • The focus of our strategic view for sovereign bonds is on yields, not trends in bond prices.

  • For corporates and securitized/specialties bonds, the arrows depict the respective option-adjusted spread.

  • For bonds not denominated in euros, the illustration depicts the spread in comparison with U.S. Treasuries. For bonds denominated in euros, the illustration depicts the spread in comparison with German Bunds.

  • For emerging-market sovereign bonds, the illustration depicts the spread in comparison with U.S. Treasuries.

  • Both spread and yield trends influence the bond value. Investors who aim to profit only from spread trends should hedge against changing interest rates.

Key

The tactical view (one to three months):

  • Positive view

  • Neutral view

  • Negative view

  • A circled traffic light indicates that there is a commentary on the topic.

  • The traffic lights’ history is shown in the small graphs.

The strategic view up to March 2019

Equity indices, exchange rates and alternative investments:

The arrows signal whether we expect to see an upward trend , a sideways trend or a downward trend .

The arrows’ colors illustrate the return opportunities for long-only investors.

  • Positive return potential for long-only investors

  • Limited return opportunity as well as downside risk

  • Negative return potential for long-only investors

Fixed Income:

For sovereign bonds, denotes rising yields, unchanged yields and falling yields.For corporates, securitized/specialties and emerging-market bonds, the arrows depict the option-adjusted spread over U.S. Treasuries: depicts a rising spread, a sideways trend and a falling spread.

The arrows’ colors illustrate the return opportunities for long-only investors.

  • Positive return potential for long-only investors

  • Limited return opportunity as well as downside risk

  • Negative return potential for long-only investors

Footnotes:

* as of 4/30/18

1 Spread over German Bunds in basis points

2 These traffic-light indicators are only meaningful for existing private-equity portfolios

ref-1

Data as of April 27, 2018 when about roughly half of the S&P 500 corporations had reported their figures

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