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Best ideas across asset classes
Asset class outlooks
- Our best equity ideas have been consistent for some time: Dividend-growers tend to be high-quality companies that offer strong free cash flow levels, solid profit margins and consistent income.
- We also favor U.S. public infrastructure, which can potentially withstand slower economic growth.
Our primary equity investment theme is reducing broad cyclical exposures and focusing on high-quality companies with strong fundamentals and free cash flows that may be better positioned to withstand an economic deceleration. Market gains have primarily come through improved corporate earnings in the second half of 2023, resulting in more compressed valuations. As such, despite select opportunities across global equity markets, we are retaining an overall neutral rating.
Due to valuation compression, we’re slightly less positive toward U.S. large caps than we were last quarter. Within this area, we’re focused on dividend growers and high-quality growth areas, chiefly in technology sectors such as software and semiconductors. And as we spelled out in our portfolio construction themes, we favor public real estate and public infrastructure equities.
Geographically, we continue to favor the U.S. over other developed markets. U.S. corporate earnings appear to be further along the road to recovery, and the U.S. offers better defensive characteristics in the face of a potential global economic slowdown. Within emerging markets, we are wary toward China given shaky growth prospects, but we see value in Brazil (favorable rates and inflation backdrop) and in Mexico, which is benefiting from the near-shoring trend. More broadly, we expect dollar strength to be less of a headwind for emerging markets next year, but also believe geopolitical risks could act as a headwind.
Regarding private equity, we see more value and opportunities, and anticipate rising deal volume over the coming quarters.
- Our highest conviction themes center around a flexible and diversified multi-sector approach, with a view toward modestly extending duration and focusing on higher-quality credits.
- For municipal bonds, we particularly favor the high yield area, which offers compelling yields and appears attractively valued.
Fixed income markets overall appear attractive. Inflation is easing across developed markets, and we believe the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank have finished their rate hiking cycles. We don’t expect near-term rate cuts, but believe bond yields should move modestly lower throughout 2024. Fixed income markets should perform well in such an environment. And even if rates remain elevated, current yields offer compelling income.
The increase in bond yields and continued tight credit spreads across most areas of the global fixed income market have created value. As discussed in our portfolio construction views, we are mostly focused on higher credit quality segments. We anticipate wider credit spreads in the first part of 2024, and at that point, it might make sense to take on more credit risk.
We have been advocating for some time a focus on flexibility and diversification across credit sectors, as we see solid (if idiosyncratic) opportunities across global fixed income markets. Given our expectation for modest spread widening, we have an overall neutral view toward investment grade and high yield markets (in which we favor the higher credit quality areas). Valuations look fair in emerging markets debt, but geopolitical risks could create headwinds.
We favor securitized credit. Non-agency mortgage-backed securities look especially attractive, as they offer relatively wide credit spreads. We also think prepayment risks are relatively low, given that rates are unlikely to decline rapidly. We also see value in commercial mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities. Furthermore, higher-quality (BB rated) senior loans offer strong fundamentals and, as a floating-rate asset class, look compelling in a higher-for-longer short-term rate environment.
Municipal bonds feature strong fundamentals (solid credit ratings and high levels of cash) and attractive supply/ demand dynamics. We also believe their longer-duration profile should be a tailwind given our views on rates. We see significant opportunities in taxable municipals for non-U.S. investors (despite some higher hedging costs) and are focused on the high yield and specialty- and property-tax-backed areas of the taxable market.
As detailed earlier, we remain constructive toward private credit markets, especially if we only experience a shallow or mild recession in 2024.
- In addition to the above, we remain focused on global cities experiencing growing, educated and diverse populations with a particular focus on the health care, industrial and housing sectors.
Private real estate markets have been under pressure for some time. But the good news is that we continue to see opportunities in real estate debt and believe real estate equity is in a bottoming process. Outside much of the office sector, real estate fundamentals have remained healthy. We expect the negative technical factors of limited liquidity and constrained deal flow to fade in the coming quarters, and we are encouraged by growing buyer interest in what should be a more stable rate environment.
Real estate debt looks more attractive than real estate equity, especially given that we expect a more stable (and, eventually, a lower) interest rate environment. The industrial and housing debt markets look particularly attractive.
We favor U.S. medical offices and global senior housing facilities, especially in the U.S. and Japan. Medical offices enjoy low vacancy rates, and both sectors face a restrained supply pipeline of new properties. Likewise, both should benefit from an aging global population.
Public & private real assets
- In public markets, our best idea in infrastructure is waste management companies, which provide an essential service and have high cash flows; in real estate, we favor senior housing, shopping centers and industrial sectors, which enjoy strong fundamentals and tailwinds from demographics and changing consumer preferences.
- In private markets, we continue to focus on investments that align with climate transition, such as clean energy and renewable fuel sources, as well as strong global demand for protein and healthy foods.
As detailed in our portfolio construction themes, public REITs represent a worthy area of focus. Valuations are attractive, fundamentals are solid and this area of the market is well positioned for a more stable rate environment. Specific areas of focus for us include senior housing, industrial, shopping center and gaming REITs.
We find public infrastructure compelling, as it should benefit from still-elevated inflation and interest rates. Additionally, the essential-service nature of these companies should provide a tailwind amid slowing growth. We see the best opportunities in areas enjoying strong revenue growth (pipelines, waste, freight rail and European integrated utilities) and those benefiting from post-Covid reopening, such as Japanese passenger rail and airports.
Private infrastructure should benefit from similar policy and business sector tailwinds as public infrastructure. But this area could see modest valuation headwinds from narrowing bid-ask spreads into 2024 (although that trend should also create more compelling opportunities to new buyers). Within the private space, our main areas of focus continue to be on energy transition investments, including solar investments in Korea and the U.S. We also see opportunities in data storage and connectivity investments that could capitalize on the growing trend of digitization and AI.
Lastly, farmland is an area of continued focus within real assets. This asset class tends to be much less affected by macroeconomic trends and can provide diversified sources of portfolio returns. In particular, we see compelling opportunities in U.S. row crops, which are experiencing high demand relative to supply available.
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All investments carry a certain degree of risk and there is no assurance that an investment will provide positive performance over any period of time. Equity investing involves risk. Investments are also subject to political, currency and regulatory risks. These risks may be magnified in emerging markets. Diversification is a technique to help reduce risk. There is no guarantee that diversification will protect against a loss of income. Investing in municipal bonds involves risks such as interest rate risk, credit risk and market risk, including the possible loss of principal. The value of the portfolio will fluctuate based on the value of the underlying securities. There are special risks associated with investments in high yield bonds, hedging activities and the potential use of leverage. Portfolios that include lower rated municipal bonds, commonly referred to as “high yield” or “junk” bonds, which are considered to be speculative, the credit and investment risk is heightened for the portfolio. Credit ratings are subject to change. AAA, AA, A, and BBB are investment grade ratings; BB, B, CCC/CC/C and D are below-investment grade ratings. As an asset class, real assets are less developed, more illiquid, and less transparent compared to traditional asset classes. Investments will be subject to risks generally associated with the ownership of real estate-related assets and foreign investing, including changes in economic conditions, currency values, environmental risks, the cost of and ability to obtain insurance, and risks related to leasing of properties. Investors should be aware that alternative investments including private equity and private debt are speculative, subject to substantial risks including the risks associated with limited liquidity, the use of leverage, short sales and concentrated investments and may involve complex tax structures and investment strategies. Alternative investments may be illiquid, there may be no liquid secondary market or ready purchasers for such securities, they may not be required to provide periodic pricing or valuation information to investors, there may be delays in distributing tax information to investors, they are not subject to the same regulatory requirements as other types of pooled investment vehicles, and they may be subject to high fees and expenses, which will reduce profits. Alternative investments are not appropriate for all investors and should not constitute an entire investment program. Investors may lose all or substantially all of the capital invested. The historical returns achieved by alternative asset vehicles is not a prediction of future performance or a guarantee of future results, and there can be no assurance that comparable returns will be achieved by any strategy. Impact investing and/or Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) managers may take into consideration factors beyond traditional financial information to select securities, which could result in relative investment performance deviating from other strategies or broad market benchmarks, depending on whether such sectors or investments are in or out of favor in the market.
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