As the sun sets on the first quarter of 2016, dovish remarks from officials at the Federal Reserve have buoyed market sentiment, but many investment strategists are expressing a more cautious brand of optimism.
Perhaps the most optimistic commentary comes from Brett Wander, Charles Schwab Investment Management’s CIO of fixed income, who believes that positive job growth, stable numbers in housing and manufacturing and signs of only mild inflation point to a better 2016 than many strategists have anticipated moving into the second quarter.
“I think that the degree of pessimism that we’re seeing in the marketplace isn’t really applicable to the U.S.,” Wander says. “We’re moving in a positive direction. Pessimism is more appropriate in Europe and Japan.”
At BlackRock, Heidi Richardson, head of investment strategy for U.S. iShares, and Tushar Yadava, investment strategist, have written that recent comments by Fed Chair Janet Yellen at the Economic Club of New York provided a boost in equities, commodities and emerging market currencies. But the two strategists cast wary eyes at future rate hikes and a rising dollar.
At Russell Investments, the shifting markets have led to shifting strategies: This quarter, the Seattle-based asset manager said in a report that it is taking a more cautious approach, citing volatility caused by diverging monetary policies and a softening business cycle.
“Our investment strategy process is moving away from 'buy-the-dips' toward 'sell-the-rallies,' though we still see low-single-digit returns globally for 2016," wrote Andrew Pease, Russell Investments’ global head of investment strategy. "With downside risks for equity markets outweighing potential upside scenarios, we expect to maintain a cautious outlook until business conditions improve.”
Omaha, Neb.-based CLS Investments noted in its outlook that the markets are returning to volatility after five years of gains buoyed by accommodative monetary policy where U.S. markets outperformed internationals.
In the second quarter update of its 2016 “Global Market Outlook,” Russell’s strategists downplayed recession concerns, but also reduced their expectations for equity returns from low to mid- single digits at the beginning of the year to just low single digits after seeing “expensive valuations and waning price momentum.” The strategists are now neutral on equities.
Wander believes that recession fears can be put to rest for the near term.
“As we’re seeing more consistent economic data, we’ve also seen a decline in volatility across all markets in the past month,” Wander says. “Even seven weeks ago, when the market was pricing in a recession, the yield curve was flattening and risk assets were underperforming. All of that was in contrast to most of the economic data, which was positive.”