Portfolio Intelligence podcast: have bank fears upended the investment outlook?
Bank failures and federal interventions injected more uncertainty into financial markets as the first quarter of 2023 wound down. Co-Chief Investment Strategists Emily R. Roland, CIMA, and Matthew D. Miskin, CFA, join podcast host John P. Bryson to discuss prospects for any further escalation of bank risks, the government’s capacity to deal with such scenarios, and the potential impact on equities and fixed income.
Emily and Matt also assess the latest economic numbers, which appear to show a divergence between services and manufacturing. Finally, they explore whether the U.S. Federal Reserve’s latest interest-rate increase might lead to a pause or a reversal of the rate hiking cycle, with potentially big implications for fixed-income investors.
“The big question for us is, ‘We just did a number of different initiatives, or backstops, here, but are there going to be more?’ We've already used a lot of money in stimulus since the pandemic, the cost of paying our interest—or the interest we're paying on the debt—is now very, very significant. We've chosen to use a lot to stop a bank run here, but if we need more, is there a potential for taxpayers to be on the hook? So I think those are all sort of the things that we're watching.”
—Emily R. Roland, CIMA, Co-Chief Investment Strategist, John Hancock Investment Management
About the Portfolio Intelligence podcast
The Portfolio Intelligence podcast features interviews with asset allocation experts, portfolio construction specialists, and investment veterans from across John Hancock’s multimanager network. Hosted by John P. Bryson, head of investment consulting at John Hancock Investment Management, the dynamic discussion explores ideas advisors can use today to build their business while helping their clients pursue better investment outcomes.
Read the transcript
Hello, and welcome to the Portfolio Intelligence podcast. I'm your host, John Bryson, head of investment consulting and education savings here at John Hancock Investment Management. Today is March 27, 2023, and with all the market volatility and the banking system challenges we've seen recently, it's a great time to have back popular guests, Emily Roland and Matt Miskin, our co-chief investment strategists here at John Hancock Investment Management. As a reminder, Emily and Matt are the architects behind our popular quarterly capital markets outlook piece titled Market Intelligence. Emily, Matt, welcome.
Thanks for having us.
Yeah, thanks for having us, John.
Emily, I'm going to start with you. Can you give us a recap? I mean, we've got a shifting landscape, but a recap of where we stand with the current banking system challenges we're facing?
Yeah, John, it sounds like an easy question to recap what's gone on in the last couple of weeks, but it has been a lot in the space of a short amount of time. We've seen the biggest failure of a U.S. bank since the global financial crisis. We've seen some other regional lenders seeing solvency issues, a major European bank being acquired, and really all of this turmoil sort of ratcheting up fears of potential contagion, prompting a widespread action from the Fed, from the Treasury, even the private sector in the U.S. And it still remains to be seen whether it's going to be enough to contain the damage. And I think one of the most notable elements of this is how much has been spent in Washington to shore up the banking system in the US. We've seen, for example, the Fed's balance sheet expanding by nearly $300 billion. And again, that's not QE, but it's cash that's being used to help provide liquidity to banks.
And of course, the Fed has been, in an effort to try to reduce the size of their balance sheet and the that's now reversing. And the Fed is now incorporating the banking crisis in their thinking as it relates to monetary policy. Jay Powell said to us recently that these tighter lending standards that we're seeing now from the banks is equivalent to another quarter point rate hike. So what's happening now again, is that we're sort of watching the dust settle. We're not really seeing any major signs of contagion at this point. We look at things like how banks are doing overseas and we're continuing to see out-performance from European banks versus US banks. But again, still could potentially see some more sort of proverbial shoes to drop here.
And the big question for us is, ‘We just did a number of different initiatives, or backstops, here, but are there going to be more?’ We've already used a lot of money in stimulus since the pandemic, the cost of paying our interest—or the interest we're paying on the debt—is now very, very significant. ‘We've chosen to use a lot to stop a bank run here, but if we need more, is there a potential for taxpayers to be on the hook?’ So I think those are all sort of things that we're watching. And we haven't actually experienced the recession in the US yet, and we've already used a lot, I think. So we're going to need to make some pretty tough decisions here and potentially not always see this more is more approach here out of Washington. So that's really the key dynamic that we're watching right now is the willingness of policymakers to continue to backstop the banking system.
And I want to dig into a couple of things that you mentioned. Before I do, Matt, I want to stick with the banks that are in the headlines recently over the last few weeks. Silicon Valley Bank, Silvergate, Credit Suisse, et cetera. Is there a common theme running through some of these companies that we need to be aware of?
You look at some of these and for example, Silicon Valley Bank, I mean the ratios of capital two deposits were not really adequate. And even that, it wasn't actually a creditor issue for Silicon Valley Bank. It was actually how they managed risk at the corporate level. They basically did not hedge their interest rate risk properly. So that's just a poor decision on their part. And unfortunately it roiled through markets, and it is probably going to have some bigger issues in terms of what the ramifications of this is. So the FDIC insurance cost is probably going to go up for banks and they're probably going to pass that on to consumers, and that very well could lower the interest rates that are available at the banks.
I think the other examples that you have. There's a little bit more of a cryptocurrency angle to them, which is also a thread that can increase risks across the banking system. But it's hard to see this actually on an across-the-board basis. Their banks are not what they were in 2008 in terms of leverage. Most are very well capitalized, but when you get a couple of bad apples that come out because there's been a big move in interest rates and cost of capital, it's usually the weakest links that go first. I think in our view, these were the weakest links. But for now we still want to look for those companies that have better balance sheets, better capital ratios, better interest coverage, things like that. And that's really what we're looking at is opportunities, whether it's financials or broader markets today.
Okay. Now Emily, going back to you, you mentioned there could be more shoes to drop. If this does linger and turns into something bigger, what kind of impact does that have on your outlook for growth?
Yeah, so John, our broad outlook for growth is that we are in a decelerating economic growth environment and that a recession is likely to unfold in 2023. And if this issue expands or we see some more contagion, that could potentially accelerate the timeline for that. But I think when we look at the economic data as of the last couple of months and some of the preliminary data for March, it was pretty strong. We're seeing the services side of the economy do a lot more of the heavy lifting, so manufacturing here, very likely in recession, but services still holding up. So we haven't actually really experienced the full cycle yet. We're likely to see weakness in the labor market coming. We're likely to see corporate margins compress as revenue growth slows, as the cost of capital remains elevated. So importantly, the sort of lagged impact of Fed tightening really starting to impact margins for corporations and then we'll likely see more of a repricing in risk assets.
So I think for us, again, banking issues potentially pull that timeline forward. But we need to be patient here. We need to watch some of the components of this cycle play out. Again, margin compression, unemployment going up, before we can call the all clear that we're starting a new economic cycle. And before we can switch to more of an early cycle playbook. The good news is we will get there, but the bad news is that there's likely some more pain here in terms of economic growth before we can start to add more risk to portfolios and kind of declare that a new cycle is beginning.
Okay. So, hey Matt, I want to pivot to the Fed here a little bit. We know they've been trying to fight inflation. They've raised the Fed fund's rate 25 basis points last week. They're kind of in a really challenging spot between managing this banking crisis and fighting inflation. What's the network's view on where we go from here with the Fed?
Yeah, so I think the general consensus of asset managers, broker dealers is that they're going to try to hold on to the current rate hikes that are already embedded. So we're at a 5% Fed funds rate. The view is higher for longer is kind of the view. When I look at the bond market though, the bond market's not endorsing that message. And frankly, the Fed thinks that they're going to have rates at about 5% for the rest of the year as well. The bond market is saying that they're going to start cutting in July and that they're going to cut four times. The two year Treasury yield has plummeted below the Fed funds rate. It is now 3.70 or 3.80, 3.8%. The Fed fund's rate, higher end of the target is five. That is very unusual to see the two year Treasury yield be so low relative to the Fed funds rate.
The 2-year Treasury yield has been rising significantly over the last year because that was basically saying the Fed's going to raise rates more, the Fed's going to raise rates more. Now it's flashing a totally different signal. It's telling the Fed, you're going to be cutting. And so our view is that maybe the Fed does one more hike if that, and then actually they're going to be done for the cycle. And what we've done in terms of analysis is we've looked at the 10-year Treasury yield relative to the Fed funds rate, and the 10-year Treasury yield usually peaks out before the Fed funds rate peaks out for the cycle. And we did get north of 4% on the 10-year Treasury yield twice over the last three months or so, three or four months. And we saw really that was bought in terms of how much investors came into that and then pushed yields down.
But we would look at backups in high-quality bond yields opportunistically, because if the fed's done, that's usually a signal that high quality bonds are an opportunity. And then when they start cutting, that's when duration really becomes a tailwind. I think we might have a little bit of time before that because inflation's still sticky, but if the economic stress from the banking system spills over more broadly, then they'll be cutting sooner. So we'd rather position for that today, we think there's value in the high quality bond market today, and that's one of the best opportunities we see in markets.
Okay. So Emily, thinking about this through the equity lens, over the last 10 years, we've relied a lot on the Fed coming in and helping us out when things got rocky. With the Fed's most recent hike, with the challenges they face, is that something the equity market can count on? How do we need to think that through?
Yeah, sure. So I mean, Matt covered a lot of this, but the kind of idea behind that the Fed put is sort of this belief that the Fed will step in to rescue the markets, essentially if prices fall or if there's some kind of liquidity event. And I think that's exactly what markets are already pricing in, as Matt mentioned, in terms of the cuts over the remainder of 2023. And I think there is this idea out there that markets or risk assets may sort of celebrate once the Fed starts cutting interest rates, because obviously financial conditions will loosen, the cost of capital will start to go down. But there is a process behind that. And in fact, typically when we look at periods where the Fed is starting to cut, it's because there is something bad happening. And we do tend to see more volatility in the equity market during those periods.
So we can't really see markets putting in a bottom until the yield curve completely un-inverts. And we've got ways to go there, and we start to see a period in which the economic data basically gets less bad, for lack of a better technical term there. So again, there's some things that need to happen in order for equities to see that relief, and there's a process that needs to play out here. And this is really a key reason that we think emphasizing higher-quality assets in portfolios, more defensive assets, sort of minimizing our exposure to companies that are at risk of solvency issues that have too much leverage are all the types of themes that we're running with in our asset allocation recommendations today, given our view that we're in a late-cycle environment, given a view that recession is likely to play out. There are ways to position portfolios for this type of environment. And that's really what we're focused on in Market Intelligence.
Okay, great. And Matt, maybe I'll just ask one more question because you and Emily have already started to talk about longer-term planning and how to position the portfolio. You're both talking to advisors on a regular basis. Just give me your kind of high level thoughts on how to take advantage of any opportunities that are created for the long term.
Yeah, I mean, bonds, in terms of their income potential, they're still yielding 4% to 6% on investment-grade bonds. And when we look cross asset at return potential, equities just aren't as at attractively valued as they once were for a long-term investor. We still are looking at almost double-digit returns on a trailing 5- and 10-year basis on the S&P 500. Yeah, we're looking nearly 12% annualized for 10 years, and on 5 years it's 11% annualized. And bonds, they had a tough year last year, no doubt, but it sets up reversion of mean opportunity, where those returns could actually snap back in a portfolio and provide that yield, which is 4% to 6% with about one quarter of the volatility of equities.
So when we're talking to advisors, those and more institutional investors, frankly, have looked at equities as there was no alternative. It was you needed stocks because you didn't have any income in bonds. Well, that math has changed, and the conversation we're having a lot with institutional investors and financial advisors alike is just saying that part of the portfolio, that fixed-income side, may be warranting a bigger allocation here because on a risk adjusted return basis as a long-term investor, it's looking very competitive. And so those are the discussions we're having. You don't want to do that overnight. You don't want to change investment objectives with investors by any means, but being thoughtful and potentially leaning into the bond market after such a tough year last year and the yield potential there makes a lot of sense to us for those that have longer-term time horizons.
Excellent. And Emily, anything you'd add to Matt's comments?
I think you nailed it. I think it's about being patient. It's about looking at bonds, it's doing a bit more work in portfolios this year. After kind of experiencing the worst year for bonds in history last year, it's encouraging to us to seeing flows coming back into areas like core bonds. We think that that's an appropriate way to position portfolios as well as, again, those more defensive and higher-quality parts of the equity market. We will start a new cycle. There will be a time to add risk in portfolios. We're just not quite there yet.
Matt, Emily, as always, thanks for sharing your insight. Folks, if you're not following Matt and Emily on LinkedIn or on Twitter, you should. They're all over this. They're always posting updates as to what's going on in the markets. They'll keep you informed. Folks, if you want to hear more, please subscribe to the Portfolio Intelligence podcast on iTunes or visit our website, jhinvestments.com, to catch up on all the market information that we have available to share with you. As always, thanks for listening to the show.
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Quantitative easing (QE) is a monetary policy in which a central bank purchases government debt or other fixed-income securities in an effort to lower interest rates, increase the money supply, and stimulate economic growth.