They discuss how the current environment is affecting different asset classes and unpack their monetary policy expectations for the next 12 to 18 months. Finally, the strategists discuss bright spots in the global economy and their latest thinking on portfolio positioning.
“We think the dollar will strengthen here as the U.S. interest rates are much higher than the rest of the world. The U.S. economy looks to be holding up the best in the world, so we're focusing on mid- and large-cap U.S. stocks with a quality bias there.”—Matthew D. Miskin, CFA, 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 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.
This podcast is being brought to you by John Hancock Investment Management Distributors, LLC, member FINRA, SIPC. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speaker, are subject to change as market and other conditions warrant, and do not constitute investment advice or a recommendation regarding any specific product or security. There is no guarantee that any investment strategy discussed will be successful or achieve any particular level of results. Any economic or market performance information is historical and is not indicative of future results, and no forecasts are guaranteed. Investing involves risks, including the potential loss of principal.
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 September 25, 2023, and the markets are getting jittery. So, I invited Emily Roland and Matt Miskin, our co-chief investment strategists here at John Hancock Investment Management to the podcast to talk about what's going on. Hello, Matt and Emily.
Hey John. Thanks for having us.
Yes, thanks John.
Hey, glad to have you. Hey Matt, I'm going to start with you. Like I mentioned, volatility's picking up in the markets. Can you walk us through what's going on?
Yeah, so we're moving away from the Goldilocks backdrop that we had been seeing for much of the last 12 months, and the economy almost looks like it's reaccelerating here. Initial jobless claims have fallen lower. We've seen retail sales hold up pretty well. Some of the manufacturing side of the economy has ticked up a bit, and that has caused treasury yields to really rise. And treasury yields are tied to higher mortgage rates. They're tied to higher borrowing costs for companies and consumers. And the Federal Reserve didn't really help last week in painting this picture that they want to push back on the economy reaccelerating.
So as Powell kind of said, we might do another rate hike before year-end and actually do less cuts next year. That Goldilocks narrative has been really put to the backseat. And so there's been a spillover in treasury yield volatility that's gone into equities, gone into the currency market, the dollar's strengthened, and that's weighing on risk assets more broadly. But we are starting to see defensive parts of the market hold up a bit better. There's a bit of a sector rotation going on within equities. There's still pockets of opportunity, but frankly across asset right now, it's a challenging September, which often does happen. So we'll have to see as we get through the month how things go.
Very good. So Emily, Matt had mentioned this spillover and with the Fed hiking rates and the fear of more rates hikes coming, I can understand the impact on fixed income, but the spillover of what the Fed is doing is impacting equities. We're still seeing strong US growth, we're seeing slow inflation, but the spillovers hurting equities. Can you talk to us about why?
Yeah, it's really all about the backup and rates that Matt described. We've seen the 10-year treasury yield rise significantly. We're now above those levels from last October, and it's really about the cost of capital becoming incredibly restrictive. Whether that's for consumers, so mortgage rates, 30 year fixed rates are hovering now around 8% nationally. Auto loans are the highest in history. The U.S. housing market is the least affordable it's been in U.S. history today. So clearly seeing a challenge to consumers based on higher rates, and that's also going to impact corporate profitability. So as the cost of capital goes up, as you see demand starting to slow, inflation was great for corporate profits. Matt mentioned inflationary pressures subsiding. We see revenue growth coming off record levels and as the cycle continues and that causes margins to compress, as companies deal with margin pressure, they have to cut costs and eventually that'll likely show up in the labor market with the unemployment rate going higher from here.
So I think really it's about the restrictive cost of capital, sort of how that's going to impact everything from consumer spending to the labor market to corporate profitability, probably impacting earnings going forward from here, we're probably going to see some contraction in earnings growth here. And so we don't know yet what that restrictive rate ends up being until something, we see a meaningful potential liquidity event across markets. We're not there yet, but I think that's what markets are reacting to. And finally, we know that Fed policy does work with long and variable lags. We're just 18 months into this and I think it's important to remember that interest rates were zero 18 months ago, and I think all of that is starting to sort of catch up to investors, catch up to markets, and potentially going to bite from here on out.
Thanks Emily. So Matt, coming back to the Fed, I know you and Emily spend your time forecasting where markets and economies are going the next 12 to 18 months. What are your expectations for the Fed in that timeframe?
So they basically try to pencil in one more rate hike for the rest of the cycle, and they're trying to do it before year-end. I don't think at that point it does much. Even Powell said, macro wise, I don't think it does much. But the key for them is just if they see this reacceleration in the economy, they don't want that to bring back inflation with it and take away all the progress they've made on inflation to this point. But after that, I mean, even the bond market right now, frankly isn't pricing in that next rate hike. So even though the Fed says things, a lot of times they get it wrong just like the rest of us, John. They thought that inflation wasn't a big deal in 2021. At that point, they forecasted a couple more rate hikes, and we've come a long way. I mean, we're now at five and a half on the Fed funds rate, so you got to take their forecast with a truckload of salt more than a pinch.
And I think in the bond market right now, the bond market saying we're done and we're still going to look for cuts in the second half. But to us it's about timing and the more that rates go up now, that's going to bring forward the tightening and the bond market's kind of doing the Fed's job right now. The Fed wants to see tightening, wants to slow down this economy to bring down inflation. And when the ten-year had fallen to about three and change, that actually was a form of easing, that helped bring down mortgage rates, that helped re-accelerate the housing market and now you're not seeing that.
So for us, we think the Fed is basically done. They're going to try to hold as long as they can. If there's a liquidity event though, and then all of a sudden the unemployment rate rises, they'll change their tune very quickly. And for us, you don't want to put too much emphasis on that forecast. You just want to position for high quality income and think about a one three-year type return horizon. And we look at that pretty favorably at these numbers.
Very good. We'll come back to that about other opportunities we're seeing. Hey Emily, I just want to pivot a little bit globally, we've talked a lot about the U.S. economy and things going on here. But other economies around the world are slowing. We're seeing that in some of the PMI numbers. Are there any bright spots globally we should be looking at?
Yeah, I mean if you look pretty broadly, we look at business surveys or PMIs and what we're seeing is pretty sluggish growth. It's not necessarily falling off a cliff right now, but we're slowly seeing a deceleration in global economic growth. If we look, we recently received preliminary PMIs for the month of September. We saw a modest improvement on the manufacturing side here in the U.S., 48.9, up from 47.9. So anything above 50 means the economy's in expansion, below 50 means contraction. So we're clearly in contractionary territory, but perking up a little bit. We talked earlier about sort of growth, seeing a modest re-acceleration here, but we look across the world, Australia, Japan, Eurozone all ticking down. We saw Japan with the weakest numbers since February.
The services side though is really holding up the overall economy. We're still in expansion there. The U.S. is at 50.5. We just slipped down a little bit, but still above 50 at 50.2, modest improvement in the Eurozone, but still below 50, UK falling. So kind of all over the place choppiness. But again, a slow deceleration in those PMIs that we're watching really closely here. I would say that the U.S. is sort of the proverbial cleanest shirt in the dirty laundry right now, still slowing, but the U.S. holding it a little bit better than the rest of the world, which is one sort of key reason for our modest preference for U.S. over international equities.
And I would conclude by just saying there's a little challenge to the Fed's job here because we're seeing policymakers in other parts of the world, namely in China and Japan, actually stimulating. So Japan continues to implement yield curve control, which is a form of fiscal, or not fiscal, but monetary stimulus. And we're also seeing headlines every day around Chinese policymakers doing all sorts of forms of stimulus there. So just really trying to sort of help those markets. So that's a reason that we've seen some pockets of strength from a market perspective. Chinese stimulus, interestingly, helping European equities and then Japanese equities of the best performers here year to date again, based on that divergence in monetary policy. We'll have to see how far that can go, but something to keep an eye on here as we close out the year.
Okay. And Matt, you had mentioned high quality fixed income, and Emily, you had mentioned a preference for U.S. equities over international. Matt, can you give us overall positioning? How are you advising investors to position their portfolio as we head into the fourth quarter?
Yeah, it really hasn't changed much in terms of our perspective. We still believe we're in a late cycle environment that is choppy and challenging, but what we're leaning into is higher quality stocks. We are underweight the non-profitable smaller cap stocks. So what we found within small caps, 45% are not profitable. So we're underweight small. You can use an active strategy to find higher quality businesses that are profitable in small caps, but we have to take the indices when we do this analysis. And so we are underweight small cap. We are leaning into the dollar. We think the dollar will strengthen here as the U.S. interest rates are much higher than the rest of the world. The U.S. economy looks to be holding up the best in the world, so we're focusing on mid and large cap U.S. stocks with a quality bias there.
We are modestly underweight, non-U.S. stocks, there's just more cyclicality to them, and frankly, the economies just aren't as strong. And then on the fixed income side, even though high yield and floating rate have held in exceptionally well, given all the other macro risks, to us they look expensive. So we're looking at municipals, mortgage-backed securities, investment grade corporates. They're trading at 85 cents on the dollar. They're yielding the highest in 15 years, and right now no one wants them because it's just been the trend as of late. But we see a lot of value there. So we're always looking for opportunities.
Again, on the equity side, we do have a defensive tilt to some of the sector calls we have, but right now we're being patient. We're looking for things to go on sale. We're starting to see that a little bit, but we want to wait and really wait for that on sale sign to be bright and center, front and center, and then we'll be looking to take advantage of more opportunities likely in the next six months.
Well, Matt, the Fall is yard sales season, so maybe we'll have a yard sale opportunity coming up at some point in the future.
There you go.
That you can advantage of. Hey, last thing I'll say, Matt and Emily, you both are the architects behind our quarterly capital markets outlook piece, Market Intelligence. I imagine there's a new one coming up early in October. Is that a fair statement?
All right. And then folks, if you're looking to get more up to speed information, Matt and Emily also have a weekly video that is posted on LinkedIn. You can find Emily at @emilyrroland, and you can find Matt at @matthew_miskin. Matt, Emily, thanks so much for being here today.
Folks, if you want to hear more, please subscribe to the Portfolio Intelligence podcast on wherever you subscribe to your favorite podcast, or you can visit our website jhinvestments.com to read up on our viewpoints on macro trends, portfolio construction opportunities, business building ideas, and much, much more. As always, thanks for listening to the show.