Politics: Elections Prompt Markets To Pause
With 2020 being a year of elections across the world culminating in the November 2020 U.S. general election, investors should consider that investment returns are likely to be muted until the electoral tea leaves are read. That said, Laidlaw expects positive investment returns will most likely be realized as a “relief rally” in the back half of 2020. Relative to the U.S. Presidential contest, while the expected candidates in the general election are Donald Trump (GOP) facing Michael Bloomberg (Democratic), it is important to note that there is high level of uncertainty as there are thoughts the Democratic Party at its July 2020 convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin might have its first “brokered” convention in years. Meanwhile, impeachment, trade policy, technology sector regulation, health care reform, and Supreme Court vacancies are expected to result in a contentious campaign culminating in an election with high levels of voter turn-out. Interesting to note, 2020 will be the first U.S. election in which the “Baby Boomer” generation is no longer the majority of the electorate as “Millenials” move to the fore.
Macro-economy: Tariff Wars, “Brexit”, & Iran Are Wild Cards
The global macro-economy is likely subdued as major events such as the U.S.-China trade tariff confrontation and the distinct possibility of a hard “Brexit” by the U.K. from the E.U. remain unresolved. Note that the inclination of the current U.S. Administration to withdraw from long-standing multilateral agreements in favor of more inefficient bilateral trade arrangements is likely to leave open the possibility of increased trade tensions with the E.U., something that may result in ECB monetary policy moving away from continued experimentation with negative interest rates. In terms of exogenous shock, Laidlaw believes an increase in oil prices to the $75/barrel level is possible depending on OPEC production cut-backs and the possibility of conflict with Iran limiting Persian Gulf shipments through the Strait of Hormuz. With this as back-drop, GDP growth is expected as follows: U.S. +1.5%, E.U. +1.0%, and World +2.5%.
Markets: Equities +7% Due To Buybacks & “TINA”, Interest Rates Edge Lower
The fixed income markets in 2019 called the tune as the shift in E.U. interest rates towards negative prompted the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut interest rates three times thereby supporting equities during a period when earnings contracted and capital investment spending stagnated under the uncertainty associated with the U.S.-China trade tariff confrontation. For 2020, Laidlaw has a 3,400 level target for the S&P500, a +7% total return from current levels. Equities benefit from a return to corporate earnings growth supporting stock buy-back activity coupled with low interest rates leaving investors in the position of “there is no alternative” to equities. While no further Fed interest cuts are thought to be in the offing, the estimated -0.6% impact to U.S. GDP growth from Boeing halting 737 Max production may change that view. The U.S. Treasury 10-year rate now at 1.92% is expected to contract to 1.25-1.50% over the course of 2020 as the global macro-economy slows.
Sectors: Tech Sees Regulation Risk Limit Potential, Election May Benefit Healthcare Prospects
While investors have built wealth since the 2009 Recession by taking an over-weight position in large-cap U.S. Tech, the increasing risk of greater regulation may serve to depress profit margins for names such as Alphabet and Facebook and in the process limit the sector’s appreciation potential. While the yield curve has steepened off the August 2019 lows, a development that has favored Financial sector shares, Laidlaw expects the macro-economy’s uncertainties to slow and eventually limit further curve steepening. Meanwhile, the possibility of “Amazonization” is rising in the Financial sector as Tech names are speculated to be considering potentially disruptive moves such Apple acquiring an asset manager. That said, Laidlaw views the Healthcare sector as offering an attractive combination of growth and valuation that has the potential to improve should the 2020 election better define its return potential.