As is usually the case after the holidays, inquiring minds turn their attention to how various assets will fare in the coming new year.
To answer this question, Bloomberg recently published a sample of opinions from top portfolio managers and strategists who shared their views on all asset classes heading into the new year. The common theme: stocks will be risky, volatility is back and returns across all asset classes could be "muted" in the new year.
There were some outliers: Jurrien Timmer of Fidelity Investments was the most bullish on stocks. He believes that earnings growth in the United States will slow to 5% to 7% in 2019. He also thinks that the Fed could raise rates once or twice more and that bonds look "alright" in this environment. Starting the year at what he calls a "reasonable" price to earnings ratio, he predicts that stocks may do better than they did in 2018.
"If you add it all up, it’s not a bad story for stocks -- maybe not double-digits, but better,” he said, although Timmer's optimism was certainly in the minority among his peers.
Rob Lovelace of Capital Group has tapped into the recent weakness at Apple as a microcosm of what to watch going into the new year. He believes that device companies that lack product diversity, like Samsung, could be dangerous to own in the new year. He also believes that it is time to be a stock picker instead of buying indices.
Kristina Hooper, the chief global market strategist at Invesco recommends emerging market equities in addition to tech stocks and global dividend paying stocks. She also likes commodities - "especially gold". She believes investors should "sell or decrease" US equities.
Hooper told Bloomberg that her "base case is decelerating but solid growth globally, with the U.S. decelerating as well. I also expect tepid but positive global stock market returns. However, the ‘tails’ are getting fatter as risks, both positive and negative, increase. For example, a quick resolution of the trade war with China could push global growth higher and also push stock market returns higher - especially if the Fed become significantly more dovish. Conversely, an escalation of the trade war with China could put downward pressure on global economic growth and likely push stock markets lower as well - particularly if the Fed is less dovish.”
Meanwhile, PIMCO's Dan Ivascyn believes that volatility will rise and credit spreads will widen – all while the yield curve flattens in the coming year. He believes these are indications of an economic downturn that’s coming within the next two years. He also believes that increasing cash to have powder for new opportunities – like UK financials after they were crushed on Brexit fears - is a good idea.
“We are beginning to see a few select opportunities around credit, but we remain concerned about credit in general,” he said.
PIMCO's nemesis, bond king Jeff Gundlach, suggested simply avoiding United States stocks and corporate debt altogether, as well as steering clear of long term treasuries (just in case there is any wonder he is feuding with Jim Cramer). Gundlach believes that the best bets for 2019 are in high-quality, low duration, low volatility bond funds.
During his December 17 interview on CNBC he stated: “This is a capital preservation environment. Unsexy as this sounds, a short-term, high-quality bond portfolio is probably the best way to go as you head into 2019.”
So sad that appearances on CNBC are now a thing of the past. It was great while it lasted. Blame it on Cramer. We’ll be on Fox Business.— Jeffrey Gundlach (@TruthGundlach) December 21, 2018
Richard Turnill who works for the world's biggest asset manager BlackRock, said that quality should be the focus in equities: look for companies with good cash flow, sustainable growth and clean balance sheets. He also conceded that a slowdown was inevitable, stating: "We see a slowdown in global growth and corporate earnings in 2019 with the U.S. economy entering a late-cycle phase".
Meanwhile, Bill Stromberg of T. Rowe Price believes that emerging markets could be the ticket for 2019. "Emerging market stocks are starting out a lot cheaper and have a higher dividend yield. You could get 8 percent to 10 percent returns over the next 10 years. If the U.S. dollar weakens you could get more as a U.S. investor," he stated.
Joseph Davis of Vanguard Group also says to "expect an economic slowdown". He believes growth in the U.S. will slow to about 2% and he puts his outlook for equities over the next decade in the 3% to 5% range.
The dour sentiment was shared by the CIO of equities and multi-asset strategies at Schwab, Omar Aguilar. He says to sell small cap equities and securities with high debt ratios. Instead, he also suggests emerging markets due to their relative valuations.
“Decelerating global economic growth, increased attention to trade-related development -- particularly with China -- tighter monetary policies, reduced liquidity, and a mean reversion toward historically average volatility levels are likely to set the tone for equity markets in 2019,” Aguilar said.
The one underlying theme here is that these picks are far less bullish across all asset classes heading into the new year than they were not only at the beginning of the year, but headed into most years during the past decade, which is to be expected at the tail end of the longest bull market on record. While many of these asset managers can sometimes "miss the boat" and their analysis can occasionally be backward looking in nature, the ubiquity of their widespread concern seems to mark a significant sentiment shift heading into the new year.