Q2 Market Outlook: Five Things to Watch in April

Assessing the road ahead after a turbulent first quarter

The first quarter of the year has ended with major developed market indices down slightly and major emerging market indices up slightly. But those numbers belie a very turbulent period in which stocks were whipsawed. Bonds also experienced gyrations, with the yield on the 10-year US Treasury moving from 2.41% at the start of the quarter to a peak of 2.94% and ending at 2.74%.1 As we begin the second quarter, there are five critical things to watch.

1. Global growth

In my recent travels, one question that keeps coming up is whether recent global stock market weakness is foreshadowing a global economic downturn. My base case scenario is that, while risks are growing, I believe growth accelerates from here. This view is supported by recent economic data for most major economies, as well as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s upward revision to its global growth estimate for 2018. However, we will need to follow economic data closely given the rising risks, which I will discuss below.

2. The dot plot thickens

The March US jobs report will be released April 6 and is expected to show the creation of significant nonfarm payrolls — and it could even show a further reduction in the unemployment rate. But most importantly, I believe it will show an increase in average hourly earnings. That may be a catalyst — especially if supported by subsequent data showing higher wage growth — for the Federal Reserve (Fed) to raise rates more than three times this year. Recall that the Fed released a revised dot plot in March that showed no change to the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) policy prescription for 2018 — but significant changes for 2019. However, I believe that if economic data is strong enough at some point this year, which seems likely, the FOMC will revise that dot plot up to four rate hikes this year. We need to be prepared for markets to react negatively to the adjustment — especially if the yield on the 10-year Treasury remains near recent levels.

3. Debt affordability

As borrowing costs rise, debt is becoming a bigger concern for consumers, businesses and the government. In its most recent Global Financial Stability Report, the International Monetary Fund has warned about the growing debt overhang occurring in different economies.2 The US ran a budget deficit of 3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) last year, which was the highest of any industrialized nation other than Japan, and that deficit is expected to increase this year.3 This only adds to the US’ overall government debt, which was at 78% of GDP in net terms as of Dec. 31, 2017.3 It currently takes a significant 8% of US government revenues to service the US’ outstanding debt, but with debt growing and, more importantly, rates rising, Moody’s estimates that this will increase to a whopping 20.4% by 2027.4 Contributing to the problem is that the average term to maturity on US debt is under six years5 (well below other developed countries such as the UK), meaning that most of the US’ lower-yielding bonds must be exchanged for more expensive debt in the next five to 10 years, further raising future interest costs. This problem is not isolated to the US and may have negative effects on debtholders in any economy raising rates. For example, Canadian homeowners may come under pressure given that they have either adjustable rate mortgages or short-term fixed rate mortgages that must be refinanced in the next decade.

4. Protectionism persists

This past weekend, China announced that retaliatory tariffs on 128 goods constituting about $3 billion in US imports would be implemented starting April 2; many agricultural products will be affected by these tariffs. Also over the weekend, US President Donald Trump once again threatened that the US will walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement, tying the issue to the building of a wall between the US and Mexico. Some economists have downplayed the importance of the tariffs announced thus far; however, I would caution against dismissing them. Protectionist actions could easily multiply quickly as rhetoric amps up. In the meantime, we should follow closely the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index. Interestingly, despite significant deregulation in the past year, economic policy uncertainty has actually increased recently — and I suspect the current protectionist fervor has played a role. Historically we have seen an inverse correlation between economic policy uncertainty and business spending, so we will want to follow this metric — and corporate spending plans — closely.

5. Tech trauma

The technology sector posted poor performance in the last two weeks of March, which helped drag down the overall stock market. This is quite a reversal of fortune, as the tech sector has been a key driver of strong stock market returns in recent years. While I believe tech sector underperformance is likely to continue in the shorter term, I remain positive on the sector as fundamentals remain strong. According to FactSet Research Systems, the technology sector is expected to report the third-highest (year-over-year) earnings growth of all 11 sectors at 22.0% for the first quarter. At the industry level, all seven of the industries in the tech sector are expected to report positive earnings growth, with growth for five of these seven predicted to be in the double digits. And for calendar year 2018, the technology sector is projected to have the second-highest revenue growth of all sectors.6 Admittedly, it is difficult to anticipate what regulations will ultimately look like and therefore how much they will impact revenues. However, I believe that regulations are unlikely to ruin business models and that tech companies are a critical part of the future of the global economy.

Key takeaway

In summary, the Ides of March may be over, but I expect more volatility ahead. We will need to keep our eyes on the key risks to my positive base case scenario for global growth in 2018. In this environment, opportunities to add exposure to risk assets at more attractive values will likely present themselves. At the same time, I believe it’s important to ensure broad diversification, including adequate exposure to alternative strategies with low historical correlations to equities and fixed income.

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1 Source: Bloomberg, L.P.

2 Source: IMF Global Financial Stability Report, October 2017

3 Source: Congressional Budget Office

4 Source: Moody’s Investors Service, “Preeminent Financial, Economic Position Offsets Weakening Government Finances,” February 2018

5 Source: OECD Sovereign Borrowing Outlook 2018

6 Source: FactSet Research Systems, March 30, 2018

Kristina Hooper
Chief Global Market Strategist
Kristina Hooper is the Global Market Strategist at Invesco. She has 21 years of investment industry experience.

Prior to joining Invesco, Ms. Hooper was the US investment strategist at Allianz Global Investors. Prior to Allianz, she held positions at PIMCO Funds, UBS (formerly PaineWebber) and MetLife. She has regularly been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Reuters and other financial news publications. She was featured on the cover of the January 2015 issue of Kiplinger’s magazine, and has appeared regularly on CNBC and Reuters TV.

Ms. Hooper earned a BA degree, cum laude, from Wellesley College; a J.D. from Pace University School of Law, where she was a Trustees’ Merit Scholar; an MBA in finance from New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, where she was a teaching fellow in macroeconomics and organizational behavior; and a master’s degree from the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, where she focused on labor economics.

Ms. Hooper holds the Certified Financial Planner, Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst, Certified Investment Management Analyst and Chartered Financial Consultant designations. She serves on the board of trustees of the Foundation for Financial Planning, which is the pro bono arm of the financial planning industry, and Hour Children.

Important information

Blog header image: Ruben Martinez Barricarte/Shutterstock.com

All investing involves risk, including risk of loss.

Diversification does not guarantee a profit or eliminate the risk of loss.

Alternative products typically hold more non-traditional investments and employ more complex trading strategies, including hedging and leveraging through derivatives, short selling and opportunistic strategies that change with market conditions. Investors considering alternatives should be aware of their unique characteristics and additional risks from the strategies they use. Like all investments, performance will fluctuate. You can lose money.

A value style of investing is subject to the risk that the valuations never improve or that the returns will trail other styles of investing or the overall stock markets.

The Economic Policy Uncertainty Index is calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to measure sentiment about policies that impact the economy.

The Federal Reserve’s “dot plot” is a chart that the central bank uses to illustrate its outlook for the path of interest rates.

The opinions referenced above are those of Kristina Hooper as of April 2, 2018. These comments should not be construed as recommendations, but as an illustration of broader themes. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future results. They involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions; there can be no assurance that actual results will not differ materially from expectations.

This does not constitute a recommendation of any investment strategy or product for a particular investor. Investors should consult a financial advisor/financial consultant before making any investment decisions. Invesco does not provide tax advice. The tax information contained herein is general and is not exhaustive by nature. Federal and state tax laws are complex and constantly changing. Investors should always consult their own legal or tax professional for information concerning their individual situation. The opinions expressed are those of the authors, are based on current market conditions and are subject to change without notice. These opinions may differ from those of other Invesco investment professionals.

All data provided by Invesco unless otherwise noted.

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