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Our investment professionals share and challenge each other’s views, creating a diverse marketplace of ideas for the Wellington Blog.

As China’s role on the world stage continues to loom larger, many investors are contemplating whether to separate the country from the rest of their emerging markets (EM) equity allocation. Most arguments for such separation are based on China’s fast-growing weight in broad EM equity benchmarks, but it’s not necessarily that simple. Let’s take a closer look.

The answer? It depends

We believe the key decision point here should not be China’s dominance of the EM indices, but rather, the extent to which a stand-alone China equity allocation can be viewed as similar (or dissimilar) to an EM ex-China equity allocation. If they are, in effect, more or less the “same thing,” then the relative size of one to the other will likely make…

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Samouilhan_Nick
Nick Samouilhan
PhD, CFA, FRM
Multi-Asset Strategist
Singapore
Cara Lafond
Cara Lafond
CFA
Multi-Asset Strategist
Boston
Adam Berger
Adam Berger
CFA
Multi-Asset Strategist
Boston

Question: Could rising “short-termism” actually provide an alpha opportunity for longer-term-oriented equity investors? Ironically, yes in my view. Let’s look at today’s financial technology (fintech) sector as an illustrative example.

Froth in fintech IPOs

I’m concerned about growing froth in the fintech initial public offering (IPO) market because much of the recent activity there signals that investors are continuing to take on more and more risk in pursuit of hoped-for near-term rewards. Here are some behaviors that, to me, highlight the potential for…

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Matt Ross
CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston

With US stocks notching record highs this year, significantly outperforming their Japanese counterparts, the spread between the two equity markets’ valuations has widened meaningfully in recent months (Figure 1).

Why the performance dispersion? Japan’s relatively slower COVID vaccine rollout and the disappointing lack of economic support provided by the (previously) much-anticipated Summer Olympics have clearly weighed on market sentiment of late, but equity investors’ apathy toward Japan actually dates back several years. One might even say that it has become entrenched.

The good news? The valuation gaps between Japan equity and its global peers have arguably reached…

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Jun Oh
Equity Portfolio Manager
Hong Kong

The recently announced intended merger of two key financial technology (fintech) players will be the second-largest deal ever in the global payments sector. Here’s my latest perspective on the broader implications of this major acquisition and the related investment opportunity in the fast-growing “buy now, pay later (BNPL)” space, which I believe has now reached an inflection point in its young storyline.

A changing industry landscape

Given the size of the total addressable market (TAM) for global payments, I’d say fintech companies have been little more than a thorn in the sides of the old guard thus far, but I think that’s poised to change. Indeed, I believe the recent blockbuster transaction noted above may have…

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Matt Lipton
CFA
Portfolio Manager
Palm Beach, FL

US utilities stocks have trailed the broader equity market by a wide margin so far in 2021, having just posted their poorest first-half relative performance since 1997. In fact, the underperformance has become chronic: The sector has now lagged the market by roughly 40% over the past three years – its worst multiyear stretch going back to the tech bubble of the late 1990s.

Neither I nor any other member of the utilities team here has seen anything like this during our careers. So what gives? Utilities were neither COVID “winners” nor “losers” in 2020. And then the US stock market’s persistent “seesawing” between the value and growth styles has left utilities out of this year’s market gains. Increased inflation and fears of higher interest rates have also hurt the group to some degree in recent months.

But there is a silver lining. In the wake of their underperformance, US utilities have been trading at a big discount to…

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Juanjuan Niska
Juanjuan Niska
CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston, MA

Broadly speaking, at least in the US and other developed markets, the COVID-19 picture has improved tremendously over the past year or so. In early to mid-2020, the global pandemic was at its fiercest, ravaging nearly every corner of the world in swift, frightening fashion. Infection rates and death tolls were rising rapidly, many economies were locked down and at a virtual standstill, and progress toward safe, effective vaccines was slow and halting at best. There was still much we still didn’t know about our deadly foe.

Fast forward to July 2021: Multiple vaccines have been approved for use and successfully administered to millions of people worldwide this year, bringing the global case-count, hospitalization, and fatality numbers down dramatically. Many economies have fully or mostly reopened and are growing at a strong clip as they rebound from the COVID shock. In short, despite some ongoing trouble spots, the developed world is on a path to recovery from the unprecedented health and economic crisis.

But not all of the news is good. The pandemic continues to wreak havoc in many emerging markets. And even in developed markets, it has experienced somewhat of a resurgence of late, as the so-called “Delta variant” — a dangerous mutation of the virus that causes COVID-19 — has spread across the world, having been found in more than 80 countries since…

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Wen Shi
PhD, CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston, MA

Two recent developments — the accelerating focus on ESG and more aggressive policy interventions — could well change the way we invest in years to come. My perspective is that of a fixed income manager, but I believe these developments will impact all asset classes.

ESG focus

A growing societal and market focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues has kickstarted a reallocation of capital, which creates new opportunities and risks for fixed income and other investors.

  • Higher inflation

In my view, the increased focus on ESG may contribute to higher inflation, at least in the short-to-medium term. Implementing environmental considerations, for instance, while desirable from a societal perspective, may involve short-term cost adjustments. This seems particularly relevant in the context of…

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Marc Piccuirro
Marc Piccuirro
CFA
Fixed Income Portfolio Manager

Many investors are increasingly seeking to protect their portfolios from the looming threat of higher inflation. Against this uncertain backdrop, I believe collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) can provide one source of refuge given their floating-rate coupons (yields), which would rise as short-term interest rates moved higher. Attractive current income relative to other credit assets and broadly positive CLO fundamentals further bolster my conviction in this often-overlooked asset class.

Where I stand on the inflation debate

Core US inflation spiked sharply in April and May 2021. For the three-month period ended in May, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 8.3% annualized, the biggest gain since the early 1980s. This has naturally exacerbated recent inflation concerns, raising questions around whether higher inflation will be transitory or more sustained. US interest rates have risen amid expectations for higher inflation, resulting in negative total returns year-to-date (through 31 May) for many fixed income sectors, especially longer-dated fixed-rate assets.

My take: While some of today’s inflationary pressures may indeed be short-lived, particularly within…

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Alyssa Irving
Alyssa Irving
Fixed Income Portfolio Manager
Boston

The November 2020 election of US President Biden and a Democrat-led Congress rekindled many health care investors’ fears of sweeping drug-price reform that could be an albatross around the neck of the pharmaceutical industry. So far in 2021, there has been some legislative movement by Congressional Democrats to address drug pricing, but little more than lip service in terms of support from the Biden administration. For now anyway, it seems that other pressing matters — battling the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting the US economy, and improving the nation’s infrastructure — have kept the administration from pushing for drug-cost legislation.

Of course, that could change going forward. Or perhaps not. In the meantime, the market does not like the ongoing uncertainty around the fate of US drug prices, which has recently pressured many pharmaceutical stocks and may continue to do so (not unlike the struggles of HMO and health care services stocks when Obamacare was in progress). Here’s my latest take on the risk facing the industry in the form of three possible scenarios to consider, including the…

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Wen Shi
PhD, CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston, MA

In my recent blog post, I outlined why I believe large-scale public payment processors will maintain compelling long-term growth rates even as fintech disruptors take market share. I think that share will largely come at the expense of banks instead. Banks are still the largest players in the payments market, and their 50% – 60% market share is the easiest target for these fintech companies. In addition, in my view, many banks have weak product offerings and a lack of strategic focus in this space that results in a large amount of payments volume sitting in the weakest hands in the industry. This transition may also benefit scale processors if banks look to partner with them to maintain share. We are seeing this begin to play out in Europe, but I expect the trend to continue, if not accelerate, across most geographies.

Despite this long-term growth potential, some investors have wondered why these scale processors’ performance has recently lagged that of cyclical recovery stocks. The main reason is that these stocks have never acted as a cyclical element of portfolio construction in the past and therefore aren’t viewed that way by the market.

These scale processors are now being compared to peers that have had drastically different experiences in the pandemic due to distinct business models. The stocks that have underperformed have generally been impacted by…

THEMES
Matt Ross
CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston
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Every quarter, the Wisdom of Wellington team surveys around 100 of our Wellington colleagues across different investment disciplines and locations to get their views on what we see as the key macro questions of the day. The results can pinpoint where the firm’s views differ from the consensus and can also reveal important shifts in our collective thinking.

In January’s survey, we asked which risks the market was most complacent about. This quarter, we followed up by asking respondents to rank which upside risks the market should be focusing on (Figure 1). The number two upside risk was the potential release of pent-up savings amassed during the pandemic, which has already been the subject of widespread comment. But the top-ranked upside risk — of a structural boom in capital expenditure (capex) — has attracted far less comment. Many of our macro thinkers believe that the market is underestimating the potential for a lasting increase in capex fueled by investment in green initiatives and infrastructure…

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Benjamin Cooper
Ben Cooper
CFA
Multi-Asset Strategist
London

The US Federal Reserve’s (Fed’s) message on inflation is clear: Higher domestic inflation is likely in the period ahead, but it should be “temporary” in nature. This begs several questions, among them: What exactly does “temporary” mean? Which price increases, if any, could be longer lasting? And if higher inflation proves to be “stickier” than anticipated, how should investors position their portfolios?

The Fed’s latest forecast is for the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to rise to 2.6% this year (which it already hit in March), before settling back down to just over 2% in 2022 and 2023. Likewise, market expectations (as observed in recent “breakeven” inflation rates) are for US inflation to pick up in the near term and then come down longer term. Yet I am hearing from some of my analyst colleagues that many areas of the economy are facing stubborn supply shortages and upward price pressures, including freight, semiconductors, housing, raw materials, and labor.

Thus, in my view, the risk is that higher inflation may have a longer-than-expected “tail” before…

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Nanette Abuhoff Jacobson
Nanette Abuhoff Jacobson
Global Investment and Multi-Asset Strategist
Boston

Over the past few years, easy monetary policy worldwide hasn’t been enough to fully revive global economic growth. It has, however, helped to catalyze a strong equity rally, concentrated in a fairly small number of stocks — many of them technology and e-commerce businesses — that have been able to consistently “outgrow” the sluggish global economy. This rally has been aided by the advent of growth-focused ETFs, index funds, and smart beta products, along with (more recently) the US day-trading phenomenon that has accelerated amid COVID-19.

But we think the world is starting to change. Driven by unprecedented levels of monetary and fiscal stimulus in response to COVID-19, the economic growth outlook is improving. Commodity and interest-rate markets are grappling with…

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Naveen Venkataramani
Naveen Venkataramani
Equity Research Analyst
Singapore
Namit Nayegandhi
Namit Nayegandhi
Equity Research Analyst
Singapore

With front-end US interest rates flirting with the zero mark recently, the question of how to manage cash investments in a world of ultralow or even negative yields has been top of mind these days. So I’d like to share my latest thoughts, from an investment treasurer’s standpoint, on how investors with cash positions might navigate this challenging landscape.

Nothing special about ultralow or negative rates

The decline in yields over the past year or so has had a meaningful impact on the search for incremental alpha, particularly in the cash and short-duration space. Many institutional clients need or want to put languishing cash balances to work in an effort to…

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Jeff Saul
Jeff Saul
Manager, Investment Treasury & Investment Implementation, EMEA
London

Since January 2021, many investors have come around to the view that the US appears poised for a strong rebound in economic growth, driven by fiscal stimulus, vaccine administration, and economic reopenings. Meanwhile, bottlenecks in global supply chains have made it more challenging to meet increased demand for goods and services, causing input costs to rise across a number of industries.

Taken together, these developments have led to mounting inflation expectations and upward movements in interest rates. Year to date through 12 April 2021, the 10-year US Treasury yield has risen 75 basis points (bps) to 1.67%. The spread between the fed funds rate and the US 10-year Treasury note, a general proxy for yield-curve steepness, is also up meaningfully.

I believe the risk of further rises in inflation expectations and interest rates is not yet fully priced into markets. There are steps fixed income investors can take now to manage this growing risk to their portfolios. One way to do so may be via allocations to higher-income, shorter-duration assets such as floating-rate loans (FRLs).

The “duration rotation” is underway

In today’s low-yield world, a steepening yield curve can have a material negative impact on…

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Dave Marshak headshot
David Marshak
Fixed Income Portfolio Manager
Boston

I’m often asked lately: Why are you so bullish on emerging markets (EM) equities these days? What makes the story so compelling, and what’s driving it? Let’s take a look, and while we’re at it, I’ll share my latest thoughts on China’s burgeoning A-share market. 

A flood of liquidity, a sprinkle of taper

I believe the broad opportunity set in EM equities is particularly attractive today, fueled in part by the unprecedented amount of liquidity in global markets. China’s was the first EM central bank to begin tightening monetary policy. In the US, real interest rates moved unexpectedly higher recently, which has led to some market tension within EMs between prospects for stronger global growth and whether or not higher real rates will persist. Brazil and Russia are also…

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Jamie Rice
Jamie Rice
CFA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston

In my last blog post, I shared some high-level thoughts on the financial technology (“fintech”) industry and what its increasing relevance means for traditional financial services. Beyond the fast-growing digital payments space, I identified two broad categories of fintech “disruptors” that will present opportunities going forward:

  1. Infrastructure companies that use modern technology to solve business and technology orchestrations that have historically been executed by banks; and
  2. Product companies that leverage these new infrastructure providers to rethink traditional financial services products and develop more effective solutions.

How legacy financial services players (particularly banks) tap into the new infrastructure providers and respond to…

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Matt Ross
CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston

More than two months into the Biden administration, some important contours of the post-Trump approach to US-China relations have begun to crystallize.

The president’s foreign policy team is coming together (including key positions for US-China policy), US military strategy is becoming clearer, and supply-chain management is a growing area of concern. Meanwhile, government reports released earlier this month — on artificial intelligence, trade policy, and national security priorities — have helped to better define the administration’s thinking on…

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Thomas Mucha
Thomas Mucha
Geopolitical Strategist
Boston

Inflation has become a top-of-mind topic for clients in recent months, with many exploring ways to position for potentially higher inflation in the period ahead. However, after a decade of “disinflation,” we believe the investment community continues to anchor to the prior regime and to some stubborn misconceptions around inflation hedging. Here are five that could prove costly if, in fact, inflation does rise.

Misconception #1: You can wait to allocate to inflation hedges until we have higher inflation.

Reality: Timing when to buy inflation-related assets is just as difficult as trying to “market time” any other type of investment. That’s why investors are advised to hold strategically diversifying assets like stocks and bonds and, in our view, should also own inflation-sensitive assets as a long-term, strategic portfolio allocation. As with any asset, the fundamentals are…

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Nick Petrucelli
Nick Petrucelli
CFA
Portfolio Manager
Boston
David Chang
CFA
Commodities Portfolio Manager
Boston

The relative performance of the managed care industry has struggled somewhat over the past several months, begging the question: What’s the prognosis from here? Following in-line fourth-quarter 2020 earnings releases and conservative 2021 outlooks from most managed care organizations (MCOs), the short answer is: Probably better than many investors think.

Most MCOs have been sounding the same theme around forward guidance lately, citing an array of opposing forces amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, no two MCOs are exactly alike. The magnitude of the headwinds and tailwinds in each case depends on company-specific factors, including the MCO’s mix of exposures (i.e., commercial, Medicare, Medicaid).

However, I believe many of the headwinds facing the group are likely to be…

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David Khtikian
David Khtikian
CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston
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