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

Japan has experienced deflation for much of the past 30 years (Figure 1). That’s the general consensus, so why my titular question? Because what Japan has not had over the past three decades is the sort of broad wage-service deflation that is most feared by economists. Instead, I would characterise Japan’s deflation as having been mostly idiosyncratic in nature.

Figure 1

Is Japan's deflation cycle at the end?

Deflation was mostly idiosyncratic

Japan’s protracted battle with deflation was largely attributable to specific dynamics, including the country’s botched policy response to its 1980s asset-price bubble, whose collapse in 1991 ushered in Japan’s so-called “lost decade” — a period of economic stagnation that lasted until 2001. In addition, I believe the massive…

MACRO
THEMES
Paul Cavey
Paul Cavey
Macro Strategist
Hong Kong

Factor investing – tilting a portfolio toward securities that have certain attributes (e.g., attractive value, quality, momentum, etc.) – has become widely accepted and practiced in the world of equities. Within fixed income, it is in a more nascent stage.

However, we believe that applying a factor-based investing framework can lead to valuable insights into what is driving performance in different sectors of the bond market. Even more important, it may allow investors to better position their portfolios to take advantage of…

MARKETS
THEMES
Brendan Fludder
CFA
Research Manager
Boston
Samuel Steere
CFA
Investment Director
Boston

When I think of “old school” emerging markets (EMs), I think of Mexico. What started out as an exercise to determine if Mexico could be a “Biden trade” soon turned into my belief that some Mexican equities could perform well going forward regardless of the election outcome.

Mexico is not a “COVID reopening” trade, in my view, because President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) neither locked the country down aggressively amid the pandemic, nor took any bold steps to stimulate the market. In fact, by not pursuing deficit spending in response to COVID, Mexico’s balance sheet may hold up better than most EMs’ heading into 2021.

More to the point for investors, some Mexican companies appear to be pivoting toward…

MARKETS
THEMES
Jamie Rice
Jamie Rice
CFA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston

1. When might a COVID vaccine become available?

In light of the recent positive news on the COVID vaccine front, it is possible that a vaccine could be authorized for use in the US as early as late 2020. Additional vaccines could be authorized or approved during the first quarter of 2021.

The logistics of vaccine distribution will be daunting. Under Operation Warp Speed, vaccine developers have already been manufacturing vaccine inventory at some risk, in anticipation of favorable efficacy and safety data. Nevertheless, the immediate demand will likely far exceed the initial supply.

Priority will be given to high-risk health care workers and first responders; then to people of all ages with comorbid conditions that put them at elevated risk of poor outcomes, along with older adults living in crowded circumstances; then to all adults over age 65; and so on. It’s likely to be well into 2021 before everyone in the US can be offered a vaccine.

2. What’s the prognosis for those infected?

It’s a moving target and depends on several factors, including the underlying health and age of the patient, the ever-improving medical knowledge of optimal case management, and the availability of medications active against the virus.

The observed death rate from COVID-19 has dropped considerably since the pandemic first reached the US and now stands at…

CORONAVIRUS
THEMES
Bob Deresiewicz
Bob Deresiewicz
MD
Global Industry Analyst
Boston
Wen Shi
PhD, CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston, MA

The US Federal Reserve’s (Fed’s) recent adjustments to its monetary policy framework are impactful for short-term investor returns, affirming our expectation that short-end interest rates will likely remain at or near zero for at least the foreseeable future. This brings short investors back to the dilemma many knew all too well post-2008: With most deposits and money market funds earning next to nothing in yield, how should I invest my liquid and reserve assets?

For clients’ second-tier cash bucket (reserves or excess liquidity), here are three suggestions to modestly increase income without adding significant risk.

1. Increase duration flexibility for excess reserves

Money market funds are governed by strict rules that limit the investable universe. There has also been a surge of inflows into money markets (Figure 1), further suppressing potential income from assets meeting the money market criteria. Thus, we believe expanding one’s opportunity set beyond the traditional money market rules — while still remaining on the short end — may…

MARKETS
THEMES
Caroline Casavant
Caroline Casavant
Investment Analyst
Boston
Andrew Bayerl
Andrew Bayerl
CFA, CAIA
Investment Director
Boston

Citing consumer welfare and competition concerns, a rising chorus of voices is calling for more government regulation of the most dominant players in the US technology sector. As recently as late 2019, the co-founder of one household tech name even opined that government should step in and regulate the tech giants. The sector’s perceived impact on the upcoming national elections has helped fuel what some observers describe as growing “anti-big-tech” fervor.

So, what might come of it? It depends who you ask, but in my view, probably not a lot. I think federal privacy legislation will be on the roadmap if an agreement can be reached, but changes to antitrust law and/or content regulation seem…

THEMES
Brian Barbetta
Global Industry Analyst
Boston

Earlier this summer, I virtually participated in an institutional conference with about 100 other asset managers and prominent asset owners from the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. It was well worth my time. Here are my main takeaways, along with some personal observations on the post-COVID-19 industry landscape.

1. Economic assumptions and forecasts were more dire than I’ve seen internally. While Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to reach pre-COVID levels this year, the US may not get there until mid-2021 and likely only on the strength of “50% of the economy in steep recovery,” according to one conference participant. The other half of the US economy may..

CORONAVIRUS
THEMES
Mark Mandel
Mark Mandel
CFA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston

In my April 2020 blog, “Where to buy the future,” I encouraged investors to consider buying well-positioned technology companies at potentially bargain-basement prices. With two-thirds of the year now behind us, I’d like to share my latest thinking on the e-commerce industry in the wake of its (unsurprisingly) lights-out performance amid COVID-19-induced fears and economic shutdowns.

Broadly speaking, I think e-commerce names should continue to post solid sales growth through 2020, but then fall short of analysts’ and investors’ expectations in 2021. And for this to be the case, I don’t necessarily think…

THEMES
Brian Barbetta
Global Industry Analyst
Boston

Over the years, we have done extensive on-the-ground research to understand consumer behavior across China and other emerging markets (EMs), with an emphasis on the two age demographics — millennials and Generation Z — that drive much of these countries’ total consumption.

In keeping with this tradition, we recently conducted our first post-COVID-19 survey of Chinese consumers. As everyday life begins to return to normal in China, we wanted to get a pulse on consumption and lifestyle trends in the aftermath of the pandemic. We focused on respondents in higher-tier Chinese cities, between 20 and 40 years old, with “middle” incomes of 50K – 70K renminbi per year. Here’s some of what we learned.

Spending vs savings

Unlike their predecessors, post-1980 generations in China are generally prosperous and tend to spend much of what they earn, with an eye toward enjoying life as much as possible. However, with COVID-19 affecting their lives in ways they have not experienced before, we wondered if…

CORONAVIRUS
THEMES
Liliana Dearth
Liliana Castillo Dearth
Equity Portfolio Manager
Singapore

In many ways, the COVID-19 crisis has fundamentally altered the way we live and work (and continues to do so). From an investment standpoint, that has been a big catalyst for long-term value creation across certain sectors. The technology sector is a notable case in point.

A day in the life of a tech analyst

To illustrate, consider how my own life has changed over the past several months:  

  • I do my job from my home office in my living room these days — investing, researching, collaborating. The transition to working remotely has been seamless.
  • Not only am I just as productive as I was in the office, but I save time and money by not having to commute every day.
  • Meanwhile, I can “go to” a doctor’s appointment without leaving my house, using telemedicine capabilities.
  • I can do all my banking online, with the same functionality as if I went to a physical branch location.
  • I can shop online using my mobile wallet and have my groceries or other purchases delivered to my door.
  • After calling it a day, I can spend the evening watching a movie of my choice or playing a video game.

All of this is enabled by technology. None of it is new per se, but what has changed on the back of COVID-19 is the speed and alacrity with which…

THEMES
Bruce Glazer
Global Industry Analyst
Boston
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By its very nature, the financials sector is a highly macro-exposed area of the equity market. As we have already witnessed over the past several months, what happens on the global macroeconomic front as a result of the COVID-19 crisis will directly impact financial stocks.

The rub, of course, is that no one really knows what will happen from here. Indeed, there is considerable uncertainty around the global macro outlook, with a wide range of potential economic outcomes in play. Financials generally don’t like macro uncertainty, and that’s reflected in the discounted valuations of many such stocks (particularly more balance-sheet-oriented companies like banks and life insurers). In effect, broadly speaking, I believe the sector offers a…

THEMES

ARCHIVED

Andrew Heiskell
Andrew Heiskell
Global Industry Analyst
Boston

Pervasive technological innovations like automation, 5G and artificial intelligence continue to transform nearly every sector of the economy. Mobile payments and digitisation are still rapidly disrupting and democratising the financial sector. Ageing populations and accelerating drug innovation are persistently expanding health care opportunity sets. And with the market’s recent volatility, we think investments in many of today’s most compelling long-term themes are offering historically attractive valuations.

In other words, the future is on sale.

Global investment themes such as these can represent exponential growth opportunities, but they often go underappreciated for extended periods. This is largely due to the difficulty of comprehending and discounting the meaningful changes they can usher in over time. We believe it is vital to look…

THEMES

ARCHIVED

Daire Dunne
Dáire Dunne
CFA
Portfolio Manager
Singapore

Typically, when we think of defense and risk aversion, we think of countercyclical exposures, where the focus is on certainty on earnings, stable and strong fundamentals, and/or low price volatility. This is separate from our view on factors utilized for capital appreciation, such as growth or value factors. In Figure 1, we show the down-market capture (DMC) for commonly used factors in the US and Europe over the long term and during the market sell-off between February 18 and March 23. The numbers indicate how much of the down-market return the factor “captures.” For example, if the market was down 10% and the DMC was 60%, the factor return was…

CORONAVIRUS
THEMES

ARCHIVED

Gregg Thomas
CFA
Director of Investment Strategy
Boston

What is driving French economic outperformance?

Through the current slowdown, the French economy has fared relatively well, particularly when compared with Germany. This holds true for GDP at the aggregate level whether we look at output in the services and especially the manufacturing sector or at higher-frequency indicators of activity, such as the purchasing managers’ indices. While earnings growth has slowed across the euro area since early 2018, German companies have consistently suffered larger earnings downgrades than their French competitors.

The key question for investors is what drives the difference in performance. To what extent does it reflect differences in the two countries’ economic structures? Does it reflect the reform efforts of French President Emmanuel Macron?

Are French reform efforts paying off?

If the outperformance reflects that the reform efforts are starting to pay off, then the French economy could continue to outperform, with stronger growth in productivity, margins and earnings. So far, Macron has had most success with his efforts to free up the jobs market by facilitating hiring and firing, de-centralising wage setting and strengthening incentives to seek employment. And it is working: productivity, labour cost and profitability data suggest that these reforms are already having an impact, which appears likely to continue over the coming years.

FIGURE 1

THEMES

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Jens Larsen headshot
Jens Larsen
PhD
Macro Strategist
London

Amid mounting global economic concerns, some investors have noted that Japan could be particularly vulnerable. The thinking is that a worsening global economy could put pressure on the yen to appreciate, which in turn could risk a cyclical downturn in Japan. Maybe so, but our view is that a full-blown Japanese recession is unlikely.

Although Japan faces challenges, we believe the country’s structural position is stronger than it has been in a generation. We also believe many investors are undervaluing Japan’s structural recovery story and other positive developments, creating potential opportunities for discerning investors.

MARKETS
THEMES

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Katsuhiro Iwai
Katsuhiro Iwai
CFA, CMA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Tokyo
Paul Cavey
Paul Cavey
Macro Strategist
Hong Kong
Robert Wydenbach
Robert Wydenbach
Global Industry Analyst
London
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