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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive heightened uncertainty and historic daily volatility, we thought an update may be appropriate. We are closely monitoring this rapidly evolving situation, remaining focused on our deep company analysis in order to understand the impacts to businesses’ growth outlooks, as appropriate. As this crisis has unfolded, companies have revised their revenue and earnings outlooks sharply lower. While supply-chain disruptions emanated from China as early as January, the economies of Western Europe and the US are just now experiencing their corresponding demand shocks.
After global growth gained momentum through 2016 and 2017, the investment outlook turned cloudier in 2018. Concerns about decelerating economic and earnings growth due to normalizing monetary policies, softening global growth and US-China trade tensions drove a sharp increase in equity market volatility, leading to the MSCI All Country World Index’s worst calendar year since 2008. No regions were unscathed: Europe, Japan and emerging markets were each down double-digit percentages, while the US market fell 5% for the year.
In contrast to the rest of the world, the US economy strengthened in 2018. The substantial fiscal stimulus in the form of tax cuts contributed to stronger economic growth and corporate profits. Yet, with tax reform in the rearview mirror, growth rates are inclined to come down in our estimation as comparisons become more difficult in upcoming quarters. In addition, margins are at risk as the costs of raw materials, labor and interest are increasing.