One of the more surprising (though not entirely unanticipated) announcements from China’s recent Fifth Plenum outlining its five-year plan for the country’s economy was that the country would no longer provide a target GDP growth rate as it has historically done. While some observers may view it as a signal the country is decreasingly able to generate the heady growth rates of years past, it’s worth considering alternate possibilities. Namely, a shift in focus from absolute growth toward quality of growth—a move with significant implications.
Supply/Demand is a semi-regular feature of the Artisan Canvas rounding up interesting and quirky subjects from across the Internet with a focus on economic and business trends. A good rule of thumb among the Artisan Canvas editorial staff is “never reason from a price change.” With that in mind, our latest edition of Supply/Demand.
As consumption habits have dramatically shifted amid the pandemic, demand for some seemingly out-of-the-ordinary goods and services has spiked. Whether these behavioral changes prove lasting, only time will tell.
A cursory glance at major global equity indices shows a pretty clear V-shaped recovery—with a total return of 1.6% in the S&P 500® Index from February 19, 2020 through October 26 and similar pictures in the Russell 2000 and the MSCI ACWI ex US Indices. So are stocks just invincible? Or considering the available economic data, nascent spikes in COVID cases in Europe, and historically poor corporate earnings, is the market too optimistic? Breaking down the broad indices provides some interesting insights for both the bull and the bear cases.
Beginning in the 1970s, Milton Friedman and his economist colleagues at the University of Chicago successfully steered private enterprises to prioritize the pursuit of profits as their sole social responsibility. While we will not venture to agree or disagree here, several forces are seemingly working together to shift this mindset. Though still in its infancy, our research and work on ESG for the past two years suggest a more balanced “stakeholder primacy” is taking hold.
Featured Author: Jessica Lin
Jessica Lin is an analyst on the Artisan Partners Sustainable Emerging Markets Team.
E-commerce was growing markedly faster than overall retail sales before COVID-19, especially in EM. But the global response to COVID-19—drastic containment measures and cautious economic reopenings—led to a surge in online shopping fueled largely by millions of consumers shopping online for the first time. China’s Alibaba reported an increase of 28 million mobile active users in Q2, while Latin American e-commerce company MercadoLibre reported 16 million new active users during the quarter.
While not as dramatic as during the global financial crisis, dividends in 2020 have taken a hit: Dividends globally declined some $108 billion to $382 billion in Q2—a 22% YoY drop. An estimated 27% of companies globally cut their dividends, including more than half of European companies. In the UK, 176 companies canceled dividends altogether. The story is slightly different in the US:
As governments globally seek fresh means of stemming the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19 and its attendant lockdowns, a common consideration is infrastructure spending—hardly surprising, considering governments have historically turned to infrastructure as a means of creating jobs and, ideally in turn, goosing consumption (see: Alphabet Soup, FDR). Considering it’s a public good which can often go begging when the economic outlook is rosier, infrastructure seems a natural candidate amid a period of flagging aggregate demand. And indeed, 2020 has seen its share of planned infrastructure spending globally.
The pandemic has accelerated secular trends—such as the shifts to e-commerce and digital payments, social media’s dominance of advertising spend and the rise of gaming. It’s also intensifying normal cyclical fluctuations, pulling forward home improvement projects and pressuring retailers—particularly those reliant on shopping mall locations—to declare bankruptcy. None of this is terribly surprising. More likely to catch market participants’ eyes, the combination of COVID-19 and social media is amplifying the oldest cyclical phenomenon known to mankind: greed!
Supply/Demand is a semi-regular feature of the Artisan Canvas rounding up interesting and quirky subjects from across the Internet with a focus on economic and business trends. A good rule of thumb among the Artisan Canvas editorial staff is “never reason from a price change.” With that in mind, we present Supply/Demand.
Broadly speaking, commodities prices have risen considerably since early March’s sharp downturn. Is this portending an economic recovery as demand picks up? Or are we facing down sustained supply chain disruptions?
Active, bottom-up oriented investors can be caught flat-footed by unforeseen bouts of volatility—indeed, 2020 has already seen several unprecedented selloffs and remarkable recoveries. However, a bottom-up approach needn’t preclude using tools to help identify and, to the extent possible, mitigate the portfolio risks associated with meaningful market reversals. Admittedly, market unwinds will likely never be entirely foreseeable. But we believe it is possible to anticipate periods where the risk of a market reversal is high—and as active managers, to then reevaluate the risk-return tradeoff for portfolio holdings with material unwind risk.
Relative to the US, Europe’s stock markets have a reputation of being staid, dominated by “old economy” industries and national champions. But Europe may no longer deserve this reputation. Since the global financial crisis (GFC), the makeup of Europe’s equity market has undergone a gradual but meaningful evolution.
Amid a world of economic headwinds, the US housing market has been a bright spot—delivering a V-shaped recovery since April’s plunge and possibly offering some insight into the efficacy of the Fed’s activities year to date, as well as broader consumer health.
Well, the Congressional music seems not to have stopped just yet—with the deeply divided House and Senate continuing their (unsurprising) stimulus dance. The negotiations have moved little since late July, when Senate Republicans released their outline for a $1 trillion bill (which they’ve since followed up with a scaled-back plan). For their part, Democrats have thus far remained committed to the House’s $3.5 trillion package, passed on a near-party-line vote in May.
But is further stimulus yet warranted?
ESG has been an increasingly hot topic over the past couple years—and if anything, the recent pandemic and accompanying market volatility have accelerated many ESG-related conversations. As a firm without a centralized research function or a CIO, Artisan Partners’ approach to ESG and related topics has necessarily looked different.
Russia has had its fair share of market-moving news this year. Normally, the dispute with Saudi Arabia over oil production and President Putin’s announcement he would reset his term limits would take center stage—yet both have been overshadowed by the dual threats of COVID-19 and the corresponding pressure on oil demand. The economy has predictably struggled, with GDP down 9.6% YOY in Q2, while personal incomes fell 8.0%. Predictably, the ruble has also weakened relative to both the euro and USD—likely a byproduct of not only relative economic weakness but also the oil price collapse.
While the market has responded as we might expect (the MSCI Russia Index is down 22.5% YTD through July in USD terms), Russia is nevertheless still near the middle of the EM pack. It trails countries which have rebounded sharply, such as China and Taiwan, while leading harder-hit compatriots Brazil, Turkey, Hungary and Greece.
As COVID-19 hit and economies shuttered, long-planned IPOs and mergers slowed to a halt around the globe. German chemical firm Atotech, Russian oil giant Sibur, China’s 58 Home and the US’s Airbnb—to name a few—all delayed or halted IPO efforts in March and April. The same was true for M&A, where banks, financial firms and other parts of the market rethought agreed upon deals. M&A globally dropped nearly 50% through the first two quarters of 2020 compared to 2019, while IPO activity fell a more modest 6.8%.
None of this is surprising: M&A and IPO activity are likely a decent proxy for sentiment—with participants’ appetite waning as the macro backdrop’s favorability declines. On the flip side, then, it can potentially provide early insight into how quickly sentiment is rebounding. And we may now be seeing some sign of life in certain markets.
Seven months after the first COVID-19-related lockdowns, the economic impact is starting to manifest in the numbers. The EU, one of the hardest hit regions, expects an 8.3% contraction in GDP in 2020. The decline’s potential depth, coupled with decisions countries made during the 2008-2009 global recession, has elicited yet more creative tactics from the EU to attempt to stem a longer-term pullback—the latest of which is a large stimulus package. The €750bn deal, passed in July, still requires approval from individual parliaments, but it could alter how the EU operates moving forward.
There is frequent debate among market participants about which style factors will be in favor in the future: growth, value, momentum, active, passive, etc. While we do not possess the ability to pinpoint the timing of when one style may be in favor over another, we believe the key element in determining the future path of a share price over the duration of an economic cycle is highly dependent on knowing which way profits are headed.
The likelihood of a second trade deal this year with China appears to have materially faded—if it’s not off the table altogether. President Trump recently relayed he isn’t currently focused on a phase-two deal. To be fair, a phase-two deal may have already been dead in the water for 2020, given the next round of negotiations was intended to aim at some of the bigger bones of contention between the US and China. Then, too, Beijing officials have long stated their preference for a wait-and-see approach to ongoing negotiations—pending the US’s November election outcome. But now, it seems an even longer-term delay is possible—with potentially significant global ramifications.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which has declined for three straight months and is up just 0.1% over the past year, paints a picture of stagnant inflation. But ask any pit master about meat prices this summer, and they’ll point to some noticeable price surges. Meanwhile, gasoline has seldom been cheaper. Of course, any summer travel plans were probably canceled due to the pandemic. And that’s not necessarily a trivial point—because, while headline inflation numbers always mask some important facts about what’s happening with prices in the components, the pandemic’s rapid effects on consumption patterns may be altering some of these nuances in more fundamental ways.
In June, Brexit hit a rather inauspicious milestone, marking the four-year anniversary of the vote to split from the European Union but with little to show for it practically: While the UK has separated in spirit, it remains economically linked to the EU. However, with the UK Cabinet Office confirming that EU trade talks would not extend through next year, the breakup now has a firm date. What remains less clear is how trade will flow between the two regions moving forward.
The Federal Reserve concluded its June meeting, and the results were more dovish than anticipated as 10-year US Treasury yields retreated toward their all-time lows. That the Fed could even appear more dovish after its recent historic liquidity interventions may seem surprising, especially since some of those polices seem to be working (or at least seem not to be doing major near-term harm). Equity markets have erased most corona crisis losses, the latest employment data are shockingly positive and consumers are rushing back to stores given the opportunity. Financial markets are stable, and valuations are rising. The real economy is mending. Everything is looking up! So why is the Fed so glum?
Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and a key moment for the US in its journey through the COVID-19 pandemic: All 50 states have begun—to varying degrees—easing COVID-19 related restrictions.
As restrictions on movement ease, we will start to get a handle on the answer to one very important question: What shape will the US economic recovery take?
As markets have bounced off what has proven at least a near-term bottom on March 23, many have commented on narrowing breadth—i.e., market leadership among a decreasing number of stocks. Specifically, many noted the bounce was largely driven by the big tech stocks—particularly those commonly known as the FANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google, with some adding Microsoft and Apple and rendering the acronym unpronounceable). It’s worth noting that not all of those names are classified as technology companies from a GICS sector perspective: Facebook, Netflix and Google (Alphabet) all fall in the communication services sector, while Amazon is considered discretionary and Microsoft is the only “true” technology company.
Nevertheless, sector returns—in the US and overseas—tell a slightly different story from a tech(/communication services/discretionary)-led bounce.
Unprecedented times beget unprecedented measures—and with the global financial crisis still visible in our rear-view mirrors, global central banks have in some ways responded to fresh crisis with substantially similar tools. Meaning they’ve lowered rates (to the extent they can, given relatively low rates to start with) and they’ve offered various lending facilities to ensure markets maintain sufficient liquidity levels.
Another day, another grim US economic milestone amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 8, the US Labor Department released its April Employment Situation report. The magnitude of the numbers was momentous—nonfarm payroll employment fell by 20.5 million people and the unemployment rate jumped to 14.7%, from 4.4% in March.
Featured Author: Gurpreet Pal
Gurpreet Pal is an analyst on the Artisan Partners Sustainable Emerging Markets Team.
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, emerging markets are set to take center stage. The US, Italy and other developed markets appear to be flattening the curve and starting to reopen their economies. In comparison, many emerging markets appear to be in much earlier phases of an outbreak. Within EM, India is an especially intriguing country to watch as it seems to be managing the pandemic better than previously feared.
India has the seemingly right conditions for a high number of cases and rapid transmission:
The Q1 market selloff was broad-based and intense, fueled by deep uncertainty about the pandemic’s true threat. In our view, the market did little to discriminate among individual firms, preferring to re-rate sectors given the short timeframe, rapid price action and lack of information.
Of course, our process is built to capitalize on market dislocations, when fear and uncertainty dominate, as is the case in our current environment. But we are also vigilantly risk-aware. This is where a thoughtful and repeatable process makes all the difference.
Oil has been the lead story recently—for a few reasons. In January, Saudi Arabia and Russia kicked off a heated competition for market share—after several years of cooperating and coordinating output in order to attempt to control oil prices. The result has been a well-documented collapse in oil prices—and growing challenges for oil producers and investors alike. Though it seems the near-term race to the bottom may have concluded, it also seems unlikely prices rocket back in the near term. Here are six interesting charts showcasing some of the recent phenomena.
Governments globally have responded to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic variously—some have effectively shuttered their economies, full stop; others have taken less radical approaches (like Sweden). Similarly on the fiscal front, some governments have passed sweeping spending packages aimed at dulling a full shutdown’s likely economic impact. Top of this list in terms of scale is the US, where Congress passed and the President signed a roughly $2 trillion aid package on 27 March 2020. In the intervening weeks (yes, it’s only been weeks—believe it or not), some countries have followed suit—in intention if not in magnitude. Japan’s cabinet approved a $1 trillion package on 7 April. The EU is struggling to agree on a €500 billion package (more on the EU momentarily).
Amid significant market volatility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our investment philosophy. With a foundation in long-term structural tailwinds, resilient businesses and strong operators, our approach is designed for not only good times but challenging ones as well. Acknowledging the unprecedented nature of these circumstances and the uncertainty of a global health crisis, we thought a few words about our investment approach and how the investment team is spending its time would be appropriate.
Despite the worst selloff for credit since the great financial crisis, investment grade companies set a record level of new issuance in March. The thawing of primary market activities comes just two weeks after the Fed returned to its crisis-era playbook, announcing several new emergency lending facilities to contain the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic—including the unprecedent measure of purchasing investment grade debt in both the primary and secondary markets. Facing evaporating liquidity and a severe contraction in credit conditions, the Fed effectively moved to become the liquidity provider of last resort to facilitate price discovery, reopen primary market activity and stave off the risk of a potential credit crisis.
Long-term, sophisticated relationships require two willing partners. By design, our client base consists of long-term, sophisticated investors in two primary groups: 66% of our AUM is from institutional clients, and 29% of our AUM is sourced through financial intermediaries—including broker/dealers, bank trust departments and financial advisors. Over the years, these two groups have adopted similar research processes for selecting their investment management partners and have asked relatively similar questions of us. As I alluded to in my last post, one of the critical recent questions we’ve been getting is how liquidity currently looks in the markets—a multifaceted question.
Leading a large organization during a global crisis gives you a front-row seat to clients’ and shareholders’ evolving thought processes and concerns. We started receiving questions from our clients in early March. At first, their focus was primarily on our business continuity plan—whether we have a formal plan and structure in place to allow us to continue business as usual and whether we were prepared to deploy it should circumstances warrant. Clients asked questions like: Could our employees work from home if necessary? Would our systems and existing technology support a remote workforce? As discussed in prior posts, business continuity planning has long been part of our normal operations, so we were pleased to readily answer these early questions in the affirmative.
Over the ensuing weeks, the questions’ tenor shifted a few times.
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.
With our associates around the world working from home, one of the next challenges was ensuring they were all talking effectively under unusual circumstances. From a business standpoint, it doesn’t really matter if everyone is working remotely if they’re unable to maintain their standard practices and actually get their jobs done efficiently and well. Communication is paramount during periods of uncertainty—not only with and among our associates, but also with our clients and shareholders.
This is part 2 in a series discussing Artisan Partners’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Read part 1 here.
Getting a global, 400+ member workforce out of the physical offices and home is one thing. Getting them on the network and ensuring it doesn’t crash and remains secure is another altogether. So how have we done it?
An interesting tidbit: The 11 trading days between Friday, 13 March 2020, and Friday, 27 March 2020, represented the fastest shift in market history from bull market to technical bear market and back to bull market. The next closest was in 1929 but wasn’t particularly close—18 days. (HT: Morgan Stanley)
US initial jobless claims hit a record of 3.28 million last week. For perspective, the previous weekly record for workers filing for unemployment benefits was 695,000 in 1982 (Exhibit 1). From another angle, the latest weekly total is 1% of the entire US population and 2% of the US civilian labor force.
Exhibit 1: US Intial Jobless ClaimsSource: St. Louis Fed, as of 28 Mar 2020. Gray bars represent recessions as defined by the NBER.
Nobody can be positive what future weekly jobless claims will look like—it’s not unreasonable to ca