Multi-Asset Strategies Outlook
3 Wild Cards to Watch in 2023
We regularly hear from clients who want to buy the latest rally and jump back into stocks with both feet. But we say to them, “Not so fast!” Our own portfolios remain conservatively positioned on the margin. We see more volatility ahead and continue to urge a cautious, well-diversified long-term approach.
With that in mind, three potential wild cards we see for the coming year include:
1. Fed in Focus
It may seem odd to call Federal Reserve (Fed) policy a “wild card” when it’s virtually been the single factor driving financial market outcomes for the better part of a year. But we continue to believe markets are overly fixated on when the Fed will pause its rate-hiking campaign and pivot to cutting interest rates.
History shows that it’s taken anywhere from six months to three years of the Fed funds rate being higher than nominal gross domestic product (GDP) for core inflation to fall in a sustained way. Nominal GDP through the second quarter of 2022, the latest period for which we have data, was 8.5%. We’re not suggesting the Fed is going to raise rates in excess of 8%, but we think the “pause” and “pivot” are likely further away than equity investors seem to think.
2. National Debt a Growing Concern
The national debt tops $31 trillion, and that’s important for a few reasons. First, the political landscape of 2023 brings to mind the last time Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives under a Democratic president. Then, debt limit standoffs in 2011 and 2013 resulted in government shutdowns, an unprecedented downgrade to the U.S.’s credit rating and major turmoil in global financial markets. While it’s tempting to think we’ve learned from past mistakes, partisan politics today are such that we can’t rule out a repeat.
Another reason the size of the debt is important is that rapidly rising interest rates make the debt burden harder to sustain. This level of debt is undesirable because it crowds out other federal spending and requires more borrowing. This creates a negative feedback loop as higher rates raise funding costs, and more borrowing increases the Treasury bond supply, which raises interest rates.
3. Eyes on China
U.S.-China relations have been all over the headlines lately as rhetoric and tensions rise over China’s claim to Taiwan. It’s in the interest of both parties to talk tough about Taiwan but not actually be tough on Taiwan. So, while the verbal sparring may continue, we can’t see the two largest economies in the world trading blows.
Before the protests, we would have said China was moving gradually toward ending its zero-COVID policy. But it’s not clear if the ruling party can be seen to be giving in to public protest. We hope that a peaceful resolution can be reached, allowing China to ease some restrictions. That could unleash pent-up consumer demand and would benefit global growth.
Bonds endured a difficult year in 2022, but one upside of these price declines is that 10-year Treasury yields are as high as they’ve been since 2010. Similarly, cash yields haven’t been this high since January 2008. Meanwhile, corporate earnings growth slowed to a pandemic pace. As a result, bond yields are much more attractive relative to stock earnings yields than they’ve been in some time. Add to that the fact that we see slower growth and a potentially challenging environment for equities ahead, and we are underweight equities in favor of bonds.
We recognize that Europe faces a difficult winter, but we believe non-U.S. developed equity prices already discount some of the worst outcomes. Comparatively attractive valuations — even given difficult business conditions — mean we prefer non-U.S. equities relative to the U.S. But performance and opportunity vary widely by country, sector and industry, while geopolitical risks are also unevenly distributed. As a result, we think this is a space well-suited to active management and individual security selection decisions.
Our emerging markets equities (EME) positioning recalls Harry Truman’s plea for a “one-handed economist.” On one hand, EME are attractively valued and could benefit from China’s easing of COVID restrictions. On the other hand, China’s switching from restrictive to growth-oriented policies may be more of a hope than a reality. In addition, the strong U.S. dollar continues to weigh on EME returns in dollar terms and challenge EM countries with dollar-denominated debt.
U.S. Equity Size & Style
The most compelling argument for small-cap stocks now is their valuations look attractive relative to large caps. But it’s also true that small companies tend to be more sensitive to changes in economic growth, having fewer levers than large companies to pull to maintain profitability. That makes it hard to pile into small caps at a time when the Fed is cranking down hard on the economy. For now, we remain neutral.
A year into a bear market characterized by challenging macroeconomic and geopolitical conditions, stocks are still expensive, and the Fed’s not finished raising rates. In these circumstances, we prefer more conservative positioning. That means a bias toward value-oriented stocks, which tend to populate more defensive sectors, produce more predictable earnings and carry less valuation risk than their growth counterparts.
We continue to position for high inflation and interest rates and slowing growth. We think it’s likely the Fed won’t stop raising rates until inflation breaks decisively lower or the economy tips into recession. As a result, we prefer high-quality bonds over high yield. We also think Treasury yields are attractive after a sharp sell-off. This is particularly true if we’re right that we’re headed into recession. We also maintain our overweight of Treasury inflation-protected bonds (TIPS).
We remain underweight real estate investment trusts (REITs), which tend to be economically sensitive and suffer from higher interest rates. That’s because slower growth hurts demand for commercial and industrial space, while higher rates increase REITs’ funding costs. We continue to believe global REITs, in particular, deserve a place in a multi-asset portfolio because of their diversification benefits.
View Glossary Definitions
A form of securitized debt that represents ownership in pools of mortgage loans and their payments.
Asset-backed securities (ABS)
A form of securitized debt (defined below), ABS are structured like mortgage-backed securities (MBS, defined below). But instead of mortgage loans or interest in mortgage loans, the underlying assets may include such items as auto loans, home equity loans, student loans, small business loans, and credit card debt. The value of an ABS is affected by changes in the market's perception of the assets backing the security, the creditworthiness of the servicing agent for the loan pool, the originator of the loans, or the financial institution providing any credit enhancement.
BB and BBB credit rating
Securities and issuers rated AAA to BBB are considered/perceived “investment-grade”; those rated below BBB are considered/perceived non-investment-grade or more speculative.
Entity responsible for oversight of a nation’s monetary system, including policies and interest rates.
Collateralized loan obligations (CLOs)
A form of securitized debt, typically backed by pools of corporate loans and their payments.
Short-term debt issued by corporations to raise cash and to cover current expenses in anticipation of future revenues.
Commodities are raw materials or primary agricultural products that can be bought or sold on an exchange or market. Examples include grains such as corn, foods such as coffee, and metals such as copper.
Consumer Price Index (CPI)
CPI is the most commonly used statistic to measure inflation in the U.S. economy. Sometimes referred to as headline CPI, it reflects price changes from the consumer's perspective. It's a U.S. government (Bureau of Labor Statistics) index derived from detailed consumer spending information. Changes in CPI measure price changes in a market basket of consumer goods and services such as gas, food, clothing, and cars. Core CPI excludes food and energy prices, which tend to be volatile.
Corporate securities (corporate bonds and notes)
Debt instruments issued by corporations, as distinct from those issued by governments, government agencies, or municipalities. Corporate securities typically have the following features: 1) they are taxable, 2) they tend to have more credit (default) risk than government or municipal securities, so they tend to have higher yields than comparable-maturity securities in those sectors; and 3) they are traded on major exchanges, with prices published in newspapers.
Correlation measures the relationship between two investments--the higher the correlation, the more likely they are to move in the same direction for a given set of economic or market events. So if two securities are highly correlated, they will move in the same direction the vast majority of the time. Negatively correlated investments do the opposite--as one security rises, the other falls, and vice versa. No correlation means there is no relationship between the movement of two securities--the performance of one security has no bearing on the performance of the other. Correlation is an important concept for portfolio diversification--combining assets with low or negative correlations can improve risk-adjusted performance over time by providing a diversity of payouts under the same financial conditions.
Coupon interest rate
The coupon interest rate is the stated/set interest rate that is assigned to each interest-paying fixed-income security when it is issued. It is used to calculate the security's periodic interest payments to investors; the coupon rate is applied to the security's principal value to generate interest payments.
Credit quality reflects the financial strength of the issuer of a security, and the ability of that issuer to provide timely payment of interest and principal to investors in the issuer's securities. Common measurements of credit quality include the credit ratings provided by credit rating agencies such as Standard & Poor's and Moody's. Credit quality and credit quality perceptions are a key component of the daily market pricing of fixed-income securities, along with maturity, inflation expectations and interest rate levels.
Measurements of credit quality (defined below) provided by credit rating agencies (defined below). Those provided by Standard & Poor's typically are the most widely quoted and distributed, and range from AAA (highest quality; perceived as least likely to default) down to D (in default). Securities and issuers rated AAA to BBB are considered/perceived to be "investment-grade"; those below BBB are considered/perceived to be non-investment-grade or more speculative.
A debt instrument, including bonds, certificates of deposit or preferred stocks.
Duration is an important indicator of potential price volatility and interest rate risk in fixed income investments. It measures the price sensitivity of a fixed income investment to changes in interest rates. The longer the duration, the more a fixed income investment's price will change when interest rates change. Duration also reflects the effect caused by receiving fixed income cash flows sooner instead of later. Fixed income investments structured to potentially pay more to investors earlier (such as high-yield, mortgage, and callable securities) typically have shorter durations than those that return most of their capital at maturity (such as zero-coupon or low-yielding noncallable Treasury securities), assuming that they have similar maturities.
The eurozone is sometimes referred to as the euro area and represents the member states that participate in the economic and monetary union (EMU) with the European Union (EU). The eurozone currently consists of: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.
Federal Reserve (Fed)
The Fed is the U.S. central bank, responsible for monetary policies affecting the U.S. financial system and the economy.
A floating rate is associated with payments that fluctuate with an underlying interest rate level, as opposed to paying fixed-rate income.
Investment "fundamentals," in the context of investment analysis, are typically those factors used in determining value that are more economic (growth, interest rates, inflation, employment) and/or financial (income, expenses, assets, credit quality) in nature, as opposed to "technicals," which are based more on market price (into which fundamental factors are considered to have been "priced in"), trend, and volume factors (such as supply and demand), and momentum. Technical factors can often override fundamentals in near-term investor and market behavior, but, in theory, investments with strong fundamental supports should maintain their value and perform relatively well over long time periods.
General obligation (GO) bonds
One of the biggest sectors in the municipal securities (defined below) market. Typically, these bonds are secured by the full faith and credit pledge (defined above) of the issuer and usually supported by the issuer's taxing power (tax revenues provide the means by which most interest payments are made). GO bonds can be issued by states, counties, cities, towns and regional districts to fund a variety of public projects, including construction of and improvements to schools, highways, and water and sewer systems.
Gross domestic product
Gross domestic product (or GDP) is a measure of the total economic output in goods and services for an economy.
High-yield bonds are fixed income securities with lower credit quality and lower credit ratings. High-yield securities are those rated below BBB- by Standard & Poor's.
Inflation, sometimes referred to as headline inflation, reflects rising prices for consumer goods and services, or equivalently, a declining value of money. Core inflation excludes food and energy prices, which tend to be volatile. It is the opposite of deflation (see Deflation).
Debt securities that offer returns adjusted for inflation; a feature designed to eliminate the inflation risk.
Investment-grade corporate bond or credit
A debt security with a relatively low risk of default issued and sold by a corporation to investors.
Liquidity describes the degree to which an asset or security can be quickly bought or sold in the market without affecting the asset's price.
Mortgage-backed securities (MBS)
A form of securitized debt (defined below) that represents ownership in pools of mortgage loans and their payments. Most MBS are structured as "pass-throughs"--the monthly payments of principal and interest on the mortgages in the pool are collected by the financial entity that is servicing the mortgages and are "passed through" monthly to investors. The monthly and principal payments are key differences between MBS and other bonds such as Treasuries, which pay interest every six months and return the whole principal at maturity. Most MBS are issued or guaranteed by the U.S. government, a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE), or by a private lending institution.
These are long-term municipal securities (defined below) with maturities of 10 years or longer.
Municipal securities (munis)
Debt securities typically issued by or on behalf of U.S. state and local governments, their agencies or authorities to raise money for a variety of public purposes, including financing for state and local governments as well as financing for specific projects and public facilities. In addition to their specific set of issuers, the defining characteristic of munis is their tax status. The interest income earned on most munis is exempt from federal income taxes. Interest payments are also generally exempt from state taxes if the bond owner resides within the state that issued the security. The same rule applies to local taxes. Another interesting characteristic of munis: Individuals, rather than institutions, make up the largest investor base. In part because of these characteristics, munis tend to have certain performance attributes, including higher after-tax returns than other fixed income securities of comparable maturity and credit quality and low volatility relative to other fixed-income sectors. The two main types of munis are general obligation bonds (GOs) and revenue bonds. GOs are munis secured by the full faith and credit of the issuer and usually supported by the issuer's taxing power. Revenue bonds are secured by the charges tied to the use of the facilities financed by the bonds.
Net Asset Value (NAV)
The total value per share of all the underlying securities in a portfolio.
For most bonds and other fixed-income securities, nominal yield is simply the yield you see listed online or in newspapers. Most nominal fixed-income yields include some extra yield, an "inflation premium," that is typically priced/added into the yields to help offset the effects of inflation (see Inflation). Real yields (see Real yield), such as those for TIPS (see TIPS), don't have the inflation premium. As a result, nominal yields are typically higher than TIPS yields and other real yields.
Non-agency commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS)
MBS that represent ownership in pools of commercial real estate loans used to finance the construction and improvement of income-producing properties. Non-agency CMBS are not guaranteed by the U.S. government or a government-sponsored enterprise.
Nationally recognized statistical rating organizations assign quality ratings to reflect forward-looking opinions on the creditworthiness of loan issuers.
Real estate investment trusts (REITs)
Real estate investment trusts (REITs) are securities that trade like stocks and invest in real estate through properties or mortgages.
Russell 1000® Growth Index
Measures the performance of those Russell 1000 Index companies (the 1,000 largest publicly traded U.S. companies, based on total market capitalization) with higher price-to-book ratios and higher forecasted growth values.
Russell 1000® Value Index
Measures the performance of those Russell 1000 Index companies (the 1,000 largest publicly traded U.S. companies, based on total market capitalization) with lower price-to-book ratios and lower forecasted growth values.
S&P 500® Index
The S&P 500® Index is composed of 500 selected common stocks most of which are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It is not an investment product available for purchase.
Debt resulting from the process of aggregating debt instruments into a pool of similar debts, then issuing new securities backed by the pool (securitizing the debt). Asset-backed and mortgage-backed securities (ABS and MBS, defined further above) and collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs, defined above) are common forms of securitized debt. The credit quality (defined above) of securitized debt can vary significantly, depending on the underwriting standards of the original debt issuers, the credit quality of the issuers, economic or financial conditions that might affect payments, the existence of credit backing or guarantees, etc.
A security that has a higher priority compared to another in the event of liquidation.
A country's own government-issued debt, priced in its native currency, that can be sold to investors in other countries to raise needed funds. For example, U.S. Treasury debt is U.S. sovereign debt, and would be referred to as sovereign debt when bought by foreign investors. Conversely, debt issued by foreign governments and priced in their currencies would be sovereign debt to U.S. investors.
Spreads (aka "interest-rate spreads", "maturity spreads," "yield spreads" or "credit spreads")
In fixed income parlance, spreads are simply measured differences or gaps that exists between two interest rates or yields that are being compared with each other. Spreads typically exist and are measured between fixed income securities of the same credit quality (defined above), but different maturities, or of the same maturity, but different credit quality. Changes in spreads typically reflect changes in relative value, with "spread widening" usually indicating relative price depreciation of the securities whose yields are increasing most, and "spread tightening" indicating relative price appreciation of the securities whose yields are declining most (or remaining relatively fixed while other yields are rising to meet them). Value-oriented investors typically seek to buy when spreads are relatively wide and sell after spreads tighten.
Spread sectors (aka "spread products," "spread securities")
In fixed income parlance, these are typically non-Treasury securities that usually trade in the fixed income markets at higher yields than same-maturity U.S. Treasury securities. The yield difference between Treasuries and non-Treasuries is called the "spread" (defined further above), hence the name "spread sectors" for non-Treasuries. These sectors--such as corporate-issued securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS, defined above)--typically trade at higher yields (spreads) than Treasuries because they usually have relatively lower credit quality (defined above) and more credit/default risk (defined above), and/or they have more prepayment risk (defined above).
Stagflation describes slowing economic growth combined with high inflation.
Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS)
TIPS are a special type of U.S. Treasury security designed to address a fundamental, long-standing fixed-income market issue: that the fixed interest payments and principal values at maturity of most fixed-income securities don't adjust for inflation. TIPS interest payments and principal values do. The adjustments include upward or downward changes to both principal and coupon interest based on inflation. TIPS are inflation-indexed; that is, tied to the U.S. government's Consumer Price Index (CPI). At maturity, TIPS are guaranteed by the U.S. government to return at least their initial $1,000 principal value, or that principal value adjusted for inflation, whichever amount is greater. In addition, as their principal values are adjusted for inflation, their interest payments also adjust.
A treasury note is a debt security issued by the U.S. government with a fixed interest rate and maturity ranging from one to 10 years.
The yield (defined below) of a Treasury security (most often refers to U.S. Treasury securities issued by the U.S. government).
A quantitative estimate of a company or asset’s value.
For bonds and other fixed-income securities, yield is a rate of return on those securities. There are several types of yields and yield calculations. "Yield to maturity" is a common calculation for fixed-income securities, which takes into account total annual interest payments, the purchase price, the redemption value, and the amount of time remaining until maturity.
A line graph showing the yields of fixed income securities from a single sector (such as Treasuries or municipals), but from a range of different maturities (typically three months to 30 years), at a single point in time (often at month-, quarter- or year-end). Maturities are plotted on the x-axis of the graph, and yields are plotted on the y-axis. The resulting line is a key bond market benchmark and a leading economic indicator.
References to specific securities are for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended as recommendations to purchase or sell securities. Opinions and estimates offered constitute our judgment and, along with other portfolio data, are subject to change without notice.
International investing involves special risk considerations, including economic and political conditions, inflation rates and currency fluctuations.
Investment return and principal value of security investments will fluctuate. The value at the time of redemption may be more or less than the original cost. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Historically, small- and/or mid-cap stocks have been more volatile than the stock of larger, more-established companies. Smaller companies may have limited resources, product lines and markets, and their securities may trade less frequently and in more limited volumes than the securities of larger companies.
Diversification does not assure a profit nor does it protect against loss of principal.
Generally, as interest rates rise, bond prices fall. The opposite is true when interest rates decline.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investment returns will fluctuate and it is possible to lose money.
The opinions expressed are those of American Century Investments (or the portfolio manager) and are no guarantee of the future performance of any American Century Investments' portfolio. This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal or tax advice.