The end of 2016 marked an inflection point for markets, as many crowded trades unwound and investors placed their bets on how Trump's policies will affect the various sectors of the S&P 500. Below are five key factors to keep an eye on for equity investors.
1. Will we finally get inflation?
For eight years now, global central banks have been working to create inflation via quantitative easing - with little success in the US and outright deflation in Europe and Japan. Trump's election has rekindled "animal spirits" amongst market participants due to multiple inflationary prospects: billions in infrastructure spending, cash repatriation, tax cuts and immigration reform. However, the market appears too sanguine on the chances of full passage given typical government gridlock. With many stocks fully pricing in reflation, investors need to be wary of heightened expectations heading into first-quarter earnings.
2. Macro or micro?
It seems the baton has finally been passed from monetary stimulus to fiscal stimulus as the Fed fades into the background. The central bank era - whether truly over or not - has been tough for stock pickers as highly-correlated markets move in a "risk-on, risk-off" fashion. Will some of the best trades this year be macro-based or should investors focus primarily on individual company analysis? Year-end 2016 showed that sector rotation was the theme as investors moved out of "yieldy" consumer staples, REITs and utility stocks into basic materials and industrial stocks. This will likely continue and investors need to analyze beyond daily index performance (S&P 500/Dow) as there is plenty of movement "under the surface."
3. The revival of active management?
Fundamental analysis has not been a huge success in said highly-correlated markets. However, equity correlations have collapsed to five-year lows following Trump's election and the industry is hopeful that stock picking will matter again rather than simply front-running the Fed's rate decisions. 2017 could finally be a bright year for the struggling asset management industry which has performed poorly and witnessed constant pressure from outflows and redemptions. Ultimately, it may take a crash or a recession for hedge funds to remind investors why they are worth the fees.
4. King dollar - friend or foe?
Ironically, the dollar's recent strength (at fourteen-year highs) is serving as a headwind to Trump's policy goals. Even if American manufacturing experiences a revival, currency pressures will weigh on exports and consolidated S&P 500 multinational earnings. Furthermore, this makes it difficult for the Fed to hike two or three times in 2017 as the market has sold short-end Treasuries in advance. With consensus leaning heavily towards future Fed hikes, be wary of 'black swan' type events similar to Brexit and Trump's win in 2016.
5. What happens to European credit?
Out of all global asset classes, none seem more disconnected from fundamentals than European sovereigns. While most 10-year yields have backed up out of negative territory, many remain at historic extremes: German 10-year bunds yield 26 bps, France's 10-year yields 76 bps, and even Greece - previously thought to be insolvent! - can borrow for 10 years under 7%. Political risk will be a key talking point heading into Italy's elections this summer as populism continues to spread.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.