Russell Investments Strategists’ Outlook: Fed rate hike and Greek bailout dominate mid-year 2015 update

— Shift to a neutral for global equities vs. fixed income for multi-asset portfolios
— Underweight U.S. given expensive equities and low bond yields

SEATTLE, June 30, 2015

Russell Investments’ global team of investment strategists today released the 2015 Global Outlook – Q3 Update, offering a summary of economic insights and market forecasts that help to guide the firm's multi-asset portfolios and services. The perspectives focus in large part on anticipation around two key looming events: timing of the initial interest rate increase by the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed) and negotiations around the Greek bailout. The strategists expect the first rate hike in September—a long-held view—and for Greece ultimately to stay in the Eurozone, but acknowledge that uncertainty around these events could lead to market volatility, which they see as an opportunity to add selected risk exposure to portfolios.

To analyze the anticipated Fed rate hike, the strategists compare market conditions before the two previous hikes in February 1994 and June 2004 to current conditions. The standout feature, according to the report, is that equities, bonds and the U.S. dollar (USD) are all relatively expensive now compared to the last two tightening phases, and the corporate profit cycle is far more advanced. However, since the upcoming rate hike in their view is one of the best communicated policy shifts on record, they believe the shift is already priced into the markets. After looking at these factors collectively, the team maintains their favored U.S. market scenario of moderate inflation, moderate jobs growth, and single-digit profit gains.

"It makes sense to expect volatility around the Fed policy shift, but a key question is whether any resulting market setback would represent a turning point or an inflection point," said Russell's Global Head of Investment Strategy, Andrew Pease. "We believe an inflection point seems more likely, and for equity markets to remain supported over the medium term if the U.S. economy continues to post moderate growth."

Russell Investments' strategists employ the firm's three-pronged "cycle, value, sentiment" investment strategy process to update their outlook forecasts. Currently, their global market perspectives include:

  • Business Cycle: Optimism for developed markets
    The cycle appears very positive for Europe and favorable for U.S. and Japan. The economic indicators in Europe, for example, are improving, married with potential growth of corporate profit margins. Regarding the U.S. market, corporate profits maintain moderate growth, supported by robust—albeit spotty—economic growth. In Japan, economic indicators are lackluster, but corporate profits are picking up and there is a strong chance of additional stimulus from the Bank of Japan (BoJ). The cycle score for generally riskier emerging markets remains negative due to the strengthening U.S. dollar, falling commodity prices and slowdown in China.
  • Valuation: U.S. equities remain the most expensive
    The strategists view equities in Europe and Japan are moderately expensive, while they see emerging markets equities as moderately cheap. The U.S. currently is still the most expensive major equity market, with a Shiller PE ratio at 27 times and price-to-book value at 2.9 times (according to the U.S. large-cap Russell 1000® Index as of June 24, 2015).
  • Sentiment: Momentum is a positive driven in most markets
    Since markets have been relatively stable, the team points out that many of the overbought contrarian signals have moved to neutral territory. Except for Japan, where the market is solidly in overbought territory, momentum is a positive driver for equity markets.

Updated regional exposure forecasts

Based on market shifts since the team’s Q2 update report in late March, the strategists have updated their forecasts across global regions and asset classes:

  • North America: The team sees rationale for a modest underweight for U.S. equities since valuations offset a favorable business cycle.
  • Asia-Pacific: Evidence is starting to build around a reacceleration in Japan, but the strategists are neutral on Japanese equities, considering them a recovery play. They are cautious on regional equity markets, noting the anticipated economic drop in China, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Eurozone: The team has an overweight position for Eurozone assets, including equities and bonds. Further Greece-related unrest is seen as a buying opportunity.
  • Emerging Markets: The strategists are neutral on emerging market equities since the negative cycle score offsets the good valuation and positive sentiment.
  • Currency: The USD is overvalued against major currencies and the near-term outlook is mixed. Further appreciation may be caused by further easing by the BoJ, heightened concerns with Greece, or a stall in European growth, but the USD declined the last two times the Fed start a rate hike sequence.
  • Fixed Income: The strategists have a neutral stance on U.S. government bonds and believe that 10-year U.S. Treasury yields will rise to 3.1% in the next 12 months. They are slightly long Eurozone government bonds and underweight UK government bonds.

In summary, Pease said, "Most of the quantitative models have moved towards neutral over the past quarter, which aligns with our qualitative assessment. We don't expect the Fed decision will contain any nasty surprises. Thus, our strong conviction in moving to a neutral asset allocation stance for global equities versus fixed income."

For more information, please see the “Strategists’ 2015 Global Outlook – Q3 Update”.

About Russell Investments

Russell Investments is a global asset manager and one of only a few firms that offers actively managed multi-asset portfolios and services that include advice, investments and implementation. Russell Investments stands with institutional investors, financial advisors and individuals working with their advisors—using the firm’s core capabilities that extend across capital market insights, manager research, asset allocation, portfolio implementation and factor exposures to help each achieve their desired investment outcomes.

Russell Investments has more than $272 billion in assets under management (as of 3/31/2015) and works with more than 2,500 institutional clients, independent distribution partners and individual investors globally. As a consultant to some of the largest pools of capital in the world, Russell Investments has $2.4 trillion in assets under advisement (as of 12/31/2014). The firm has four decades of experience researching and selecting investment managers and meets annually with more than 2,200 managers around the world. Russell Investments also traded more than $1.7 trillion in 2014 through its implementation services business.

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