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Russell Investments image of magnifying glass over chart

Making sense of current equity and bond pricing

Current equity and bond pricing

Despite equity prices being high, it’s not obvious whether the bull market will continue or if some sort of correction is imminent. We also find ourselves in a low-yield environment. What does this imply about the state of the global economy and how is this linked to current and future equity prices?

Bond markets—no broad consensus

To gain a broad insight into bond market movements, Russell Investments conducts several outlook surveys every quarter about a range of topics such as interest rates, inflation and credit. Select third-party managers (who are specialists in each of those fields) are asked to comment on their outlook.

Our latest global surveys were conducted at the end of April.1 In summary, interest rate markets are pricing in a recession whereas credit markets are pricing in a more optimistic view.

We asked Head of Fixed Income Research, Adam Smears, what his view is:

Which side of the bond market do you agree with?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I know that both sides of the market can’t be right. Investors shouldn’t deploy all their assets off the back of one view, yet if you invest in most fixed-income products available today you will find yourself with either a lot of interest rate risk or a lot of credit risk.

What might one consider when looking at a fixed-income portfolio in such an environment?

We believe the backbone of successful investing is about securing the risk premium, supplementing it with alpha—in other words, excess returns—and maximizing diversification. However, in this low yielding environment, perhaps our focus would be on capturing the risk premia at inefficient spots in the market which offer high Sharpe ratios2. Finding alpha is a struggle in a low yield world, but the distortions created by easy monetary policy do create alpha opportunities and it is very important given its diversification from risk premia.  Lastly, finding true diversification in a portfolio is more important than ever. It may be helpful to consider maximizing diversification by accessing risk premia that are powered by differentiated risk factors.

What instruments might one consider to help achieve this?

Shorter duration credit can capture both term and credit risk premium but offer higher Sharpe ratios than traditional investment products. These can be diversified with alpha-orientated strategies available in currencies, rates and in the options space. Additionally, some alternative risk premias—such as prepayment risk—can be considered attractive. Prepayment securities are types of mortgage securities offered by U.S. agencies that offer positive yields while benefiting from rising rates. Such securities can be valuable in a world of low yields where valuations are expensive, but sacrificing yield is not attractive.

U.S. equity markets—have they reached their peak?

Equity markets have been at their all-time high for some time now. Some would argue that expensive equity valuations could continue to be supported.

We asked Senior Portfolio Manager of Russell Investments’ Multi-Asset Growth Strategy, David Vickers, to explain why equity prices are so high:

Developed bond markets (such as the U.S., UK and Germany) are pointing towards recession. Why then, are equity prices so high? 

Some would cite that low bond yields are a reason in and of itself to accept high equity valuations because the Equity Risk Premium is still positive (earnings yield versus bond yield).

Otherwise, there is optimism among some that continued economic growth will translate into strong corporate earnings.

How is Russell Investments positioned considering current equity pricing?

We believe that there are risks looming in global equity markets. There are many geopolitical worries, whether that’s Brexit, Trumponomics or China, for example. In some markets, such as the U.S.—where prices are at all-time highs—we don’t think it’s worth staying exposed given that a price correction could be on the horizon. It may not be now, it may not even be for some time, but it’s still a risk that we don’t want to take given we see the potential rewards as low.

Are losses inevitable?

At Russell Investments, we’ve been asking if losses are inevitable given how expensive both equities and bonds have become. The simple answer is no. There are pockets of value to be found across markets, whether you’re an equity, bond or multi-asset investor. Dynamic portfolio management and an awareness of changing market conditions are key to navigating environments like the one we find ourselves in today.

Jihan Diolosa, Associate Director, UK Institutional

1The survey was conducted prior to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate rise on Thursday, June 15, 2017.
2The Sharpe Ratio is a measure for calculating risk-adjusted return, and this ratio has become the industry standard for such calculations. The Sharpe ratio is the average return earned in excess of the risk-free rate per unit of volatility or total risk.