Weekly Commentary Overview

  • Both stocks and bonds fell last week, a reversal of the prior week's result.
  • The key culprits in last week's market action: Greece (which is likely to cause still more volatility this week), and an emerging bear market in China.
  • For U.S. investors, the bigger problem may be one closer to home: the Federal Reserve (Fed) and the virtual promise of higher rates.
  • A sensible course for equity investors, in our view, is to maintain a bias toward cyclical companies, such as technology, which tend to hold up better amid rising interest rates.
  • At the same time, ease up on utilities and real estate investment trusts (REITs), which are expensive and vulnerable to losses in a rising-rate environment.

U.S. Markets Make a U-Turn

Both stocks and bonds fell last week, a reversal of the prior week's result. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.93% to 17,947, the S&P 500 Index declined 0.40% to 2,101 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index, despite touching a new record high, lost 0.71% to close the week at 5,080. Meanwhile, the yield on the 10-year Treasury rose from 2.26% to 2.48%, as its price correspondingly fell.

The key culprits in last week's market action? Greece certainly did not help (and is likely to cause still more volatility this week), nor is an emerging bear market in China. But for U.S. investors, the bigger problem may be one closer to home: the Federal Reserve (Fed) and the virtual promise of higher rates. A sensible course for equity investors, in our view, is to maintain a bias toward cyclical companies, such as technology, which tend to hold up better amid rising interest rates. At the same time, ease up on utilities and real estate investment trusts (REITs), which are expensive and vulnerable to losses in a rising-rate environment.

Sticky Situation in Greece

Despite the broad market losses, last week was not without a few bright spots: There was the Nasdaq’s new record high and a notable rally in hospital stocks when the Supreme Court upheld the current subsidy scheme under the Affordable Care Act. Overall, however, the U.S. equity market has remained stuck in a fairly narrow trading range since February.

Several factors are dampening investor sentiment. The most obvious one is Greece. While last week initially provided some hope that Greece and its creditors were moving closer together, market expectations for a quick resolution took a nosedive over the weekend. Greek prime minister Alex Tsipras's announcement of a referendum was swiftly followed by the Eurogroup announcing that the program of financial support due to expire on June 30th would not be extended. Following that decision the ECB announced that it will not increase the lifeline emergency funding that has largely funded depositors’ withdrawals from Greek banks.

Given these developments, banks in Greece will be closed through the week. The Greek referendum to be held July 5th will be a pivotal risk moment. Our base case remains that the European authorities will make every effort to minimize contagion and that the impact on other European financial markets, beyond short-term sentiment driven markdowns, is limited.

While last week initially provided some hope that Greece and its creditors were moving closer together, market expectations for a quick resolution took a nosedive over the weekend.

Meanwhile, a Bear Looms in China...

Greece dominated headlines, but last week also featured news in China. Following a feverish rally, Chinese stocks are now on the cusp of a bear market. Stocks fell more than 7% on Friday and are now roughly 19% from their highs. Friday’s selling was most acute in small-cap and technology stocks, two segments that have dominated the bull market of the last year.

While we remain comfortable with China’s economic outlook, several factors suggest it may be too early to aggressively buy this market. First, China continues to be dominated by speculation. Even with the recent sell-off, margin debt remains close to an all-time high. Second, despite a near-20% correction, equity valuations are still elevated relative to a year ago. For those looking for exposure, the H-Share market, traded in Hong Kong, is proving a less volatile way to access China's equity market.

...and the Fed in the U.S.

Finally, here at home, the bigger headwind for U.S. investors may be the Fed and, more precisely, the realization that a rate hike is probable this fall. While the data continue to be mixed (durable goods and the Chicago Fed's National Activity Index were both soft), most of the economic evidence suggests the U.S. has recovered from its first quarter economic contraction. Both existing and new home sales exceeded expectations, and personal spending notched its strongest gain in six years.

The firmer tone to the data increases the odds for a rate hike before year's end. Indeed, Fed Governor Powell last week forecasted a hike as early as September, with an encore in December. The prospect has investors paring back their bond positions. For the week ended June 24, $3.8 billion exited U.S. bond funds, helping to push the yield on the 10-year Treasury back toward the 2.50% level.

For equity investors, we'd reiterate some of our recent views: Favor technology and other cyclical companies, which tend to hold up better during periods of rising interest rates. At the same time, we'd suggest underweighting traditional yield plays, such as utilities and REITs. While these stocks have already underperformed year-to-date, they remain expensive and vulnerable to a further rise in rates. For those investors looking to emphasize less economically sensitive parts of the market, we continue to prefer health care, which historically has been less sensitive to rising rates than other traditionally defensive sectors.

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