We were recently joined by clients for a discussion about global investment opportunities, in the context of technically overbought conditions in US stocks. In this blog, we share our views regarding where we see risks and opportunities in international markets.
From a valuation perspective, in which regions and countries do you see the most risk and opportunity? Where do the US and Canada fit into that valuation spectrum?
Following a high-velocity selloff and subsequent v-shaped rebound, US stocks have surprisingly clung to their status as one of, if not the most overvalued market segments of the developed world. Indeed, US and developed market price-to-sales (P/S) ratios are trading at notable premia relative to the global benchmark and history. In our view, unprecedented policy support has encouraged extreme risk taking by investors, a consequence of which has been frothy valuations in US stocks.
At the other end of the valuation spectrum, structural underperformance from Chinese and emerging market (EM) stocks – until recently – has compressed their P/S ratios to deep discounts compared to the world-wide stock market and history. Clearly, Europe and Canada are developed economic regions. However, European and Canadian stocks currently trade at discounts like those of Chinese and EM stocks.
While valuation is a good starting point for an investment thesis, it isn’t enough on its own. Indeed, cheap valuations require catalysts to unleash the potential opportunities embedded in share prices. On that score, leading indicators of business activity across the emerging world – China and South Korea in particular – have been proving more resilient than those of the developed world, including the US, Europe, Japan and Canada.
We believe compelling opportunities exist for investors in EM stocks at a time when many emerging economies – especially Asia excluding Japan – are recovering from the virus-related “sudden stop” in activity. Attractive valuations and improving economic growth may be the right combination for unlocking the potential rewards presented by EM stocks. So far, so good.
Figures 1 & 2. Not all regions and countries are made equal. For selectivity, we prefer targeting low valuations and faster growth over high valuations and slower growth both across and within regions.
US companies are highly exposed to international markets. Don’t US stocks provide investors with enough international diversification?
Contrary to popular belief, US companies aren’t the most globally exposed. In fact, they have the lowest international exposure – capturing 39% of total revenues – of all the major developed markets that we follow. Some may be surprised to learn that French companies’ international revenues represent a whopping 82% of their total revenues!1
Admittedly, it’s difficult to determine how much international exposure an investor should have without knowing several things about them, including their risk tolerance, goals, life stage, and planned retirement date.
That said, there’s a simple way of assessing whether investors own enough international stocks. In our view, the weight of the MSCI USA Index in the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI) is a good starting point for benchmarking your international diversification. US stocks capture 58% of the global equity benchmark, which means that non-US stocks capture 42% of the worldwide stock market.2
Many investors are surprised to learn that non-US equities represent almost half of a passively indexed global equity portfolio, represented by the MSCI ACWI. Moreover, what they thought was a generous allocation to international stocks – typically 25% – is far below the entire universe of stocks.
As aggressive as it may seem, in our view, setting international equity allocations equal to their weight in the global benchmark would express a neutral stance on the asset class.
Figures 3 & 4. US companies have the lowest international exposure of all the major developed markets
Looking back, what was the cost of the shutdown, and how might it have impacted second-quarter S&P 500 earnings?
While it may seem like a daunting task to quantify the earnings impact of COVID-19 and the related cost of the shutdown, we think it’s possible.
First, we need a baseline for second-quarter 2020 S&P 500 trailing 12-month operating earnings per share (EPS), which we assume to be $121. Next, we require a weekly earnings number ($121/52 = $2.32).
Then, we must guess how many companies were shut down. Obviously, all companies weren’t idle during the virus-related shutdown. In fact, some firms benefitted tremendously in the health care, consumer staples, technology, and communications sectors. We naively assume half of firms were idle ($2.32/2 = $1.16).
For the final step, we erode the baseline by the lost earnings of those companies over a 12-week shutdown ($1.16*12 = $14). In other words, we suspect second-quarter 2020 S&P 500 earnings may have been $14 lower than analysts believe, which would equate to $107 or a 31% decline from year-ago levels.
Figure 5. We suspect 2Q20 S&P 500 earnings may have been $14 lower than analysts believe
While this approach is simplistic, it’s worth noting second-quarter 2020 S&P 500 operating EPS settled at $139 or -9% year-over-year, just $3 below our simulation of $142 or -7% year-over-over. As we anticipated, it seems a broad market earnings recession began in 1Q20, which we expect to be followed by much deeper decreases in coming quarters.3
Despite the popularity of earnings, we underscore that they’re quarterly, lagging variables whereas stocks are real-time financial market variables and leading economic indicators that get ahead of fundamentals by a good 3-6 months. Said differently, scrutinizing second quarter earnings – when we’re already in the third quarter – is akin to driving a car forward while looking in the rearview mirror.
Where do you see materials and commodities going during these COVID-19 times?
We expect materials stocks to outperform the broader market, given synchronized central bank support. For example, the Federal Reserve (Fed) has embarked on a seemingly open-ended commitment to continue buying securities until the economic and labor market outlooks improve substantially.
An important consequence of the Fed’s unprecedented balance sheet expansion is the weakness of the US dollar, which should reinforce the blossoming rally in cyclical stocks through foreign exposure/sales, Rest of the World (RoW) profits, positive translation effects and increased competitiveness. In other words, US goods and services become cheaper when the currency depreciates.
If quantitative easing (QE) represents a choice between interest rates and the US dollar, the Fed has opted to save growth and jobs by loosening the monetary screws and inflating the money supply at the expense of the currency. From that perspective, it’s reasonable to expect the US dollar to weaken further if the Fed keeps such an abundant supply of currency in circulation.
In turn, the US dollar is inversely related to the relative performance of the materials sector, the fundamental link being foreign exposure. According to Standard & Poor’s, materials companies relied on foreigners for 57% of their total sales in 2018, second only to information technology at 58%.
US dollar weakness helps US-based materials companies be more competitive on the world economic stage. Dollar depreciation augments the value of foreign sales (denominated in strengthening currencies) when they’re translated to the home currency.
The flipside of US dollar weakness is commodity price strength. Indeed, early-stage commodities have been on an upward track, supporting a positive view of the materials sector. Commodity prices – barometers of materials companies’ input and/or output prices – are key drivers of materials stocks. The CRB BLS Raw Industrials Sub-Index is a good gauge of basic commodities close to the early stages of the production process. As such, they’re among the first to respond to changes in global economic activity.
Our positive view of materials stocks depends on whether the global economic recovery gathers pace. Should the economy suffer a relapse, it would likely be difficult for materials stocks to continue outperforming. If the US dollar keeps weakening alongside forceful blasts of QE from the major central banks, materials stocks should continue to benefit. Indeed, standing in the way of size buyers like the Fed has been an unprofitable strategy in the past.
Figures 6 & 7. The flipside of policy-induced currency weakness is commodities and materials strength.
1. FactSet, 07/17/20
2. MSCI, 07/17/20.
3. Standard & Poor’s, 07/17/20.
A P/S ratio is the market capitalization of a given country or region divided by its total revenues.
The MSCI USA Index is designed to measure large and mid market capitalization stocks in the United States.
The MSCI ACWI is designed to measure large and mid market capitalization stocks in the developed and emerging markets.
QE is a form of unconventional monetary policy where a central bank makes large scale asset purchases in order to increase the money supply and encourage lending and investment.
The CRB BLS Raw Industrials Sub-Index measures the prices of burlap, copper scrap, cotton, hides, lead scrap, print cloth, rosin, rubber, steel scrap, tallow, tin, wool tops and zinc.
Blog Header Image: Javier Garcia / Unsplash
The risks of investing in securities of foreign issuers, including emerging market issuers, can include fluctuations in foreign currencies, political and economic instability, and foreign taxation issues.
To the extent the fund invests a greater amount in any one sector or industry, there is increased risk to the fund if conditions adversely affect that sector or industry.
Commodities may subject an investor to greater volatility than traditional securities such as stocks and bonds and can fluctuate significantly based on weather, political, tax, and other regulatory and market developments.
All investing involves risk, including risk of loss.
A decision as to whether, when and how to use options involves the exercise of skill and judgment and even a well conceived option transaction may be unsuccessful because of market behavior or unexpected events. The prices of options can be highly volatile and the use of options can lower total returns.
In general, stock values fluctuate, sometimes widely, in response to activities specific to the company as well as general market, economic and political conditions.
The opinions referenced above are those of the authors as of August 3, 2020. These comments should not be construed as recommendations, but as an illustration of broader themes. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future results. They involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions; there can be no assurance that actual results will not differ materially from expectations. This does not constitute a recommendation of any investment strategy or product for a particular investor. The opinions expressed are those of the authors, are based on current market conditions and are subject to change without notice. These opinions may differ from those of other Invesco investment professionals.