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Market commentary: From crisis to recovery

July 13 | Market commentary

After a very turbulent 2022, the first half of 2023 saw a stabilisation in the capital markets, with strong recoveries in certain sectors.

In this commentary, we report on market developments so far this year and also give you an update on the economic environment (inflation, interest rate developments and the economy). We also look at our future positioning in the portfolio and show why we are extremely positive and confident about the future, despite continuing uncertainties.

Content

From crisis to recovery - sector rotation in the first half of 2023

The year 2022 was a good example of how markets can be very strongly driven by psychology, emotions and popularity in the short term. In certain sectors such as communication services, non-basic consumer goods or information technology, the end of the pandemic halted accelerated growth for the time being.

Moreover, increased costs (due to continued anticipated growth) put additional pressure on corporate profits. Many companies in these sectors fell in price to such an extent that market valuations sometimes implied broken business models whose long-term revenue and profit prospects would have changed completely within a very short time. In many cases, however, this was definitely not the case.

The tide also turned sharply in terms of general sector development in the first half of 2023. The three sectors that had performed the worst last year showed an impressive recovery as of 30.06.2023. Information technology (+42.8%), communication services (+36.2%) and non-basic consumer goods (+33.1%) lead the way by a wide margin, while last year’s top three (utilities, energy, basic consumer goods) posted performances of -5.7%, -5.5% and +1.3%, respectively.

Meanwhile, the recovery in the top 3 sectors of the first half of the year is quite advanced and a certain normalisation of valuations can be observed.

S&P 500 Sektoren20222023 (Year-to-Date)
Informationstechnologie-29%+42,8%
Kommunikationsdienstleistungen-40%+36,2%
Nicht-Basiskonsumgüter-38%+33,1%
Industrie-7%+10,2%
Materialien-14%+7,7%
Immobilien-28%+1,5%
Basis-Konsumgüter-3%+1,3%
Finanzsektor-12%-0,5%
Gesundheitswesen-4%-1,5%
Energie59%-5,5%
Versorger-1%-5,7%
S&P 500-19%+16,9%

This rapid turnaround again shows the importance of a long-term investment horizon and the avoidance of short-term, emotional decisions. We refrain from anticipating short-term price changes and sector trends. Our focus is on companies whose high quality promises long-term potential.

If the fundamental investment thesis is still intact, we hold on to an investment. Even though this can sometimes lead to stronger price fluctuations, we never make a sell decision solely on the basis of falling prices.

The macro environment - inflation and interest rate outlook

There are increasing signs that inflation is being successfully brought under control in both the US and Europe. Prices in areas such as energy, commodities, freight or agriculture & food have fallen dramatically since the highs.

Consumer prices are now increasingly reflecting these price developments and this trend is expected to continue. In the US, after peaking at 9.06% in June 2022, the annual inflation rate is now 3.00% (as of June 2023).

Recent developments in particular are very positive and point to further improvements. The annualised rate of the last 3 months is now only 2.4% and many categories show a declining behaviour. Only house prices and rents continue to be an inflationary driver, although here too a decline is to be expected over the next few months. Both house prices and rents are falling in the current environment, but due to the calculation method they are only taken into account in the inflation figures with a significant time lag.

Positive developments can also be observed in the euro zone. Here, inflation (as per the preliminary result for June 2023) was 5.5% compared to 6.1% in the previous month. As a reminder – the peak here was 10.6% in October 2022. Europe faces a longer road towards the targeted 2% inflation rate due to more extreme energy price escalation.

However, very positive developments can already be seen in some European countries. In Spain, Belgium, Greece or Luxembourg – countries that all had a double-digit inflation rate last year – it is now between 1% and 2.7%, depending on the region. A look at the developments in the Spanish inflation rate in particular could point to a promising outlook. Here, the annual inflation rate has fallen from the July 2022 peak of 10.6% to below 2% and the fact that there has been a high correlation with EU zone inflation in the past and the rate in Spain has recently always been a few months ahead of euro zone trends could be a very positive sign for the coming half-year.

Halbjahreskommentar Estably

Historical development of the inflation rate in the euro area, Spain & Denmark

Both in the US and in Europe, very good progress has been made so far in the development of inflation and the restrictive monetary policy of the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank (ECB) is showing its effect, along with other deflationary forces.

While central bank rhetoric remains tight and final small hikes cannot be ruled out, really significant changes in the coming 6-18 months are more likely to be rate cuts, not hikes, in our view. The falling purchase and production prices worldwide as well as the already declining inflation figures show that most of the work has been done and all that is needed in the first place is a little patience.

Economic development - A contrasting environment

At the end of last year, in addition to Europe and Asia, the economy in some areas of the USA had also clouded over. The housing market and various industrial sectors were particularly affected. The housing market has since recovered somewhat from its low and is showing a degree of stabilization, while the weakness in the industry continues due to the aftermath of the pandemic and the resulting reduction in inventory. On the positive side in this regard, many companies had reported no foreseeable deterioration during the last reporting season.

That being said, many other areas of the U.S. economy continue to hold up more robustly than expected. Healthy household balance sheets and historically low levels of debt to service relative to disposable income put the U.S. consumer in a good position. Although consumer spending has slowed somewhat, it can still be classified as robust in the current situation. For some time now, people have been drawing on savings for this purpose, which arose from a combination of lower spending and certain subsidies during the pandemic.

Although the savings rate of the average American is now below the historical average, it has recently shown a more positive trend again. The labor market also continues to hold up very strongly. The unemployment rate is at a very low level (3.7% compared to the 50-year average of 6.2%), new jobs continue to be created at a healthy level, and initial claims for unemployment have recently shown a declining trend again.

USA Wall Street

The current investment cycle for the construction of production facilities for areas such as batteries, solar cells, or semiconductors, whose production is being immensely promoted by various government support programs, should also provide some tailwind. These investments imply a sustained demand for labor and materials and should ensure a stabilization of certain sectors over the coming years.

The exact course of the economy remains unpredictable. In our annual commentary written in January, we reported that many economists, investors, business owners and consumers were expecting a downturn, and surveys have shown that historically this has been one of the most anticipated recessions.

Meanwhile, due to the robustness of various sectors, estimates of a recession keep getting pushed back in time. For us, based on current data, a kind of “rolling recession” is a plausible scenario in which different sectors cool down at different times and a deep recession can be avoided. The main reasons for this are the continued strength of the U.S. consumer and the labor market. The longer a slowdown in these areas can be avoided, the further advanced the recovery in other areas should already be.

If, however, a general slowdown were to occur and the situation in many areas were to deteriorate at the same time, the US Fed would be in a position to counteract this weakness with its monetary policy, with the increased real earning power resulting from the decline in the inflation rate representing an additional supporting factor.

General outlook and expectations

After the negative market sentiment towards the end of last year (due to persistent inflation, interest rate and recession concerns), the uncertainties seem to be easing somewhat. The pessimistic picture and the short-term view are being replaced by a more neutral picture, which is also reflected in the development of the stock markets in the first half of the year.

Global equity indices have seen some recovery from the October 2022 lows, with both the US S&P 500 (+16.9%) and the global MSCI World (+13.99%) and DAX (+15.98%) having a good first half.

From a purely statistical point of view, a strong first half-year (performance >10%) is usually followed by a positive second half-year:

Since 1950, there have been a total of 22 years in which the S&P 500 achieved a performance of over +10% in the first half of the year. In 18 of these 22 years, the performance was also positive in the second half of the year, averaging +7.7%.

From a fundamental point of view, it is also not unlikely that the general market will continue to develop positively.

Focus on the current market environment and long-term investment success

Much more important than these general statistics, however, is the individual consideration of the individual stocks in our portfolio. We see our companies as optimally positioned for the future, regardless of various macroeconomic factors. Over the last few months, we have made a few strategic adjustments in order to position ourselves even better for the current environment, but above all for the long term.

By reducing some very long-term investments and geopolitical risk, and adding highly stable business models or cyclical, favourably valued companies with strong competitive advantages, we were able to take advantage of unique opportunities in the market.

We aimed to add stability to the portfolio without much impact on expected long-term returns. With the recent additions, we consider this process to be mostly complete, but of course we are continuously on the lookout for new opportunities presented to us by the market.

Despite the increased diversification, we continue to see excellent opportunities in digital business models from the information technology, non-basic consumer goods and communication services sectors. Leading companies in these sectors have disproportionate growth potential and strong competitive advantages, which can lead to attractive long-term revenue and profit growth.

A look at the past is very revealing in this regard:

Digital business models have significantly outperformed the rest of the companies in the US S&P 500 Index in terms of revenue growth (+156% vs. +52%) but especially profit growth (+300% vs. +18%) over the period from 2010 to 2021.

In addition to these structural benefits, we also see a sustainable upside, as many companies that were affected by this imbalance between revenue and cost growth in the short term will want to focus more on profitability and return on investment in the future.

Even if there were short-term deviations of these trends, as seen in 2022, we see a good chance that the long-term trend in fundamentals and thus performance will continue due to the strength of the business models and the size of the addressable markets.

Abschließende Worte

Even if the environment should deteriorate further, it will be important for long-term investment success to remain calm at all times. Historically, the periods around a recession have not been a completely negative environment for investors.

Since 1950, the average return of the S&P 500 has been within a tolerable range 6 months (-2%) and 12 months (-3%) before and then during the recession (-1%). Moreover, the 1-year (+16%) and 2-year (+20%) returns after the end of a recession, as well as the 1-year (+40%) and 2-year index returns (+50%) from the market bottom around a recession, point to a typically quite quick recovery. Because of this, one is best advised not to be influenced by short-term fluctuations and daily bad news and to trust the quality in one’s own portfolio.

Our current allocation is very positive. Due to high competitive advantages and strong earnings power, the companies are optimally positioned to master upcoming challenges and even (as in the past) to emerge stronger from a potential crisis.

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Estably is the first digital asset management company from Liechtenstein to offer first-class wealth management from € 20,000 through a mix of technology and human investment expertise. Thanks to the portfolio managers' many years of experience in the field of value investing, above-average returns are targeted. This is intended to make professional asset management, previously available exclusively to large investors, accessible to everyone - conveniently, transparently, and profitably.

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