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Investors have had to contend with many upsetting concerns over the last year, including geopolitical uncertainty, social unrest, natural disasters, monetary tightening, new regulations, and a U.S. government downgrade. The European Sovereign Debt Crisis was underway for over a year when the worrying Nightmares began compounding in March 2011. These Nightmares have undercut confidence and global growth expectations, which impeded equity returns and drove Treasury yields lower. Uncertainty fueled much higher volatility across equity, bond, currency, and commodity markets. Relative valuations across asset classes now provide compelling opportunities for active management, as extreme relative valuations should normalize. U.S. equity valuations are compelling enough, in our opinion, to support a U.S. equity return exceeding 9.5%.
Surprising strength in earnings, consumption, and investment activity has persisted. Earnings growth and high profit margins have benefited from above average productivity, but earnings growth is expected to slow this year to 10%, according to the consensus. The “output gapers” have argued that there is too much slack in employment and manufacturing capacity to push up inflation, yet consumer prices surged 3.9% before easing recently. Normalizing inflation and growth will increase pressure to raise interest rates.
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