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Through all the market traumas of recent years, the crises in Greece, slowdown scares in China, US political gridlock, the collapse in oil prices, the wars and the migrant flows, investors prepared to weather short-term volatility have seen handsome returns on developed-economy equities since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008, with EUR and USD investors seeing only one modestly down year in 2011. There has also been good performance from high yield and investment grade corporate bonds, the laggards (since 2011) being investments connected to commodities and emerging markets.
Our analysis, set out in this Outlook, suggests that 2016 may deliver a fairly similar pattern. Temporary traumas could emanate from Federal Reserve tightening, reduced bond liquidity, renewed growth scares in China or geopolitics, but behind these is an underlying picture of ongoing expansion. The global economy is neither pushed up against capacity limits nor facing severe slack (except for commodities and energy), banking systems are healthy and debt levels seem more amber than red. Rapid growth seems unlikely, given aging populations (bar Africa and India) and sharing economy technologies that do not generate much Gross Domestic Product, but sensibly-priced assets do not need a booming economy to generate reasonable returns. At the time of writing (in late 2015), high yield and investment grade credits have spreads just above their quarter-century averages, giving them scope to weather gradual Fed tightening. Developed equities have valuations somewhat above historic norms on a price-earnings basis, but not on a price-book basis, and operational leverage (especially in the Eurozone) and consolidating oil prices should allow earnings growth to move from last year's negatives into the mid- to high-single digits. In short, we think developed equities and credits are well placed for another year of reasonable returns, with the dollar likely to be strong again as the Fed leads the monetary cycle. As for emerging markets, and the commodities on which many depend, a convincing general recovery looks some time away, but there is scope for some to move ahead of the pack, as discussed in a special article.
Of course there can always be risks that are not visible and Fed tightening has a habit of teasing these out, although usually not within its first year. But, equally, there could be upside surprises, if the USA finally moves toward solutions on taxing repatriated corporate cash and infrastructure spending or, more simply, the signals of rising confidence already visible in US and European consumer surveys translate into faster spending. We trust our readers will find the Investment Outlook 2016 to be of considerable interest for the coming year.