If you’re wondering what investment strategy to follow this fall, the first step is to look at the global picture. The U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Union’s Central Bank and the People’s Bank of China all seem likely to take steps to stimulate their slowing economies, though it remains to be seen if those measures will be effective.
In the United States, the unemployment rate is still relatively high and inflation remains low. There are deep concerns about whether the two political parties can agree on a post-election tax policy so the country can avoid the “fiscal cliff.”
The International Monetary Fund expects slower economic growth this year in China, Brazil and India, as well as the rest of the world. For instance, China’s growth rate is expected to fall to around 8 percent this year from 9.2 percent last year, according to the IMF.
For many investors, those global economic, financial and political uncertainties mean this is a time for caution, rather than chasing after higher-risk assets that could provide potentially higher returns.
It may also be a good time to consider rounding out your portfolio with non-traditional assets, such as commodities, which may offer short-term opportunities, or other investment alternatives that focus on generating a steady stream of income and don’t move in tandem with the stock market.
However, there are still opportunistic strategies to consider, even in today’s challenging markets. While Europe has slipped into recession, you might consider investments in the region’s depressed equity market as a contrarian strategy. A quantitative easing policy by the EU’s Central Bank or continued progress toward resolving the European sovereign debt crisis could have a positive impact on the continent’s stock markets.
A tactical suggestion would be to slightly increase your EU portfolio by pulling a small percentage of funds out of U.S. stocks. This late summer rally on Wall Street has occurred quickly and U.S. stocks are not necessarily undervalued. For example, the Shiller price-earnings ratio shows the S&P 500 at 22.4 percent, which is above its long-term average of 16.4 percent. That indicates U.S. stocks may not be the best asset class to add at this point.
As far as investing in bonds, consider the additional risks and potential returns associated with emerging market sovereign and corporate debt. Many emerging markets have seen their underlying credit ratings improve in recent years, according to Moody’s Analytics.
When looking at emerging market debt, consider bonds that are issued in the local currency, rather than U.S. dollars. That creates an opportunity for higher returns from the difference in exchange rates if the local currency appreciates against the dollar.
Remember that opportunities are always available in the global markets and tactical rebalancing in a portfolio makes a great deal of sense, especially during dislocations in the world markets. But you need to be a smart investor who makes decisions based on careful analysis, rather than reacting emotionally to the day’s headlines. A contrarian strategy aimed at buying high-quality assets at a relatively low price can pay off over the long term.
And don’t let your fears drive your investments. Many of the so-called safe asset classes like T-bills appear to be overpriced at this point and offer no protection against inflation or interest rate risks. Most importantly, draw on your patience and fortitude — even in challenging markets — and cultivate a long-term perspective on investing.
Andrew Menachem, CIMA, CWS is a wealth advisor at the Menachem Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Miami and Aventura and teaches at the University of Miami.