May 2019 Market Commentary – Geopolitics Trumps ‘Geo-Growth’

Benjamin Lavine, CFA, CAIA

Data Source: Bloomberg

May 2019 Highlights:

  • Global stocks (MSCI All-Country World Index or ACWI) returned -5.9% led by MSCI Japan and MSCI Europe (-4.0% and -5.5%, respectively) while the U.S. (S&P 500), MSCI Asia-ex-Japan, and MSCI Emerging Markets underperformed (-6.4%, -7.0%, -7.3%, respectively). 
  • It was a tough month for global markets with U.S. and China/broader Asia bearing the brunt of the trade stand-off.  Europe outperformed across broader regions as investors seemed to brush off the results of the European Parliamentary elections as well as prospects for a Hard Brexit following British PM Theresa May’s resignation.    
  • The S&P 500 dropped 6.4% in May, as investors fled to the safety of rate-sensitive defensive sectors (Real Estate, Utilities, Healthcare, Staples) while Cyclicals and Financials underperformed. The energy sector was hardest hit with spot oil prices dropping to $53.5/barrel from $63.9/barrel at the beginning of the month. 
  • Small caps underperformed large caps, as is generally expected during risk-off periods, while value underperformed growth, primarily due to the underperformance of financials (lower interest rates hurt margins) and industrial cyclicals.
  • Risk-Off behavior was also evident across U.S. thematic, risk-based factors; Quality, High Dividend and Value underperformed while defensive factors such as Minimum Volatility and Momentum benefited from defensive position.
  • U.S. fixed income benefited from the flight-to-safety as investors flocked to long maturity U.S. Treasuries which helped the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index return 1.8%.  U.S. High Yield underperformed as investors sold off corporate credits alongside equities. 
  • The 10-Year U.S. Treasury Yield dropped to 2.13% at month-end, levels not seen since 2017.  The 2-10 Year Term structure remains marginally positive, but this is due to the significant inversion of the curve at the short-to-intermediate end. 
  • Interest-Sensitive Real Estate and Precious Metals both benefited from defensive positioning while commodities are being weighed down from the poor performance of oil and industrial metals.
  • With the latest breakdown in U.S./China trade relations in early May and the negative rhetoric growing between both sides, investors are adopting a base case scenario that the U.S. will impose 25% tariffs on all of China’s $775 billion imports, representing 1.4% of 2017 U.S. GDP.
  • We could be entering into a new global standoff characterized by a Cold War between the U.S. and China over technology advantages and spheres of influence.

To view full market commentary, click here.

By: Benjamin Lavine