Investing is not about making a point forecast. Rather, our view is that it entails assessing the probability of various scenarios and determining what’s been discounted by markets. This is especially relevant as we present our latest quarterly outlook, says Sander Bus, Co-head of the Robeco Credit team. “We agree with the consensus forecast of strong economic growth – but not with the view that a long position in credit is always justified under these conditions.”
It seems obvious that the global economy will in 2021 experience its strongest growth in decades. Ultra-loose monetary policy, aggressive fiscal stimulus and the unleashing of pent-up demand as the economy eventually reopens fully, are expected to pave the way for high single-digit economic growth. Some forecasters even suggest that the US could experience double-digit nominal GDP growth.
The Fed and the ECB have made it very clear that they will keep rates low for a long time. The Fed has signaled that it will deliberately be behind the curve, and that it will accept higher bond yields as long as these are driven by higher inflation expectations.
Today’s fiscal and monetary policies are unprecedented. In fact, one could argue that they are a giant dual experiment. When you are experimenting, unexpected outcomes are always a possibility.
Credit markets traditionally perform well in the first year after a recession. What’s more, spreads have been negatively correlated with rates most of the time in the last two decades. “So, why are we advocating a defensive positioning? The short answer is that the market is priced for perfection, which means that you don’t get paid for potential tail risks,” says Bus.
“While it’s possible that credits could keep rallying, the margin for error is extremely limited. The opportunity costs of being defensive are therefore low. We believe it very likely that better entry points to increase credit risk will arise in the next six months.”
With an expected acceleration in the roll-out of vaccines in Q2, the prospects of a full economic reopening are improving rapidly – starting in the US and followed by the UK and Europe. On top of that, base effects will result in spectacular year-on-year GDP growth. The OECD is now forecasting that developed markets will have recovered most of their economic losses by the fourth quarter of this year. In its latest projections, US GDP growth will even outpace the pre-pandemic growth trajectory.
The health crisis triggered a powerful fiscal solution of an unimaginable scale, and we have probably not seen the end of it yet. A new infrastructure bill is already in the making in the US. The projected fiscal stimulus for 2021 is up on 2020, despite last year’s two large programs. Fiscal stimulus in Europe, albeit not as outrageous as in the US, is set to continue for at least another year. This is very different compared to the aftermath of the global financial crisis, when fiscal austerity dampened the recovery.
Victor Verberk, Co-head of the Robeco Credit team, says: “We think that the market is too relaxed about higher rates. Higher nominal rates are not a problem as long as inflation rises at the same pace and hence real yields stay low. But as soon as real yields rise, we expect it will start to bite. Even though we subscribe to the view that most central banks would prefer to keep real yields low, this is not fully in their control. With the US economy set to steam ahead, the Fed will probably start discussing tapering at some point from this quarter onwards. That could trigger a further increase in real yields, either through rising nominal yields or a drop in inflation break-evens”.
“All in all, we are concerned that markets are ahead of fundamentals. Should there be any unexpected combination of negative surprises on rates volatility, policy errors or geo-political tensions, conditions could turn more bearish.”
An improving macroeconomy and the absence of monetary tightening usually are great for risky assets. But, says Bus, “these factors are so clear that they are widely recognized. And credit markets played the full recovery in 2020. In a normal economic recovery, spreads usually start at much higher levels as there is always doubt in the early days about the sustainability of the recovery. Remember people talking about green shoots? This time the slump was the result of a pandemic and the solution was colossal policy support, followed by a vaccine. We are therefore at a place of such broad agreement about the recovery that it has been fully priced in even before it has started. That explains the massive bull market in the midst of the worst recession ever.”
Generally speaking, credit markets are back to or better than pre-pandemic levels. All categories are well below the bottom quartile spread levels, with some even approaching their all-time tights. The best environment for carry is usually the boring periods with modest economic growth and inflation. Recessions are the worst, while periods of very high growth are also undesirable, due to the unleashing of animal spirits, risk taking and exuberance on the corporate leverage side, and the risk of extreme swings in policy and interest rates to cool any resultant overheating.
On a relative basis, there are two pockets of the market that still offer some value: financials and emerging market corporates. These are also tight versus their median spread, but less so than the other categories. Financials are also the least duration-sensitive sector as both insurance as well as banks can benefit from higher inflation and steeper rates curves. For emerging markets, sector and country selection remain key, with commodity-related names benefiting from reflation in the near-term, while commodity importers suffer.
All considered, the starting point for valuations for the coming period gives us a sense of unease. There is very little room for error.
Bus believes there is still a good chance that this will be a boring year, in which the fireworks are in treasuries and growth equity markets, while credits just deliver their carry with spread remaining range bound at current low levels.
“Still, we think that it is better to be positioned on the cautious side. ‘All signs on green’ has become the widely shared view for credit. Even some of the perma bears on the sell side have now turned bullish. Yet, the market no longer compensates for tail risks. The consensus long makes the market vulnerable to negative surprises – be it policy errors, Covid setbacks or geo-political tensions.”
We are not running huge underweight betas. We are positioned just below one by focusing on the higher-quality names in the universe. Given the very low dispersion in markets, it does not pay to reach out for the riskier names. Our positioning is consistent for all credit categories.
This information is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an offer to sell or an invitation to buy any securities or products, nor as investment advice or recommendation.
The contents of this document have not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”). Robeco Singapore Private Limited holds a capital markets services license for fund management issued by the MAS and is subject to certain clientele restrictions under such license.
An investment will involve a high degree of risk, and you should consider carefully whether an investment is suitable for you.
Warning/Important note: This website contains information which is only available to qualified investors as defined below. If you are not a qualified investor, please click “I Disagree” to leave the website.
By clicking on "I agree", I declare that:
1 - This website may only be accessed directly or indirectly by the following persons in Singapore:
1) “institutional investor” under section 304 of the Securities and Futures Act (Cap.289)(“SFA”), which means:
(i) the Government; (ii) a statutory board as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (iii) an entity that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by a central government of a country and whose principal activity is (A) to manage its own funds; (B) to manage the funds of the central government of that country (which may include the reserves of that central government and any pension or provident fund of that country); or (C) to manage the funds (which may include the reserves of that central government and any pension or provident fund of that country) of another entity that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by the central government of that country; (iv) any entity (A) that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by the central government of a country; and (B) whose funds are managed by an entity mentioned in sub-paragraph (iii); (v) a central bank in a jurisdiction other than Singapore; (vi) a central government in a country other than Singapore; (vii) an agency (of a central government in a country other than Singapore) that is incorporated or established in a country other than Singapore; (viii) a multilateral agency, international organisation or supranational agency as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (ix) a bank that is licensed under the Banking Act (Cap.19); (x) a merchant bank that is approved as a financial institution under section 28 of the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act (Cap.186); (xi) a finance company that is licensed under the Finance Companies Act (Cap.108); (xii) a company or co-operative society that is licensed under the Insurance Act (Cap.142) to carry on insurance business in Singapore; (xiii) a company licensed under the Trust Companies Act (Cap.336); (xiv) a holder of a capital markets services licence; (xv) an approved exchange; (xvi) a recognised market operator; (xvii) an approved clearing house; (xviii) a recognised clearing house; (xix) a licensed trade repository; (xx) a licensed foreign trade repository; (xxi) an approved holding company; (xxii) a Depository as defined in section 81SF of the SFA; (xxiii) an entity or a trust formed or incorporated in a jurisdiction other than Singapore, which is regulated for the carrying on of any financial activity in that jurisdiction by a public authority of that jurisdiction that exercises a function that corresponds to a regulatory function of the Authority under this Act, the Banking Act (Cap.19), the Finance Companies Act (Cap.108), the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act (Cap.186), the Insurance Act (Cap.142), the Trust Companies Act (Cap.336) or such other Act as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (xxiv) a pension fund, or collective investment scheme, whether constituted in Singapore or elsewhere; (xxv) a person (other than an individual) who carries on the business of dealing in bonds with accredited investors or expert investors; (xxvi) the trustee of such trust as the Authority may prescribe, when acting in that capacity; or; (xxvii) such other person as the Authority may prescribe.
2) “relevant person” under section 305(1) of the SFA, which means:
(i) An accredited investor; (ii) a corporation the sole business of which is to hold investments and the entire share capital of which is owned by one or more individuals, each of whom is an accredited investor; (iii) a trustee of a trust the sole purpose of which is to hold investments and each beneficiary of which is an individual who is an accredited investor; (iv) an officer or equivalent person of the person making the offer (such person being an entity) or a spouse, parent, brother, sister, son or daughter of that officer or equivalent person; or (v) a spouse, parent, brother, sister, son or daughter of the person making the offer (such person being an individual).
3) any person who acquires the units [in a collective investment scheme] as principal if the offer is on terms that the units may only be required at a consideration of not less than $200,000 (or its equivalent in a foreign currency) for each transaction, whether such amount is to be paid for in cash or by exchange of units in a collective investment scheme, securities, securities-based derivatives contracts or other assets, and if the following condition is satisfied: (i) the offer is not accompanied by an advertisement making an offer or calling attention to the offer or intended offer; (ii) no selling or promotional expenses are paid or incurred in connection with the offer other than those incurred for administrative or professional services, or by way of commission or fee for services rendered by any of the persons specified in section 302B(1)(d)(i) to (vi) of the SFA; and (iii) no prospectus in respect of the offer has been registered by the Authority or, where a prospectus has been registered (A) the prospectus has eAccxpired pursuant to section 299 of the SFA; or (B) the person making the offer has before making the offer 1. informed the Authority by notice in writing of its intent to make the offer in reliance on the exemption under this subsection; and 2. taken reasonable steps to inform in writing the person to whom the offer is made that the offer is made in reliance on the exemption under this subsection.
4) Or otherwise pursuant to, and in accordance with the conditions of, any other applicable provision of the SFA.
If you are not any of the types of persons described above, you are not authorized to enter this website and you should leave this website immediately.
2 Terms and Conditions
You acknowledge that you have read these Terms and Conditions (“Terms”) prior to accessing the website located at www.robeco.com/sg (“Website”) and you agree to be bound by the Terms. If you do not agree to all of the Terms, you are not an authorised user and you should not use the Website. The Website is owned by Robeco Singapore Private Limited (company registration number: UEN. 201541306Z), which is licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”) pursuant to the Securities and Futures Act (Cap.289) (“SFA”) of Singapore, and is managed by Robeco Singapore Private Limited and/or its affiliates (collectively, as “Robeco”). The Website is intended for and should be accessed by institutional investors or accredited investors (as defined under Section 4A of the SFA) of Singapore. The Website is not directed to, or intended for distribution to or use by, any person or entity who is a citizen or resident of or located in any locality, state, country or other jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, availability or use would be contrary to law or regulation or which would subject the Robeco to any registration or licensing requirement within such jurisdiction. It is your responsibility to observe all applicable laws, rules and regulations of any relevant jurisdiction. The content contained in the Website is owned by Robeco and/or its information providers and is protected by applicable copyrights, trademarks, service marks, and/or other intellectual property rights. You may not copy, distribute, modify, post, frame or link the Website, including any text, graphics, video, audio, software code, user interface, design or logos. You may not distribute, modify, transmit, reuse, repost, or use the content of the Website for public or commercial use, including all text, images, audio and/or video. Robeco may terminate your access to the Website for any reason, without prior notice. Neither Robeco, nor any of its associates, nor any director, officer or employee accepts any liability whatsoever for any loss arising directly or indirectly from the access of the Website. You agree to indemnity and hold Robeco, its associates, directors, officers or employees harmless against any and all claims, losses, liability, costs and expenses arising from your use of the Website due to violation of the Terms. Robeco reserves the right to change, modify, add or remove any parts of the Terms at any time and for any reason. The Terms shall deemed to be effective immediately upon posting. The Terms shall be governed by, and shall be construed in accordance with, the law of Singapore.
The Website has not been reviewed by the MAS. Accordingly, the Website may not be accessed directly or indirectly to persons in Singapore other than (i) to an institutional investor under Section 304 of the SFA, (ii) to a relevant person pursuant to Section 305(1), or any person pursuant to Section 305(2), and in accordance with the conditions specified in Section 305, of the SFA, or (iii) otherwise pursuant to, and in accordance with the conditions of, any other applicable provision of the SFA.
Nothing in the Website constitutes tax, accounting, regulatory, legal or investment advice. The Website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an offer to sell or an invitation to buy any securities or products, nor as investment advice or recommendation or for the purpose of soliciting any action in relation to Robeco’s businesses, or solicitation by anyone in any jurisdiction in which such an offer or solicitation is not authorised or to any person to whom it is unlawful to make such an offer and solicitation. Any reproduction or distribution of information from the Website, in whole or in part, or the disclosure of its contents, without the prior written consent of Robeco, is prohibited. By accessing to the Website, you agree to the foregoing.
The funds referred to in the Website are for information only. It is not a recommendation or investment advice, nor does it mean the funds is suitable for all investors. The contents of the website is not reviewed by the MAS. Any decision to participate in the funds should be made only after reviewing the sections regarding investment considerations, conflicts of interest, risk factors and the relevant Singapore selling restrictions. You should consult your professional adviser if you are in doubt about the stringent restrictions applicable to the use of the Website, regulatory status of the funds, applicable regulatory protection, associated risks and suitability of the funds to your objectives.
Any decisions made based on the information contained in the Website are the sole responsibility of yours. Any investments made or to be made shall be with your independent analyses based on your financial situation and objectives. The investments and strategies contained in the Website may not be suitable for all investors and are not guaranteed by Robeco.
Investment involves risks and may lose value. Historical returns are provided for illustrative purposes only and do not necessarily reflect Robeco’s expectations for the future. The value of your investments may fluctuate. Past performance is no indication of current or future performance. The Website may contain projections or other forward looking statements regarding future events or future financial performance of countries, markets or companies and such projection or forecast is not indicative of the future. The information contained in the Website, including any data, projections and underlying assumptions are based upon certain assumptions, management forecasts and analysis of information available on an “as is” basis and without warranties of any kind, whether express or implied, and reflects prevailing conditions and Robeco’s views as of the date published or indicated, and maybe superseded by subsequent events or for other reasons. The information contained in the Website are accordingly subject to change at any time without notice and Robeco are under no obligation to notify you of any of these changes. Robeco expressly disclaims all liability for errors and omissions in the information presented in the Website and for the use or interpretation by others of information contained in the Website.
Robeco Singapore Private Limited holds a capital markets services licence for fund management issued by the MAS and is subject to certain clientele restrictions under such licence. An investment will involve a high degree of risk, and you should consider carefully whether an investment is suitable for you.