- Equity markets pushed higher again this week, finishing Q1 on a strong note.
- The S&P 500 rose a snappy 3.5% on the week and, despite plenty of drama, closed the first quarter with a strong 7% advance. Meantime, the TSX added 3.1% on the week, which has allowed it to churn out a 3.7% gain in the quarter.
- Oh, and the Nasdaq? Just a cool 16.8% rally in the first three months of the year, the best such run since January 2021.
A recent rally has driven the market higher than it was before Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) collapsed. On the surface, that’s a little puzzling, because there’s now more risk in markets. But what it highlights is that investors are more focused on the fact that economic uncertainty pulled down the interest rate forecast. Markets are already pricing in a softer economy and a potential recession. But what they really want is for rate hikes to stop. Once investors realized that a 6% terminal rate is now unlikely and 5% is perhaps back on the table, they reacted positively. Even the NASDAQ has done quite well—valuation concerns based on the trajectory of interest rates was what caused the damage last year. Now that rates aren’t as much of a concern going forward, we’re seeing a rally. On the one hand, it’s surprising. But on the other hand, it makes perfect sense, and it’s a good example of why we’ve remained balanced in our portfolios. All along, we thought we’d see a rally whenever the Fed decides to pause, and this is an indication of that expectation becoming reality. Looking ahead, we’re anticipating one more rate hike, and wouldn’t be shocked to see two. But the Fed has given themselves an out, commenting that the softening financial situation is similar in effect to a rate hike. It will all depend on the inflation number, however, so it’s still too early to know for sure.
Bottom Line: For markets, interest rates are the most important thing right now, and optimism on that front is what prompted the recent rally.
Last week, the federal government unveiled its annual budget. It contained several new initiatives, including green incentives and the much-publicized grocery rebate. But there wasn’t anything that we’d consider a game-changer when it comes to our economic outlook for Canada. There is concern in some quarters about the deficit but, in our view, it’s all relative—just about every other developed economy is in the same boat. The deficit may put some pressure on the Canadian dollar but, beyond that, it’s unlikely to move markets. Looking at Canada’s economy more broadly, financial instability does increase the possibility of a soft landing relative to a best-case “no landing” scenario. Pressures from higher interest rates, higher mortgage costs and tightening consumer spending patterns also remain a concern. As a result, we still think being underweight Canada is the right call, even if gold, metals and oil prices could be a boost to the economy.
Bottom Line: There were no big surprises in the federal budget, and we’d expect its impact on markets and the Canadian economic outlook to be relatively muted.
Recent changes to how Brent crude oil prices are calculated have prompted questions about the forecast for oil prices and the Energy sector in general. We were somewhat surprised that oil prices came down as much as they did, the downturn being tied to heightened recession risks. We have seen something of a bounce-back since mid-March, and the re-opening of China will be a boost. But keep in mind that the re-opening is still at least a few months away. In 2021, we opened a position on Energy and saw it do extremely well in 2022 when it was the only port in a storm. Early this year we were selling calls against it to generate additional premium when we thought it might move more sideways. Now, we are in the midst of closing that position—we don’t see a special tailwind anymore, and as markets have gotten more bullish overall, other opportunities have presented themselves. Energy could still get a boost if the economy holds up better than expected, if China’s reopening goes particularly well, or if geopolitical risks flare up. But over the next three months or so, we don’t see anything that’s likely to push oil significant higher. As a result, it seemed like a prudent time to exit our position—we did very well and are happy to take our profits. Concurrently, we’ve increased our position in gold. It should serve as an effective hedge against reduced economic outlook and financial instability.
Bottom Line: We don’t expect a significant surge in oil prices in the near-term.
In terms of positioning, one thing we’ll be watching closely is the movement in Growth and Value. We continue to believe that Quality is the best option. But earnings have started to bottom out and expectations are relatively low. If companies start to beat those lowered expectations and markets react positively, that could be a sign that it’s time to bring down our Value position and pivot to Growth, which we’ve already begun to do. On the bonds front, we expected a good bounce, and that’s exactly what’s happened. We’ve been very happy with our fixed income positioning—it has delivered a lot of value for clients. That’s because our forecasts have largely played out as expected, with the only hiccup being the financial fallout from SVB. A balanced approach has proven to be the right decision.
The viewpoints expressed by the Portfolio Manager represents their assessment of the markets at the time of publication. Those views are subject to change without notice at any time without any kind of notice. The information provided herein does not constitute a solicitation of an offer to buy, or an offer to sell securities nor should the information be relied upon as investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. This communication is intended for informational purposes only.
BMO Global Asset Management is a brand name under which BMO Asset Management Inc. and BMO Investments Inc. operate.
Any statement that necessarily depends on future events may be a forward-looking statement. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of performance. They involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Although such statements are based on assumptions that are believed to be reasonable, there can be no assurance that actual results will not differ materially from expectations. Investors are cautioned not to rely unduly on any forward-looking statements. In connection with any forward-looking statements, investors should carefully consider the areas of risk described in the most recent simplified prospectus.
This article is for information purposes. The information contained herein is not, and should not be construed as, investment, tax or legal advice to any party. Investments should be evaluated relative to the individual’s investment objectives and professional advice should be obtained with respect to any circumstance.
Commissions, management fees and expenses (if applicable) all may be associated with investments in mutual funds. Trailing commissions may be associated with investments in certain series of securities of mutual funds. Please read the fund facts, ETF facts or prospectus of the relevant mutual fund before investing. Mutual funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated. Distributions are not guaranteed and are subject to change and/or elimination.
For a summary of the risks of an investment in the BMO Mutual Funds, please see the specific risks set out in the prospectus. ETF Series of the BMO Mutual Funds trade like stocks, fluctuate in market value and may trade at a discount to their net asset value, which may increase the risk of loss. Distributions are not guaranteed and are subject to change and/or elimination.
BMO Mutual Funds are managed by BMO Investments Inc., which is an investment fund manager and a separate legal entity from Bank of Montreal.
®/™Registered trademarks/trademark of Bank of Montreal, used under licence.