Market Monthly

An analysis of the economy and the markets

March 2013

The Economy
We are witnessing continued economic weakening in the U.S. with the fourth quarter GDP contracting at 0.1%. Year-over-year payroll growth, despite upward revisions after Hurricane Sandy, has dropped to a new one-year low. While recent ECB measures in Europe to reduce peripheral countries’ interest costs are a significant step in the right direction, the continent will remain mired in recessionary territory for the foreseeable future. However, the worst of the liquidity crisis appears to be past. The Fed hopes its quantitative easing measures (QE3) will improve employment and boost core inflation expectations (from current deflation concerns), but the economic impact has largely already played out. Recent tax hikes and the spending sequester are a concern. The U.S. continues to remain vulnerable to adverse shocks. Corporate America has taken advantage of record low interest rates to lever up from a low base, leaving it more vulnerable as earnings (and revenue) pressures continue to mount. Companies remain largely unwilling to add workers given the uncertain economic and policy environment in Washington. Consumer real incomes remain very weak, and their savings are low. Meaningful economic improvement, however, hinges on global policy makers shifting to a pro-growth stance, staunching the European crisis, and the global economic downturn running its course. Housing remains a bright spot as it continues to show progress and should provide positive long-term implications for the U.S. economy.

Equity Market Strategies
The U.S. is vulnerable to shocks such as the European crisis or tensions in the Mideast and Japan/China. We therefore favor a more diversified portfolio that offers greater growth and defensive exposure, with strong financial strength and attractive valuations. We believe these companies should outperform in this environment. While equity valuations in general remain attractive on a long-term basis, stocks are vulnerable in the near-term due to economic weakness and external shocks. While Fed quantitative easing has helped financial assets temporarily and weakened the dollar, the underlying economic and company fundamentals will remain challenged.

Strengths:

  • Higher quality companies reasonably valued on a long-term basis
  • Dividend yield for many equities relatively attractive in current low-interest rate environment
  • Federal Reserve is accommodative; QE3 recently announced housing improving

Concerns:

  • Earnings and revenue growth quickly weakening as likely recession in the U.S. and most of developed world begins to sting
  • Weaker consumer income and savings bode ill for consumption
  • Exports/imports growth increasingly challenged
  • Cyclical companies at higher risk

Fixed Income Strategies
Treasury securities offer negative real yields at several tenors along the term structure. Therefore, in order to outperform inflation investors need an allocation to spread products. Corporate balance sheets remain generally healthy despite growing revenue and earnings pressures. The gradually improving real estate market should support our overweight position in CMBS and in addition help regional banks’ balance sheets.

We are positioned duration neutral in our intermediate and core portfolios. We are now roughly a quarter year long across all our short taxable and tax-exempt portfolios. Our taxable portfolio positions remain underweight Treasury securities; overweight corporate bond (within corporate sector we continue to shift from industrial to financial sectors) and securitized products; underweight agency bonds in favor of taxable municipal bonds and overweight select commercial and non-agency mortgage-backed securities.

Strengths: 

  • Fed on hold until unemployment is less than 6.5%
  • Corporate fundamentals, although weakening from a stronger base, remain satisfactory
  • Growing pressure to reduce government debt/spending
  • Continued low inflationary pressures
  • Strong investor demand/bond fund inflows

Concerns:

  • Ongoing budget negotiation
  • Most of developed world in recession
  • Large budget deficit
  • Low absolute yields
  • Increased shareholder-friendly activity
  • Weaker dollar

Our Investment Strategy

  • The balanced allocation should perform well in a variety of situations, including if the U.S. economy slows materially or if it merely maintains a stable lower growth pattern. It will tend to underperform if the economy (and company earnings) grows at a much stronger clip, an unlikely occurrence in our opinion.
  • The Advisory Solutions Team is maintaining its strategic allocation to equities, fixed income and diversifying assets.
  • We continue to recommend a 60/40 mix between U.S. and international developed equities, and we are maintaining an equal weight to both growth and value stocks.
  • The weighting to emerging markets is currently below the long-term target allocation.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the Sterling Advisory Solutions Team, and not those of BB&T Corporation or its executives. The stated opinions are for general information only and are not meant to be predictions or an offer of individual or personalized investment advice. They also are not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security. This information and these opinions are subject to change without notice. Any type of investing involves risk and there are no guarantees. Sterling Capital Management LLC does not assume liability for any loss which may result from the reliance by any person upon any such information or opinions.

Investment advisory services are available through Sterling Capital Management LLC, a separate subsidiary of BB&T Corporation. Sterling Capital Management LLC manages customized investment portfolios, provides asset allocation analysis and offers other investment-related services to affluent individuals and businesses. Securities and other investments held in investment management or investment advisory accounts at Sterling Capital Management LLC are not deposits or other obligations of BB&T Corporation, Branch Banking and Trust Company or any affiliate, are not guaranteed by Branch Banking and Trust Company or any other bank, are not insured by the FDIC or any other government agency, and are subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal invested.

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