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Turning the spotlight on US buybacks - is a structural reversal in play?

March 20, 2023

Share buybacks in the US have been a key feature of market dynamics during the post-GFC period...

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The environment of financial repression provided companies with the perfect tailwind to pursue buybacks that boost both EPS and shareholder returns. However, it appears that this secular driver has peaked and is losing momentum.

US buybacks (ex financials) reached a peak in Q3 2022 but have been in decline since

Chart 1: US (ex financials) quarterly and rolling 4Q buybacks (USD, Bn)

US buybacks (ex Financials) peaked at trailing 4-quarter rate of $1tn in Q3 last year and have eased back since. The opportunity to repurchase shares on a large scale has been rational behaviour for companies in the post-GFC landscape of extremely cheap money and rising free cashflow. However, with interest rates rising and profits declining, there will now surely be big question marks over companies' willingness to sustain buybacks at these levels.

With technology buybacks declining where will the new leadership come from?

Chart 2: US technology companies have been the dominant force behind US buybacks

Chart 2 shows the US sector buybacks as a percentage of total (ex financials) buybacks, demonstrating the dominance of the technology sector. Over the past decade technology has seen its share of buybacks rise from 20% to a peak of over 50% in mid-2021. The share of the next four biggest sectors has largely remained flat and range bound. With technology buybacks now in decline, there will be big question marks over which sectors, if any, will pick up the baton.

A US buyback adjusted yield is almost 3x higher than the cash dividend yield

Chart 3: Comparing the US dividend yield with the buyback-adjusted yield

Chart 3 shows the impact on the effective yield returned to shareholders when buybacks are included. The buyback-adjusted yield rises to 4.3% (versus a 1.6% dividend yield). Compression in the adjusted yield will impact long term return projections.

Source: Wilshire and FactSet. Data as of March 13, 2023

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Bank contagion fears lead to a collapse in year-end US interest rate expectations

March 20, 2023

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and fears of contagion have hit global bank stocks, rippling through to wider risk off market sentiment

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The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and fears of contagion have hit global bank stocks, rippling through to wider risk off market sentiment. Recent events could well be the first of many unintended consequences of a rapid shift from ultra-accommodative to restrictive financial conditions.

A flight to safety in response to the SVB collapse

Chart 1: Asset class returns since 7th March (SVB news)

Declines in global bank stocks and contagion concerns have rattled equity markets and economically sensitive assets such as oil since the news on SVB broke. This has also led to a flight to perceived safe-haven assets such as gold.

What started with US regional banks rapidly became global

Chart 2: Regional bank sector returns since the SVB news

The collapse of SVB was initially seen as isolated to the US with the US banking sector experiencing the worst of the sell-off in the few days that followed the SVB news. Contagion fears soon led to a sell-off in banks globally, with particular concern over the value of bond portfolios held by many institutions. In recent days the focus has shifted on to European banks, with the spotlight on Credit Suisse which saw its shares plunge by a quarter on the 15th March. As Chart 2 shows Asian banks, which are seen as relatively well capitalised have held up well and only seen modest declines.

Year end 2023 US market interest rate expectations plunge by 170bps

Chart 3: Contagion fears in the banking system have led to a dramatic decline in US year end 2023 rate expectations

The upshot of recent events has been the significant decline in US interest rate expectations. Markets had been ramping up rate expectations on the back of a sequence of strong economic data, pricing in a 50bps hike from the Fed at its March meeting. As the chart 3 shows, following recent events in the banking sector markets now expected the Fed to halt its tightening cycle, and are now in fact forecasting around 75bps of rate cuts by the end of the year to 3.9%.

Ultimately, the sharp fall in rate expectations could be an overreaction if the contagion proves to be limited. However recent events have created yet another conundrum for the Fed. SVB could be the first of many casualties to emerge as restrictive financial conditions start to take their toll.

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and Federal Reserve. Data as of March 15, 2023

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Has market exuberance over the 'Goldilocks' narrative been premature?

February 20, 2023

The improvement in risk appetite in recent months has been underpinned by a 'Goldilocks' scenario of easing financial conditions

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The improvement in risk appetite in recent months has been underpinned by a 'Goldilocks' scenario of easing financial conditions, the prospect of a soft landing for the US economy and the expectation that US interest rates are close to peak levels. However, this may have all come too soon.

Markets have been caught off guard by a recent strong bout of economic data

Chart 1: Have we now have hit a nadir in economic data?  

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and Factset. Data as of February 8th, 2023

The last few weeks have witnessed a succession of strong data releases. As Chart 1 shows this includes a sizeable rebound in the US ISM services index and the well-above expectation January non-farm payroll figures. The latter further confirming the resilience of the US labour market. Chinese PMIs have also inflected higher following the reopening of the economy post-Covid. Further signs of improving activity in the world's second largest economy will likely prove a boost to growth globally.

Reassessment of US market interest rate expectations on the back of stronger economic data  

Chart 2: We have seen a sharp rise in US market interest rate expectations in recent weeks

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and Factset. Data as of February 8th, 2023

Chart 2 shows the latest US market interest rate curve out to the end of 2023 versus the curve at the end of January, before the release of the stellar non-farm payroll figures. The red line shows the Fed's current interest rate projections. As we can see, the recent sequence strong set of data has fed through to a marked rise in US market interest rate expectations. Markets now see rates peaking later at 5.25% in September (up from 4.9%) and the degree to which rates are expected to fall back has also eased significantly. Are markets now beginning to agree with the Fed's view that rates may have to stay higher for longer?

Shift in 12 month forward PE the main driver behind the 'Goldilocks' market rally

Chart 3: Total return decomposition shows PE re-rating as the key driver of returns-both on the way up and on the way down

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and Factset. Data as of February 8th, 2023

Chart 3 shows the total return decomposition for the US, UK and Europe ex UK, breaking the returns down by dividend and shifts in EPS and PE. We can see that last year's declines to the lows in October were driven by the PE de-rating, with EPS actually rising in the US and UK. Contrast this with the returns from the October lows to date and we can see a reversal of the 2022 profile, with a PE re-rating the main driver, while EPS in all three regions have declined.

Analyst's US EPS estimates continue to move lower despite a backdrop of improving risk appetite in markets

Chart 4: US 2023 and 2024 EPS estimates have seen further downgrades since the market low in October  

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and Factset. Data as of February 8th, 2023

Drilling further into the status of US EPS, a constant theme throughout the Goldilocks rally has been further downgrades to US EPS estimates. Chart 4 shows the progression of 2023 and 2024 EPS estimates since the start of last year. As the chart highlights, the market rally from the low in October has coincided with further downward revisions to analyst's EPS estimates, more pronounced in the 2023 numbers which have declined -7.5%. This has further magnified the (low quality) US 12-month forward PE re-rating we've seen since October we highlighted in Chart 3.

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Confidence buoyed by conviction that inflation has peaked - despite Fed skepticism

January 25, 2023

Markets are convinced that inflation has already peaked and that interest rates should follow suit by Q2 this year.

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The Fed remains more skeptical and awaits evidence of services inflation turning a corner.

Asset performance since mid-October reflects growing confidence about the inflation outlook.

Chart 1 shows the returns accrued by the FT Wilshire 5000, US bonds and the US dollar from the low point reached on October 14th last year and performance YTD for 2023. While both equities and bonds have rallied strongly the dollar has fallen sharply. The common denominator between these divergent moves is growing conviction that US inflation has already peaked and that US interest rates will follow suit.

Chart 1: Move in US assets since October 14th low and YTD

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv, FactSet. Data as of January 17, 2023

Key inflation gauges seem to have peaked several months ago

Chart 2 plots the key US inflation indicators and shows a profile of inflation peaking (and subsequently declining) over the last six months. In fact the Fed's key indicator the Core PCE deflator peaked in February 2022. It also appears that the Fed ramped up its hawkishness as evidence of the peak started to appear.

Chart 2: Key US inflation gauges appear to have peaked several months ago

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and Federal Reserve. Data as of January 17, 2023

However, the Fed is probably waiting for evidence of services inflation to peak

Chart 3 shows that the key driver behind the peak in inflation has been the rapidity of the decline in both goods inflation and input prices as measured by the PPI indicator. Services inflation has yet to peak, and the Fed will probably need to see this confirmed in subsequent data to change tack on interest rates.


Chart 3: Declining goods inflation but services inflation (the Fed's focus) remains elevated.

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and Federal Reserve. Data as of January 17, 2023

A gap between market and the Fed's interest rate curve forecasts - fade vs higher for longer

Chart 4 plots both the markets interest rate and Federal reserve dot plot curve forecasts. The market expects rates to peak close to 5% in Q2 but then to 'fade' lower into the second half of the year as growth headwinds and disinflationary pressures push rates lower. However, Fed forecasts paint a picture of continued increases throughout the course of the year reaching peak rate by the end of the year (higher for longer).

Chart 4: Mind the gap between the market and Fed interest rate forecasts

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and Federal Reserve. Data as of January 17, 2023

The Fed has started to 'taper' its hawkishness - impacting the dollar

While the Fed is still waiting for more evidence of inflation peaking it has been concerned that the deliver of restrictive financial conditions runs the risk of slowing the economy too aggressively and has subsequently started to rein in (taper) the scale of interest rate increases it is delivering at the FOMC meetings (see Chart 5). Tapering has been a contributory factor behind the weakening of the dollar.

Chart 5: The Fed is tapering the magnitude of rate hikes - impacting the dollar

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and Federal Reserve. Data as of January 17, 2023

Read more in our latest Market Driver Insights report.

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Moving to the phase where bad news becomes good news

November 21, 2022

The likelihood of the delivery of sustained disinflation in 2023

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Despite persistent fears that financial conditions are sufficiently restrictive to cause a slowdown next year, the positive market reaction to the weaker than expected October CPI data seemed to indicate a transition to a new phase of inflation dynamic analysis - the likelihood of the delivery of sustained disinflation in 2023.

Bad economic news feeds this narrative and therefore could now be seen as good news.

Chart 1: On the cusp of phase 3 of inflation analysis

 Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv. Data as of November 15, 2022

Intensified focus on the Fed’s disinflation forecast for 2023

Chart 1 plots the progression of the Fed’s core PCE inflation indicator. The twelve month period between February 2021 and February 2022 saw the inflation rate almost triple, generating the hawkish tilt by the Fed. Since then, the inflation rate has plateaued (albeit at an elevated level).

The focus now turns to the plausibility of inflation moving sequentially lower next year as predicted by the Fed. Their current forecast of year-end 2023 inflation reaching 3.1% requires a monthly run rate of 0.3%. A run rate of 0.2% a month would deliver a 2.4%-year end inflation level.

Forward looking indicators such as the ISM prices paid index point to continued downward pressure on headline inflation in the coming months.

Chart2:  The ISM manufacturing prices paid index points to lower US CPI  

 Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv. Data as of November 15, 2022



Perception that inflation could be peaking and then encountering disinflationary headwinds (after the October CPI report) produced a downward shift in the US interest rate curve as can be seen in Chart 3.

Any further signs of weakness in final demand (bad news) could now be the catalyst for continued downward shifts in the interest rate curve (good news).


Chart 3: US market rate expectations fell after the lower-than-expected US CPI numbers



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Unpacking the drivers behind the deteriorating US EPS growth trajectory

November 21, 2022

The second half of 2023 has seen the 2023 EPS growth rate forecast start to decline

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As can be seen in Chart 1, the second half of 2023 has seen the 2023 EPS growth rate forecast start to decline. This has clearly been connected to the rapidity of the commensurate decline in forward looking GDP growth forecasts.

Chart 1: 2023 EPS growth forecasts have followed GDP forecasts lower

Source: Wilshire and FactSet. Data as of November 15, 2022

Technology and Health Sectors have been the key drivers behind the downgrading

Chart 2 shows the sector weighted contribution to the aggregate 2023 market EPS growth rate. In May the forecast was for 12% EPS growth, and this has now declined to 7.9%. The main contributors to this 4.1% decline were the negative contributions from the tech and health sectors.

Chart 2: Comparing the US vs World ex US PE ratio moves over the last 20 years

Source: Wilshire and FactSet. Data as of November 15, 2022

There is a lot of seasonality built into the 2023 EPS projections

Chart 3 shows the progression of quarterly US EPS forecasts out to the end of 2023, with the blue bars showing the Q/Q growth rates and the grey line showing the quarterly forecast EPS (USD). As the chart shows, there is high levels of seasonality forecast over the next 12 months or so.

After flat or negative EPS growth expected for the next three quarters, a lot appears to be hinging on a recovery in EPS in Q3 and Q4 of next year.


Chart 3: A lot is riding on the delivery of a positive EPS inflection in Q3 2023

Source: Wilshire and FactSet. Data as of November 15, 2022

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The scale of the de-rating has pushed PEs back to Covid lows

October 21, 2022

Scale of the drawdown in global equities in 2022 has produced a significant de-rating with US equites experiencing one of the largest PE contractions

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The US has experienced one of the largest PE de-ratings in 2022

Chart 1 shows the status of regional 12m forward PEs, where these sat at the end of last year and the scale of the de-rating experienced so far in 2022. The UK and US have seen valuations decline by around a third, China and Europe ex UK by a quarter.

Chart 1: The scale of PE de-rating experienced across the regions in 2022

Source: Wilshire and FactSet. Data as of October 16, 2022

Putting the valuation shift into a longer perspective

Taking a longer-term view of valuations, Chart 2 shows the 12m forward PE for the US and World ex US over the past 20 years. The chart shows the sheer scale of the de-rating over the past 2 years. From its peak in September 2020 the US 12m forward PE has declined 36%, with World ex US also declining by the same quantum from its peak in July 2020. Although valuations are not far from the Covid sell-off lows, they are someway from the lows of the GFC, where the US and World ex US 12m forward Pes fell to 8.7x and 7.1x, respectively

Chart 2: Comparing the US v World ex US PE ratio moves over the last 20 years

Source: Wilshire and FactSet. Data as of October 17, 2022

The US 'fed model' (equity vs bond) valuation analysis

Chart 3 shows the Fed Model valuation (equity earnings yield minus 10-year government bond yield) since 1992 and looks at the average levels over 3 distinct periods. As we can see, although the current Fed Model valuation is below its post-GFC average, it is above the pre-GFC 2002-2008 average, and well above the negative levels experienced in the 1990s. From a Fed Model valuation standpoint, the rise in bond yields this year has partially offset the impact of the US equity market de-rating.

Chart 3: The US 'fed model' valuation looks stretched versus the last 10-year range but not versus the pre GFC period

Source: Wilshire, Refinitiv and FactSet. Data as of October 17, 2022

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Perspectives on the bear market – how long will sentiment languish at historic lows?

October 21, 2022

The FT Wilshire 5000 has experienced a technical bear market in 2022 (defined as at least a -20% drawdown)

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We examine the scale of the drawdown in the context of the 50-year history of the index and also look at return characteristics after reaching sentiment indicators lows.

Putting the 2022drawdown into 50-year context

Putting the 2022 drawdown into a historical context, Chart 1 shows FT Wilshire 5000 bear markets since the inception of the index in 1970, looking at the peak to trough move, as well the duration. As we can see the 2022’s bear market (so far) ranks as the seventh largest in history, and the fifth longest.

Chart 1: So far 2022 ranks as the fifth longest bear market in the FT Wilshire 5000’s history

Source: Wilshire. Data as of October 16, 2022

Sentiment indicators have reached levels last seen in the GFC of 2008-9

Chart 2 shows our US Composite Sentiment Indicator (CSI), which incorporates nine technical analysis and market breadth measures aiming to identify levels of exuberance and pessimism. As we can see, the CSI continues to languish around levels experienced during the GFC in 2008-9, when sentiment continued to remain at low levels for an extended period of time during the recession.

Chart 2: The US Composite Sentiment Indicator remains at extreme lows

Source: Wilshire, FactSet and Refinitiv. Data as of October 16, 2022

The pattern of subsequent market returns after reaching sentiment lows

Examining periods of statistically significant levels of low sentiment, Chart 3 shows that our US CSI has fallen below 2 (more than 1.5 standard deviations below the long-term average) thirteen times over the past fifteen years.  In the post GFC period, the US market has subsequently posted positive returns after the CSI falls below 2. However, we can observe this was not the case during the GFC, which was the last example of a prolonged recession.  

Chart 3: The returns delivered three months after hitting sentiment lows

Source: Wilshire, FactSet and Refinitiv. Data as of October 16, 2022

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US EPS cycle starting to wobble

September 26, 2022

After a period of relative stability, we are starting to see a deterioration in the EPS or profit cycle through the prism of estimate trail analysis

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US growth rate stability and downgrading in Asia Pacific and EM, however…

Chart 1 shows the status of regional consensus EPS growth forecasts for this year and next and the revisions (deltas) to the forecasts over the last month. The notable negative revisions have been in Asia Pacific and Emerging Markets. In terms of 2023 growth rate projections, the US is still predicted to deliver the highest growth rate among developed markets.

Chart 1: Regional consensus EPS growth forecasts

…Growth rates might be giving a false sense of security

Growth rate analysis does not provide insight into the status of the cycle as it simply measures the difference in EPS forecasts over two distinct time periods. If both periods see EPS decline by 10%, the growth rate remains the same. That is why EPS cycle analysis must be viewed via EPS trails that map the changes to calendar year forecasts over time. Chart 2 shows the EPS trails for the US and that after a period of stability both 2022 and 2023 EPS estimates have started to decline. The cycle seems to be deteriorating.

Chart 2: US consensus EPS trails - starting to wobble

Most sectors have seen negative EPS revisions over the last month

Chart 3 shows revisions to 2022 and 2023 EPS estimates versus the August market high for both the US and World ex US at a sector level. Energy remains the only sector to see positive revisions to 2022 and 2023 estimates for the US and World ex US.

Chart 3: A broad deterioration in sector EPS revisions

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