End of the cycle beckons as global economic outlook becomes more uncertain

·   Half (49%) of respondents expect the economic cycle to last another one to two years, but many North American investors (52%) see the cycle ending earlier
·   Trade wars impacting the allocations of nearly half (46%) of all respondents, while two thirds (65%) of wholesale investors report that Brexit has altered their European and UK allocations
·   Fixed income investors concerned about high levels of debt globally and widening credit spreads
·   Fixed income investors are actively repositioning portfolios, building resilience through a variety of strategies that include yield, short duration and floating rate instruments
·   Fixed income investors are actively repositioning portfolios, building resilience through a variety of strategies that include yield, short duration and floating rate instruments

Hong Kong, 18 March 2019: Invesco today released its second annual Global Fixed Income Study, an in-depth report on the investment behaviour of fixed income investors. The study reveals that despite the expectation of a relatively near-term end of the economic cycle, investors are not foreseeing a significant correction in fixed income and rather expect the rare event of a soft landing with a continued flat yield curve. 

In this, investors plan to maintain fixed income holdings in the search for yield, taking a more active approach to creating diversified scenarios of return through alternatives, emerging market allocations and investing in China.

The study, conducted via face-to-face amongst 145 fixed income specialists and CIOs across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific representing $14.1tn in AUM, also found that investors are increasingly responding to the potential for geopolitical issues to disrupt markets. Almost half (46%) of investors have adjusted portfolio allocations in response to trade wars. Wholesale investors are particularly sensitive to such concerns and two thirds (65%) have been influenced by Brexit to alter their European and UK allocations. Only a third (34%) of institutional investors noted that they are altering European and UK allocations as a result of Brexit.

Further, investors’ outlook for the global economy has become more uncertain and divergent, with high global debt cited as the most likely trigger of the next downturn.

The end of the cycle
With the current economic expansion running for nearly ten years – one of the longest on record – some investors are nervous about its further longevity and are alert for triggers which could end it.

Globally, the most common view (49%) amongst fixed income investors is that the end of the cycle is one to two years away, i.e. late 2019 through late 2020. However more than a quarter (27%) see an end sooner, within the next six months to one year. When comparing wholesale and institutional investors, wholesale respondents are relatively more pessimistic about the near-term outlook, with 65% expecting the cycle to end within two years. 

Regionally, the study also revealed significant differences in perspectives of fixed income investors across the globe. From an economic cycle perspective, APAC is the most convinced the expansion is on track for the next year or two, while EMEA is the most optimistic that it could well last beyond one to two years. North American fixed income investors, on the other hand, are less optimistic with over half (52%) believing the expansion will end within a year..

Ken Hu, Chief Investment Officer, Fixed Income for Asia Pacific at Invesco, commented: “Considering the ongoing volatility in capital markets around global throughout last year, we are not surprised to see a downtick in investors’ confidence that the global economic expansion will continue. The divergence between North American and Asia Pacific investors however is a curious finding that perhaps underscores the generalized economic optimism in Asia despite some weak indicators in Q4 of last year.” 

Chinese fixed income exposures on the rise
Chinese fixed income allocations are benefitting as investors look through trade war and geo-political issues in their search for yield and diversification. One third (32%) of fixed income investors globally intend to increase their allocations to China over the next three years, notably in North America (58%). In the US, investors are currently less likely to hold Chinese fixed income products as part of their portfolio but are most likely to be increasing allocations despite rising trade tensions. This is a significant shift for a nation that tends to invest predominantly in its own (i.e.US) bond markets. For half (51%) of global investors this is a longer-term strategic decision which will be underpinned by the increased weighting of China in major fixed income indices expected in 2019 and beyond. 

Overall, despite a compression in the yield premium that Chinese government bonds have historically offered over US Treasuries, total foreign investment into China’s fixed income market rose rapidly in 2018. China is the world’s third largest bond market but it has long been underweight in (or entirely absent from) the fixed income portfolios of professional investors despite supportive investment considerations such as relative valuation, yield and expected total returns. 

Barriers to investing in Chinese fixed income are seen as coming down prompting investors to take advantage, with the main lingering barriers viewed as being the risk of the asset class, government intervention, and potential restrictions on capital movements. 

Terry Pan, Chief Executive Officer for Greater China, Southeast Asia and Korea at Invesco, added: “This study highlights a key global trend among fixed income investors: the China market has become too large to ignore. As structural impediments recede, credit selection and a rigorous approach to risk management will prove key differentiators for managers that participate in China’s onshore and offshore markets.” 

Ken Hu commented further: “We are encouraged to see investors becoming increasingly comfortable with China fixed income. While imminent inclusion in global bond indices is one key driver of interest in this asset class, we also believe that investors see exposure to Chinese fixed income as providing excellent portfolio diversification. This is not surprising given that China’s monetary policy and economic cycle are distinct from the US.  

“Other recent developments to create more transparency, liquidity and governance in China’s expanding fixed income market support investor confidence, including the entrance of global credit rating agencies on the mainland and a broader array of high-quality corporate issuers coming to market. We also expect that the market will become increasingly responsive to meeting the environmental, social, and governance requirements of global investors; this positive catalyst should accelerate China’s broader policy goals to address pollution and encourage green development.”  

Potential triggers of the next recession
When asked about triggers of the next downturn, respondents were predominantly concerned with high levels of indebtedness, in particular government debt. The focus on debt is unsurprising in the aftermath of record low interest rates for a prolonged period. Investors surveyed believe a rising interest rate environment will have a significant impact on interest costs and default rates.

Other sources of potential disruption included a crisis in emerging markets (the top risk of 15% of investors), followed by a debt bubble in China (13%).

Impact on fixed income
With growing nervousness around the end of the economic cycle, there are some concerns about the potential for material reversals in markets, although concerns are slightly tilted towards equity markets over fixed income. However, investors have a stronger view that credit spreads will widen over the next three years (60%), and that the yield curve will remain flat for a prolonged period of time (45%). 

By comparison fixed income investors have fewer concerns about rising inflation (34)% and just one quarter (27%) expect an inverted yield curve in the next few years.

About Invesco Ltd.
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