Heather Arnold, Director of Research of Templeton’s Global Equity Group guides us on a journey through the world’s major equity markets. Her vision is value-oriented, in order to obtain the best ideas for a complete business cycle, which has an average life of five years. Templeton is part of the Franklin Templeton Group.
Beware. All that Glitters is not Gold
According to Heather Arnold, there is a valuation problem in the price of money. Currently, banks and governments of many countries have negative yields. She argues that we are paying for lending money to governments, which in no way reflects the risk assumed by investors, as the rates are artificially low due to QE programs. "In fact, interest rates should be much higher because the global debt has grown. What has changed is the geographical location of debt. Investors need to realize that there is something odd about fixed income markets. They are pursuing the safest option, which in reality is the most dangerous and risky, "Arnold says.
Europe: So Bad, that it’s Actually Good
This also applies to equity markets overall. The US has been regarded as the safest option, because of its better corporate earnings, and that is why it has risen so much, but for a value investor, Europe offers better opportunities. "It is true that corporate profits in Europe have not yet regained their 2007 levels, but there is enough gap for margins and valuations to recover," said Arnold. She also raises concerns on the valuation of the US stocks. In a historical Shiller P/E ratio analysis of the US market, there are only two occasions when it has been more expensive than now, in 1929 and 2000. Additionally, since 1940, US stocks accumulate the longest relative rally to the rest of the world.According to Arnold, this data is far more disturbing than a strong dollar, which is already a problem for US companies.
In Europe, however, there is a quantitative easing program (QE) in place which will gradually help banks to wake up and give credit. Although timidly, governments may also spend a little more; but above all, the greatest tailwind pushing European stocks is a weaker euro, which is also a consequence of QE. Arnold notes that we must also add the positive effect on consumption that will result from weaker oil prices. Therefore, the foundations are laid for the expected recovery in European business profits. Since market valuation is reasonable, everything which is bad in Europe is actually "good".
Russia and Greece: The Potential Risks in Europe
There are two breeding grounds for instability in Europe, or at least in their region, which can be the source of many problems. On one side there is Russia, which may not remain impassive in the face of deployment of NATO troops in Ukraine, and this may be a "serious problem" for Europe, especially for Germany. The other difficult country is Greece. Its situation is not good, whether it stays in the euro zone or leaves it. In the second case, its exit will be accompanied by a default on its debt, which “once again complicates European credibility."
The Japanese Experiment is no Guarantee for Success
When speaking of the increase in global debt since 2008, Arnold refers mainly to Japan. The government is trying to get out of debt by creating inflation. "This did not work in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century, we will see if it works for Japan," says the Templeton expert. For now, what can be seen in Japan is an asset loop, "the Bank of Japan (BoJ) is buying all the new debt issued by the government and also the debt which is held by pension funds, which, in turn, are buying equities. However, despite the depreciation of the yen, neither consumption nor exports have improved substantially". Corporate profits have improved somewhat but in order to continue doing so, "great reforms in the corporate world are needed.”
Arnold explains that exports have not improved as much as expected after the decline of the yen, because it was so grossly overvalued that most exporters had already left to produce abroad, mainly to China, but also to the US.
Furthermore, the country’s demographic problem cannot be ignored, a problem which will be further aggravated if Japan really becomes an inflationary country, because the savings of a very aged population will tend to wane. "Another problem which inflation could bring is a decrease in productivity due to increased wages," Arnold says. To address this issue, the country would have to open to immigration, something which is extremely unpopular in the country even though companies are now silently hiring more foreigners.
Arnold concludes that even though valuations are reasonable in relation to the ROE of Japanese companies, this profitability cannot improve much without further corporate reforms.
There Are Select Bargains in Emerging Markets
The Templeton Global Equity Group is beginning to see some value returning to emerging markets, which they have underweighted for quite some time. "A more attractive valuation is awakening some interest within the region, but as yet there are no great bargains because the money has continued to flow into these markets, mainly as foreign direct investment."
Now that China’s economic growth has begun to slow down, the Templeton Global Equity Group notes that companies with more reasonable capital allocation and greater profitability are starting to emerge. This is positive.
As regards to companies linked to commodities, Arnold recommends waiting. "We should not get excited yet. At a P/BV of 1.5, the sector is still expensive in relation to the current point of the cycle, with the exception of companies in the energy sector".
Energy: The Great Opportunity
The fall in oil prices has wiped out the valuations for the energy sector. Templeton’s Global Equity Group sees this as a great opportunity, both in Europe and in the US.
"The excess global oil supply can be adjusted very quickly," says Arnold. In 1986, the excess of supply over demand for oil reached 15%, because the OPEC countries had increased their oil production to take advantage of the upturn in prices that occurred in the early eighties. "Now, this excess capacity is barely 4% and could be reduced to 2% with the current increase in demand. This oversupply could be absorbed very quickly because there are many exploration projects which have stopped and much Capex has been removed from the sector. On the demand side, more barrels are being consumed due to falling oil prices. "Arnold explains that the P/BV ratio of the sector has not been this cheap since 1986. “We've never seen so many bargains in this sector," she concludes.