After more than 150 days of the Trump administration, David Bianco, Chief Investment Strategist for the Americas at Deutsche Asset Management, during this interview with Funds Society, explains his perspectives on the markets, particularly on the American investor, with an optimistic look at the expansion cycle in this region.
The expert denies that stock markets are over-priced, due to the current level of interest rates, and he is confident of rises in the S&P 500 this year, especially in sectors such as technology, healthcare, and big banks. Trump's tax reform should be a catalyst for US companies and not providing too many negative shocks, explains Bianco in this interview.
Broadly speaking, what major concerns are there currently in the US market?
What we have been discussing with other investors is that, rather than worrying about whether the market will rise by 3% or by only 1%, we should pay more attention to the expansion cycle. We are about to witness a record-breaking expansion cycle in the United States: the record until now was 10 years, from 1991 to 2001. If the cycle goes beyond the summer of 2019, we will be facing a new expansion cycle record. Forecasting is difficult, but I believe it will continue – and without recession – until at least 2020, and we could see a 12 year record of increases in the United States.
Do you believe that American stocks are overvalued?
It’s evident that we have high P/E Ratios in relation to historical values. The P/E Ratio according to last year's profits has been 19.5 and the estimated P/E Ratio will be 18 or 18.5. Thus, the S & P 500 index has a 20% premium over its historical valuation, since in 1960 we had a P/E Ratio of 16x, reason why many consider the market is expensive based on historical standards.
But I believe it is justified, because interest rates are very low compared to historical rates and therefore stocks are still cheap when compared to interest rates and bonds. In my opinion, interest rates are the key when estimating whether the P/E Ratios are expensive or have upside: we have been expanding for eight years and interest rates remain very low in historical terms, and they remain low for structural reasons, not because the economy is weak. Thus, we are facing a secular decline in interest rates structurally that would justify these P/E Ratios.
I think interest rates will rise somewhat, but not much. I think the Federal Funds interest rate is going to rise to 2% by the end of 2018 and that the yield on the 10-year Treasury bonds will not exceed 3% during the remainder of the cycle.
What is your price target for the S&P 500?
My year-end price target for the S&P 500 is 2,400 points, but if the tax reform announced by the Trump administration takes place, I think the index could surpass 2,450 points. If it doesn’t end up happening, we would be at levels of 2,350.
What type of economic reforms do you think the Trump administration will be able to carry out?
The most important reform for the economy and markets is the corporate tax reform; I do not think they will implement the border adjustment tax. Republicans will be in haste and would want to carry out something simple and significant, and one of the most effective and simple economic measures is to lower the tax on businesses, something that the United States can afford, since tax collection through this tax is not so high and would be good for the economy, helping to consolidate the longevity of the expansion.
Who do you think would benefit more, small and medium-sized enterprises or large corporations?
The measure will consist of reducing the corporate tax rate from the current 35% to 25% with very few additional changes to the tax code. On the one hand, it would benefit small companies that are currently structured as "partnerships", "S class companies" or "pass-through entities" that are paying tax on their profits, which, if they are doing well, would normally be around 40 % or the top marginal personal income tax rate. If we have the 25% corporate tax rate they will choose to organize as "C class" companies, and if they decide to reinvest their profits in growth and not pay dividends, they would then be deferring any dividend tax for many years and only be paying 25% tax vs near 40% now. But big companies would also benefit from this economic reform.
In what sectors do you think we will see growth during the next few years?
The sectors that have been behaving well, and which we are following, are technology and health, with technology performing particularly well, and I think they will continue to grow during the next three years. We also like big banks in both the United States and Europe.
Although many investors think more in terms of regions, I prefer to follow sectors and styles with the developed equity markets. In this respect, within "growth" securities in the United States we prefer technology and health, since there is almost no technology in Europe and health companies are cheaper in the United States than in Europe. And in Europe we like “value” stocks.
Where we are underinvested is in energy in the United States. We believe that oil must be above $ 60 in 2018 so that securities in the energy sector fairly priced where they trade today, and we think it will be difficult to see oil prices at those levels.
What about currencies?
I believe that currencies will be more stable than they have been in recent times, both the currencies of major countries and those of emerging countries. After all, currency stability opens the door to investing in other regions.
We believe that the Fed will raise interest rates twice more this year and probably two to three times more next year, and as this happens, my vision is that the Yen and the Euro will weaken somewhat. I think the Euro will be more between 1.05 and 1.10 dollars than above 1.10.
China could be interested in a slightly weaker currency in order to make its exports more attractive, but they will try to control it, since they don’t want an exodus of capital to other economies in the region.
Finally, do you consider that relations between China and the United States are going to be more hostile than in the past?
This government wants to implement a trade policy that is more active than what we have seen in recent times, with bilateral, reciprocal agreements, in which they will analyze case by case with each country to try to find opportunities to improve the trade balance. As I said earlier, I do not believe that a border adjustment tax, which is so feared for China, Mexico or Canada, will be approved.
I know that this government is very aggressive in its negotiations, but I think that what they are trying to do is to find situations with most countries where both parties win. For example, trying to have the industrial property of American products respected in exchange for not hindering imports. As long as the border adjustment tax is not passed, I am optimistic about the Trump administration, perhaps I am the only one who is.
That said, I believe that the friction between China and the US is going to be currency, rather than trade policy. It seems that the Trump administration has finally come to the conclusion that China is not manipulating the currency. Rather if they have done something, it has been to support their currency for the past two years instead of trying to make it weaker.
I think a lot of tension has been released between China and the US, and that's why we probably hear more about tensions with Mexico or Canada. From my point of view, the relationship between China and the US is very harmonious. Another thing is the geopolitical influence, in which we are experiencing a natural transition, in which China will gradually gain influence in Asia, where the United States traditionally had it. But the business relationship with China is very important.