Key Highlights from Franklin Templeton’s APAC Investor Forum 2023
Experts discuss opportunities and risks for investors navigating a complex investment landscape
Hong Kong : Franklin Templeton hosted its flagship APAC Investor Forum 2023, a hybrid event in Hong Kong that brings together a panel of investment experts, including our CIOs and Portfolio Managers from our collection of Specialist Investment Management teams, to discuss the evolving investment landscape marked by geopolitical shifts, technological innovation and changing demographics, and their investment perspectives for the new environment.
Commenting on recession risk and opportunities in 2024, Stephen Dover, Chief Market Strategist and Head of the Franklin Templeton Institute said: “While the likelihood of a least a mild of recession in the U.S. remains high, emerging markets, in particular Asia, may be more resilient. A weakening US dollar should support emerging markets, particularly those that will benefit from shifting supply chain dynamics. Lower debt levels, inflation, interest rates, and solid fiscal policy puts many Asian countries in a more favorable position. We see the greatest opportunities in Japan which is seeing a reversal of multi decade trends that are now showing positive momentum. We also see opportunities in Southern Asia. From an asset class perspective, fixed income globally is attractive as interest rates are at 10-year highs and are likely near peak levels in most regions. In terms of equities, we do not think U.S. earnings expectations are priced for an earnings slowdown. We prefer equity markets outside of the US.”
Commenting on inflation and rates outlook, Dr. Sonal Desai, Chief Investment Officer, Franklin Templeton Fixed Income, said: “I think we are getting closer to peak rates and the markets are starting to internalize what the Federal Reserve intends to do over the coming quarters; however, they are still overestimating the likelihood of rate cuts next year. We believe it is very possible that the Federal Reserve does not start easing at least until the end of 2024. There are a few factors behind this: 1) Supply issues (expected massive US fiscal deficits over the next several years); 2) Demand issues (Japan and China – two major holders of US treasuries – are likely to show less interest in US debt going forward); 3) Fundamental factors (inflation is likely stickier than markets expect as getting back to 2% inflation is challenging). All of this, combined with the market pricing in the return of a healthier level of term premia and a real rate closer to pre-global financial crisis averages is pushing long-term rates higher. This process, supported by the short-end rates rallying, has helped steepen the US yield curve which is what we have been positioned for.
As the financial market adjustment to the ‘’old normal’’ of higher rates takes time and brings about more volatility, we encourage investors to look for investment opportunities in fixed income which delivers attractive income while acting as a reliable diversifier to equities again. Our preference is to position in higher quality sectors while slowly moving further out the curve. Investment grade credit bonds with their all-in yield at 6%+, high quality mortgages and select opportunities in high yield all look attractive.’’
Speaking on the sidelines of the Forum, Ed Perks, Chief Investment Officer, Franklin Income Investors, said: “The impact of higher-for-longer rates is now filtering down into the US economy, as small and medium-sized businesses are starting to feel the effects of not just the Fed’s tightening policy, but also the much more magnified and pronounced rise in longer-term interest rates. This has implications for both fixed income and equity markets, and we are starting to see cracks in corporate earnings, and there will be additional pressure if rates stay high in the long term. For income investors, higher interest rates are widening the fixed income opportunity set for achieving yield, and investment grade corporate bonds stands out to us in the current environment as it offers attractive income, total return, and risk management potential. Looking ahead, if we do see the US economy start to decelerate and the Fed progresses closer to its inflation target and gain comfort with lowering rates in the second half of 2024 into 2025, that would provide a nice tailwind for total returns in fixed income.”
Commenting on the outlook for developed market equities, Jonathan Curtis, incoming Chief Investment Officer, Franklin Equity Group, said: “Developed markets, and the US economy in particular, are showing signs of relative resilience and growth, thus making them attractive in this period of increasing macro and geopolitical uncertainty. We also see supportive valuations down the market cap spectrum in companies with exposure to the key themes we like including digital transformation, healthcare innovation, and energy transformation. This valuation disconnect creates an opportunity for investors to diversify their portfolios beyond the handful of large-cap growth businesses that have dominated the market for the past decade. We believe that mid-cap and small-cap growth businesses offer advantages that could make them attractive investments in the current environment.
First, we believe mid-cap and small-cap growth businesses are generally undervalued at the moment compared to their large growth counterparts. The price-to-earnings multiple on the market cap weighted S&P500 hasn’t been this elevated vs the S&P500 equal weighted index for at least the past 13 years. Second, mid-cap and small-cap businesses tend to be more sensitive to the economic cycle and may benefit from still resilient consumer spending and business activity. That said, investors should be wary of signs that less affluent consumers are starting to bear the pressures of higher interest rates. Finally, mid-cap and small-cap businesses offer more potential for innovation and disruption than large-cap businesses, as they are often nimbler and more adaptable to changing customer preferences, innovative technologies, and competitive pressures. They may also have more opportunities to expand into new markets, acquire other businesses or become acquisition targets themselves.”
Commenting on the outlook for global and emerging market equities, Manraj Sekhon, Chief Investment Officer, Templeton Global Investments, said: “The current environment for global equity investors is unique. It offers a balance of near-term uncertainties and attractive long-term growth drivers. The short-term risks to the global economy include slower growth due to high interest rates and elevated geopolitical challenges. This contrasts with the longer-term potential from breakthroughs in technology and healthcare alongside other secular trends. This environment provides fertile opportunities for long-term bottom-up investors, including Franklin Templeton.”