Heading into 2020, there is little doubt that politics will dominate the news cycle. For investors, U.S. presidential elections often bring heightened market volatility, especially during the rough-and-tumble primary season. Add that to the U.S.-China trade war, the U.K.’s Brexit drama, slowing global economic growth, civil unrest in Hong Kong, impeachment proceedings in Washington D.C., and you’ve got a classic “wall of worry” for markets to climb.
On the surface, the 2020 presidential election would appear to be a highly consequential event with major implications for the U.S. economy and markets, not to mention the rest of the world. However, history suggests that may not be the case. U.S. markets have consistently trended upward after presidential elections, rewarding patient investors — regardless of who occupies the White House.
“Presidents get far too much credit, and far too much blame, for the health of the U.S. economy and the state of the financial markets,” says Capital Group economist Darrell Spence. “There are many other variables that determine economic growth and market returns and, frankly, presidents have very little influence over them.
“As we move into the new year, I think we will start to see some improvement in U.S. economic growth, helped along by easy monetary policy,” Spence continues. “But I don’t think the winner of the next election, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican, will have much of an impact beyond the usual short-term market gyrations.”
Investors who are worried about political risk in the U.S. might want to look overseas for a broader set of investment opportunities. Not because international stocks have any less political risk, but because the world has changed dramatically under the influence of free trade, global supply chains and the rapid growth of multinational corporations.
From an investment perspective, national borders are no longer as relevant as they used to be. Many companies headquartered in Europe, for instance, derive much of their revenue from the U.S., China or Latin America.
“Where a company gets its mail is not a good proxy anymore for where it does business,” explains Rob Lovelace, a Capital Group portfolio manager.
Moreover, many of the best stocks each year are found outside the United States. If you look at individual companies instead of index returns you’ll find that the companies with the highest annual returns each year were overwhelmingly located outside the U.S. In 2019, 44 of the top 50 stocks were based on foreign soil. Investors who opted not to go outside the U.S. missed a shot at those companies, many of which are small to mid-sized firms with potentially faster growth opportunities.
Over the past year, the bond market has reminded investors that not all is well with the global economy. Central banks around the world have cut interest rates aggressively in a bid to offset the negative effects of U.S.-China trade tensions, persistent deflationary pressures and slowing growth in China, Europe and elsewhere.
In the U.S., an inverted yield curve has suggested that a recession may be looming. In Europe and Japan, negative interest rates have spread like wildfire — with more than $15 trillion of bonds trading at negative yields.
In such uncharted waters, investors would do well to upgrade their bond portfolios as a counterbalance against periods of equity market volatility, says Mike Gitlin, head of fixed income at Capital Group.
“In an extraordinary market like this, balance is essential,” Gitlin stresses. “Amid unusual market trends and mixed economic indicators, a strong core bond allocation may be your best defense.”
Stay balanced in an election year
Consider upgrading your equity portfolio
Think about upgrading your bond portfolio, too
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