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Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg
markets

What to Expect From Markets in 2020

What to Expect From Markets in 2020

DAX Market Reaction As Boris Johnson Battles to Deliver Brexit
Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg

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*** Taking Stock won’t be published from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3. Publication will resume Jan. 6. ***

No one saw this rally coming. In a year filled with poor economic data, trade headwinds and Brexit worries, European equities are ending on a high note, leaving all predictions in the dust with their biggest-in-a-decade gain. While many market participants say a repeat performance of 2019’s rally as unlikely, portfolio managers still see pockets of opportunities ranging from banking to energy shares, strong cash-generating companies to stocks with sustainable dividends.

This year brought many surprises. Long-time laggard Greece is poised to be the best-performing stock market in the world with a 47% surge. Cyclicals staged a strong comeback and overtook defensives in the second half of the year, boosted by progress on U.S.-China trade talks. In a complete reversal of 2018’s widespread losses, every sector is up. 2019 has also been the year of record negative-yielding debt and renewed monetary stimulus.

Here are some investing themes and picks that money managers are favoring as we go into 2020:

“We neither see a recession nor big euphoria but rather a moderately growing world,” said Thomas Lehr, a strategist at asset management firm Flossbach von Storch. “We like to focus on companies that can withstand temporary headwinds and offer a broad product and geographic setup.”

“China is still deleveraging, and given the trade uncertainty it remains a tricky environment to invest in,” says Marcus Poppe, portfolio manager of the 813 million-euro ($904 million) DWS Smart Industrial Technologies Fund, which is up 33% this year, beating 85% of peers. While macroeconomic data was bad in 2019, it wasn’t falling apart, Poppe says. He expects data to remain weak until the second half of 2020 and says the extent of the improvement might disappoint the consensus.

Flossbach von Storch’s Lehr says his firm likes less cyclical stocks better in the long run, even though such shares have surged over defensives since August.

Further PMI improvement may be needed to push cyclicals higher

UBS Germany CIO Max Kunkel is cautious on Europe and sees an earnings contraction rather than a rebound in growth, contrary to the consensus. He doesn’t expect a “phase two” trade deal before the U.S. election, and says that while PMI data should improve, persistent uncertainty for manufacturers will limit capex spending and growth. He suggests striking a balance between cyclicals and defensives and focusing on quality stocks with solid balance sheets and stable earnings, as well as sustainable dividend stocks.

Value stocks too have gained traction among investors in 2019. Banks, while still the cheapest sector after autos, no longer appear to be pariahs. In the short term, Kunkel likes banks, given the current positioning and extremely cheap valuations, and highlights that loan growth is positive and non-performing loans are declining.

Valuation gap between European value and growth hovers near a record

While banks’ lending margins have been under tremendous pressure given the low-rate environment, “at the first signs of change in the monetary policy by the central banks, there is potential for them to be among the big winners of a pick-up in yields in our view,” said Filipe Bergaña, manager of the Man GLG Iberian Opportunities fund. “And it does not seem that the market is positioned for that.”

Euro-area banks' relative valuation is still below crisis levels

Carlos Gutierrez, head of equities at Spanish manager Dunas Capital AM, avoided luxury companies this year as their valuations were demanding. For 2020, he prefers undervalued, strong cash-generating companies such as Logista, Atos, Capgemini, Total and Royal Dutch Shell, and plans to have a small exposure to companies engaged in a turnaround, such as Carrefour and Telefonica. He will also look at cyclical shares whose valuations already reflect a severe slowdown, and cites Renault, Gestamp, HeidelbergCement and Aperam as examples.

Oil & gas stocks, seen as value and cyclical equities, are a potential opportunity for some after an underwhelming year for the sector. Santiago Mateo, lead portfolio manager of CaixaBank Bolsa Dividendo Europa fund, says Repsol is the stock to own in 2020.

Energy is one of the “value” sectors forgotten in the recent rally, Mateo said, as the market is not convinced of the positive impact of so-called IMO2020 new regulation. Repsol stands to benefit from the International Maritime Organization’s Jan. 1 deadline for lower sulfur fuel-oil use among shippers, according to him. In addition, he highlights that Repsol is leading the race toward the energy transition without compromising on its dividend.

Oil majors have underperformed crude significantly this year

Finally, some are making contrarian calls. Fahad Hassan, a fund manager at Atlantic House Fund Management. likes Micro Focus, calling its extremely low valuation “an opportunity.” The stock has tumbled 36% this year, following a 45% slump in 2018. Hassan believes the company has time and its software assets should, over time, be able to generate enough cash to pay both the debt down and continue to cover the dividend.

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