GLOBAL CONSERVATIVE PORTFOLIO POSITIONING INTRA-QUARTER UPDATE AS OF 1/29/2020

Adjusted Sector Exposures within U.S. Equity Allocation; Adjusted Duration and Credit Quality within Fixed Income Allocation

We have adjusted U.S. sector exposure in the Global Conservative strategy by reducing our overweight of Information Technology and adding to Consumer Discretionary exposure, which now represents a material overweight. We have also shortened the duration (interest rate sensitivity) of the strategy’s fixed income allocation by eliminating longer-term Treasury bond exposure and adding to intermediate investment-grade corporate bond exposure. While our broad economic outlook has not changed significantly, we do see potential for modest increases in longer-term interest rates, which could pressure extended equity valuations and weigh on longer-term Treasury bond returns.

Outlook Update:  Our economic outlook, overall, has not changed significantly. We continue to see signs of a mature cycle in the US, but we also expect moderate growth to continue and the U.S. consumer to remain the highlight of the U.S. economy. However, our interest rate outlook has shifted modestly. With continued economic growth and diminished likelihood of a full blown U.S./China trade war, we anticipate real interest rates will move up from near cycle lows and a modest uptick in inflation will put upward pressure on longer-term interest rates. Further, we see elevated asset valuations moving to the top of the Fed’s risk list and, while we do not expect the Fed to raise short-term interest rates, we would not be surprised to see the Fed’s messaging turn less dovish in an attempt to talk down extended valuations.

Reduction of U.S. Information Technology/Increase of U.S. Consumer Discretionary Equity Exposure:  Strong U.S. equity market performance since early 2019 was driven almost entirely by valuation expansion. Since the beginning of 2019, the forward P/E ratio of the S&P 500 as a whole moved from about 14.5x to about 18.5x. The U.S. Information Technology equity sector significantly outperformed over that period, and its P/E moved up from about 18.0x to about 22.2x (at the high end of its historical range, excluding the Technology bubble of the late 1990s). The U.S. Consumer Discretionary equity sector is more reasonably valued, in our view, especially when accounting for the impact of its largest constituent, Amazon.com, which we believe is well positioned given continued strength in e-commerce, strength of the U.S. consumer, and the secular trend toward cloud computing. We believe the U.S. Information Technology and Consumer Discretionary equity sectors are both fundamentally advantaged in the current economic environment, and despite reducing U.S. Information Technology equity exposure, we remain overweight to the sector. However, the risk of a modest increase in longer-term interest rates could put pressure on extended equity valuations, which could weigh more heavily on U.S. Information Technology equity sector returns.

Shortening of Fixed Income Duration/Increase of Investment-Grade Corporate Bond Exposure:  We have eliminated longer-term Treasury bond exposure, modestly increased intermediate Treasury exposure, and added intermediate investment-grade corporate bond exposure within the Global Conservative strategy’s fixed income allocation. This shift reflects the evolution of our interest rate outlook, which now anticipates increased risk of a modest rise in longer-term interest rates, driven by a mix of rising real rates, a likely modest uptick in inflation as moderate economic growth continues, and the potential for less dovish rhetoric from the Fed as the risk of a full-blown trade war with China has eased. Given the potential for a modest steepening of the yield curve as longer-term interest rates rise, we believe shortening the duration (interest rate sensitivity) of fixed-income exposure is warranted. With our expectation for continued moderate economic growth, we believe adding intermediate-term, investment-grade corporate bond exposure is appropriate in conjunction with lowering the overall duration of the fixed-income allocation.

The most recent complete presentation can be viewed here.
Any portfolio characteristics, including position sizes and sector allocations among others, are generally averages and are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect the investments of an actual portfolio unless otherwise noted. The investment guidelines of an actual portfolio may permit or restrict investments that are materially different in size, nature and risk from those shown. The investment processes, research processes or risk processes shown herein are for informational purposes to demonstrate an overview of the process. Such processes may differ by product, client mandate or market conditions. Portfolios that are concentrated in a specific sector or industry may be subject to a higher degree of market risk than a portfolio whose investments are more diversified.
Holdings, Sector Weightings and Portfolio Characteristics were current as of the date specified in this presentation. The listing of particular securities should not be considered a recommendation to purchase or sell these securities. While these securities were among WestEnd Advisors’ Global Conservative holdings at the time this material was assembled, holdings will change over time. There can be no assurance that the securities remain in the portfolio or that other securities have not been purchased. It should not be assumed that recommendations made in the future will be profitable or will equal the performance of the securities presently in the portfolio. Individual clients’ portfolios may vary.