Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • May 17, 2024

Seeking Better Value in Emerging Market Debt


Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Head of Corporate Credit Research at Morgan Stanley.

Lisa Shalett: And I'm Lisa Shalett, Chief Investment Officer for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

Andrew Sheets: And on part one of this special episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing long run expected returns across markets, how we think about cross asset correlations and portfolio construction, and what are the special considerations that investors might want to have in mind in the current environment.

It's Friday, May 3rd at 4pm in London.

Lisa Shalett: And it's 11am here in New York City.

Andrew Sheets: Lisa, you and I are both members of Morgan Stanley's Global Investment Committee, which brings together nine of our firm's market, economic, and portfolio management thought leaders to provide a strategic framework for advice that we give to clients.

Andrew Sheets: I wanted to touch on a unique aspect of that process because, you know, we're talking about estimating returns over different horizons for markets. And I think there's something that's kind of unique about that challenge. I mean, I think in most aspects of life, it's probably safe to say that the next decade is more uncertain than the next six months or next year. But when we're thinking about asset class returns, it's not quite as simple as that.

Lisa Shalett: Not at all. And very often this is where our understanding of history needs to play a big part. When we think about the future, what are the patterns that we think might be persistent? And therefore, encourage us to think about long run trends and mean reversion. And what dynamics might actually be disconnected, or one offs that are characteristic of maybe structural change in the economy or geopolitics or in policymaking stance.

Andrew Sheets: How have these latest capital market assumptions changed over the last year?

Lisa Shalett: I think one of the most profound changes has been our willingness to embrace the idea that, in fact, we are in a higher for longer inflation regime. And that has a couple of implications. The first has to do, of course, with nominal returns. A higher inflation environment suggests that nominal returns are actually likely to be higher. The second really has to do with where we are in the cycle and its implications for correlations. We've been through periods most recently, where stocks and bonds were, in fact, anti-correlated; or there was a diversifying property, if you will to the 60 40 portfolio. Most recently, as inflation and level of interest rates has had profound importance to both stock valuations and bond valuations, we have found that these correlations have turned positive. And that creates a imperative, really, for clients to have to look elsewhere beyond cash, bonds, and stocks to get appropriate diversification in their portfolios.

Andrew Sheets: Well, it's been less than a month since we updated our strategic recommendations. We've recently also published an update to our tactical asset allocation recommendations. So, Lisa, I guess I have two questions. One is, how do you think about these different horizons, the strategic versus the tactical? And can you also summarize what's changed?

Lisa Shalett: Sure. You know, we very often talk to clients about the tactical horizon as being in the 12 to 18-month time frame.

In our most recent adjustment, we moved from what had been roughly a, year old underweight in US large cap stocks, and we neutralized that, kind of quote unquote, back to benchmark. So, we added some exposure, and we funded that exposure by selling out of two other positions; one that we had had in both small cap value and small cap growth, as well as a position we had, that we had put on as a hedging oriented position and long duration treasuries.

Now, some might say well, given the move in interest rates, is now the right time to take that hedge off? Our decision was basically premised on the fact that we're just not seeing the value in holding duration today given the inversion of the yield curve, and we're not getting paid for the risk of duration. And so, you know, we thought redeploying into those large cap stocks was prudent. 

Now, the other rationale, really has to do with earnings achievability. A lot of our thoughts were premised early in the year on this idea of a soft landing -- and a soft landing that would include deceleration in top line growth. And so, we were skeptical that could produce what consensus was looking for, which was a 10 to 11 per cent bottom line in 2024. 

As it turns out, it looks like, nominal GDP in the US is going to continue to persist at levels above 5 per cent, and that kind of tailwind, suggested that our skepticism would prove too conservative; and that, in fact, in a, 10 per cent bottom line could be achievable -- especially if it were being driven by manufacturing oriented companies who are seeing a pick up from global growth.

Andrew Sheets: Lisa, maybe if I could just ask you kind of one more question related to some of these longer-term assumptions, you know, I imagine you get some skepticism to say, ‘Well, you know, is the market of today really comparable to, say, the stock market of 30 or 40 years ago? Can we really use metrics or mean reversion that's worked in the past when, you know, the world is different.’

Lisa Shalett: Yeah, no, that, that's a fantastic question. I mean, some of the bigger variables in the world that we look at have shown over very long periods of time tendencies to cycle, whether those are things around the business cycle, valuations, cost of capital. Those are the types of variables that over long periods of time tend to mean revert. Same thing volatility. There tend to be long term characteristics. And the history book is pretty convincing that even if sometimes mean reversion is delayed, it ultimately plays out. 

But we do think that there are elements that we need to continue to question, right. One of them is, you know, has monetary policy and central bank intervention fundamentally changed the rules of the game? Where central banks implicitly or explicitly are managing market liquidity as much as they are managing cost of capital; and as a result, the way markets interact with the central bank and the guidance -- is that different?

A second, factor has to do with market structure, right? And in a world where market prices were really being determined almost exclusively by fundamentals, right? There was this constant rotational shift between growth style and value style and where value could be determined in the market. As we've moved to a market that is increasingly driven by passive flows; there's a question that many market participants have raised about whether or not markets have gotten more inefficient because price discovery is actually, in the short run, not what's driving prices, but rather flows; passive flows are driving prices.

And so, you know, how do we account for these leads and lags in prices being actually remarked to fundamentals? So those are at least two of the things that I know we are constantly tossing around as we think about our methodologies and capital market assumptions.

Andrew Sheets: That was part one of my conversation with Lisa Shalett, Chief Investment Officer for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

Look out for part two of our conversation tomorrow, where we'll be discussing the impact of higher interest rates on asset classes. And how investors should think about an unusually concentrated stock market. 

Andrew Sheets: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts in the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Our Head of Corporate Credit Research explains why the debt of high-rated EM countries is a viable alternative for investors looking for high yields with longer duration.

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