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RECONFIGURING 60/40: INVESTING IN A WORLD OF ULTRA-LOW RATES

IN BRIEF

This executive summary gives readers a broad overview of our 2020 Long-Term Capital Market Assumptions (LTCMAs) and provides a context for how we see important structural themes affecting economic outcomes and asset market returns over a 10- to 15-year investment horizon. Key takeaways from this year’s LTCMAs:

  • Growth remains low by historical standards, with aging populations a key headwind, while a technology-driven boost to productivity presents the main upside risk. Inflation is set to fall short of central bank targets in most cases unless and until fiscal stimulus features more prominently in the policy toolkit.
  • Sluggish nominal growth constrains equilibrium yields along the curve, but it is today’s low interest rates and lengthy path to normalization that drive down our fixed income forecasts. Credit remains a brighter spot, but even here forecasts are sharply lower.
  • Equity forecasts, by contrast, improve a little as valuation headwinds recede. In relative terms, forecasts for equity returns are well ahead of those for bonds, but after a 10-year bull market they are at the low end of the historical range in absolute terms.
  • Those seeking higher returns will continue to be drawn to private markets, where we expect alpha trends for financial alternatives to be steady and more concentrated exposure to the tech super-cycle is possible. Elsewhere in alternatives, real assets remain an attractive source of both returns and diversification.
  • Expected returns for a 60/40 U.S. stock-bond portfolio fall 10 basis points to 5.4%, and the stock-bond frontier steepens. Sharpe ratios for bonds fall sharply but still sit in line with equities in USD, while in other currencies they are now negative in some cases, pointing to a bleak outlook for fixed income returns.
  • Lower returns from bonds create a challenge for investors in navigating the late-cycle economy. Returns in equities, credit and alternative assets are available, but the days of simply insulating exposure to risky assets with an allocation to bonds are over; this calls for, in equal measure, greater flexibility in portfolio strategy and greater precision in executing that strategy.

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Introducing the 2020 Long-Term Capital Market Assumptions

The 2020 edition of our Long-Term Capital Market Assumptions (LTCMAs) was written against a backdrop of trade tension between the world’s economic superpowers and a reversal in the trajectory of global monetary policy. While these both have far-reaching and complex implications, they effectively boil down to two interconnected issues: the contour of future economic growth, which is influenced significantly by trade, and the rate at which we discount that growth in asset markets. These issues can amount to a trade-off; for instance, something that lowers forward growth might also serve to lower discount rates, muting the impact on asset prices today, and vice versa.

At the risk of oversimplification, most factors – however nuanced or complex – that affect our long-term market outlook are relevant because of their influence on one side or the other of the growth vs. discounting trade-off. For an investor, recognizing whether an event or issue will mostly affect either growth or discounting is probably the easy bit. But figuring out over what time frame it might play out, and the scale of impact, is significantly more challenging.

Last year, we explored the dislocations that were forming in the late-cycle environment and argued that some of these might be structural. Factors including demographic trends and technology-led changes to the labor market were resetting inflation and policy rate equilibria such that assumptions of reversion to a historical mean might prove unreliable. We encouraged investors to manage outside the mean and to recognize which of our historical assumptions were permanently shifting.

One specific dislocation was very stark a year ago: The U.S. and other key regions were not at the same phase of the economic cycle. This manifested itself most clearly through the stock-bond frontiers: In USD, the frontier had flattened markedly, as is typical of a mature cycle, where higher rates improve bond returns at the same time that higher valuations weigh on ex-ante equity returns. Meanwhile, zero or negative rates elsewhere held down ex-ante bond returns in EUR and other key currencies, leading to steeper stock-bond frontiers and making relative equity returns look better than the growth outlook might have justified (Exhibits 1A and 1B).

Last year, the stock-bond frontier for the U.S. stood out as particularly flat. This is typical of a late-cycle environment.

EXHIBIT 1A: LAST YEAR’S STOCK-BOND FRONTIERS FOR USD AND EUR
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Source: J.P. Morgan Asset Management; estimates as of September 30, 2018, and September 30, 2019.

Cyclical forces continue to be a constraint on long-term returns, with U.S. stock markets looking particularly stretched. That said, the secular component of returns looks stable.

EXHIBIT 1B: CYCLICAL AND STRUCTURAL RETURN ELEMENTS
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Source: Bloomberg, Datastream, J.P. Morgan Asset Management Multi-Asset Solutions.
Long-term returns: September 1994–September 2019.

We expected that this dislocation would correct itself through one of three unprecedented paths: an extreme extension – by years, not months – of the current cycle; a U.S. recession that didn’t take the rest of the world with it; or a reversal in the U.S. rate cycle before the rest of the world could even get started on raising rates. It appears that the third of these scenarios may be in play, and it could shape the long-term outlook meaningfully.

Nevertheless, we would also observe that this is not a normal late-cycle environment. Late-cycle exuberance that is typically evident in risky assets is notable by its absence, while bubbles appear to have formed in safe assets. Tight labor markets and flat yield curves are characteristic of late cycle, but other typical late-cycle phenomena, like excessive risk appetite, tightness in basic resources and constraints on capital availability, have not materialized. We therefore need to recalibrate our thinking about late-cycle investing, with some of the playbook followed during the prior two cycles seemingly not applicable this time around.

What’s changed over the last year?

Over the last year, central banks proved themselves willing to ease policy despite a healthy labor market, suggesting that the true real neutral rate (R*) is lower than previously thought. It also became clear that trade tensions are as much structural as transactional, and fears over long-run trade constraints contribute to the downward pressure on R*.

Debate about fiscal stimulus gained momentum; and although its widespread use is only likely to be triggered by an economic downturn, fiscal stimulus could deeply affect both the trajectory of inflation and the capital/labor share of income.

Issues such as climate change, income inequality and political populism extended from the political sphere into the economic sphere at an ever faster pace over the last year, further pushing environmental, social and governance (ESG) frameworks into the investing spotlight.

Finally, the cycle matured further still, becoming the longest U.S. expansion on record, and the yield curve inverted. Even accounting for the distorting effect of quantitative easing, that inversion proved a sobering milestone for investors and policymakers alike (Exhibit 2).

The past year saw the inversion of the U.S. yield curve, a key milestone for investors and policymakers. History shows that yield curves tend to steepen quite sharply before the first month of recession.

EXHIBIT 2: FLATTENING OF THE 3-MONTH/10-YEAR U.S. YIELD CURVE IN PRIOR AND CURRENT CYCLES, INCLUDING PERIOD FROM FLAT TO RECESSION
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Source: Bloomberg, J.P. Morgan Asset Management; data as of September 30, 2019.

All of these factors have meaningful long-term implications, but it is the sharp reversal in global monetary policy – led by the Federal Reserve (Fed) – from a seemingly monotonic tightening path to lowering rates and resuming asset purchases that has the most profound effect. This policy shift affects our near-term outlook, reinforcing our observation last year that the U.S. might be done with rate hikes and begin to ease before the rest of the world could get started.

In the short run, this may serve to extend the current cycle modestly. But in the longer run, it suggests central banks could enter the next downturn devoid of their usual monetary policy tools, their ammunition already spent trying to hold it off.

As a result, it seems ever more likely that a fiscal response will be necessary in the next recession. What form fiscal stimulus might take and what the effects might be are, as yet, undefined. But if fiscal stimulus were to result in higher inflation, then with monetary policy constraining long-term interest rates through quantitative easing (QE), this confluence of forces could set the scene for a period of financial repression.1

Rates: Lower for … ever?

As we explored last year, we are likely now past the high water mark of central bank independence; but equally, excessive criticism of central banks unfairly ignores the limitations of monetary policy, in isolation, to drive up inflation. Over the last decade, central banks sought to redeploy the tools and theories that successfully brought inflation down in the past and use them in reverse to try to drive inflation back up.

While it is reasonable to assume early deployment of ultra- easy policy by the Fed averted a descent into outright deflation, it is as likely to have been the shock of its deployment as much as the policy itself that led to this outcome. Yet in the extended period of easy policy that followed the financial crisis, inflation struggled to reach central bank targets even as unemployment fell to multi-decade lows.

One of our papers, “The failure of monetary stimulus,” explores how zero rate policy and quantitative easing may now be doing more harm than good. At best, in a world of low nominal growth, where liquidity traps are becoming more prevalent, central banks’ monetary toolkit may not be entirely up to the task.

But at worst, ultra-easy policy can effectively concentrate stimulus on capital owners, who typically have a lower propensity to spend. Thus, efforts to stimulate the economy as a whole may in fact serve simply to increase the savings glut, in turn slowing the velocity of money and weighing on inflation at the aggregate level. Monetary policy in isolation may not have led to this outcome. But in combination with government austerity and adoption of technologies that are suppressing wage inflation, it may well have pushed the capital/labor share of income to a post-World War II low (Exhibit 3) and, in turn, served to increase inequality. The social and political ramifications of increased inequality are well documented,2 but the impact on growth, inflation and ultimately the asset markets is also significant.

Over 70% of the sharp drop in the labor share of income has occurred in the last 20 years. This has likely increased inequality, which has implications for growth and inflation, as well as politics.

EXHIBIT 3: LABOR SHARE OF INCOME IN THE U.S. OVER THE LAST 70 YEARS
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Source: Haver Analytics, McKinsey, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), J.P. Morgan Asset Management Multi-Asset Solutions; data as of September 30, 2019.

Our real growth projections this year continue to be rather modest. We see global growth averaging 2.3% over the next 10 to 15 years, down 20 basis points (bps) from our projections last year, with developed market forecasts unchanged at 1.5% but emerging market (EM) forecasts trimmed 35bps to 3.9% (Exhibit 4). Population aging is broadly to blame for the low forecasts for global growth. In developed markets, the cyclical boost we attributed to the eurozone seems to have run its course, leading us to trim forecasts by 30bps, but these cuts are offset by a modest rise in forecasts for Australia and Canada, driven by more favorable demographics.

Our 2020 assumptions anticipate slow real GDP growth globally; global growth assumptions are little changed from last year at the aggregate level, with most developed market projections stable

EXHIBIT 4: MACROECONOMIC ASSUMPTIONS (%)
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Source: J.P. Morgan Asset Management; estimates as of September 30, 2019.
* Emerging markets aggregate derived from nine-country sample.

Downgrades to our growth outlook for China are a key factor in pulling down our EM growth forecasts. While the 60bps cut to Chinese growth forecasts to 4.4% may seem optically severe, it merely reflects the gradual maturing of the Chinese economy and the ongoing shift from investment and exports to consumption and services. In other EM economies, we are also seeing a drop in trend growth; notably, we trim forecasts for Brazil by 60bps, Mexico by 80bps and South Africa by 55bps. However, these reductions largely reflect a lowering of our productivity forecasts and, in particular, lower estimates for capex growth and total factor productivity improvements over our forecast horizon.

Our projections for global inflation are little changed from last year, with global CPI forecast at 2.2%. But it is worth reflecting that inflation in many countries is likely to remain stuck in first gear. The limitations of monetary stimulus seem unambiguous when we consider that the countries with the lowest forecasts of inflation (Japan and Switzerland) have had many years of extremely low nominal rates. Further, we project that central banks in many countries will fall short of reaching their stated inflation targets over our forecast horizon. Only in the event of significant fiscal stimulus – itself only likely to be deployed in response to an economic shock – might we see upside risks to our inflation forecasts start to build.

Given our questions about the effectiveness of monetary policy, we must concede that there is a certain circularity in linking cash rate projections to growth and inflation forecasts, but we believe policymakers may have boxed themselves into a low rate world. From this point forward, we would expect global monetary policy to remain extremely accommodative throughout this cycle and well into the next one. This leads us to build a significant delay in rate normalization into our forecasts. That, in combination with much lower starting yields and a modest cut to our equilibrium yield estimates, adds up to a sharp fall in projected fixed income returns – in some cases taking them negative over our forecast horizon (Exhibit 5).

Anticipating continued central bank dovishness, we shift our equilibrium interest rates lower across major G4 markets and extend the time horizon over which we expect rate normalization

EXHIBIT 5: STANDARD G4, IG, HY AND EMD FIXED INCOME RETURN PROJECTIONS
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Source: J.P. Morgan Asset Management; estimates as of September 30, 2019.
^ EUR: 15y+ index, JPY: JGB Bond Index, GBP: 15y+ index, USD: 20y+ index; * EMD hard currency debt.

Cash return forecasts in most major currencies are lower mainly because we have significantly extended our normalization assumptions and assume a lengthy period of zero rates. Further out on the curve, however, the impact of prevailing yield levels is profound. In aggregate, G4 10-year bond return assumptions are down 100bps, but in EUR and GBP long bond indices we now project negative returns over our forecast horizon. Clearly, fixed income investors face profound challenges: To achieve zero real return from 10-year German Bunds over a 10-year horizon, based on our inflation, curve and normalization assumptions,3 Bund yields would need to fall to around –2.50% over the next decade. Negative yields are now widespread, but such a level of negative yield would stretch credibility, particularly if fiscal stimulus eventually puts upward pressure on yields later in our forecast horizon.

In the wider fixed income complex, credit continues to offer a decent return uplift. Returns in investment grade credit have come down in sympathy with other longer-duration fixed income assets, whereas the shorter-duration high yield returns have held up better. For a long-term investor, credit may present an opportunity to enhance portfolio returns. Nevertheless, we would still caution that we are in a distinctly mature credit cycle and the risks of a drawdown early on are naturally higher. Riskless rates are low, and there is not much of a buffer embedded in the credit complex were spreads to widen sharply during a period of economic weakness.

Our macroeconomic forecasts and our fixed income return estimates both send a somewhat downbeat message, but for subtly different reasons. After a decade long expansion, it follows that growth expectations might be somewhat muted. But equally, it might be more typical that after a prolonged period of growth, interest rates would be higher – and the return outlook for fixed income rather better. Persistent disinflation has been a feature of this cycle, with wage inflation, in particular, low compared with prior cycles, in turn reducing upward pressure on rates.

One factor that has contributed to lower inflation over this cycle – technology – also presents a potential upside risk4 to our base-case forecasts. Certainly, the frequently promised technology-driven productivity boon has proved rather elusive so far, but it could well fuel growth in the next cycle – particularly if, as we expect, investment spending in aggregate gets some support from fiscal stimulus.

Technology is changing productivity and how we measure it

Our analysis of technology and productivity in the 2018 LTCMAs concluded that by the end of the next decade automation and artificial intelligence (AI) had the potential to add 1 to 1.5 percentage points to global trend growth, with those countries facing the greatest demographic challenge standing to gain the most. This year, we have focused at a more granular level on e-commerce, exploring Robert Solow’s paradox that “you can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

The extent of e-commerce adoption is substantially higher than official data suggest. It is probably boosting productivity, but this may not be fully evident until the next economic cycle – when willingness to invest might be rather higher than is the case at the tail end of a cycle. Without doubt, e-commerce acts as a disinflationary force, but it may also bring meaningful efficiency into firms’ internal supply chains, in turn reducing capital intensity and boosting margins over the longer term. At a time when equity returns are constrained simply as a result of the lengthy bull market, e-commerce offers an interesting upside risk for both public and private equity market returns.

Our long-term return outlook for equities is slightly better this year. Our average global equity return forecasts over the next 10 to 15 years rise 50bps to 6.5% in U.S. dollar terms. Our forecast for developed markets is up 20bps to 5.7%, and for emerging markets we also raise it 20bps to 8.7% – both in local currency terms, which serves to highlight the additional impact of currency translations in driving equity returns. In developed markets, the lion’s share of this improvement is the result of better starting valuations, while in EM markets the boost is more evenly split between earnings and valuation.

Across major markets, return forecasts are tightly packed just below the 6% level (Exhibit 6), but in risk-adjusted terms there is a far wider spread of projections. In either case, projected equity returns stand well above those available from fixed income, and stock-bond frontiers have accordingly steepened across the board.

Over the long run, we see scope for developed markets ex-U.S. to outperform U.S. markets – a change from the past decade

EXHIBIT 6: LONG-TERM EQUITY RETURNS VS. LTCMA PROJECTIONS
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Source: Bloomberg, MSCI, J.P. Morgan Asset Management Multi-Asset Solutions; data as of September 30, 2019. Return indices are MSCI-based.

The steepness of the stock-bond frontier, and the paltry long-term return outlook for fixed income, suggest that asset allocators need to push out along the risk spectrum in order to harvest returns. However, the low absolute level of returns for almost all assets is indicative of being in the late stage of the economic cycle. Put simply, over the long run equities offer better expected returns than bonds, but in the event of an economic downturn they will bear the brunt of market volatility. Both prevailing and average levels of volatility are fair predictors of market risks over the longer run, but they do not capture the “fat left tail”5 that many risky assets exhibit in downturns (Exhibit 7).

Metrics that account for the distribution of risks as well as the average level of risks are valuable in late cycle

EXHIBIT 7: RETURN-TO-RISK RATIOS FOCUSED ON LEFT-TAIL RISK*
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Source: J.P. Morgan Asset Management Multi-Asset Solutions; data as of September 2019.
* Percentage difference between return-to-CVaR based on normal assumption and return-to-CVaR based on historical experience. Both CVaR measures are computed at 95% confidence level. See Volatility Assumptions section for details.

We view metrics such as the equity risk premium (ERP) with similar caution. Having acknowledged that interest rates are unlikely to mean revert to pre-global financial crisis (GFC) levels, it strikes us as odd to compare prevailing ERP – for which riskless rates are a key input – with long-term historical means and thus argue that stocks are cheap. While long-term investors stand to harvest the ERP over the full 10- to 15-year investment horizon, the simple fact that ERP is currently elevated does not mean that, in the short run, it couldn’t move even higher if cyclical conditions were to deteriorate (Exhibit 8).

The equity risk premium is certainly extended, but it is unclear how informative this measure is in a world of such low rates

EXHIBIT 8: IMPLIED ERP FOR U.S. EQUITIES VS. PRE- AND POST-GFC MEANS
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Source: Bloomberg, J.P. Morgan Asset Management Multi-Asset Solutions; data as of September 30, 2019.

As public equity returns move a little higher this year, we see a parallel increase in private equity market returns. We raise our 10- to 15-year aggregate private equity return forecasts 55bps to 8.8%. Private equity continues to be attractive to those investors looking for return uplift, as well as those seeking more specific exposure to technology themes (see “The evolution of market structure,” 2019 Long-Term Capital Market Assumptions). Alpha trends in private markets are expected to be stable, at a level a little shy of their long-run averages. Nevertheless, the return outlook is encouraging and it will likely attract further inflows to private markets. At this time, we do not believe that the concerns over excessive dry powder6 are justified, given the huge investible opportunities arising from technological advancement,7 but even so, manager selection remains a critical driver of returns in private markets.

A changing mix of global growth

Investors who seek to boost returns and also have greater risk tolerance likely will be drawn, once again, to emerging market assets. Our EM equity forecasts are 300bps over developed markets in local currency terms, while our EM bond return forecasts range from 5.9% for local currency sovereigns to 4.9% for EM corporate credit, compared with 2.4% for U.S. 10-year Treasuries (Exhibit 9).

While our return expectation for emerging market bond assets is lower than recent history, emerging market debt still offers a significant return uplift vs. core bonds

EXHIBIT 9: HISTORICAL AND FORECAST RETURNS FOR KEY EMD CLASSES AND U.S. 10-YEAR
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Source: Bloomberg, J.P. Morgan Asset Management Multi-Asset Solutions; data as of September 30, 2019.

Over our forecast horizon, China is likely to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy and, as such, exerts a powerful influence on our aggregate macro forecasts. In asset markets, China’s influence – while significant in some cases – still generally lags its economic might. Even in today’s terms, China accounts for one-sixth of global GDP and one-eighth of world equity market capitalization. However, international direct holdings of Chinese assets lag far behind global ownership trends apparent in other major equity and bond markets (Exhibit 10). Our paper “The next phase of China’s growth” explores how the nature of Chinese growth will change in the coming decade and how China’s influence in global equity, bond and currency markets will rapidly increase.

International holdings of Chinese equities and bonds remain incredibly low when compared with developed markets

EXHIBIT 10: INTERNATIONAL HOLDINGS – KEY EQUITY AND BOND MARKETS
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Source: Banque de France; Bruegel sovereign bond holdings database;9 Datastream; Ministry of Finance, Japan; Nikkei Inc.; Office for National Statistics; People’s Bank of China; U.S. Department of the Treasury; J.P. Morgan Asset Management Multi-Asset Solutions; data as of September 30, 2019.
* China equities: Solid color block represents A shares; the full stack represents all China equity classes, including H shares and ADRs.

We expect China’s growth to slow from its present rate of a little above 6% to below 4% during the next decade, averaging 4.4% over our forecast horizon. This may seem a sharp decline, but it masks a meaningful rise in GDP per capita over that time frame and embeds our expectation that China will be broadly successful in navigating the middle income trap.8

Crucially, we expect China to move up the value chain and capture more of its growth from services, consumption and technology. This implies that some of the underlying structural disagreements in the current trade dispute with the U.S. are likely to remain in focus for some time to come. In any case, given China’s dominant role in the EM bloc, as the country’s pace of growth slows it presents a risk to EM aggregate growth forecasts and to assets correlated to Chinese growth, such as commodities.

Clearly, trade issues have weighed heavily on EM assets and currencies in the last year, pushing prices down and reducing valuations. In equities, lower starting valuations, resulting in part from trade tensions, largely offset the impact of lower EM GDP growth this year, so that the wedge between EM and developed market equities is unchanged.

China already accounts for 32% of the EM equity complex, and this proportion is likely to increase in the near term as efforts to open up the Chinese stock market to international investors gather pace. In face value terms, the Chinese bond market is the second largest on the planet. It offers significant return pickup compared with other sovereign markets, even though we judge Chinese interest rates to be still some distance below their natural equilibrium (see “The future path of Chinese interest rates,” 2018 LTCMAs).

Challenges to portfolio management late in the cycle

With global bond returns challenged over all forecast horizons, and investors forced further along the risk spectrum – to private markets and EM assets – to bolster returns, it becomes more difficult to build a robust portfolio that is not overly exposed to macro risks. In our final paper this year, we look at how investors are rethinking safe havens, recognizing that with yields now negative on around 25% of government bonds the ability to insulate a portfolio with bonds and clip a coupon is compromised. Conceptually, adding insurance to a portfolio – which was the role of the bond allocation – ought to come at a cost. Insurance simply isn’t free. But we have now entered a world where the trade-off is no longer between forgone risky asset returns and reduced portfolio risk but is instead a zero or even negative return in exchange for that risk reduction. Little wonder that investors are re-examining the trade-offs they’re willing to make.

Some currencies display safe haven characteristics – notably JPY, CHF and USD – but this is complicated by the negative real returns on offer in most defensive cash markets, and also by the persistent overvaluation of the U.S. dollar. As we did last year, we expect the dollar to decline over our forecast horizon in key crosses, with an equilibrium fair value for EURUSD of 1.38, for USDJPY of 88 and for GBPUSD of 1.48. Plainly, the dollar’s overvaluation could compromise some of the currency’s appeal as a potential safe haven asset; equally, we note that currencies don’t move to equilibrium in a straight line and crosses can remain at a good stretch from theoretical fair value for lengthy periods. Nevertheless, an overvalued USD remains a meaningful consideration when designing an optimal global asset allocation.

For investors with fewer liquidity concerns, our work on safe havens serves to highlight another bright spot in asset markets: real assets. Aversion to real estate in particular seems to stem from the central role overvalued property markets played in triggering the global financial crisis in 2008. But a longer-run analysis of through-cycle real estate returns suggests that the GFC was an anomaly and that real estate returns are generally robust through the cycle. This year, we forecast that core U.S. real estate returns will average 5.8% over the next 10 to 15 years, some way ahead of the returns available from a balanced 60/40 stock-bond portfolio. Casting the net more widely, forecast returns from global real assets and infrastructure have held up remarkably well, and given the resilience of their cash flows they may even act as a proxy for duration in portfolios with limited short-run liquidity demands.

Conclusion and portfolio implications

Overall, our 2020 LTCMAs forecast modest growth and contained inflation, and recognize the challenges to portfolio construction that zero or negative bond yields present. This environment is complicating the late-cycle playbook for those investors with an eye on tactical asset allocation. There are bright spots, but even then investors need to appreciate the trade-offs implicitly required to capture enhanced returns. Credit offers sizable return pickup over sovereign bonds, but with large drawdown risk when the economy turns; real estate returns are attractive, as are those in private equity, but liquidity is a consideration; and EM returns are well above developed market returns in most assets, but in the short run the gearing to trade uncertainty presents a headwind.

The long-term outlook for returns from government bonds is bleak compared with stocks (Exhibit 11). Ex-ante Sharpe ratios for U.S. Treasuries are not far from those for equities, but a quick comparison to historical average ex-post Sharpe ratios drives home just how scant the return in bonds is likely to be over the next decade. Last year, we judged that “bonds are back” as three years of gradually rising yields in U.S. Treasuries culminated in reasonable ex-ante risk-adjusted returns. That situation reversed in under a year, and it would take further cyclical weakness for bonds to offer the prospect of positive returns in the near term.

With core bond returns lower, this year risk premia look marginally more attractive in general

EXHIBIT 11: RETURNS AND RISK PREMIA, BASED ON 2020 VS. 2019 LTCMAS FOR RISK AND RETURN (%)
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Source: J.P. Morgan Asset Management; estimates as of September 30, 2018, and September 30, 2019.

Over the full forecast horizon, the resteepening of stock-bond frontiers (Exhibit 12) makes a clear relative case for equity over bonds. Nevertheless, it comes with the health warning that the absolute level of forecast returns for stocks today is still quite low relative to history – reflecting an asset market that has enjoyed a decade long bull market. Whether to pay more heed to the relative or absolute signal from the stock- bond frontier is ultimately a call on where we sit in the cycle today and how that signal might shift over the near term.

After flattening last year, the USD stock-bond frontier steepens again, led by lower bond returns. Expected 60/40 returns in EUR remain depressed.

EXHIBIT 12A: USD STOCK-BOND FRONTIERS AND 60/40 PORTFOLIOS BASED ON 2020 VS. 2019 LTCMAS FOR RISK AND RETURN (%)
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EXHIBIT 12B: EUR STOCK-BOND FRONTIERS AND 60/40 PORTFOLIOS BASED ON 2020 VS. 2019 LTCMAS FOR RISK AND RETURN (%)
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Source: J.P. Morgan Asset Management; estimates as of September 30, 2018, and September 30, 2019.

Despite our expectations of modest growth and modest returns, on average, over the next 10 to 15 years, we remain optimistic at heart. The late cycle presents a challenge for all investors, but if we take care to acknowledge that low rates today are less an indication of a Goldilocks scenario10 than they were earlier in the economic cycle, it will arm us to make better near-term decisions.

Over the longer run, we expect that technology will indeed boost productivity, even if care needs to be taken to manage its disinflationary side effects. We also believe that policy will evolve from monetary toward fiscal stimulus. Clearly, this comes with a warning sticker attached, but, used prudently, fiscal stimulus could strengthen economic growth and start to reverse some of the skew between capital and labor’s share in the rewards of that growth. That skew has widened considerably in recent years, further polarizing political debate.

It may be that the Goldilocks scenario in the next cycle is a little different – not so much unspectacular growth married to spectacularly easy policy but instead, perhaps, fiscal policy boosting inflation, allowing rates to eventually rise while technology adoption pushes up productivity.

Either way, the long-run outlook probably does favor stocks over bonds, but the cyclical environment suggests maybe a little more near-term caution. Keeping a view over the full cycle is always important; but in today’s challenging environment, where the buffer from market returns is simply thinner, disciplined execution of that strategy is likely to be a clear competitive advantage.

 

2020 Long-Term Capital Market Assumptions

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Footnotes

1 A persistent period of low or negative real returns that leads to an erosion of principal on certain investments.

2 Robert Joyce and Xiaowei Xu, “Inequalities in the twenty-first century: Introducing the IFS Deaton Review,” Institute for Fiscal Studies, May 2019; “The global risks report 2019,” World Economic Forum.

3 This is the amount of annual price appreciation required to bring the average annual returns in our assumptions up to the long-term inflation rate (then amortized into an ending yield number).

4 “Technology, productivity and the labor force: The impact of technology on long-term potential economic growth,” J.P. Morgan Asset Management, 2018 Long-Term Capital Market Assumptions.

5 “Fat left tail” describes the deviation that actual returns in equity markets display relative to a normal distribution. In reality, equity markets suffer drawdowns more frequently and with a greater severity than a normal distribution of returns would imply.

6 Dry powder refers to the amount of cash committed to private equity funds but as yet undeployed.

7 Based on BEA trends, we expect technology to expand from representing 9% of the U.S. GDP footprint today to around one-fifth a decade from now.

8 The middle income trap refers to the phenomenon where rapidly growing economies stagnate at middle income levels and fail to transition into high income economies.

9 Developed in Silvia Merler and Jean Pisani-Ferry, “Who’s afraid of sovereign bonds?” Bruegel Policy Contribution 2012|02, February 2012.

10 The Goldilocks scenario is a phrase coined during the 2009–present expansion, where a combination of low but positive growth with low policy rates fueled a rally in asset markets that far outstripped concurrent levels of economic activity. It is used in this context to describe what might constitute a “perfect environment” for asset markets, either now or in future cycles.