Franklin Templeton is optimistic about fixed income in the coming year due to the Federal Reserve ending its hiking cycle, and inflation continuing to trend lower. However, it believes that rates will remain at these levels for much of 2024 in order for inflation to fall to the Fed’s desired level, leading to a more challenging environment in the first-half of the year. 


Amid this backdrop, the firm is bullish on municipal bonds especially with so many investors on the sidelines, overweight cash, or in short-term credit. Municipal bonds offer historically attractive yields, favorable tax treatment, and a longer-duration which should outperform in an environment with falling rates and a flattening yield curve. 


The firm notes that local governments remain in strong shape from a fiscal perspective even despite a slowdown in economic activity and rising costs. Many still have excess funds leftover from federal aid during the pandemic and have been relatively disciplined in terms of spending. Further, muni bonds have lower default rates than corporate credit while also having higher after-tax returns. Franklin Templeton believes many investors will reallocate from money markets into municipal bonds in order to lock in yields at these levels especially as monetary policy eases. 

Finsum: Franklin Templeton is bullish on fixed income in the coming year. It also highlights a bullish case for municipal bonds due to the sector’s strong fundamentals and favorable positioning in this macro environment. 


There was an inflection point for financial markets in October. Soft inflation data resulted in a change in consensus as Fed futures now indicate that the Fed’s next move is more likely to be a rate cut rather than a hike. One of the biggest winners of this dovish shift has been small-cap stocks as the Russell 2000 is up 12.1% over the last 90 days and 8.5% over the past month. Another reason for interest in the sector is that valuations are at historically low levels.


In theory, rate cuts are bullish for small-cap stocks since they lead to lower financing costs, puts upward pressure on multiples, and tends to be a leading indicator of an increase in M&A activity. In reality, rate cuts are often necessary due to a weakening economy. Thus, a major variable in whether small-caps deliver stellar returns is whether inflation can continue to moderate without the economy tumbling into a recession. 


According to Mike Wilson, CIO and chief US equity strategist for Morgan Stanley, investors should pay close attention to earnings revisions, high frequency economic data, and small business confidence. At the moment, all of these measures are moving in the wrong direction. He adds that for small-cap outperformance to continue, GDP needs to reaccelerate, and inflation needs to stabilize at current levels. 

Finsum: After years of underperformance, small-cap stocks are seeing huge gains on rising odds of a Fed rate cut next year. However, continued outperformance for the sector depends on certain variables.


Japanese stocks have been mired in a multi-decade bear market since 1990. Remarkably, Japanese equities had an annual gain of -0.3% between 1990 and 2023. Some of the major reasons for this poor performance was that stocks become extremely expensive at the peak in 1990, companies were less profitable than European and US competitors, deflation was raging, and the currency was also very strong which hurt exports.


Now, we are at the opposite end of the spectrum in many ways. Japanese companies are flush with cash and have low levels of debt. Deflation is no longer a threat, while the Japanese yen has weakened and become quite competitive with other countries. On the aggregate, profit margins have risen from 3% to 5.5% since the early 90s. In turn, Japanese stocks have returned 7.4% annually since 2010. 


Another positive development for equities is that activist investors have been successful in unlocking shareholder value on balance sheets. The government is also actively encouraging consolidation within fragmented industries and companies to focus on maximizing shareholder value. 


Despite these initiatives, Japanese stocks still remain quite cheap with half of companies trading below book value. Yet, there is some compelling evidence to believe that Japanese stocks have more upsides given this combination of catalysts.

Finsum: Japanese stocks are quite cheap relative to the rest of the world. In addition, there have been quite a few positive developments in recent years in terms of corporate behavior and government policy.


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