Northern Trust (Nasdaq: NTRS) has published its annual long-term forecast for economic activity and financial market returns, emphasizing gradually improving global growth, interest rates remaining below historical averages and uncertainty over central bankers’ ability to create healthy, sustainable economies while gently winding down quantitative easing programs. Northern Trust also notes the potential for increased volatility in the financial markets.
“Higher volatility means that investors need to reaffirm their commitment to how their portfolios are positioned so that they do not shift out of their asset allocation for short-lived reasons,” Northern Trust Chief Investment Strategist Jim McDonald said. "As developed central banks try to manage investor expectations about the future of monetary policy, we expect uncertainty to remain fairly high."
Looking ahead to what can be expected from main asset classes, Northern Trust forecasts a five-year annualized total return of approximately seven percent for developed stock markets, down slightly from last year’s long-term forecast. Emerging stock markets are expected to continue to command a risk premium given valuation differentials and their growth profile.
Fixed income forecasts were revised slightly upwards from last year as interest rates have risen and expectations of further increases look elevated. Northern Trust believes that fixed income markets will continue to be driven heavily by non-fundamental factors such as central bank intervention, as opposed to the more typical drivers of growth and inflation. During this period of uncertainty about monetary policy, Northern Trust expects municipal bonds to remain inexpensive relative to Treasuries as financial market liquidity remains scarce.“The outlook for fixed income investing is not as dire as some people think,” McDonald said. “We expect positive returns from fixed income investments over the next five years and continue to believe bonds will play a critical role in client portfolios.” Key themes identified in Northern Trust’s 2013 Capital Markets Outlook include:
- Political Volatility, Policy Stability – A strong shift to the left or right is not expected, since voter sentiment remains surprisingly constant.
- Asset Classes Without Borders – Asset allocation will become less focused on particular countries, with global capital markets and globally diverse companies furthering the case for a global approach to asset allocation. Northern Trust is looking at how individual assets can be combined to provide specific exposures to compensated forms of risk.
- Watchful View on Inflation – Inflation remains at subdued levels amid tentative confidence and excess capacity, declining during the past year. However, financial markets may be slightly underestimating inflation risk going forward. The combination of low inflation expectations and ultra-aggressive central banks continues to argue for inflation protection within a diversified portfolio.