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What is needed for a market expansion in 2021?

January 06, 2021

Man standing on peak of rock at sunset

Markets reached new highs in 2020 in the face of a global pandemic. This leaves some asking if this is sustainable.  Continued growth depends on improvements in the economy, company earnings and government support. The good news is that we have seen advances on these fronts over the last several months. However, markets have high expectations for 2021 and any shortfall may result in a setback. Here are three areas we are looking to see progress on in 2021:

1. Markets and the economy become more connected

The global economy had a terrible 2020 but equity markets delivered strong returns. This disconnect is quite normal when a cycle comes to an end and a new one emerges. The reason is that the economic data provides an assessment of where we were, while the market is focused on a brighter future. Looking forward we need to see continued improvements in the economy and believe market returns may be more modest- reflecting a more normal outlook as opposed to a strong recovery. Of course, these improvements don’t happen in a straight line and fluctuation in the economic recovery will cause volatility in markets.

2. Earnings will need to move above pre-pandemic levels

As economic activity increases in 2021, overall business earnings should continue to recover. Globally, earnings are expected to rise and surpass pre-pandemic levels in late 2021. This isn’t good for equity markets- it’s a requirement!  This is because the current market level already reflects this earnings recovery in the form of higher valuations. If this outlook falters, it may lead to a temporary decline in markets.   

Graph on left shows trailing EPS and graph on right shows trailing P/E

 3. Government support is a necessity

The recovery we have experienced has been largely the result of unprecedented government spending, zero percent interest rates and bond-buying by central banks to heal credit markets. Going forward, government spending will be the dominant tool for managing the recovery. We are looking for a continued willingness of policymakers to run sustained supportive policy until there can be a transition to private-sector spending and investment.

What does this mean for your portfolio?

An improved outlook for the economy combined with uncertainty argues for portfolio diversification. At CC&L Private Capital, we have built diversity within our asset class strategies and across our investment platform. Diversification across traditional and alternative asset classes will be even more important as we look ahead. In 2020 we increased investments in private market assets like infrastructure. We also began to offer frontier market investments to our clients and increased exposure to emerging markets. This broadens portfolio diversification and positions our clients well for the future.

Often after discussing our market outlook, a client will ask, what should I be doing? For long-term investors, sticking to your existing strategy (while we manage the rest) is almost always the best advice.  This year we would add to this sage wisdom and say now is a really good time to revisit your asset allocation to ensure that you are balancing risks while achieving the long-term return necessary to meet your financial objectives.

This post is for information only and is not intended as investment advice. The views expressed are those of the author at the time of publication and are subject to change at any time.

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Catherine Dorazio
Managing Director
Business Development

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