The New York Stock Exchange. Stocks have responded well to sunnier economic and policy news Image Credit: Reuters

(): favourable short-term outlook. They can do little, however, to lift broader uncertainty, posing a challenge for long-term investors on how to position their portfolios.

Stocks have responded well to sunnier economic and policy news. Global data point to a possible bottoming out of the recent worldwide growth slowdown that involves 90 per cent of countries, according to the International Monetary Fund.

China-US trade tensions, seen by many not only as a notable restraint on growth but also a significant risk, continue to de-escalate, though haphazardly. And, most significantly, the two most systemically important central banks — the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve — have resumed major injections of liquidity through large bond purchases in the marketplace, massively amplifying the effect of a new round of rate-cutting elsewhere.

With that, equity markets, along with the bond market, have taken comfort with the notion that the Fed may be on hold for now after three cuts this year.

On the fence

With these short-term headwinds diminishing, markets are poised to benefit from greater engagement by investors that have yet to fully embrace what many have consistently called a “mis-loved rally”. After all, many more-conventional institutional and retail money investors have remained relatively underinvested, opening the window for a technically driven leg up that propels US indexes to even more records.

But these favourable short-term conditions have done little to allay longer-term uncertainties, at least for now.

Longer term chances

Global economic prospects remain unsettled, particularly in Europe, where the prospects for meaningful pro-growth fiscal and structural reform policies are elusive. Some economists are even worried that, judging from the weekly jobless claims data, the US labour market may be losing strength. Already, some forward-looking indicators of gross domestic product growth have been revised downward.

Among all this, Chinese and US negotiators are taking their time to agree on what, at best, would be a “phase one” deal — suggesting that the recent de-escalation in tension could well prove short-lived given the thorny long-standing issues that remain unresolved. Additionally, the stepped-up central bank liquidity injections are taking place amid growing concerns about unintended consequences and collateral damage, especially those associated with prolonged reliance on unconventional monetary measures (including the growing risk of financial instability) and visible divisions within the central banking community.

And let’s not forget national politics, where the shift to more inward-looking and less corporate-friendly policies continues to gain traction, suggesting that a pause — if not an outright reversal — in economic and financial globalisation is far from over.

With such a contrast between short- and longer-term prospects for markets, investors would be well advised to keep a stake in the rally for now while at the same time moving up in quality to better navigate possible future setbacks. It’s a strategy that requires a lot more attention not only to the implied equity and credit risks inherent in current broad public market exposures but also those relating to liquidity and leverage.

And it’s a strategy that, despite a considerable valuation gap, would continue to suggest fighting the inclination to swap out of US markets in favour of the significantly underperforming international ones.