Recession fears too high

Bullet points: Likelihood of a recession is no higher than 20 percent despite market estimates of 50 percent-75 percent. Equity risk premium is currently around 5 percent versus long-term average of 3.5 percent.

Financial markets have over-estimated the chances of a global recession, according to NN Investment Partners (NN IP). Equity and high-yield markets have factored in probabilities of 50 percent and 75 percent respectively, but NN IP believes it is difficult to say the likelihood of a recession is any more than 20 percent.

Valentijn van Nieuwenhuijzen, head of multi-asset at NN Investment Partners, said: “Developed market growth momentum fell back somewhat to around a 1 percent annualised pace during the second half of last year, but neither the level of growth nor the degree of the fall-back looked alarming from an historical perspective. It falls easily within the range of movement in the business cycle that can be described as noise rather than clear change of direction.”

Van Nieuwenhuijzen continues: “Equity valuations have come down by up to 20 percent from the recent highs, implying an increased risk of an earnings recession. We doubt this will happen outside the commodity sectors as the consumer sector is supported by low oil, low interest rates and an improving labour market. We also see little earnings risk for the health care sector. In addition, central bank support will help market sentiment. For all these elements we maintain a neutral stance, instead of throwing in the towel and follow the herd over the cliff.

Nothing guarantees that data surprises will not weaken further but the facts on the ground are certainly not yet aligned with a base-case recession scenario.”

NN IP says the levels of risk premia, that are now available, illustrate the impressive extent of recent market moves: the equity risk premium is currently around 5 percent compared to a long-term average of 3.5 percent. It has only ever been higher in the last 25 years during the peaks of the credit and euro crises in 2008 and 2012/13.

Also, the spreads at which high-yield bonds trade over government bonds have only been higher in crises periods including the savings & loans and LTCM crises of 1991 and 1998; accountancy scandals in 2002/03; and the credit and Euro crises.

NN IP says it has reduced its underweight in emerging markets from medium to small because of dovish Federal Reserve expectations, a weaker US dollar, relative economic data, very negative positioning and some stability in cyclical commodity prices. The eurozone has been cut to neutral. From a sector perspective, NN IP has shifted further its defensive bias by removing the overweight in IT.