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US homebuilders - on strong foundations? US homebuilders have been hurt this year by concerns that rising interest rates could keep buyers at bay. But, as the sector continues to report strong demand for new housing, Fraser Lundie, Co-Head of Credit and Anna Chong, Credit Analyst, Hermes Investment Management ask: is the backdrop for US homebuilders favourable? The recent rise in interest rates – coupled with expectations of further rate hikes from the US Federal Reserve – has weighed heavily on US homebuilders this year: investors fear higher mortgage rates will weaken demand. But despite talk of a slowdown, industry fundamentals are still supportive of US homebuilders. Strength in the economy and labour market have boosted demand for housing. In Q2, US economic growth enjoyed its best performance in almost four years, increasing at an annualised rate of 4.2%, while unemployment remains low at 3.9% and job creation is solid. In July, employers added 157,000 jobs. Moreover, homebuilders’ recent robust earnings results demonstrate that demand has not been impacted by rising mortgage rates, with many reporting strong orders – an indicator of future revenue for homebuilders. Tight existing home inventory should also spur demand for new builds. Meanwhile, in a post-earnings call with analysts last month, Toll Brothers’ Chief Executive Douglas Yearley pointed to a structural shift towards the new-home industry – with buyers wanting to “create a one-of-a-kind custom home” rather than live in existing homes. 17/09/2018 - Fraser Lundie
Under vanilla skies – outlook for fixed income markets Strong credit fundamentals, stable leverage, low default rates and high interest coverage, means that global fixed income markets are currently a profound shade of vanilla. So says Andrew Jackson, Head of Fixed Income at Hermes Investment Management, in his quarterly market update. As a credit investor, my natural outlook is pessimistic to catastrophic. Despite all of my natural instincts, across the corporate world, balance sheets look robust, leverage is not imperiling companies and interest coverage ratios are good – even when likely interest-rate increases are taken into account. True, the financial state of the UK high street is ugly, but we do not think that its current wave of defaults and restructurings is a forerunner of the much-anticipated end of the credit cycle. We may have to wait longer before that happens. As liquid credit curves have steepened, we prefer longer maturities. At the long end, there is an attractive combination of relative under-ownership, superior roll-down and convexity. In emerging market (EM) credit, our appetite is for investment grade over high yield. Since 2015, there has been a lack of dispersion risk priced in to EM high yield compared to EM investment-grade credit. As a result, we prefer investment-grade to high-yield EM issuers, particularly when the company demonstrates improving environmental, social and governance (ESG) fundamentals. At a regional level, the underperformance of Latin America on a year-to-date basis creates an opportunity for tactical allocation of capital to this region. We have seen UK and European yield private debt premiums shrink due to stronger UK growth. There has also been a significant improvement in the UK mid-market M&A pipeline, causing pricing competition to fall and midmarket loans are now providing a yield premium of about 85-100bps relative to euro-denominated loans. The retail and hospitality sectors, which are currently experiencing some stress, remain a concern in the UK private debt market and this has led to a rise in loan defaults. 06/09/2018 - Andrew Jackson
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