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PODCAST | Are we pricing in a soft landing too much at the moment?

‘The economy remains some distance [in] my personal opinion from a soft landing’: Attila Kadikoy of Levantine & Co.

By Simon BrownListen to the full podcast here.

SIMON BROWN: I’m chatting with Attila Kadikoy, managing partner of Levantine & Co. Attila, I appreciate the time this morning. A soft versus a hard landing – we can make arguments for both sides. On the soft landing, it’s certainly possible. Banks are looking good, the labour market is softening, people haven’t overspent. There’s an argument for a soft landing in the US economy.

ATTILA KADIKOY: Thanks again for having me, and this is a really interesting subject at the moment. Yes, there is an argument, but are we totally there yet? You touched on the most important points. Yes, labour markets are softening, but is inflation falling within Fed targets, and are we getting ahead of ourselves in pricing in a soft landing?

So I would say that absolutely there’s a case for a soft landing and there’s a good probability – but when you look at the markets, the important thing is are we pricing in a soft landing too much at the moment?

SIMON BROWN: I take your point, because if we look at equities they are pricing in a gloriously soft landing, and the truth of the matter is we could make a case for a hard landing. You mentioned inflation there, just the stock-standard CPI out of the US – and I know that’s not the measure the US, the Fed uses. That had 3% in June; it was 3.2% in February. It’s kind of stuck. It’s not at that 2%.

ATTILA KADIKOY: Yes. Core inflation remains high – or relatively high, let’s say. And the economy remains some distance [in] my personal opinion from a soft landing. But though the economy is in positive territory, at the end of the day we mustn’t forget we have to see inflation coming within Fed target levels and remain there.

So one thing that we discuss internally, and I’d like to share with you is, okay, let’s say we get close to the Fed inflation targets, the same economy remains in positive territory and growing, certainly.

Now how eager is the Fed going to be to aggressively cut rates when inflation could easily turn up again.

So I think they’re going to want to see persistently low interest rates. Let’s not forget there are other factors in play globally, and in the US it’s an election year. When we look at the bigger picture, I think it’s definitely a 50/50 scenario at the moment.

SIMON BROWN: And in that environment for an investor 50/50 is a coin toss. It’s a mugs’ game, which means take a different path. In a note you put out recently you went back to good old-fashioned bonds.

ATTILA KADIKOY: We have an equity position on client portfolios. We have US equity – not as much as we used to. But when you look at the half-full/half-empty scenario, half-full meaning soft landing, half-empty recession, in a half-full landing equity and fixed income do well. But in a half-empty recession scenario, fixed income does well. And so we’ve definitely upped the fixed-income portion of our client portfolios, primarily with developed market US bonds on the one hand, [where] I believe the 10-year bond is still yielding around 4.25%-ish at the moment.

Another interesting one is emerging markets’ local currency debt, where the yields remain significantly high.

So we have been progressively buying into that side of the market. We’ve had this tremendous rally in the S&P and it’s difficult to argue now when it’s up 25% to say, ‘Okay guys, let’s buy more’. So definitely I think when you compare on valuation, maybe there’s a very good story for the fixed income.

SIMON BROWN: And the trick with bonds of course is that some folks will say, oh, but what happened? If it is a soft landing and rates do come down aggressively, then what you’ll get in the bond is you might lose out on the rate but you get the capital appreciation from it.

ATTILA KADIKOY: Absolutely. So there are two important things to mention to you here. When you look at the market valuation, the S&P’s 12-month forward earnings yield is about 5%, which is the same as [the] investment-grade corporate bond yield, so just on a pure yield basis with a much less risky investment.

Now, coming back to what you touched upon, which is a great point, the US typically – when the Fed goes into a rate-cut cycle – cuts around 2.5% historically. For the last 50/60 years it has always been the same. So from where we are at the moment when you price in rate cuts, you are looking at up to, I would say, a 20% return, including capital appreciation on the US 10-year. So definitely a very interesting opportunity there.

SIMON BROWN: Yes, and that’s a chunky number, and I’ve said it before on this show. The time of bonds really has arrived and they’re doing what they say on the sticker.

Attila Kadikoy, managing partner at Levantine & Co, I appreciate the time today.

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