Allocation d’actifs: 2012 sera-t-elle comme 2011 se demande UBS

Après la saison des résultats et des sommets en tous genres, les analystes, stratégistes, économistes en tous genres phosphorent et nous annoncent le menu de 2012… UBS a publié une série de notes sur lesquelles nous allons revenir au fil des prochains jours. Nous commençons par l’allocation d’actifs globale pour l’an prochain (note du 14/11). Pour les économistes Larry Hatheway, Sunil Kapadia et le stratégiste Ramin Nakisa, 2012 ressemblera par beaucoup d’aspect à 2011: crise de la dette en zone euro, interrogations sur la croissance économique dans le monde occuperont une bonne partie du temps de cerveau disponible des investisseurs. Mais, comme il faut bien gagner sa croûte, ces experts de la Bourse nous prédisent quelques nouveautés: l’inflation dans les pays émergents seraient une moindre sujet de préoccupation, ouvrant ainsi la porte à des politiques monétaires plus accommodantes. L’activité de ces pays – considérés depuis plusieurs années comme le véritable moteur de la croissance mondiale – pourrait rebondir plus fortement l’an prochain. Enfin, les valorisations de certaines classes d’actifs – actions en tête – seraient plutôt attrayantes par rapport aux obligations (reste à savoir si Mr Le Marché en sera lui aussi convaincu).

Bien sûr, pour tout stratégiste qui se respecte, toute médaille à son revers: les risques de récession sont toujours présents et ne menacent pas que l’Europe. Dans scénario de récession, les Bourses pourraient chuter d’un tiers environ… Pour gérer des portefeuilles avec de tels risques, les investisseurs devraient surtout se focaliser sur les actifs à forte génération de revenus, en particulier le crédit à haut rendement (high yield) et les dividendes. En termes d’allocation géographique, les Etats-Unis et les émergents restent les zones préférées d’UBS. Hors du crédit et des actions, certaines dettes émergentes ou l’immobilier offriraient une source de revenu à considérer selon la banque suisse. A l’inverse, tout ce qui génère un revenu insuffisant comme les obligations à faible rendement, les obligations indexées sur l’inflation ou le cash sont à exclure.

« Pulling it all together: Three themes
In short, three themes characterize the outlook for 2012:
Sovereign stress. The first theme, which we have also highlighted in our recent global economic forecasts, is sovereign stress, above all in Europe. It alone has the ability to ‘make or break’ markets in 2012.
Sustainable recovery. The second theme remains the cycle and the recurring question of whether the global recovery is sustainable. Much hinges on the resilience of the US recovery, where prospects are improving. But 2012 may also be the year when emerging markets make a more decisive breakthrough, shouldering more of the global cyclical risk premium.
Profits and innovation. The last theme regards the untold story of the ‘new normal’, namely a world of very high profitability (excluding financials). That is a story of excess capacity (also highlighted in recent economic work), as well as continuous innovation and adjustment in the corporate sector. High profits can be maintained in a sluggish global environment, and offer support to corporate assets, stocks as well as bonds.
Implications for asset allocation
What, then, are the implications for the global asset allocation decision in 2012? Overall, our views accord with much of consensus. Elevated cyclical and sovereign risk premiums will cap risk asset performance and keep markets volatile and unusually correlated. A greater fraction of (risk-adjusted) returns will come via income, whether in the form of dividends or credit coupons. And tactical re-allocation will remain a necessity.
However, some differences are likely. ‘Safe’ government bonds are unlikely to outperform, given the starting point of even lower yields. Nor will gold be as attractive. Investors will have to extend into risk assets—even if only partially—to garner positive returns.
In terms of our specific portfolio recommendations, it’s important to differentiate here between our medium-term investment outlook and the nearterm tactical view. We tackle each in turn.
As we’ve alluded to, the medium term outlook is characterised by a preference for equities and high-yield credit over richer government bonds and low cash rates. Above all, we favour corporate credit. Within the asset class, high-yield corporate bonds present the best opportunity. We also look for global equity markets to outperform most other asset classes in 2012. For now, our preferred regions remain the US and emerging economies, but later in the year European equities may do better, under the big proviso that reform policies in Italy and better second half 2012 growth prospects in the Eurozone lead to some unwinding of sovereign risk premiums. Certainly, the potential is there for European share prices, given their steep discounts to US stocks.
The commodity complex may also offer better return prospects in 2012 vs. 2011. Agricultural commodities (a secular play on the commodity super-cycle in food) and selected cyclical commodities (reflecting policy easing and re-stocking in emerging economies) are likely to offer the best return prospects next year and should represent better value than precious metals (2011’s top performer).
However, the tactical outlook remains challenging. Elevated political risk in Europe with focus on Italian politics and rising funding costs, as well as a deteriorating European economic outlook, suggest that markets will remain skittish into year-end. Over the past week, Italian bond yields have risen sharply driven by bond sales by banks and a pervasive lack of international institutional buyers. The ECB has also thus far not committed to implementing a larger SMP programme, which many investors had hoped for. Finally, markets have failed to consolidate after a strong October rally, suggesting low investor conviction and appetite for risk going into year-end.
Our tactical positioning is hence more cautious. We retain a neutral allocation to global equities, with a preference for US and emerging equities over Europe and Japan. We maintain neutral positions in REITs and cyclical commodities, as well as in implied equity volatility. Our overweight allocations remain in highyield credit and hard-currency emerging debt, as well as soft commodities. Finally, we maintain moderate underweight positions in both real and nominal government bonds. Full details can be found in the tables and charts below.
It’s worth noting that while downside risks to asset prices are plain, significant ECB or concerted international policy action (perhaps via the IMF) to stabilise European bond markets could also enable risk assets to squeeze higher, as could a meaningful resolution to political deadlock in Italy. »

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