International Equities

8 min read | It was a strong quarter for risk assets, with robust gains for equities, tightening high-yield credit spreads, rising oil prices, and a spike in cryptocurrencies. The global economy, led by strength in the US, has demonstrated impressive resilience following sharp interest rate hikes, as economic data generally surprised to the upside. Meanwhile, inflation has moderated but it remains well above levels experienced in recent decades. The resulting "soft landing" narrative, expectations for interest rate cuts, and continued excitement surrounding AI have fueled a powerful global equity rally.

8 min read | International Equity markets delivered strong gains in 2023, climbing 18.2% for the year and 10.4% in the fourth quarter, as measured in US dollars. These gains marked a reversal of 2022's dismal market performance (-14.5%), as animal spirits returned with vigor. 2023 concluded with the VIX near multi-decade lows, bitcoin up over 150%, global high-yield bond spreads near 15-year lows, and equity investor bullishness near all-time highs.

9 min read | The Altrinsic International Equity portfolio declined 2.1% (-2.4% net) during the third quarter, as measured in US dollars, compared with declines of 4.1% and 3.8% for the MSCI EAFE and MSCI All Country World ex-US indices, respectively. Outperformance came amid volatility in stock, bond, currency, and commodity markets, as markets and economies are grappling with an environment transitioning from one flooded with free money to one of rising nominal and real interest rates. This transition, coupled with significant uncertainty around growth, inflation, regulation, technology competition, and government policy, contributes to elevated risk in markets. We believe these factors should support a broadening out in markets with greater attention paid to quality, valuation, and risk.

7 min read | International markets experienced more modest and broad based returns than global indices, where a narrow subset of highly priced US growth stocks (or anything related to AI) skewed benchmark performance. Europe remained pressured by an uncertain economic recovery and war in the east, while Japan performed well in local currency terms, offset by yen weakness. A sluggish recovery in China weighed on emerging markets. What really captured the headlines were “all things AI.” AI is a significant technological innovation, but we believe it is being greatly overhyped and overestimated in the short term, as is typically the case with new technologies. Stock prices for leading “AI stories,” primarily in the US, discount growth rates that will be difficult to achieve, thus impairing their underlying margins of safety. We see greater opportunity among companies throughout the world that are embracing AI in their operations to enhance their business quality and efficiency, most notably in health care, non-life insurance, exchanges, global consumer franchises, industrials, and business services, to name a few.

10 min read | Equities delivered strong gains during the first quarter as investors shrugged off two of the three largest bank failures in US history and the collapse of once venerable Credit Suisse. The proximate cause for the rally is a belief that inflation risk is vanquished, interest rates have peaked, years of extraordinary financial stimulus can be normalized painlessly, and the global economy will not experience a downturn. This implies a tremendous amount of confidence in policymakers.

10 min read | Global markets recovered strongly during the fourth quarter, aided by falling inflation expectations, optimism that the US Federal Reserve would move away from aggressive policy tightening, an improved energy outlook in Europe, and President Xi’s unexpected decision to unwind zero-COVID policies. The rally was certainly welcomed, but 2022 was the most challenging year since the global financial crisis. According to Michael Howell of CrossBorder Capital, global investors lost US$23T of wealth in housing and financial assets in 2022, equivalent to 22% of global GDP and greater than the US$18T of losses suffered in the 2008 financial crisis. Commodities were the only refuge, as long-term bonds had their worst year since the 18th century (according to the Financial Times) and and equities fell 18.1% in 2022 (MSCI World Index), as measured in US dollars.

The downturn in markets continued during the third quarter as concerns over tightening monetary policy, inflationary pressures, weakening economic growth, and geopolitical risks intensified. Despite strong gains early in the quarter, the MSCI EAFE Index declined 9.4% (as measured in US dollars), ending approximately 27% below peak levels reached in September 2021. The Altrinsic International Equity portfolio declined 9.8% over the same period.

Greed has given way to fear. We have not reached a stage of extreme capitulation, liquidity unwinds, or distress, but fear emanating from headlines and market declines is reflected in poor investor sentiment and the growing presence of value.

International equities delivered their worst quarterly performance since the European sovereign debt crisis as uncertainty stemming from inflationary concerns, tightening central bank policies, and rising recession risk weighed on markets.  The Altrinsic International Equity portfolio declined 11.5% during the second quarter, outperforming the MSCI EAFE Index’s 14.5% decline, as measured in US dollars.   Outperformance was derived from all major industry exposures except real estate and utilities.  Japanese and European-based companies with meaningful US dollar exposure were notable outperformers, benefiting from the relative strength of the US dollar versus most other currencies.  We take no consolation in our relative outperformance during this painful drawdown.  Near-term macro data and corporate earnings will likely be disappointing, but we are confident in our positioning and encouraged by the investment propositions offered by a growing number of companies with strong long-term fundamentals and attractive valuations.

The Altrinsic International Equity portfolio declined 1.5% during the first quarter, outperforming the MSCI EAFE Index’s 5.9% decline, as measured in US dollars.   Just as most nations began lifting COVID-related restrictions and returning to normal, tensions intensified amidst surging inflationary pressures, tightening policy measures in the US,  lockdowns in China, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.  

Beginning with the January insurrection at the US Capitol and ending with the rapidly spreading Omicron COVID-19 variant, 2021 provided much for markets to digest.  Nonetheless, equity markets continued their rise with support from re-opening economies, strong corporate earnings growth, and stimulative monetary and fiscal policies.  US equities and “growth” stocks continued to lead markets during the fourth quarter, but important transitions are underway that are supportive of a long overdue broadening away from this leadership in markets.