BOSTON — Fidelity® continues to explore issues that are top-of-mind for advisors through its quarterly Fidelity Advisor Investment Pulse survey. While topics like the government/economy and portfolio management remained the top two areas of focus in Q2 2017, the survey found that financial advisors have become increasingly concerned about market volatility and equity market level (ranked No. 3 and No. 4 respectively). In addition, interest rates, which ranked No. 3 the previous quarter, dropped to No. 9 in Q2, despite the current rising rate environment and advisors' focus on downside risk. The latest results of the quarterly survey were released today by Fidelity Institutional Asset Management®, a distribution and client service organization dedicated to meeting the investment needs of financial advisors, institutional investors and consultants.
"With the stock market near record levels, advisors have become increasingly focused on making sure their clients' portfolios are well diversified across the different asset classes, whether it's equity or fixed income," said Robert Litle, head of Intermediary Sales, Fidelity Institutional Asset Management. "In this environment, we are seeing greater attention among advisors to protecting clients from any downside risk."
"Despite concerns about equity market levels, our survey indicates that advisors have shifted their focus away from interest rates," continued Litle. "However, given the difficulty in predicting the direction and pace of interest rate changes with any certainty, advisors should consider different market and interest rate scenarios as they help investors stick to their long-term investment plans."
Considerations in a Rising-Rate Environment
Interest rates should remain top-of-mind for advisors, given the Federal Reserve's forecasts for a gradual increase in interest rates. Advisors can support their clients through this period by considering the potential value that active management may deliver. Actively managed U.S. large-cap funds have tended to outperform in months when interest rates were rising, and tended to underperform when rates were falling or flat.1
One reason could be that the average actively managed U.S. large-cap fund has historically held relatively more mid-cap exposure than its benchmark index. Over the past few decades, mid-cap stocks (capitalizations of tens of billions down to $1-2 billion) have had higher dispersion of returns than mega-caps (capitalizations of hundreds of billions).2 Higher dispersion in a group of stocks, which measures the difference of all the individual stock returns from the overall index, suggests potentially greater opportunities for active managers to leverage their stock selection skills, buy winners, avoid losers and thus earn higher excess returns. Historically, mid-cap companies have outperformed the overall index during periods of rising rates.3 Therefore, the changing interest rate environment could potentially benefit active managers who may identify mid-cap winners and losers.
Considerations for Generating Yield and Income
In light of concerns about the equity market levels and possible downside risk, advisors increasingly looked for opportunities to generate yield and income for their clients (rising from No. 11 to No. 6 in the rankings from Q1 to Q2). As they do so, advisors should consider a possible valuation dynamic in the current market, which suggests another potential benefit for actively managed funds.
In recent years, the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds has become comparable to the dividend yield of U.S. large-cap stocks,4 and many income-seeking investors have replaced bonds with high-dividend stocks in their portfolios. Since high-dividend stocks tend to be in defensive market sectors like consumer staples, real estate, telecommunication services and utilities, the increased demand has inflated the prices of stocks in defensive sectors, pushing their price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios to a 20-year high, relative to the rest of the market.5 However, a rise in Treasury bond yields could lead to a decrease in demand, resulting in lower P/E ratios and deflated returns. Many actively managed funds try to avoid overweighting stocks that are priced much higher than typical valuations and in some cases maintain greater exposure to non-defensive sectors, which have tended to beat the index when rates rise.
Resources for Advisors
Fidelity Institutional Asset Management offers advisors original insights aimed at addressing their top concerns. The resources may be used to support client discussions on managing inflation risk. To access these insights, visit institutional.fidelity.com/investmentpulse (for financial advisors only6). Resources include:
- Why Active Now in U.S. Large-Cap Equity
- Managing Inflation Risk Is Important, Even if Inflation Remains Subdued
- Long-Term Inflation Risks May Be on the Rise
- Fidelity's Perspective on Rising Interest Rates
The Fidelity Advisor Investment Pulse is a survey that captures the investment topics on the minds of advisors in order to identify common concerns and deliver resources to help them navigate changing market conditions. Fidelity has been tracking advisor sentiment about investing concerns and opportunities since April 2012. This proprietary research enables Fidelity to provide advisors with timely perspectives from their peers, and offer tools to take advantage of the investment opportunities that exist today.
About the Fidelity Advisor Investment Pulse
The Advisor Investment Pulse is an ongoing primary research effort that captures the views of Fidelity Institutional Asset Management advisor clients. All Fidelity Institutional Asset Management advisor clients in the broker-dealer and registered investment advisor communities are asked to participate in the online survey. In Q2 2017, 129 advisors participated in the survey. These advisors serve a range of clients, including individual investors, businesses, plan sponsors and institutions. Respondents are asked an open-ended question: "Thinking about the investing environment and outlook, and the potential impact on your client portfolios, what investment challenge or opportunity would you say is top-of-mind for you right now?"
The survey reports top-of-mind themes of most concern to financial advisors in both their practices and in the financial markets. These themes are distilled from individual financial advisor comments. The chart reflects the most current five themes that represent the most widely held views. Given the variability of the number of responses over time, and the ongoing nature of this effort, confidence levels will also be variable.
About Fidelity Institutional Asset Management®
Fidelity Institutional Asset Management® (FIAM®) is one of the largest organizations serving the U.S. institutional marketplace. It works with financial advisors and advisory firms, offering them resources to help investors plan and achieve their goals; it also works with institutions and consultants to meet their varying and custom investment needs. Fidelity Institutional Asset Management provides actionable strategies, enabling its clients to stand out in the marketplace, and is a gateway to Fidelity's original insight and diverse investment capabilities across equity, fixed income, high-income and global asset allocation.
Fidelity Institutional Asset Management is a division of Fidelity Investments.
About Fidelity Investments
Fidelity's mission is to inspire better futures and deliver better outcomes for the customers and businesses we serve. With assets under administration of $6.2 trillion, including managed assets of $2.3 trillion as of June 30, 2017, we focus on meeting the unique needs of a diverse set of customers: helping more than 26 million people invest their own life savings, 23,000 businesses manage employee benefit programs, as well as providing more than 12,500 financial advisory firms with investment and technology solutions to invest their own clients' money. Privately held for 70 years, Fidelity employs more than 40,000 associates who are focused on the long-term success of our customers. For more information about Fidelity Investments, visit https://www.fidelity.com/about.