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For its part, China questions its role in a unipolar world subject to U. The nature of the strategic relationship between the U. We expect this divergence to continue as both countries work to remove some interdependencies over time. There is growing mistrust on both sides.

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We believe that the process will be protracted and peppered with bouts of real tension. If economic measures are restricted to tariffs of moderate levels, we believe the impact on the U. However, unpredictable secondary actions, such as restricting market access in China or imposing a series of harsh sanctions, would be more damaging to certain companies, in our view.

Additionally, the inflationary effects of tariffs are unclear—at a time when U. For China, the impact of a full-blown trade war would be more pronounced, perhaps reducing growth by up to 0. However, the Chinese economy is also more consumer- and services-oriented than many people might think, in our view. Equity markets in China, Hong Kong, and to some extent elsewhere in Asia have responded rapidly and negatively since the first tariffs hit. This trend needs to halt before investors can become more constructive, in our view.

Indexes shown: Unfortunately for China, the dispute comes at a time of financial deleveraging, which itself is impacting the ability of Chinese companies to tap the domestic capital markets. For example, some Chinese property developers are being forced to offer markedly higher yields on new bond issuances. We have begun to see Chinese policy support for the equity market. Historically, the actual market has bottomed between one to six months after such support is announced, but every situation is different.


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The dispute has also meaningfully impacted other Asian equity markets. Some of these markets are approaching levels where valuation may become supportive. Going forward, a growing divide between the U. However, we believe this is more likely to be an ongoing erosion of growth rather than a shock. For companies, the impact on some will be negligible, for others potentially significant. Investors should consider this when constructing and managing portfolios. This individual is not registered with or qualified as a research analyst with the U.

The later stage of the economic cycle is the time to start formulating a game plan to de-risk portfolios. We believe reducing credit risk in fixed income portfolios is a good place to start this process because compensation for taking those risks is currently minimal and credit quality has weakened. Interest rates tend to rise for a considerable period of time in the later part of an economic cycle in response to a strong economy and rising inflation. This process is now well underway; the Fed has moved its benchmark rate from 0.

Meanwhile, the year U. Treasury bond yield is up by almost basis points bps since July While interest rates rise in response to a strong economy, those higher rates eventually slow down the economy—often pushing it into a recession, ushering in a period of shrinking corporate profits in the process.

Bond investors typically experience poor performance as yields rise to a peak prior to a recession, while stocks tend to head into a bear market around the time when the recession actually arrives. Conversely, higher-quality bonds tend to perform well in this environment as investors seek more secure cash flow streams. Louis Federal Reserve. It is difficult to determine the exact point where higher interest rates will slow down the economy. However, higher bond yields and an eventual recession are two possible scenarios that some of the lower-quality segments of the bond market are poorly positioned for.

We believe some of these riskier parts of fixed income portfolios that investors have crowded into in search of higher yields are an appropriate place to start the overall de-risking process.

Commentary

Full valuations for so-called high-yield bonds defined as bonds rated below BBB mean that the yield pickup on this debt is modest relative to yields available on higher-rated bonds. We believe this leaves this asset class segment in the unappealing place of being vulnerable to both higher interest rates and a recession.

Similar logic can be applied today beyond just High Yield. Lower-rated bonds generally—for example, BBB rated corporate bonds versus A rated corporate bonds—are likely to experience larger price declines as rates rise, and their low rating by definition means that they have less financial capability to cope with an economic slowdown. This diminished yield advantage offered by high-yield bonds means they offer a smaller margin of safety in the event credit or business conditions deteriorate. Government-backed bonds and high-quality corporate bonds typically experience price gains when central banks reverse course and start lowering rates to support a faltering economy.

But low-quality borrowers often experience business dislocations in economic downturns that may call into question their ability to make interest payments and repay principal. This market segment often performs poorly when a recession hits and default rates inevitably rise. Reducing exposure to lower-rated corporate bonds could leave some money on the table until economic conditions actually deteriorate. But we believe this is a tolerable outcome for investors who maintain equity exposure.

Jo-Anne Neilson | Investment & Wealth Advisor - Commentary

The conditions that are supportive of high-yield bonds typically are also supportive of stocks, but stocks offer upside potential that is less constrained. The table below underscores this point. The upside in high-yield bonds is capped because many are trading near, and in some cases actually above, their call price, which means issuers can redeem the bonds if they are able to refinance that debt on more favorable terms, with investors receiving little benefit.

The differential between the yield on a riskier normally lower rated category of bonds and that offered by a safer normally more highly rated category is referred to as the credit spread. Credit spreads between higher- and lower-quality bonds are extremely narrow today as the amount of incremental yield offered for proportionally more risk is historically modest.

This comes after a significant move higher in government bond yields and means a larger portion of the total yield on a bond derives from the government bond component rather than the compensation for assuming greater credit risk. The chart below highlights that investors typically fare better not reaching for the modest amount of incremental yield in the high-yield bond market when credit spreads are this narrow.

Narrow credit spreads provide investors a number of opportunities to switch into higher- quality, often more liquid bonds at a very modest sacrifice in yields. We think investors should move to take action on this before economic growth eventually stalls, because the yield that is given up to upgrade quality will likely be more substantial at that point.

As riskier bonds have fared well over several years, investors have been open to accepting offerings from a much broader and lower-rated group of issuers. The number of both European corporate bond issuers and emerging market sovereign issuers has doubled since Meanwhile, in the U. The average term to maturity on U.

For the first time in a number of years, a wide swath of borrowers are refinancing at rates higher than where they issued debt five years ago. High-yield investors are also contending with more issuer-friendly i. Given the weakest borrowers are transacting in the high-yield bond and loan markets, investors have usually demanded the greatest protections on these deals. Lately, issuers have been able to reduce the protections offered to investors hungry for yield; nor have investors demanded them. Recent examples include borrowers adjusting current reported cash flow figures to include cost savings that are expected to be realized over the next few years and allowing issuers to sell assets and use the proceeds to fund special dividends for shareholders rather than reducing debt.

A constructive—yet vigilant—approach to financial markets is warranted. The global and U. Central banks will play key roles in determining just how long the expansion plays out. This late cycle stage does not call for dramatic portfolio changes just yet, in our view, but we are moderately trimming equity exposure and shifting toward value areas of the market, while also dialing back credit risk in fixed income. Following are our thoughts about portfolio positioning for Central banks may diverge as they adjust policies to varying stages of economic activity.

We foresee continued growth in developed economies, and inflation holding near targets. This will allow gradual policy adjustments to continue, but the U.


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  • Craig Bishop, Minneapolis. The Fed is forecasting three rate hikes in Wildcards could be inflation and trade developments. The burst of GDP growth in H2 will, in our opinion, give way to slower momentum as the impact from fiscal stimulus wanes. But even if growth pulls back to 2. Yield curves should remain flat, but not invert, in as the Fed moves toward pausing. Credit spreads will remain subject to equity market volatility.

    We recommend preferreds for attractive returns and maintain our bias for 15—20 year higher-coupon munis. The Canadian economy is widely expected to grow at or slightly above its potential in The Bank of Canada recently signaled there will be more hikes beyond than the market is currently pricing in. If this becomes the likely outcome, we believe yields would be set to rise across the yield curve.

    We are more comfortable buying short to intermediate maturities that offer lower expected volatility of returns, good liquidity, and an opportunity to reinvest at more attractive rates if the central bank follows through. Our Canadian credit outlook is mixed. We continue to recommend upgrading credit quality and liquidity within portfolios. Preferred shares suffered bouts of volatility this year, and with much more reasonable valuations we view any weakness as a buying opportunity.

    Alastair Whitfield, London. We doubt the path of future interest rate hikes will change much, given estimates of weaker GDP appearing by the end of or in early Another notable risk that may materialise after March is the potential for a leadership challenge within the Conservative party and a general election. China represents half of the USD-denominated Asian credit market. In our view, fundamentals and market sentiment in China are two of three key drivers of Asian bonds. Onshore funding liquidity in China is tight and issuers struggle to refinance their debt as the government treads along its deleveraging path.

    The significant market correction in has opened up selective investment opportunities, but overall we remain cautious and prefer to see a stabilization of liquidity and market confidence before turning risk-on. We are also cautious on Indonesia and India. The corrections in exposed stresses in the global equity market but also reset valuations to more reasonable levels.

    We think the market has the capacity to absorb economic cooling, ongoing tariff risks, and monetary tightening, albeit with volatility. Our constructive view hinges on low recession risks for major economies, particularly the U. But returns could be modest and delivered unevenly; therefore, it is appropriate to trim equity exposure to a Market Weight level in global portfolios from a slight Overweight position. Two factors that influence U. We think the economy has the potential to grow above the 2. All of our forward-looking indicators are signaling the expansion will persist for the next 12 months or beyond.

    Furthermore, higher input prices due to tariffs, wage growth, and a strong dollar could constrain profit margins. A market shift toward value stocks and away from growth stocks seems likely, in our view. Value tends to outperform when the year Treasury yield rises, inflation expectations move higher, and GDP growth strengthens, as well as during the latter stage of a bull market cycle. We recommend a Market Weight allocation to Canadian equities. Valuations remain discounted relative to the U. Resolution of free trade negotiations with the U.

    However, the agreed accord must now be passed into law by the three signatories, which cannot be taken for granted in this contentious political climate. Our outlook for key sectors remains somewhat subdued. Bank valuations have improved on an absolute basis but remain in-line relative to the broader Canadian market and U. We remain comfortable with a modest underweight in Canadian banks given our expectation for slowing earnings growth. The outlook for Energy is dimmed by pipeline constraints and an increasingly self-sufficient U.

    European equities should continue to be supported by modestly improving fundamentals, including cyclical low unemployment as well as stronger capital investment and lending environments, while a weak currency should underpin the export sector. Uncertainty regarding the Italian budget is likely to linger, perhaps until the European Parliament elections in May as we suspect European politicians would prefer to avoid conflict before then.

    Equity valuations are not demanding, trading back in line with long term averages and the steep discount to U. We favour the Health Care and Industrials sectors, which benefit from structural trends such as infrastructure spend and digitalization. Should the UK secure a deal with a transition period ensuring the status quo—our base case scenario—we would expect domestic stocks to enjoy a relief rally.

    Should negotiations fail, and the UK leave the EU without such a transition, the currency would likely weaken, though the usual inverse relationship with equities could well break. After all, exporters would have lost tariff-free access to one of their largest markets. Our preferred sectors remain Energy and Life Insurance where cash flows are improving and valuations are attractive. Asian equities had a tough year in after a very good year in Most of the weakness came from markets in North Asia, especially China. In , we expect that the trade dispute, which in reality encompasses much more than simply trade, may deepen, or at least continue, and will set the narrative for Asian markets.

    Even though Chinese stocks have declined considerably, we maintain a neutral stance on the equity market given ongoing risks such as U. Different to Japan, a weaker Chinese currency is not perceived favourably by investors. We recently moved Japanese equities to an Overweight position. The valuation discount of Japanese stocks relative to global peers is attractive. Economic and earnings trends are generally supportive. We forecast the currency to weaken, aiding stocks.

    We expect the Bank of Japan to maintain its highly accommodative interest rate policy. Risks include a strong currency and the impact of the VAT increases slated for later in Laura Cooper, London. Rising U. Looking to , supportive factors for sustained dollar strength through the early part of the year remain intact, in our view.

    Robust economic growth against a tight labour market point to the need for further rate increases by the Federal Reserve. The resultant attractiveness of the U. Eroding risk appetite in the wake of political developments appears likely to fade; however, pressure on the euro could persist in , in our view. As such, with policy rates likely to remain unchanged until Q3 , the widening rate differential favouring the U. Diminished trade uncertainty in the wake of the USMCA agreement alongside an economy expanding above potential should tee up for the Bank of Canada to raise policy rates twice more in early The uplift to the currency from rate dynamics could fade, however, with the central bank likely to then pause to assess the impact on elevated household indebtedness.

    The British pound appears poised to take guidance from the evolving relationship between the UK and the EU in In our view, pragmatism will prevail with a Brexit deal being reached across the parties. However, lingering uncertainty around the future trading relationship through the planned transition period is likely to keep the pound at depressed levels throughout the year. Domestic economic conditions and a cautious outlook from the Bank of Japan suggest ultra-easy monetary policy could persist in Accordingly, the yen is likely to take direction from external drivers.

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