Virus Worries Weighed On Stocks As REITs, Bonds Rose Last Week

China’s spreading coronavirus took a bite out of risk assets late last week, inducing a run into safe havens.

US real estate investment trusts (REITs) and US bonds posted gains for the trading week through Friday, Jan. 24. Meanwhile, stocks and commodities took a hit, based on a set of exchange-traded funds that represent the world’s major asset classes.

China’s economy is expected to take a short-term hit from the virus fallout, predicts Danske Bank Chief Analyst Allen von Mehren. In a research note today he estimates that GDP in the country may be one percentage point lower in the first half of 2020. He advises that “we are in uncharted waters as a virus of this kind has not taken place in the more modern economy that China is today, with much wider transport networks and being more integrated with the global economy.”

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A previous virus outbreak in China – SARS – offers a degree of perspective for managing expectations. “The SARS epidemic lasted three to four months but it is hard to say if this is any guide,” von Mehren writes. “While the government response is faster, the new virus seems to be spreading faster. It is too early to judge when it will get under control.”

As for last week’s trading, Vanguard Real Estate (VNQ) was the top performer, rising 0.7%. The gain marks the sixth straight weekly advance for the fund, which is close to a record high.

In second and third places last week: US inflation-protected Treasuries (TIP) and broadly defined investment-grade US bonds (BND), respectively.

The big loser last week: broadly defined commodities. The iShares S&P GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust (GSG) tumbled 4.7%–the third weekly decline in a row for the fund.

The Global Market Index (GMI.F) fell for the first time in three weeks. This unmanaged benchmark that holds all the major asset classes (except cash) in market-value weights lost 0.7% last week.

For the one-year trend, US stocks continue to lead, but by a slim margin over US REITs, the second-best one-year performer. Vanguard Total Stock Market (VTI) is up a strong 26.0% on a total return basis over the past 12 months vs. VNQ’s 24.4% rise.

All the major asset classes are currently posting one-year gains at the moment. The weakest rise is a fractional one-year advance in commodities: GSG is up a fractional 0.1% for the trailing one-year window.

GMI.F’s one-year total return at Friday’s close: 18.0%, which continues to exceed all but two of the major asset classes.

Despite last week’s weakness in some corners of global markets, profiling all the ETFs listed above through a momentum lens continues to reflect a positive trend in all corners. The analysis is based on two sets of moving averages. The first compares the 10-day moving average with its 100-day counterpart — a proxy for short-term trending behavior (red line in chart below). A second set of moving averages (50 and 200 days) represent an intermediate measure of the trend (blue line). At the end of last week, all the funds representing the major asset classes were still trending positive. The key question for the week ahead: will China’s virus risk derail the strong upside momentum trend of late?

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By James Picerno

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