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Written by: Danielle Levy
Mike Bell, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management explains why it is important to back funds with a track record of performing well, whichever way the global economy turns.

Today, the global manufacturing and export sector finds itself in difficulty. However, unemployment is low and consumer confidence is high, so the global economy stands at a crossroads.

One possible route ahead is that the unemployment rate falls further and consumer spending increases. Supported by rising wage growth and low interest rates, along with stimulus from China, this could help to lift global manufacturing and exports out of their current slump.

However, the other possible route is that weakness in the manufacturing and export sector causes businesses to cut costs. In this scenario, consumer confidence could start to deteriorate as a result of jobs cuts, leading to lower spending and a potential further increase in unemployment.

The direction of global economic data over the coming months will be crucial to the outlook for stock markets. If unemployment continues to decline then equities should be well supported, but if jobs are cut then stock markets will struggle.

At this point, late in the economic cycle, investors need fund managers who are focused on the macro-economic data. In the good times for the economy, fund managers can focus mostly on which companies’ share prices are likely to rise the most. In these more uncertain times, investors need fund managers who are able to nimbly take risk if the economic data improves, but are also able to hedge out the market risk if the economic data deteriorates.

While most equity funds fall if equities decline, global macro funds survey the economic data and are able to reduce their sensitivity to stock market moves if it looks like the economy has taken a turn for the worse. Similarly, if the economic data starts to improve – they can increase their risk.

This flexibility allowed the Hedge Fund Research global macro fund index (HFRI) to rise by around 20% between December 1999 and January 2003, while the FTSE 100 fell by nearly 50%. During the financial crisis of 2007-2009, the HFRI global macro fund index rose by 10%, compared with a decline that was close to 50% by the FTSE 100.

In the past, these global macro funds weren’t easy to access and charged high fees. However, today some are more readily available, with daily trading and lower fees.

As the global economy stands at a crossroads, it makes sense to consider funds that have proven they can perform well, whichever way the economy turns.

Mike Bell is a global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management

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