As cliffhanger ends, is it time to invest in US?
Problems still loom, but world-class companies are always worth a punt. Emma Dunkley reports
Sunday 06 January 2013
It may have been an 11th hour deal, but last week the US managed to avert massive tax hikes and spending cuts that would have sent the world's largest economy over the "fiscal cliff" and plunging towards recession.
The last-minute agreement raises taxes for the wealthy minority, while deferring government spending cuts for around two months. Although stock markets soared euphorically in the immediate aftermath, the question is, should you be jumping on this US bandwagon or could it run out of steam?
"These are only temporary measures and it seems they don't have a more permanent plan for addressing the ever-increasing amount of debt being amassed," says Patrick Connolly at AWD Chase de Vere.
"Sooner or later the US authorities may have to realise that people have to pay tax if they want public services. And tax rises and spending cuts will eventually be required to pay off their debt."
Although the deal has seen a tax rise for the wealthy, the US has kicked the can down the road for other more pressing issues. "The tax rises are arguably only the small part of the equation," says Mike Turner, the head of global strategy at Aberdeen Asset Management. "The really tough decisions centre on government spending."
The US's debt levels are also sky-high, it ran up against its legal borrowing limit early last week, meaning the government could default on its bond repayments and other commitments if it doesn't address debt.
"Clearly the US political rumblings are far from over, with the Republican members of Congress already promising a bruising battle over the necessary increase to the debt ceiling and demanding a number of tax cuts," says Tom Becket, the chief investment officer at PSigma. "As we stand, the US runs out of headroom in late February, so the politicians will sadly need to rejoin battle very soon."
However, these wider economic problems do not necessarily dog the country's stockmarket or some of the world-class companies in the US, many sitting on huge cash piles.
"I have recently visited companies in Florida and Texas – states that between them account for one in six people in the US," says Terry Ewing, the head of US equities at Ignis. "They will be core drivers of US growth next year, which we envisage to be between 2 and 2.5 per cent, ahead of forecasts for the UK and Europe."
Mr Ewing says companies in the US are taking advantage of the incredibly low cost of debt and benefitting from the highest level of free cash flow in the country's history.
If you want to invest in some of the quality US companies, actively managed funds are one of the main options. "We like Henderson US Growth, JPM US Equity Income, and the AXA Framlington American Growth funds," says Mr Connolly.
But it is tough for managers to beat the US market so there is a strong case to invest in passive index trackers as well as, or instead of, active funds. Shaun Port, from online investment manager Nutmeg, recommends the HSBC S&P 500 exchange traded fund, with a charge of 0.09 per year. "Or you could use the iShares Small Cap 600 ETF – a diverse fund and more of a pure play on the US recovery – but it is for riskier investors," he says.
The US still has major economic issues to contend with, but there are top quality global companies that may shine in 2013.
Emma Dunkley is a reporter at Citywire.co.uk
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