Paltry Returns May Be Here to Stay

The low-return environment that currently exists for investors (notwithstanding the increased risk they are assuming) could be “on the menu for years to come,” says London-based Fixed Income Research Analyst Lior Jassur in a recent article for Barron’s.

While short term volatility could create investment opportunities, Jassur argues that in the long term most investment professionals expect returns to be well below historical levels. He offers the following rationale:

Public debt is on the rise: Debt-to-GDP ratios in all G-7 countries (except Germany) have risen significantly since the global financial crisis;

Lower growth: The environment makes it difficult for countries to chip away at high public debt;

High debt with low growth is an “unhealthy relationship.” The economic growth per unit of debt “displays a definitive downward trend.” While increased debt can spur economic growth, “as we’ve seen, after a point additional debt detracts from growth”;

Demographics: The aging populations and declining labor force growth rate in most G-7 countries means there are fewer people to support an ever-increasing debt burden;

Interest rates: While low rates can help the financial system during crises, “it’s unlikely to lead to higher real economic growth rates—unless these funds are invested productively in the economy”;

Jassur concludes that in this low-growth, low-return environment, investors will “need to accept that the return assumptions of the past are no longer realistic. Essentially, they face a tradeoff—accept a wider range of risks to meet their return targets or reduce their expectations for a given set of risks.”