As experts forecast persistent fiscal issues in Europe and disappointing growth for the U.S., this is the most important time for financial advisors to pick up the phone and talk to their clients, UBS Wealth Management Americas CEO Robert McCann said on Thursday.
“I tell our advisors here in the United States that the biggest and most important time to pick up the phone is when it weighs 400 pounds,” McCann, who also serves as CEO of UBS Group Americas, told attendees at a media reception at UBS’ midtown New York office. “With some of the challenges facing us in the markets around the world, there are days when the phone feels heavy to an advisor. That’s when our clients need us.”
The issue of how advisors work with their clients comes as uncertainty persists as to whether Europe can avoid a fiscal crisis, if the U.S. economy can continue to improve and whether China is headed for a hard or soft landing. To a panel of advisory experts who weighed in on those economic conditions, Europe will likely muddle through without any large-scale fixes.
“I think we will probably keep the same pattern of the last two years, which is crises spike up, band aids are put on, but we’re just not ready for the ultimate solution,” said Nick Thakore, managing director and head of U.S. large cap equities at Putnam Investment Management.
Part of the expected slow change is due to Germany, which is reluctant to put any money on the table to help out neighboring countries because they fear it will be used, said Mark Haefele, head of investment of UBS Wealth Management.
But Germany also faces its own risks. If the situation in Europe were to hit crisis levels, Germany’s currency would skyrocket and its competitiveness would decline, said Catherine Wood, chief investment officer of thematic portfolios at AllianceBernstein. Germany also has a lot of bad debt on the books of its own banks, which could face bankruptcy if a crisis were to erupt, she said.
“Germany has a lot to lose itself if this thing blows apart,” Wood said. “There’s a necessity with Germany to move forward and continue to make concessions.”
Accurately assessing the changing European landscape also depends on the elections, with 12 governments in Europe having already changed leadership. The upcoming election in Greece on June 17 will show how ready that nation is to embrace its agreement to undergo budget cuts.
To David Kelly, chief market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds, European leaders who do not understand the economic problems the region faces are making the situation worse. These leaders need to understand that they need to ease their countries toward budget reform, he said, because moving the reform process too quickly lead to the risk that the public will vote the wrong way in response.
“It’s not just deficits. It a deficit of understanding,” Kelly said. “They’ve got to understand that they need to grow these economies a bit before they can try and cure the long-term fiscal problems.”
Investors should be aware that a double dip recession in the U.S. is not very likely, Kelly said, and the country will likely continue to grow, but at a disappointing pace. That comes as cyclical sectors where recessions typically occur are already at very low levels, such as autos, home building, business equipment spending and inventories.
“You need them to recover before they collapse. That’s why we only have had one double-dip recession in the last 90 years,” Kelly said. “It’s very hard to hurt yourself if you’re jumping out of the basement window.”
The rapidly changing international climate has led to a need for investors to access information and research globally, UBS executives said Thursday. UBS recently aimed to address that need by combining the investment advice and research units from its Wealth Management Americas and UBS Wealth Management units onto one platform.
The new move is expected to give UBS’ clients access to all of its investment specialists and their insights across the globe, McCann said.
“This is not something clients would have wanted or necessarily needed 15 years ago,” McCann said. “For U.S. clients, it’s what they completely need now.”