The Investment Committee (IC) met on Monday 23 January and reflected on the downstream impact of the dramatic escalation in geopolitical risks, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, now almost 12 months ago, and the associated commodity price shocks.
The macro environment is radically different to the optimistic one prevailing at the start of last year. Global growth has slowed much more than anticipated, whilst the expected ‘temporary’ spike in inflation, rather than easing, further increased and has become embedded. As core measures of inflation remained far above central bank targets and headline rates reached double digits in most economies, this prompted global central banks to embark on the most rapid pace of policy tightening in 40 years.
The current macro perspective can perhaps be best described as a fiscal and monetary ‘hangover’. The previous 10-year plus regime, where a 2% inflation target was made possible due to secular disinflationary forces, is not normal by historical standards. The supply chain problems that emerged in 2021, following the initial economic recovery from Covid, extended into 2022 as labour shortage issues and the ensuing commodity price shock embedded a higher level of inflation and lowered growth expectations.
Now the elephant in the room is high inflation, requiring rising global interest rates and a reduction in the bloated balance sheets of the central banks. This implies steeper yield curves, more quantitative tightening and ongoing high budget deficits. Alongside extended levels of bond market leverage (mainly due to widespread use within LDI strategies) and persistently high inflation, the risk of a liquidity driven global government debt crisis and ongoing bond volatility increases.
The impact of both the energy supply shock and the rapid tightening in monetary policy will slow global real growth, but also risks some economies flirting with moderate or intermittent recession in 2023. This is particularly pertinent to the UK economy, forecasted by the IMF to be the only G7 country to contract this year. It continues to grapple with supply chain issues following the Covid bounce back and has a higher dependence on expensive liquid natural gas, which has been driving up the cost of living even further. This is alongside rising taxes, labour shortages, widespread public sector worker unrest and the persistent lack of productivity growth in the economy.
However, whilst there are significant short-term headwinds in the UK, markets always look forward and signs of inflation easing will help slow the pace and quantum of further rate rises. The IC discussed the latest proposed Capital Markets Assumptions (CMA’s) to be applied in Dynamic Planner. The impact of the sharp rise in bond yields across the board over the previous quarter and the observed uptick in their volatility, has been reflected in the calibration process when setting the CMA’s this quarter.
Given the considerable economic headwinds, the key unknowns are how close we are to reaching the peak in the interest rate cycle this year and the extent of potential corporate defaults, which are still running at low levels by historical standards. For equities, the focus is now on the extent of earnings downgrades and how much of the recession risk is already priced into current valuations.
Dynamic Planner’s asset and risk model provides volatility, covariance, correlation and expected return assumptions, which are updated each quarter. They cover a wide range of bond maturities, equity market capitalisations and alternative assets, thereby equipping users with the flexibility to tilt portfolios relative to the risk-adjusted benchmarks as they see fit. Since the CMA’s are updated each quarter, these remain sensitive to long-term secular trends and reflect the average expected outcomes for investors buying and selling at different times over the cycle.
You can read the full Investment Committee update here