The current macroeconomic volatility has not changed. Interest rates and inflation remain elevated. At least in most markets, the inflation rate is continuously declining. In the US, inflation reached 3% and is on its way to the upper target of 2% in the short-term. Europe is following this development but still has a substantial way ahead before inflation will eventually reach those levels, as inflation remains at 6.4%. In the UK, the situation is more dire and inflation declined to 7.9% after being above 10% since August 2022. In order to bring inflation levels down, central banks have hiked substantially over the past 1.5 years. In the US, the federal fund rate is now above 5.25% with the most recent hike, which has largely been deemed unnecessary by market participants. The ECB also increased its interest rate by 25bps and is now at 4.25%. The BoE also raised its core interest rate by 25bps in their latest meeting and is now equivalent to the US’s 5.25%. The US also reached the status of positive real interest rates since the hikes started. Europe and the UK are following this trend but have not reached this territory yet. Figure 1 also shows how Europe and the UK are lacking behind the US. In the current environment, a recession is still likely. While projections have changed throughout the year, the consensus opinion remains that there will likely be a short and with a shallow to medium impact on the economy. The most notable change is that the recession expectation has pushed further and further into the future. It started with estimations that it will happen by mid-2023, then towards the end of 2023. Now, most estimates place the recession somewhen in 2024.
From a financial perspective, inflation, interest rates, and a possible recession remain the most vital topics in the short term. While inflation came down substantially in 2023, interest rate hikes have persisted thus far. In the US, the interest rate set by the Fed remains at 5% after they decided that no hike was necessary in June 2023. With the release of job data in early July, talks about further hikes have increased, as data showed that job growth has slowed. Market participants now expect further hikes in 2023. The projection from the beginning of 2023 and possible rate cuts as early as Q3 2023 seem very unlikely at this point. Figure 1 shows the expected interest rate level until 2025. Rates are expected to rise to 5.5% by the end of 2023. Based on a survey from 18 members of the FOMC, rate projections range from 5.1%-6.1% by the end of the year. In 2024 and onwards, gradual rate cuts are expected with rates around 3% by 2025. These projections are highly dependent on a positive development of inflation and job data. Recent inflation data in the US has been very promising, as inflation decreased to “only” 4%. The steep measures taken by the Fed since 2022 managed to combat inflation substantially. Excluding highly impactful developments (e.g., a steep recession or a strong escalation of war), inflation is expected to steadily decrease over the next years. By the end of 2023, inflation is expected to be around 3% ± 1% and slightly above 2% ± 2% in 2024. The expected, slowed decrease in inflation is largely attributed to the tamer measures of the Fed after their initial aggressive hikes. As these take time to become effective, the decrease should slow down. Additionally, a recession or a market correction is highly likely which may cause further issues with inflation and may slow down the effectiveness of the measure so far. Overall, the likelihood of a recession is still significantly high. The most notable differences in the expected recession compared to forecasts in early 2023 and 2022 are the recession is likely a mild one. Additionally, with the recent positive developments, a possible recession is pushed further in the future. At the end of 2022, a recession was anticipated to occur between Q3 and Q4 2023. Current forecasts expect a recession in the US in early 2024. Despite the harsh ecosystem, US equities had a great year in 2023 with a 15% return so far. On an industry level, the picture looks very different. Basically the entire gain of equities came from soaring tech stocks. On the other end of the spectrum are banking stocks, which have suffered this year, especially after the collapse of multiple large banks, such as Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse. Forecasts for the value of the S&P 500 at the end of 2023 deviate substantially. In general, estimates were raised slightly compared to estimates back in 2022. On an aggregate level, investment banks expect the S&P 500 to end the year at roughly above 4,100. The highest estimates are 4,550 for the index. Contributors to these estimates are a less aggressive Fed, resilient economic growth, and the recent interest in artificial intelligence in combination with the soaring tech stocks. Bearish outlooks go as low as 3,400 points and cite a continued slide in stocks as the core reason.
Inflation remains a major concern and continues to exert pressure on markets. At least inflation is declining in most economies. In the US, inflation is declining since July 2022 due to the most aggressive measures taken by the Fed in comparison to other economies. Inflation fell from over 9% to now below 5%. The EU’s inflation kept rising until September 2022 when it surpassed the 11% mark. The more hesitant central bank interventions and higher exposure to the war led to a substantially slower decrease. As of April 2023, inflation still remains slightly above 8%. Toward the end of 2022, the UK behaved similarly to the EU, but could not maintain this trend. As of March, inflation in the UK remained above 10%. The continued struggle of the UK – in comparison to the EU – is largely attributable to a combination of its higher food price inflation, high reliability on gas, and worker shortages as well as wage rises. The latest data revealed that the UK could substantially reduce its inflation in April to below 9%. China and Switzerland were able to keep their inflation below 4% throughout this period and have achieved decreasing inflation similar to the previously discussed economies, albeit for different reasons. Japan followed this development but saw a spike in inflation in April 2023, which stems from a surge in food prices. Figure 1 summarizes the inflation rate development from the beginning of 2022. Figure 2 shows the corresponding interest rate measures the various central banks undertook. The Fed took the most aggressive measures with the current range being between 5% and 5.25%. Market participants widely expected rate hikes to stop earlier in 2023, and it seems now that during the June meeting, there will be a break. However, officials stated that the fight against inflation is not over, and further hikes are still reasonably likely. This dampened the optimism of market participants, especially considering views at the beginning of the year with fewer increases and possible cuts as early as autumn. Such a development seems highly unlikely at this stage. The BoE followed the Fed’s development most closely. Unfortunately, it did not achieve the same results, as the substantial discrepancy in inflation data shows. The ECB took almost half a year longer to implement such measures. As of May 2023, central bank rates in the EU are still 1.25% lower than compared to the US. It is also reasonable to assume that the ECB will continue hiking to offset its currently substantially higher inflation. This can be attributed to the later reaction of the ECB in comparison to the Fed. Switzerland, which had fewer problems with inflation, required less severe interventions. In total, the SNB increased its core interest rate by 2.25% since May 2022. In contrast to other Western economies, its core interest rate sits at a moderate 1.5%. Asian countries, such as China and Japan have struggled little with inflation and needed no or only minor central bank interventions. Nonetheless, the countries still did not go through the aftermath of Covid unscathed.
In this challenging ecosystem, alternative assets showed resilience to the drawdowns in public markets. While some hedge funds have struggled in recent times, the industry is managing the current situation well. For the first time since the pandemic, hedge fund launches have reached pre-pandemic levels again. Regarding performance, in particular large hedge funds have managed the drawdowns well. Figure 2 shows a comparison of public equities and bond indices relative to equity and fixed income hedge funds. For equity strategies, hedge funds were able to mitigate the largest drawdowns of public equities, while also benefitting from the recovery periods (although not to the degree as public equities have). For fixed income strategies, the results are even better. Not only were the funds able to mitigate the drawdowns in fixed income significantly, but they also posted stronger gains in the recovery periods, at least in most instances. Private debt and private equity funds achieved similar results, although it is unknown as of yet how they did in the very short-term. Throughout 2022, private debt funds managed to return a positive performance in each quarter and enhance the stability of a portfolio substantially. Private equity strategies functioned similarly to equity hedge funds, as they mitigated most of the drawdowns of public equity, even for the riskiest sub-strategy in venture capital. Figure 3 shows a comparison of direct lending, private equity, and venture capital benchmark indices versus public equities. While these results are promising, the private equity industry has not been unfazed by the recent crisis. Fundraising became a substantial issue in Q1 2023 as well as more and more downrounds. This leads private equity funds to search for alternatives. One of which seems to be buying back its own debt, which has been more prominent in recent months. Especially in the fundraising department, private debt also saw a substantial shortage, such that pension funds and endowments make up almost 50% of the capital raised. While higher interest rates also lead to higher yields in the private debt markets, it comes at an increased risk with rising loan default rates.
2022 was a year that tested the worldwide economy. The highest inflation in 40 years, unprecedented interest rate hikes, and the invasion of Russia into Ukraine were only some contributors to the hugely difficult year of 2022. In the US, inflation started soaring during 2021 and peaked in the summer of 2022 at 9.1%. Thanks to the central bank’s quick response, inflation has since continuously slowed down and is currently at 6.5%. Europe had significantly more issues handling the inflation crisis. The EU started the year at an inflation rate of slightly above 5.5% and it continued to soar until October 2022 when it reached its peak at 11.5%. The UK was similarly affected, despite the BoE being the fastest-acting central bank to raise interest rates. However, its inflation behaved like the EU’s and soared to its peak at 11.1% in October 2022. Both economies have not been able to reduce inflation below 10% so far. In contrast to the US, European countries were much more affected by the direct impact of the war between Russia and Ukraine. Soaring energy and food prices, for both of which Russia and Ukraine are crucial suppliers, were the main constituents causing the high inflation. Additionally, the ECB did not enjoy as much freedom as the Fed had when raising interest rates. This is in large part due to the high indebtedness of certain European countries that would have gone bankrupt if interest rates would have been raised as much as the US did. Other countries, such as Switzerland, Japan, and China stand out in this discussion, as those countries managed to keep their inflation relatively low. Switzerland managed to avoid such high inflation due to its strong currency, and a limited dependency on fossil fuels. Japan avoided high inflation through the continued quantitative easing by the BoJ. However, in contrast to the other countries, Japan’s inflation is still soaring and poses substantial issues to the country. China avoided high inflation through its rigorous Covid policies and its limited governmental support when Covid emerged. The source of this soaring inflation is a combination of the war but is largely based on unprecedented central bank intervention to save the economy during the early Covid days when large parts of the economy were completely unable to function. Figure 1 shows the inflation levels of the previously mentioned countries during 2022.
Inflation was a core issue in 2022 and remains to be one in 2023. In the US, inflation started to decline in the summer of 2022 and remains currently at a level of 7.1%. Contrarily, in Europe and the UK, inflation remains a huge issue and has barely declined from its peak in 2022. It remains at 11.1% for the EU and at 10.7% for the UK. The difference between the inflation can largely be attributed to two factors. Firstly, the Fed hikes interest rates more aggressively than its European counterparts. This led to a quicker response to inflation. Secondly, Europe is more directly affected by the war between Russia and Ukraine and is largely dependent on Russian oil and gas, which soared in price following the war. Contrarily to other European countries, Switzerland managed to keep inflation relatively low with a peak in late summer 2022 at 3.5% and 3% currently. Switzerland managed to avoid high inflation due to its strong currency and relatively low demand for fossil fuels, as most of its electricity stems from hydropower and nuclear power. In Asia, both Japan and China also experience limited inflation issues. Japan achieved this through its central bank which continuously intervenes with large-scale monetary easing. Despite the low inflation, Japan is still suffering, as wages remain stagnant unlike in other major economies where it helps offset the higher inflation to some degree. China does not face an inflation problem, due to their different handling of the Covid crisis. Unlike most economies, they did not provide large stimuli to the economy. Additionally, their zero-Covid policy substantially reduced household demands. Figure 1 shows a summary of the inflation rates across the highlighted economies during 2022. Regarding 2023, it is widely expected that inflation, especially in high-inflation countries, will come down. For instance, in the US, it is expected that inflation will be around 4% on average, and close to the 2% Fed target by the end of the year. Inflation forecasts in the EU and the UK are more difficult to estimate, due to their dependency on the war and its outcome. Additionally, unlike in the US, inflation has not really started to decrease. Assuming further strong interventions by the European central banks, it is expected that inflation will drop substantially. The ECB expects the average inflation to be around 5%-6% during 2023 with inflation slightly below 4% by the end of 2023. In the short term, Europe will be under pressure and the measures take time to become effective, as shown in the example of the US. Despite a similar outlook to the US, albeit with a delay of around half a year, it is less promising. One important wildcard is energy prices, which are strongly linked to the war. While the EU managed to get its oil largely from other sources than Russia, it still needs Russia, and gas is not as easily substitutable. With the prospect of Russia’s supply cut and China reopening, prices of energy sources are likely to increase. Depending on the scale, if it occurs, the anticipated target may not be reached and inflation will remain higher than the target. In Switzerland, inflation is expected to remain around the 3% mark for 2023. Given the strong involvement of the BoJ, Japan’s inflation is expected to end the year 2023 below the 2% inflation mark. It is additionally expected that wages will rise for the first time in three decades. Inflation in China is expected to rise to around 2% in 2023. This is a combination of the reopening of the economy and the end of the zero-Covid policy. This will lead to an increase in economic activity and the necessity for further energy. Additionally, the price pressure across will also be felt in China, once demand picks up again. The interest rate hikes by most countries have been another crucial topic during 2022. So far, the hikes have shown limited effectiveness in dealing with soaring inflation. In high-inflation countries, it was effective for the US and had little impact on the European countries. However, this discrepancy is likely due to the steeper hikes in the US and less dependency on the war by the US. The US employed the strongest measures, as it hiked from 0% at the beginning of 2022 to 4.25% at the end of 2022. In contrast, the ECB just started hiking in June 2022 at -0.5%, which increased to 2% by the end of 2022. The BoE employed a mixture of the two. The UK started hiking at the end of 2021 but hiked in smaller steps than the US. Towards the end of 2022, it increased the step size and is currently at 3.5%. Switzerland started hiking earlier than the ECB, despite substantially lower inflation. Switzerland’s prime rate became positive for the first time in years in September 2022. Currently, the prime rate is sitting at 1%. Japan was one of the exceptions, as the BoJ did not hike at all. Its prime rate remains at -0.1%. However, the central bank still strongly intervened in the market as elaborated previously. The People’s Bank of China even lowered its prime lending rate over 2022, albeit to a minimal degree. Currently, the rate is at 3.65%. There is a strong consensus for the year 2023 in the US and Japanese markets. Most market participants expect the Fed to keep raising interest rates to around 5%-5.25%. The Fed is likely to do this in smaller steps than previously. Nonetheless, this level should be reached by the end of Q1 2023. Afterward, a majority of institutions do not expect further hikes or cuts in 2023. The remainder anticipates potential interest rate cuts in Q4 2023. The exact outcome of potentially further hikes or cuts largely depends on the state of the US economy in the latter part of 2023. While the measures seem to be effective and inflation is going down considerably, the risk of a recession is considerable. This largely stems from substantially higher financing costs for businesses, and lower demand from consumers as Covid reserves are exhausted and households feel the pressure from the inflation over the past year. Given that the BoJ has not intervened by raising interest rates, it is not expected that it will in 2023. It is more likely that it will continue its qualitative and quantitative easing philosophy employed so far. In particular, as Japan does not face an imminent inflation problem. With expected wages adjusted, the pressure of inflation should also be eased without a strong necessity to make policy adjustments. For the EU, it is expected that rates will be hiked further to combat the prevalent inflation. Market participants expect interest rates of around 3%, which should be reached during Q2 2023. For the UK, additional hikes of 1% are expected, resulting in interest rates of around 4.5% for 2023. For both economies, no rate cuts are expected in the latter half of 2023. In Switzerland, the SNB is anticipated to hike another 0.5% in 2023 with no rate cuts as well.