With the currently pessimistic view of 2023, markets are under substantial pressure. Most market participants are expecting a recession in 2023/2024. High inflation, steep interest rate hikes, and historical yield curve inversions are just a few indicators that suggest tough times ahead. However, there are some indicators that provide hope that a larger crisis can be avoided. While inflation is high, it has been steadily decreasing, at least in the US. Rate hikes are also expected to increase only slightly in 2023. Nonetheless, this provides little help in avoiding a recession, as it is still unclear how fast inflation will drop down to the acceptable 2% and below range. Furthermore, interest rates will remain high for 2023 with a low to moderate probability of rate cuts in 2023. These still pressure businesses that are expected to earn less in 2023, as consumers have exhausted most of their resources in dealing with the impact of inflation. The biggest saving grace currently is the labor market, which functions very well. In Western countries, the unemployment rates are close to record lows of the past few decades. In the US and the UK, the unemployment rate is 3.7%. In the EU, the unemployment rate is 6%, while Switzerland sees an unemployment rate of 2.2%. Figure 1 shows the jobless claims in the US in 2022. While there has been some variation during 2022, these were small and at very low levels historically. It is even more promising when addressing the private sector. Since early 2021, the private sector in the US is adding jobs at a constant pace. Figure 2 shows this development.
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.
With the final interest rate decisions of most central banks this year, it concludes a year of strong intervention to combat soaring inflation caused by the aftermath of Covid-19, and the ongoing war as well as general political instability. The Fed, the BoE, the ECB, and the SNB all increase their respective target rates by 50 basis points. The US interest rate is now at 4.25% - 4.5% with the British interest rate slightly lower at 3.5%. The European Union’s interest rate ends the year at a 2% target with the Swiss interest rate even lower at 1%. Figure 1 summarizes the interest rate hikes of these central banks during 2022. The UK and the US moved relatively quickly in increasing interest rates compared to the ECB and the Swiss National Bank. The impact of these measures is mixed at best. While inflation has been rampant throughout the year, only the Fed’s measures seem to have calmed inflation to a degree. The US inflation peaked in June at 9.1% and fell to 7.1% as of November 2022. Although they managed to control it, the degree to which inflation is reduced is far lower than the interest rate impact. Despite a similarly strong stance by the BoE, inflation is going up and down with a tendency to go up. The UK inflation remains at 10.7%. Compared to the US, the UK is dealing with several other issues not prominent in the US. Not only is the UK still somewhat in a transition phase with the EU, but it is also more directly impacted by the ongoing war and experienced a few chaotic months with the election, the resignation of ex-PM Truss, and her historical tax cut when the economy was already strongly under pressure. Inflation in the European Union is also unlikely to slow down fast given the close involvement in the war and the slow reaction to the rising inflation. As of October 2022, the EU’s inflation is the highest of the four economies at 11.5%. Lastly, Switzerland reacted slightly faster than the EU but hikes less aggressively. However, compared to the other economies, Switzerland does not face such an imminent problem with inflation, as the current inflation rate is only 3% with its previous peak being in August 2022 at only 3.5%. Figure 2 summarizes the development of inflation across the four discussed economies during 2022. Despite the general tone of central banks that they plan to decrease their balance sheet and keep raising interest rates well into 2023, market participants see fewer interest rate hikes ahead with a potential reversal earlier than expected. Going forward, interest rates will rise further with likely declining inflation, as the measures should work in the longer term. When inflation is showing signs of a continued slowdown and comes back to reasonable levels, interest rates are likely to decline gradually. This transition period will be especially intriguing to fixed income hedge funds and instruments, as high interest rates and low inflation offers stable and low-risk returns. This is especially true, as this economic ecosystem has not been present in the past decade. Equities did well in the latter half of 2022, despite the unfavorable ecosystem with rising interest rates and a harsh economy. If the situation should normalize sooner than expected, equities are well positioned to regain some of their incurred losses in the first half of 2022. Macro strategies have had an exceptional year in 2022 with plenty of opportunities. Most macro hedge funds could use these opportunities to generate strong returns.
Central Bank Interventions of the Fed, ECB, BoE, SNB Inflation in the US, the EU, the UK, and Switzerland
Central banks continue to be in the spotlight. Over the past months, it is hard to find a central bank that has not raised interest rates at least once. Inflation remains at four-decade highs in most countries, despite the measures taken by central banks so far. The Fed raised interest rates by another 75bps this month and maintains its stance to aggressively combat inflation. This led the 2-year Treasuries to surge above 4%, for the first time since before the global financial crisis, and increases the likelihood of a recession as well as potentially sharply declining equities. The latest hike increased the federal fund rate to 3% - 3.25%. The ECB also raised its interest rate by 75bps in September, while the Bank of England increased its rate by 50bps. The ECB’s rate is now at 1.25% and the UK’s is at 2.25%. Switzerland also raised its rate by 75bps which brings it into positive territory as the last country in Europe. In the middle East, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar follow the Fed with their 75bps hikes as well. Across the developed countries, Japan remains the last country with currently negative rates at -0.10%. September 2022 has also been highly relevant for the currency market. The dollar has strengthened substantially over the year. Compared to the Euro, it appreciated from around 0.9$/€ in 2020 to 1.03$/€. The British Pound declined strongly. The latest tax cut in the UK is threatening even higher inflation and will force the BoE to act more aggressively in tightening. After the announcement, the Pound dropped below 1.1$/£, and some speculate that the Pound could fall below parity to the USD. The Japanese Yen also experienced substantial movements, as the country is buying Yen again for the first time in nearly a quarter century. In spite of the negative developments of equities in 2022 and their even more grim prospect, equities are doing great on a historical scale. Figure 1 shows the growth of global equities with the impact of several crises
The still high inflation and the potential reaction from the Fed continue to dominate the financial market news. Last Friday when Powell gave a short speech on how the Fed will move forward, stock markets crashed amid a more hawkish stance than expected. He emphasized that inflation has to be brought down relatively soon even if it hurts businesses and households, at least in the short term. Although inflation decreased for the first time in months, the inflation rate is still way too high at 8.5%. Following the speech, another 75bps hike is not outside the realm of possibility. Unlike earlier estimates, it is also likely that the federal fund rate will be around 4% in the short term and will persist for some time. The degree of interventions does depend substantially on the economic data and whether the measures taken achieve their intended goals. This led to a massive drop in equity prices, such as the Dow Jones which dropped more than 1,000 points in a single day. It also hurt cryptocurrencies substantially. Bitcoin dropped below the $20k mark for the first time since June. In Europe, the situation looks very different. While inflation is still soaring with a new record high of 8.9% in 2022, its interest rates are still at 0bps even after its 50bps hike in July. It is likely that inflation will continue to soar even if substantial rate hikes take place soon. The ECB’s measures have been very mild compared to the Fed’s and other central banks and were widely expected to stay on the milder side. However, with the continuously growing inflation, the ECB is forced to intervene. For its September meeting, it is expected that a rate hike of at least 50bps will take place, if not 75bps. These developments also make a recession in Europe more and more likely. The impact of the war, especially energy as a whole, further exacerbates this likelihood. In the UK, inflation is an even bigger problem, as the 10% mark was surpassed in July 2022. This is very relevant, as the BoE was very active in 2022 in rising interest rates while the ECB was not. The BoE’s current base rate is at 1.75% after five small interest rate hikes from December 2021 to June 2022 and the subsequent 50bps hike at the beginning of August. For the next meeting, another 50bps or even 75bps are considered as likely. Current expectations are around a base rate peak of 3.75% at the beginning of the next year. It is questionable whether the rate will in fact be “that low”, as the Fed pointed out 4% for a while is a possibility. This is concerning for the UK, as the US has both, a lower inflation and a currently decreasing inflation.
Alternative Markets Outlook H2 2022
Inflation will likely dominate the news in the latter half of 2022. It is likely to stay high although decreasing. Exact predictions are always difficult, especially in such a market environment. This is also observable in the research from economists who struggle to predict accurately, as employment is high, GDP is shrinking, and the current inflation issues. Whether inflation will in fact slow down is largely dependent on the ongoing war between Russia and the Ukraine, as energy and food are the main drivers behind the current inflation levels. Regardless of how the war ends, even if soon, there is a low chance that the energy supply of Russia to Europe will ramp up significantly. There may be some help from the OPEC+ countries in alleviating the problem but high energy prices are obviously beneficial for them. Food inflation on the other hand is likely to go down to some degree, as the Ukraine is a key supplier assuming that it remains independent. The energy situation will get very tense during the winter, as Europe is expecting energy shortages. It is likely that energy inflation will spike there. Afterward, in early and mid-2023, the situation likely will improve. At that point, energy prices have a chance to enter a deflationary state, as inflation is measured on a year-on-year basis, in particular when considering that energy inflation is higher than 40% in the US for example. The remaining subcategories in inflation measures are more affected by actual central bank measures. In particular, the US and the UK have taken substantial measures to combat current inflation. At least in the US, the measures have relieved some of the pressure as the monthly inflation fell for the time in a couple of months. However, this does not ease the pressure, as such events must be persistent. It is likely that this will continue, especially if the Fed keeps rising its interest rates, which some of the board members intend to do. It is expected that inflation will keep going down during 2022 and 2023. Frequently expected intervals estimate inflation to be between 2% and 4% towards the end of this period. Figure 1 shows expectations for the core CPI in the year 2023 alongside a lagged M2 growth measure. In Europe, the situation in terms of food and energy is more dire, due to its direct reliance on Russia. However, energy inflation surprisingly is lower than in the US but is rapidly growing, especially with the current concerns about the winter ahead. In terms of central bank measures, it becomes a bit more tricky, as the ECB has to manage many countries and consider their economic situation. This is where its major problem occurs, as large countries, such as Italy, are in a dangerous position. Its debt level is extremely high and it is potentially at risk of defaulting if interest rates should rise. On the other hand, the ECB has to combat the ever-soaring inflation by rising the interest rates. This dilemma will likely reduce the ECB's capabilities to combat inflation by rising interest rates as the UK or the US did. Most likely, this will cause inflation to be mitigated slower and to a lower degree. It is therefore expected that inflation in Europe will still rise in the latter half of 2022 and decline slower than in the US or the UK. This assumption is based on a status quo-like ongoing war. Nonetheless, sudden events can massively alter this outcome. Contrary to the outlook of Europe, the US’s development in July 2022 is largely positive. Firstly, it managed to reduce inflation slightly for the first time in multiple months. Secondly, US employment is back at pre-Covid levels and at the highest since 1969. While the economy lost 22 million jobs in the first two months of the Covid outbreak, in July 2022, it regained all of them. The impressive recovery is shown in Figure 2.