Alternative Markets Summary H1 2022
Ever since Covid-19 has subsided from the daily news, inflation has taken over. Inflation is still a major concern in the current economy. This is further exacerbated by central bank interventions that have not been fruitful yet. An additional major contributor is the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. As of June 2022, inflation in the US is at 9.1%, the highest it has been in the past 40 years. In the Eurozone, inflation is slightly lower at 8.6%. The UK’s inflation is even higher at 9.4%. Asian countries, such as Japan and China, managed to keep their inflation relatively low at 2.4% and 2.5%. The development of inflation over the past year is summarized in Figure 1. For Western countries, inflation has more or less continuously risen. The US started the year with inflation close to over 5%, while European countries were close to 2%. Nonetheless, Europe has caught up to the US since April, when the UK’s inflation even got higher than the US’s. A potential reason for the higher inflation in the US at the beginning of the year and back until the latter half of 2021 is the rapid and steep unconventional measures taken by the Fed. This faster intervention led to more money being in the economy earlier, which theoretically should lead to higher inflation earlier. Figure 2 shows the growth in the balance sheet indexed to January 2019. Once Covid-19 hit the economy, the US reacted a lot faster and in higher magnitudes than Europe did. Within the first months, the Fed’s balance sheet grew by almost 70%, while the ECB’s only grew by 25% in the same time frame. Since then, the two central banks acted equivalently in terms of balance sheet growth. Very recently, the central banks started to shrink their balance sheets. These measures were announced during Q2 2022 and are slowly implemented. Going forward, this balance sheet shrinking will be strengthened, which is confirmed by an announcement from the ECB recently. Nonetheless, as the graph shows, these measures barely affect the original measures taken to combat the economic consequences of Covid-19. The low inflation in China largely stems from the consequences of their zero-Covid policy. In recent months, many places have been shut down to control the spread of Covid. This led to low production levels and low demand which is reflected in the low inflation levels of the country. In the case of Japan, inflation of above 2% is significant, as the average inflation during the past three decades was only 0.3%. Its inflation largely stems from the consequences of the war and the impact it has on food and energy.
The war in the Ukraine caused by the Russian invasion is the dominant topic around the world. In particular Western states widely underestimated Putin and the likelihood of the Russian invasion. Initial rumours anticipated an invasion from Russia on Monday, 14th February 2022, as Russian troops supposedly retreated. After the invasion did not take place then, there were some signs of relief, which were short-lived. Fears started to grow when Putin acknowledged the separatists in the Eastern Ukraine, more specifically, Donetsk and Luhansk. There were crucial similarities compared to the annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014. While this was going on, Western countries threatened Russia with sanctions. Those did not achieve a meaningful impact, as on Thursday morning, the worst case in that situation occurred. Russia invaded the Ukraine from all angles and managed to shutdown their missile defences almost immediately. Russia conquered several parts of the Ukraine extremely quickly and found itself soon on the doors of the capitol, Kyiv. Later that day, sanctions on Russia were imposed by the US, the UK, the G7 states and most other European countries. These included freezing the assets of some of Russian elites, some banks and businesses in the respective countries. This sanctions prohibit being involved in any kind of business with those individuals, banks or businesses. The US also banned individuals from trading Russian sovereign debt. Those sanctions had little impact on the invasion of Russia. Most people hoped the sanctions would be harsher, but at that point Europe was reluctant on banning Russia from SWIFT due to their reliance on Russia’s oil and gas. The invasion truly changed into a war in the city of Kyiv and over time most countries around the world support the Ukraine with additional weapons and ammunition, while some countries even sent soldiers to help defending the country. On Monday, the SWIFT ban from some Russian banks was announced as well as the extension of listed targets and institutions whose assets are frozen. Initially, Russia’s goal was to de-weaponize the country and to replace Zelensky, the prime minister of the Ukraine, by a more pro-Russian government. Russia employed substantial propaganda and legitimized the invasion by calling the Ukraine being full of Nazis among other things. It now seems very questionable whether replacing the government was the initial target, as it feels much more like a full annexation. This puts in particular the Baltic states into a state of alert, as if Putin’s goal to recreate the former Soviet Union, then they are likely the next target. This also explains the harsh threats from Russia when discussions were held whether Finland should become a NATO state. Further unpleasant developments are that China can be considered neutral towards Russia’s actions, as they first supported the Russian invasion given the reasons from Russia. However, they also followed through on Zelensky’s call to talk to Putin on possibilities to resolve this war. After an initial discussion between the Ukraine and Russia was denied by the Ukraine, it seems to be likely that Putin and Zelensky agreed to a meeting. This comes after Russia’s threat of using nuclear warheads. Unsurprisingly, markets reacted with tremendous volatility over the past two weeks. The sanctions on Russia had a detrimental effect on Russia’s economy. The Russian Rubel collapsed by 30% after Western countries announced the SWIFT ban for some Russian banks, after the Rubel has already lost substantially in value since the start of the invasion, as shown in Figure 1. Russia’s equity market also took a huge hit. On the day of the invasion, the MOEX Russia Index dropped by almost 50% from 3,200 down to 1,700. Despite its recovery, it is questionable how Russian equities will perform in the short-term future, as further sanctions are likely and make doing business outside Russia very difficult.
Hedge funds have experienced a great third quarter and continue to do well in October 2021. Partially due to the surge in volatility, the hedge fund industry is close to reach a milestone of $4tn in AuM. Nevertheless, the strategy of hedge funds is of utmost importance when determining how well a hedge fund is doing. This is in particular true for 2021. Crypto and equity hedge funds tend to profit the most from the current market ecosystem, as their asset class is surging at a rapid pace. Global macro and fixed income-based strategies have a more challenging ecosystem. Figures 1 to 6 show the returns as of Q3 2021 of the different SMC Strategy Indices in comparison to other relevant benchmarks for the specific strategy. Cryptocurrency strategies unsurprisingly did the best this year with the average strategy being up 177%. All strategies in that area cover the best performing strategies of the year with Token Liquid and Token being the best among them with a performance of 316% and 260%. The SMC Equity Strategy Index achieved a lower return than some of its benchmarks in 2021 with 7% as of Q3 2021. The best performing equity strategy is Equities US Activist Event Driven which is 27% up in 2021. With regards to the less beneficial ecosystems for fixed income and global macro related strategies, the SMC Strategy Indices did well. The SMC Credit Strategy Index is up 4.49% an outperforms almost all benchmarks shown in Figure 2. The situation is even better for the SMC Global Macro Strategy Index that achieved a YTD of 37.40%, thereby outperforming any benchmark by a lot as shown in Figure 4.
The most noteworthy event in September 2021 was probably the apparent collapse of Evergrande, one of the largest real estate companies in China, whose status is currently unknown. On Thursday, 16th September 2021, Evergrande issued a statement that it will not be able to repay the outstanding interest payments that day. Following this announcement, the financial market was in substantial stress. Equity markets all around the world lost a few percentage points and volatility spiked. Bond trading was under pressure as well, as Evergrande’s bonds were downgraded and frozen from trading. It sometimes was already referred to the next “Lehman Brothers” case. The volatility the stock has seen since is tremendous, as it lost nearly 80% in the first few days after the announcement. It seemed as though the situation had stabilized, but since not all due payments were paid on Friday, 24th September 2021, the status is unknown. If nothing else happens, which is highly unlikely, the company would enter a grace period following bankruptcy. There are three critical features involved in Evergrande. Firstly, China and Chinese people are heavily engaged with the company, as the company has sold many buildings already without having built them yet. A default would cause huge issues for the affected people. Secondly, many companies are frequently doing business with Evergrande, in particular construction, design and other suppliers, could also face bankruptcy alongside Evergrande. Lastly, the collapse of Evergrande would pose a substantial risk to the financial system of China. The latter one is in particular difficult, as the company has outstanding debt at more than 250 banks, which could put additional pressure on China’s ability to offer cheap debt, which is necessary to maintain growth level. Moreover, it does not make a China a more appealing place to invest for foreign investors, which were already on the decline since the recent developments
The macroeconomic environment will largely drive the market in H2 2021, which itself is based on significant degree how Covid-19 will evolve in the near future. With regards to the pandemic, the key questions are how the number of vaccinations evolve going forward, in particular as developed economies no longer have shortages of vaccines, but rather a declining number of people that want to get vaccinated. A crucial point is whether herd immunity can be achieved, either by being vaccinated or having had the virus. Another important point is how long the vaccine will last, as the cases of vaccinated people contracting the virus rises. Luckily, the symptoms seem to be minor. Probably even more important is whether new strains of the virus emerge that completely bypass vaccinations and essentially setting the world back to March 2020. The latter scenario seems less likely but should be considered to some degree. In a non-negative scenario, US inflation is likely to drop towards the end of the year with expectations around 3%. For the next years, it is expected that US inflation will remain between 2% and 3%, following the change in the FED’s inflation target of being 2% in the long-term instead of capping inflation at 2%. Thus, it is unlikely that inflation will drop below 2% for quite some time. In the EU, the inflation outlook is lower compared to the US, as the ECB expects inflation to rise to around 2.6% in Q4 2021. In 2022 and 2023, inflation is expected to remain around 1.5%. Furthermore, the FED and ECB also hinted at possibly putting more emphasis on employment instead of inflation going forward. This suggests gold being well positioned in the current market. As of July 2021, gold is almost back at its average in 2021 of $1800 per ounce. Despite being at a relatively high level historically, gold seems attractive with surging inflation and short-term interest rates being very close to 0%. Yet gold’s record high of more than $2000 per ounce lies back almost a year, at a point in which inflation was at 1% and not a concern for many. Since May 2021, inflows in gold ETFs are positive again albeit a bit sluggish. This is remarkable as previously, there were mostly only net outflows. Currently, the global gold AuM is at $214bn. Equities, in particular in the US, have experienced a great 2021, as shown in Figure 1. The S&P 500 is trading very close to its record high of around 4,450. During 2021, expectations for the S&P 500 level were adjusted multiple times. At the end of 2020, when the S&P 500 was 3,700, moderate expectations were around 3,900, while optimistic scenarios targeted 4,300. Yet, all those expectations were already surpassed in the low-interest rate environment, monetary stimulus and increased corporate earnings due to the recovery of the economy. Goldman Sachs has updated its target for the S&P 500 to 4,700 at the end of 2021. Contrarily, Chinese tech companies have suffered in July with the worst month since the financial crisis in 2008. Investors feared the crackdown of Chinese regulators on tech companies. Figure 2 shows valuations of Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong and in the US. Not only, are Chinese tech companies strongly undervalued compared to US tech stocks. Furthermore, Chinese tech companies listed in the US are even stronger undervalued, as very few even reach a multiple of 5, as shown in Figure 2.