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.
The UK’s economy continues to be under high pressure. While high inflation affects all countries, Truss’s historical tax cut and its outlined budget sent markets crashing. In particular government bonds alongside the British Pound experienced an alarming development, such that the BoE had to intervene and stabilize the economy. This had a brief stabilization effect, as the support was for a limited amount of time, as shown in Figure 1. This short support is largely due to the fact that it goes against the plan of central banks globally which try to reduce their balance sheets following the substantial interventions during Covid-19. This financial emergency led to Truss’s resignation from her position as prime minister. Her initial rival Sunak took over the office soon after and faces a tough situation ahead. Following this turmoil, markets have somewhat calmed down with Sunak’s appointment as PM and his experience in former financial positions. Meanwhile, other countries are still committed to raising interest rates. For the Fed, it is widely expected that rates will be raised by another 75bps in early November reaching 4%. With this following hike, officials say that further hikes are to be expected, although the magnitude might slow down. Further hikes are increasingly likely as the inflation rate is not really cooling down, and remains at 8.2%, down from 8.3% in the prior month. The relatively stable decline in equities is also unlikely to stop any time soon. Not only is there a constantly looming threat of a recession, but the equity market also tends to be correlated to central bank assets, as shown in Figure 2. This relationship is intuitive, as more assets or capital in the market are deployed. Furthermore, during Covid-19, much of the injected capital flew directly into stocks. With the back scaling of available capital, it is withdrawn from more risky capital, which is frequently stemming from equities. Although cryptocurrencies took a huge hit in early 2022, since July 2022, their performance is positive unlike bonds, stocks, or gold. This is a relieving sign for the industry, as cryptocurrencies tend to be strongly correlated with other asset classes at the beginning of a drawdown, but is the first asset class to recover from it. In this state, the asset class usually regains its attractive property of being non-correlated to other asset classes. Another highly intriguing development is taking place with Web3 applications. Web3 applications essentially fulfill the same role as technology companies leveraging the internet. However, unlike these technology companies, Web3 platforms are built decentral and are not maintained by a single entity. The current state of the Web3 industry strongly resembles these technology companies during the dot-com bubble. Figure 4 highlights a few key similarities. Venture investing in these types of companies also has not taken a large hit, compared to most other asset classes. This is in particular notable, as traditional venture investing took a substantial hit in 2022. Figure 5 shows the consistent decline in venture investments since Q4 2021.
For once, inflation was not the most prominent topic over the past two weeks. Instead, it’s the UK government and its optimistic tax cut. The UK’s new prime minister Truss promised a large tax cut in her election campaign. If implemented, the tax cuts would lead to losses of around £40bn and would be the second-highest budget cut in the past 50 years. Figure 1 shows a breakdown of the largest budget adjustments over the past 50 years. This seems very optimistic given the already existing struggles with ever-soaring inflation at the 10% mark and the severe gas/oil crisis in Europe. When further details on its implementation were revealed, the UK economy faced severe issues and could only narrowly avoid a complete disaster. The British Pound almost dropped to an equivalent level to the US Dollar for short time. Especially, the bond market crashed, as the BoE initially wanted to step back its bond buying program introduced after Covid-19. Figure 2 shows the drop in the value of UK gilts with maturities exceeding 15 years. Although they have been declining since 2020, the most recent drop is substantial. Currently, UK gilts are down 54%. A complete crash could only be avoided by the BoE strongly intervening in the bond market to stabilize the situation. It is very unlikely that the BoE can afford to step back its bond buying program any time soon, as the risk of fire sales is large, especially, if market participants know that UK gilts are no longer stabilized by the BoE. With rampant inflation across the world, central banks are continuing their consistent and strong hikes to combat further rising inflation. These interest rate hikes have led to substantial bond yield increases. The G7 average 10-year bond yields have now surpassed their average yield of the past two decades, as shown in Figure 3. Given the current development, bond yields could rise to their average at the beginning of the 21st century and likely stay there for a while until inflation is under control to a large degree. While it is debatable whether central banks acted fast or not; when they started doing so, the frequency and magnitude were substantial. This is especially true for the Fed. Figure 4 shows a comparison of the speed and magnitude of the current hikes compared to other historical hike cycles. With the current expectation of two further hikes (each between 50bps and 75bps), the current cycle is not only the largest in terms of magnitude but also the fastest at any given time. Despite the strong hikes of the Fed already, inflation in the US still increased by 0.4% to 8.2%, which was higher than expected and is likely to put further pressure on the Fed. This development is likely to emphasize further rate hikes, potentially even higher than currently anticipated. Equities also continue to be under pressure. After reaching their low of the year in mid-2022, they bounced back until August 2022. Since then, they have been consistently facing losses and reached new lows in 2022. The S&P 500 index is down 25% YTD, while the tech-heavily Nasdaq is down almost 35% YTD. The outlook is certainly not great with rising interest rates and a looming global recession. Additionally, it is worrying that the Covid-19-induced bull run strongly resembles the development during the dot-com bubble. Figure 5 highlights the similarities between the two tech bull runs and potentially bubbles.
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.