Alternative Markets Outlook 2022
2021 was firmly in the grasp of Covid-19 through the Delta and Omicron strain. Although Covid-19 was managed solidly, the imposed restrictions and the economic interventions have severely impacted the economy and society. Not only has inflation skyrocketed but it is also likely to persist for quite some time. In January 2021, the US CPI was at 1.4% and rose to 6.8% in November 2021. In Europe, the situation looks similar, although the initial surge started earlier in the US and currently Europe’s inflation is lower with 4.9% in November 2021. In 2022, inflation will prevail with even higher levels in early 2022 with a realistic chance to subside towards the latter part of 2022. This rather grim outlook is largely in line with the observation during 2021, when inflation targets were mostly too low and the estimated time period were too short. The US will probably experience slightly higher levels, due to the larger extent of money printing to fight Covid-19 originally. Central bank intervention will be reduced to normal levels in the latter part of 2022. It has been already announced that they will scale back their asset buying programs but not entirely. Depending on how Covid-19 is evolving, it seems reasonable that towards the end of 2022, these programs will be discontinued. Aside from these monetary interventions, there were also substantial fiscal interventions, as shown in Figure 1. Figure 1 depicts the US national debt and the increase of additional trillion of debt. Since Covid-19 emerged, six additional trillions were spent to fight the immediate impact. In particular, the speed at which the money was spent is remarkable. While it took between 30 and 300 days for an additional trillion during Covid-19, it took between 170 and 320 days during the global financial crisis in 2008. The measure undertaken to fight Covid-19 are massive but they have helped the economy to bounce back. Among others, the development of the employment is largely desirable. For example, in the US, the unemployment rate was reduced to 4.2% from its peak of more than 14% in 2020. Equity markets, which have contributed in a major fashion to the overall success of 2021, will be largely impacted by Covid-19 in 2022. This was once again observable in November 2021 when Omicron emerged. Assuming a positive development, it is likely that equity markets will keep rising, although at a normal pace below unlike 2020 and 2021. Figure 2 and 3 show the S&P 500 and the Euronext 100 indices over the past two years. Since January 2020, the S&P 500 gained 47.5%, while the Euronext 100 gained 18.9%. The gains since their bottom in March 2020 are 118.4% for the S&P 500 and 86.0% for the Euronext 100. One potential reason for the strong growth in 2020 and 2021 may be due to expected inflation ahead, which is compensated by higher nominal gains. This effect is likely to fade given the enormous growth numbers in 2021 which have given rise to doubts about the sustainability of these profits alongside fears of another financial bubble. This is in particular true for industries that have benefited from Covid-19, such as technology. One example of seemingly unhealthy gain is Tesla, which is up more than 1,000% since Covid-19 emerged. The companies benefiting from Covid-19 should be viewed with caution, while companies that were negatively affected by Covid-19 certainly involve less risk. A negative development with the handling of Covid-19 could turn the situation upside down again and trigger similar effects as in March 2020. This may occur, for example, if a new strain emerges with a substantially increased fatality rate, is spread relatively easily and vaccinations are of only mediocre effectiveness against the new strain. Yet, this scenario is rather unlikely given that with each wave, the number of infections remains at a relatively similar level, while hospitalizations and fatalities decline. Furthermore, virus strains that spread more easily, such as Omicron, frequently are less deadly. These two observations favour the good scenario going forward. In an environment of high volatility and many opportunities, alternative assets are well positioned. Figure 4 highlights the volatility in the market measured by the VIX. Since the occurrence of Covid-19, the volatility in markets has never reached levels prior to Covid-19, although there has been a massive improvement. From the peak in March 2020 and a level of more than 80, markets have stabilized between 15 and 25 in quiet times with occasional spikes. With regards to alternative assets, 2020 and 2021 were highly beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, in crises, actively managed vehicles are of increased interest as they try to mitigate the negative impact of the crisis. Secondly, due to the nature of being a healthcare crisis, this brings many opportunities with it. Thirdly, the substantial uncertainty in markets also favour alternative assets, as for example, private equity funds are less sensitive to significant short-term volatility. 2021 was especially profitable for the private equity and hedge fund industry, which make up the largest part of alternative assets. In the following sections, hedge funds, private equity, private debt and crypto assets are discussed in a more detailed fashion.
Just before the holiday season, Omicron is spreading rapidly around the world and causes most countries to impose further restrictions. The Netherlands went furthest with a new lockdown over the Christmas holidays. Due to the high infection rate of Omicron, many countries are recommending booster vaccinations for their citizens and introducing requirements of being vaccinated and negatively tested in an attempt to slow down the spread of the virus. This is not the only issue at the moment, as inflation rates are surging around the world. It is also estimated that inflation will remain high for longer than just a few months. In the US, the CPI has reached 6.8% in November 2021, up from 5.3% in August 2021. In Europe, the CPI is 4.9% in November, up from only 3% in August 2021. The situation is similar in the UK with 4.6% in November 2021. Equity markets have strongly profited from the strong interventions of central banks, as shown in Figure 1. After October 2021, equity markets did not maintain their strong upward trend. When Omicron emerged, equity markets dipped. Nonetheless, after it was thought initially that Omicron can be handled to some degree, markets recovered. This recovery only persisted for a short time, as the further restrictions around the world quickly made the illusion of Omicron being handled perish quickly. This strong performance of the public equity market has fuelled the private market. In particular, technology, healthcare and fintech were of tremendous interest. Figure 2 shows a summary of the growth of fintech in 2021. M&A and SPACs achieved a transaction volume of $337bn and several notable IPOs or direct listings have taken place. This includes Coinbase, Robinhood and Nubank among others. Figure 3 shows the development of fundraising in private markets since 2008. In 2021, almost $1tn in capital was raised by private equity, private debt, real estate and infrastructure. This year’s fundraising is the second largest only after 2019. By far the largest contributor is private equity with more than $600bn raised in 2021. Figure 4 shows the increase in AuM of private markets. In 2021, private markets have surpassed the $10tn threshold. In 2021, a substantial increase in allocated capital took place, as dealmaking was difficult in 2020. The fundraising in 2021 also caused the dry powder to remain high despite large commitments. Most of the assets are managed by the private equity industry and other types of assets.
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.
Hedge funds are doing very well currently. After having suffered substantial drawdowns in March 2020, they delivered what they promised to do. They were able to limit losses well, while profiting significantly from the subsequent upswing. This positioned hedge funds in a good light towards potential investors that previously stepped away from hedge funds or planned to, due to their frequent inability to generate excess returns in boom phases over the last few years. As the crisis was handled well by the industry, this perception significantly shifted. Preqin reported that the average return of hedge funds in 2020 was 16.69% and 12.73% as of June 2021, which are remarkable numbers for this environment. In particular, as some sectors and industries, such as fixed income, are struggling since Covid-19 emerged. Figures 9 to 14 provide a summary of our benchmark indices compared to other widely known benchmarks, based on fixed income, equity, tactical trading and fund of hedge funds strategies. Our two major benchmark indices, the SMC Single Manager Cross-Asset Index and the SMC Cross-Asset Index, are up 26.79% and 24.59% as of June 2021. Fixed Income strategies continue to struggle but managed to achieve solid one-digit returns over 2020 and 2021. The two most outstanding strategies in this asset class are European High Yield L/S Credit with a return of 13.37% in 2021 and Trade Finance Crypto with a YTD of 9.11%. The latter also has not experienced a single negative monthly return since its inception in January 2017. The performance of equity-based strategies in 2021 is 7%, while the individual strategies widely varied since 2020. On the one hand, Long/Short US Equity Consumer, TMT, Healthcare had a stellar return of 66% in 2020 but is stagnating in 2021 with a YTD of 0.13%. On the other hand, Equities US Activist Event Driven was up only 2.52% in 2020 but is up 30.68% in 2021 so far. Our SMC Tactical Trading Strategy Index is up 14% in 2021 and was up 62% in 2020. The global macro strategies deviate strongly from each other’s monthly returns. The Discretionary Global Macro strategy is up 26% in 2021, even though it suffered a loss of 18% in June 2021. In 2020, the strategy also achieved a return of 27%. The Systematic Global Macro strategy is up only 2% as of June 2021 but was up 97% in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the SMC Cryptocurrency Strategy Index had the best performance in both 2021 and 2020. In 2021, the index is up 101% and in 2020 340%. The crypto-based strategies range from Token Liquid with a YTD 2021 of 171% to Bitcoin that is up only 19.2% YTD 2021. Over the last two years, the Token strategy was the most successful one with being up 504% in 2020 and another 164% in 2021. Cryptocurrencies are further described in following section.
Hedge funds are doing great in 2021. Hedge funds’ AuM has surpassed the $3.8tn mark in March 2021, which is backed by several reasons. The more negative view on hedge funds over the last five years have subsided, since they have mitigated the financial impact of Covid-19 and posted strong performances afterwards. This boosted the AuM through the performance as well as additional inflows caused by the good results. This is very likely to continue, since hedge funds have had their best Q1 return for more than two decades. Alternative investments in general did very well. Private equity was slowed down initially by Covid-19, but their recovery returns were extremely strong. The high valuations on the stock market certainly helped to achieve this return. Private debt did well too, although their initial recovery was slower. But due to the favorable interest rates, private debt seems attractive compared to public debt. Commodities are doing well too, especially considering their relatively bad performance over the last decade. Gold gained significantly since 2019, which was further boosted by the money printing following Covid-19 and surged to a record of $2k per ounce, but since then, it lost again and has been very stable at around $1.7k over the last months. Oil, which was hit very hard during the initial Covid-19 reactions, has reached its level prior to the crisis and continues to reach higher prices. Just in the last month, WTI crude oil gained more than 10% and is currently at $66 per barrel. Industry metals also have gained substantially in 2021 and due to their demand, it is likely that this will continue. Cryptocurrencies have gained again over the last two weeks. Bitcoin (BTC) was not that specular, as remains between $50k and $60k, despite dropping quickly below the $50k mark. Nevertheless, BTC is still up 91% in 2021 and its market cap remains above $1tn. The big mover was Ethereum (ETH), which was around $2,500 before its surge starting in early May. It peaked above $3,400 and is currently at $3,350. ETH is up 349% in 2021 and almost has a market cap of $400bn. Figure 5 shows the ETH price (in green) from 2020 onwards and its value in BTC (yellow line). During 2020, the two coins moved similar, but since 2021, ETH is outperforming BTC substantially. At the end of 2020, ETH was worth less 0.03 BTC, whereas now it is worth more than 0.06 BTC per coin. Other altcoins followed ETH, but not to same extent. Thus, the crypto market, of which 70% was BTC in 2020, known as “Bitcoin dominance” is shrinking. Currently, BTC only accounts for 45% of the market capitalization of the crypto market.
Alternative Markets Update March 2021
In the current uncertainty in the markets, macroeconomic factors play an important role aside from Covid-19 and the vaccination efforts. Inflation is a major concern in 2021, even though it was very obvious in 2020 already. However, in 2020, it was completely overshadowed by Covid-19 and the tremendous surge in equity markets among others. Inflation is a concern around the world, caused by the severe interventions undertaken by central banks. In particular in the US, where the FED intervened with money printing on such a scale that it cannot be compared to any other economy. This was largely required, as conventional monetary policy was not enough, for example, lowering the interest rates to the area around 0%. Even quantitative easing could not solve the problem, even though the FED’s balance sheet ballooned. Figure 1 shows the FED’s balance sheet over the last five years. At the beginning of the crisis, the federal reserve was at around $4.3tn. In 2020, this increased by 76% to $7.3tn and is still rising in 2021. Currently, it is at almost $7.7tn. In comparison to 2008, during which the federal reserve increased by 151%, the balance sheet increased by “only” $1.3tn in absolute terms. It is important to note that during the last two decades, the FED’s balance never declined by more than 1% on an annual basis with one exception being 2018 with a decrease of 8%. Interest rates in the US have recovered quite spectacularly over the last months. Figure 2 shows the development of interest rates in major economies over the last few months. The US interest rates are higher than any other interest rate from the UK, Europe or Japan, both short- and long-term. The short-term interest rates have remained very stable, while the long-term rates have increased a lot, for example, the 10-y US treasury note is soon back at 2%.