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
Voices of a recession in the coming year are getting louder. With the currently high inflation across the world, increasing interest rates, and drained reserves from the Covid-19 pandemic, companies are facing a bumpy road ahead. While inflation is declining to some degree, the crisis is far from over. In the US, inflation declined to 7.7%. This is likely a consequence of the continued and steep interest rate hikes from the Fed throughout the year that start paying off. With the most recent inflation data, the Fed hinted at lower hikes in the short term. In Europe, inflation is still higher, with 10% for the European Union and 9.6% for the UK. Nonetheless, it decreased in both instances compared to the previous month. Another interesting development is the price cap by the EU on Russian oil. It should mitigate Russia’s capabilities to finance the war with oil sales. Russia already stated that it will not oblige to the price cap. Over the past six months, oil substantially lost value. While it was trading well above $120 per barrel during the year, over the past six months it dropped. WTI crude oil is currently trading at $73 per barrel and has lost almost $10 per barrel since the official launch of the price cap on Russian oil. Figure 1 shows this development over the past six months. It will be interesting to monitor this development in terms of oil prices in general and whether the cap has the desired impact to stop Russian war financing. Since the end of Q3 2022, equities managed to rebound quite strongly and offset a proportion of the losses of the first three quarters this year. In contrast to the poor Q1-Q3 2022, the private equity industry was relatively stable over this time period, albeit with some losses and less activity. Nonetheless, the industry’s number of deals and deal value is still exceeding pre-pandemic levels, which is remarkable. Figure 2 provides further insights into global buyout deals, which make up most of the capital in the industry. Cryptocurrencies have not recovered from the shocking collapse of FTX. Since the collapse, Bitcoin is steadily moving between the $16k and $18k mark. Ethereum similarly moves between a range of $1.1k and $1.3k. Market participants are divided on their current opinions on the cryptocurrency market. With a looming recession ahead, cryptocurrencies are likely to face further drawdowns as highly risk-on assets. However, most people and institutions likely sold their over-allocation during the drawdown of 2022, and it remains to be seen how much more will be sold. Given the continued drawdown, most current holders are less likely to sell their positions due to being convicted of the underlying advances the technology will bring. Additionally, cryptocurrencies have done well in crises. Institutional investors also view the space with significantly different opinions. For example, Goldman Sachs plans to buy crypto on a large scale, while BlackRock is hesitant and expects many more collapses ahead.
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.
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
Macro news still continues to drive markets. Europe is at the center in early September. At the end of August, Europe’s inflation soared to another record this year at 9.1%. This increase is largely due to ever-soaring energy and food prices. A week after the release of inflation data, the ECB raised interest rates by 75bps which raises its base interest rate to 1.25%, still far off from other countries, such as the US or the UK. A recession in Europe is getting more and more likely with such announcements. This threat is especially high for the UK, as Goldman Sachs expects the recession to start in the UK in the fourth quarter. The UK faces the same issues as Europe does, but at an elevated pace. UK’s inflation is higher than 10% while the BoE has raised interest rates significantly more this year already. While the current base rate is only marginally higher at 1.75%, another decision in early September was delayed following the passing of the Queen last week. The weak currencies are another issue. Both, the Euro and the British Pound, are exceptionally weak compared to the US Dollar historically. In the US, the situation seems a bit more stable. Last month, the US managed to re-employ all people fired during Covid-19, and the country continues to employ more people, leading to a record low unemployment rate. However, markets are still heavily pressured by the hawkish Fed. The board emphasized that they are strongly committed to bringing inflation down soon rather than later. Markets widely expect at least another 50bps if not a 75bps hike in the next meeting. Another major development takes place in the cryptocurrency market. “The merge” of Ethereum (ETH) will be executed around the 15th September 2022. Essentially, the merge refers to the combination of the ETH main-chain and its side-chain, known as Beacon chain (launched in December 2020). The main-chain is based on the PoW (Proof-of-Work) consensus algorithm, whereas the Beacon chain uses PoS (Proof-of-Stake). The difference between the two validation algorithms is the resulting energy cost. PoW uses computational power to validate the network. In this approach, all computers try to validate a transaction, in which the fastest is rewarded. Unsurprisingly, this leads to a lot of unnecessary energy consumption. PoS also uses computational power to validate transactions but it bundles the computers together and everyone gets a fraction of the reward. This prevents energy consumption for nothing and leads to an energy consumption decrease of more than 99.9%. Figure 3 summarizes the timeline of the merge. While it is unlikely that there will be a large move in ETH immediately after it takes place (assuming it works well), such events have historically been followed by strong performances of the underlying chains. One example is the introduction of the Beacon chain in December 2020, after which ETH rose from $400 to almost $4,000 in less than six months. Cryptocurrencies were relatively stable and gained slightly over the past weeks. Bitcoin is currently trading at $22k and ETH is valued at $1,750.