Volatility has arisen as we expected it eventually would, and September is often an apt month to rediscover risk given market participants’ return from summer vacations noting that record high equity markets do not quite square with a number of significant risk events on the near-term horizon.
As we contemplate a post-pandemic world, it is becoming more likely that things will not return to “normal” as we once knew it. While vaccines have been highly successful in preventing serious illness in those who are still contracting the virus, the Delta variant of COVID-19 is also proving to be harder to contain.
Cross-asset pricing has recently been challenging our reflationary outlook. When we first discussed the prospects for reflation about a year ago, we identified a number of key factors.
The US and China are likely reaching peak growth as stimulus and the initial burst of pent-up demand begin to wane. In China, while the credit impulse has turned negative—usually an ominous sign—demand continues to normalise, shifting from outsized demand in manufacturing back to normal patterns of consumption with authorities still fine-tuning the extension of credit to the parts of the real economy that need it.
Despite very bumpy economic data—particularly on inflation—rates have compressed, implying most of the “surprises” have already been priced in. This is positive for growth assets that respond better to yield curve stability than the sudden steepening that defined the first quarter.
The US Treasury (UST) market has been an important barometer of the reflation trade for markets this year. Most asset classes have performed in line with movements in UST yields as correlations, whether positive or negative, remain strong.
As reflationary dynamics gain support from refreshed stimulus in the US and a largely successful vaccine rollout with returning growth already to show for it, the reflation trade appears a bit exhausted as measured by market action. However, we see the current dynamic more as a pause than a conclusion.
The strong start to the year for global equity markets hit its first bump in the road in February. While most countries are still delivering a positive return for the year, markets have retreated from their highs to varying degrees.
Markets have become choppy, particularly toward month-end, and we expect more of the same given the nearly unrelenting strong run in risk assets since late March 2020 that gained fresh momentum early in November following the US elections.
2020 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year of the pandemic. While in financial market terms it is now tempting to think of COVID-19 as old news, the virus still presents substantial risks to the economic outlook.