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A rebalancing act to reduce risk

Market take

Weekly video_20220509

Wei Li

Opening frame: What’s driving markets? Market take

Title slide: A rebalancing act to reduce risk

Camera frame

We have reduced our overall portfolio level risk-taking on account of a worsening macro outlook.  

Title slide:  3 reasons we reduce risk

1. Commodity price shock

2. Growth outlook in China

3. Growth-inflation tradeoff

Number 1: The fallout from [the] commodity price shock.

Number 2: A worsening growth outlook in China.

Number 3: Our assessment of the central bank reality that the growth-inflation tradeoff means that there will not be a goldilocks scenario ahead.

Outro frame: Here’s our Market take

1: Upgrading to neutral 

Europe government bonds Investment grade credit

We are bringing up our significant underweight to European government bonds and investment grade credit to neutral as we now see tactical opportunities there.

Camera frame:

Market pricing for rate hikes has become too hawkish especially in [the] euro area and this comes after we lowered our conviction to European equities earlier last quarter.

2: Downgrading to neutral 

China equities China government bonds

We are also downgrading our views on China assets including China government bonds from modestly overweight to neutral as we view this asset class as being more risky.

Camera frame:

Now, importantly we are keeping the underweight to U.S. Treasuries as we expect [the] term premium to return and also  [the yield] curve to steepen and we are also keeping our overweight in U.S equities and Japanese equities as they remain more attractive than bonds.

Closing frame: Read details:

Reducing risk

We slightly reduce risk on a worsening macro outlook. We upgrade European government bonds and investment grade credit, and downgrade Chinese assets.

Market backdrop

The Fed raised rates by 0.5% last week – the largest increase since 2000 – and signaled similar rises ahead. Long-term yields shot up and stocks gyrated.

Week ahead

Data this week may show increasing US. core inflation on likely higher services and housing costs. We see inflation settling at a higher level than pre-Covid.

We nudge down risk on a worsening macro outlook: the commodities price shock and a growth slowdown in China. We also see little chance of a perfect economic scenario of low inflation and growth humming along. Last week’s market rout shows investors are adjusting to this reality. We upgrade investment grade (IG) credit and European government bonds to neutral as we see opportunities there. We downgrade Chinese assets and Asia fixed income as we consider them riskier now.

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Chart of the week

Yield on offer

Global investment grade corporate yield, 2002-2022

The chart shows that the yield for global investment grade corporate credit (red line) is nearing 4%, the highest level in a decade. That's being driven by driven by a rise in Treasury yields (the pink area in the chart) and a widening of spreads (yellow areas).

Sources: BlackRock Investment Institute with data from Refinitiv Datastream and Bloomberg,  May 2022. Notes: The chart shows the yield of the Bloomberg Global Aggregate–Corporate Index broken into option-adjusted spread  (yellow) and corresponding Treasury yield (pink).

Bonds are generally not attractive in inflationary times, and we remain overall underweight the asset class. Yet this year’s dramatic sell-off has restored some value in pockets of the market, in our view. First, we have warmed up to European government bonds because we believe market expectations of rate hikes by the European Central Bank (ECB) are too hawkish. We see the energy shock hitting Europe hard - and causing the ECB to move very slowly in normalising policy. We also see the asset class as a buffer against the growth shock, after downgrading European equities in March. Second, we are seeing some value in IG credit as annual coupon income is nearing 4%. That’s the highest in a decade, as the red line in the chart shows, driven by a rise in Treasury yields (the pink area in the chart) and a widening of spreads (yellow). Crucially, we remain underweight US. Treasuries. We see the yield curve steepening on further rises in long-term yields as investors want more compensation for holding long-term bonds amid inflation.

The big picture

The Ukraine war, a global energy shock and the risk the Fed tries to fight the supply-driven inflation have sparked a reassessment of macro scenarios among market participants. The root cause is inflation in a world shaped by supply. It started with the supply shock from the restart of economic activity. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine added a broad commodities price shock on top of that. The Fed and other central banks are facing a tough choice now: suppressing supply-driven inflation means raising rates so high that they destroy growth and jobs. We believe the Fed ultimately won’t raise rates beyond neutral - a level that neither stimulates nor decreases economic activity – to avoid such a scenario. This means it will have to live with inflation that we see settling at a higher level than pre-Covid. We believe the eventual sum total of rate hikes will be historically low, given the level of inflation. This means we still favor equities over fixed income.

At the same time, we recognize risks have risen. The commodities price shock is set to hit growth, especially in Europe and emerging markets that are commodities importers. The Fed rightly is fast normalising policy but could slam the brakes on the economy if it chooses to fight inflation. It’s tough to see a perfect outcome. Getting inflation down to pre-Covid levels likely means recession, as the Bank of England warned last week. And the growth outlook for China, the world’s second-largest economy, is quickly deteriorating amid widespread lockdowns in an attempt to halt the spread of Covid.

We are downgrading Chinese stocks and bonds to neutral on the deteriorating macro outlook. We see a growing geopolitical concern over Beijing’s ties to Russia. This means foreign investors could face more pressure to avoid Chinese assets for regulatory or other reasons. We previously kept our modest overweight on Chinese assets because we saw improved valuations making up for the risks. The rapidly worsening outlook for China’s growth on widespread lockdowns to curtail a COVID spike has changed this. Lockdowns are set to curtail economic activity. China’s policymakers have heralded easing to prevent a growth slowdown – but have yet to fully act. And yields on Chinese government bonds have fallen below those on US. Treasuries amid policy divergence, eroding their previous appeal as a source of potential coupon income.

The bottom line

We are nudging down risk amid the commodities price shock, deteriorating growth in China and tough trade-offs for central banks. We upgrade European government bonds and IG credit to neutral as we see tactical opportunities there. We downgrade Chinese assets to neutral due to geopolitical concerns and a worsening macro outlook. Overall, we remain overweight equities, with a preference for US. and Japanese stocks, and underweight US. Treasuries.  

Market backdrop

The S&P 500 plunged to new 2022 lows last week to clock its worst month since the pandemic’s sell-off in March 2020. We believe stocks can do well in the inflationary backdrop - but acknowledge other mounting challenges such as the energy shock and China’s growth slowdown. The US economy unexpectedly contracted in the first quarter, but consumer and business spending showed strength. We believe the economic restart is still in full swing. See our Macro insights. 

The Fed is likely to raise its policy rate by 0.5% this week to 0.75-1%, while the Bank of  England is poised to hike another 0.25%. Fed Chair Jerome Powell may reiterate his tough talk talk on reining in inflation. We think the Fed will quickly lift policy rates through 2022 but ultimately will re-assess before going beyond neutral levels that destroy growth and jobs.

Week ahead

The chart shows that Brent crude oil is the best performing asset this year to date among a selected group of assets, while Hard-currency EM debt is the worst.

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of current or future results. Indexes are unmanaged and do not account for fees. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Sources: BlackRock Investment Institute, with data from Refinitiv Datastream as of May 5, 2022. Notes: The two ends of the bars show the lowest and highest returns at any point this year to date, and the dots represent current year-to-date returns. Emerging market (EM), high yield and global corporate investment grade (IG) returns are denominated in US. dollars, and the rest in local currencies. Indexes or prices used are: spot Brent crude, ICE US. Dollar Index (DXY), spot gold, MSCI Emerging Markets Index, MSCI Europe Index, Refinitiv Datastream 10-year benchmark government bond index (US., Germany and Italy), Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global High Yield Index, J.P. Morgan EMBI Index, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Broad Corporate Index and MSCI USA Index.

May 9

China trade data

May 10

Germany ZEW survey; China credit and money data

May 11

consumer prices; China consumer and producer prices

May 12

UK GDP release

Read our past weekly commentaries here.

Investment themes


Living with inflation

Central banks are facing a growth-inflation trade-off. If they hike interest rates too much, they risk triggering a recession. If they tighten not enough, the risk becomes runaway inflation. It’s tough to see a perfect outcome.


Cutting Through confusion

We had thought the unique mix of events – the restart of economic activity, virus strains, supply-driven inflation and new central bank frameworks – could cause markets and policymakers to misread the current surge in inflation.


Navigating net zero

Climate risk is investment risk, and the narrowing window for governments to reach net-zero goals means that investors need to start adapting their portfolios today. The net-zero journey is not just a 2050 story; it's a now story.

Directional views

Strategic (long-term) and tactical (6-12 month) views on broad asset classes, May 2022

Legend Granular

Note: Views are from a US dollar perspective. This material represents an assessment of the market environment at a specific time and is not intended to be a forecast of future events or a guarantee of future results. This information should not be relied upon by the reader as research or investment advice regarding any particular funds, strategy or security.

Our granular views indicate how we think individual assets will perform against broad asset classes. We indicate different levels of conviction.

Tactical granular views

Six to 12-month tactical views on selected assets vs. broad global asset classes by level of conviction, May 2022

Legend Granular

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of current or future results. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Note: views are from a US dollar perspective. This material represents an assessment of the market environment at a specific time and is not intended to be a forecast or guarantee of future results. This information should not be relied upon as investment advice regarding any particular fund, strategy or security.

Jean Boivin
Head – BlackRock Investment Institute
Wei Li
Global Chief Investment Strategist – BlackRock Investment Institute
Alex Brazier
Deputy Head – BlackRock Investment Institute
Scott Thiel
Chief Fixed Income Strategist – BlackRock Investment Institute

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Sources: Bloomberg unless otherwise specified.

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