GLOBAL WEEKLY COMMENTARY

Staying invested amid new virus strain

Key points

Staying invested
We stay invested for now as a new virus strain and European COVID surge are hurting risk sentiment. Any delay of the powerful restart now means more later.
Market backdrop
U.S. jobs numbers will give investors the latest read on the U.S. labor market, a key focus for the Fed after it already reached its inflation target.
Week ahead
U.S. jobs numbers will give investors the latest read on the U.S. labor market, a key focus for the Fed after it already reached its inflation target.

A new, highly contagious, virus strain could trigger growth downgrades, worsen risk sentiment and have significant sectoral impact. We are concerned about the human toll and expect renewed restrictions on activity. We still favor equities for now, but would change our stance if vaccines or were to prove futile. If they are effective, the strain only delays the restart oftreatments economic activity, and we would lean against any stock market pullbacks. Less growth now means more later.

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Low rates, for real

U.S. and German 10-year government real bond yields, 2011-2021

The chart shows U.S. and German 10-year government bond yields had edged up before virus news but are still hovering near record lows.

Sources: BlackRock Investment Institute, with data from Refinitiv Datastream, November 2021. Notes: charts show the yield on U.S. and German 10-year benchmark inflation-linked government bonds.

News of a contagious new virus strain called Omicron and an ongoing COVID surge in Europe have hurt risk sentiment.  We see this affecting services dependent on economic activity, but are less concerned about the broad macro picture for now. Vaccine campaigns so far have proven effective and versatile. It would be a game changer if the new strain were to significantly compromise vaccine effectiveness and question the restart, but there is no evidence of this yet. Government restrictions will be lighter and more targeted than previous lockdowns, we believe, and their effect on economic activity has been waning as the world has adapted. See our COVID-19 tracker for the latest trends. Most importantly, we still see negative real, or inflation-adjusted, yields supporting equities. Real yields had edged up before the virus news but are still hovering near record lows, as the chart shows. The reason is a more muted response to inflation, thanks to fiscal–monetary coordination to bridge the virus shock and central bank policies of letting inflation run a bit hot. We expect real yields to rise from here, but stay at historically low levels in the inflationary environment. This makes equities valuations look better than they otherwise would, and challenges cash and nominal bonds.

The emergence of Omicron caused government bond yields to fall sharply late last week, but we believe the direction of travel is still up. We see the Fed starting to gradually raise rates in 2022 as the economy no longer requires stimulus -  assuming the virus strain does not derail the economic restart. This would push yields higher across the spectrum, keeping the outlook challenging for nominal bonds. We believe equities offer higher risk-adjusted returns and a potential buffer against inflation risks – especially as we see rates rising less than in previous hiking cycles – and less than markets expect.

We recently stress-tested this thesis as risks have risen that policymakers or markets misread the current spike in inflation. Inflation expectations could spiral upward or, conversely, central banks could tighten prematurely. Both scenarios would suggest higher policy rates than our base case, and spell trouble for both stocks and bonds. If the Fed were to react to inflation just like it has done in the past, it would start raising rates much faster and to a higher level than markets currently expect. This would abruptly end the monetary and fiscal policy revolution that has brought about massive debt levels and a higher tolerance for inflation – and turn us neutral on equities on a strategic horizon, as we explain in our latest Portfolio perspectives publication for professional investors.

We don’t think such a scenario is likely, as it would require the Fed to abandon or completely reinterpret its new policy framework. What really matters for long-term investors is the sum total of growth and rate increases, we believe, rather than the individual parts or timing. This applies to both COVID-related risks that slow the restart and to the Fed’s rate trajectory. It’s why our core strategic asset views - a broad preference for equities over nominal government bonds and credit -  have remained stable through the noisy restart. Importantly, we see government bonds offering less portfolio diversification against equity selloffs than in the past at their historically low yield levels. 

The bottom line: Omicron could trigger growth downgrades, worsen risk sentiment and hit services sectors, especially in the near term. It could even question the restart if vaccines or treatments were to prove ineffective. If they are effective, the new strain only delays the restart, and we don’t see it changing the otherwise solid picture for equities: a powerful restart and the prospect of continued low real rates. We are leaning against COVID-related stock pullbacks for now as a result. 

Fed meets its inflation mandate
Average U.S. inflation now stands at 2.19%. The Fed has clearly met its inflation mandate, but is this enough to start hiking rates? Read our macro insights.
BlackRock Investment Institute Macro insights

Assets in review

Selected asset performance, 2021 year-to-date and range

The chart shows that Brent crude oil is the best performing asset so far this year among a selected group of assets, while Gold 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 Nov. 25, 2021. 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 U.S. dollars, and the rest in local currencies. Indexes or prices used are, in descending order: spot Brent crude, MSCI USA Index, MSCI Europe Index, ICE U.S. Dollar Index (DXY), MSCI Emerging Markets Index, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global High Yield Index, J.P. Morgan EMBI Index, spot gold, Refinitiv Datastream Italy 10-year benchmark government bond index, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Broad Corporate Index, Refinitiv Datastream Germany 10-year benchmark government bond index and Refinitiv Datastream U.S. 10-year benchmark government bond index.

Market backdrop

Stocks and bond yields fell on news of the new virus strain late last week. Earlier in the week, yields had risen after Jerome Powell was nominated to a second term as Fed chair and Fed board member Lael Brainard as vice chair. This prompted the market to price out more dovish policy under a Brainard Fed. We expect the Fed’s interpretation of its employment objective to determine the timing of the kick-off on rates and their pace. We see inflation dropping from current levels and settling at a level higher than pre-COVID in 2022, as we expect a historically muted policy response to inflation.

Week ahead

Nov 30  – China manufacturing PMI, euro area HICP flash, U.S. consumer confidence
Dec 1 U.S. ISM manufacturing PMI
Dec 3  – U.S. unemployment rate and non- farm payrolls

U.S. payroll and unemployment data will be in focus this week, given the labor market’s relevance for the Fed’s rate decisions going forward. The Fed’s inflation target has been met, so now the key is how the Fed will interpret the other side of its mandate – full employment. The timing and trajectory of rate increases will depends on this. We see the Fed raising rates only in the middle of 2022 and expect a shallower rate path than in the past as part of a more muted response to inflation.

Directional views

Strategic (long-term) and tactical (6-12 month) views on broad asset classes, November 2021

Note: Views are from a U.S. dollar perspective, August 2021. 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, November 2021

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 U.S. 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.

 

Read details about our investment themes and more in our 2021 Global outlook.

The new normal

 

Inflation is being driven by the unusual restart dynamics of extraordinary demand bumping up against supply bottlenecks. We expect many supply-demand imbalances to resolve next year. We see inflation as persistent into 2022, moderating from today’s elevated levels to settle at higher levels than before COVID.

    • The policy response to rising inflation isn’t uniform. The Fed and the ECB are more tolerant of inflation. Other developed market central banks have signaled policy rate paths with steeper initial increases.
    • We have moved forward our expectation for the Fed to start raising interest rates to next year – if not as soon as the market pricing. But what really matters is the policy rate trajectory, not just the first hike. We expect the most muted policy response to inflation in decades.
    • The Fed said it will start tapering bond purchases in November, trimming them by $15 billion a month. The central bank may have achieved its new inflation goal to make up for past misses, but will likely still keep rates low to achieve its more ambitious full employment mandate.
    • Tactical implication: We prefer equities and inflation-linked bonds, and are underweight U.S. Treasury bonds.​
    • Strategic implication: We are underweight DM government bonds and prefer equities over credit.
Globalization

 

China has emphasized social objectives and quality growth over the quantity of growth in a series of regulatory crackdowns that have spooked some investors. Yet a growth slowdown has hit levels policymakers can no longer ignore, and we expect to see incremental loosening across three pillars - monetary, fiscal and regulatory.

    • We believe investors should be mindful of the ongoing U.S.-China strategic competition, which was underscored by the uncertainty around China’s clampdown on certain industries.
    • Tactical implication: We are modestly positive on Chinese equities and are overweight government bonds.​
    • Strategic implication: We are underweight DM government bonds and prefer equities over credit.
Turbocharged transformations

 

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.

    • Sustainability cuts across multiple dimensions: the outlook for inflation, geopolitics and policy. The green transition comes with costs, yet the economic outlook is unambiguously brighter than a scenario of no climate action.
    • Risks around a disorderly transition are high – particularly if execution fails to match governments’ ambitions to cut emissions. Policy remains the main tool. Some carbon-heavy companies already are changing their business models, independent of regulatory and political outcomes, creating potential investment opportunities.
    • Risks around a disorderly transition are high – particularly if execution fails to match governments’ ambitions to cut emissions. Policy remains the main tool. Some carbon-heavy companies already are changing their business models, independent of regulatory and political outcomes, creating potential investment opportunities.
    • Commodities such as copper and lithium will likely see increased demand from the drive to net zero. It’s important to distinguish between near-term drivers of commodities prices – the economic restart – and the long-term transition.
    • Tactical implication: We see opportunities in companies rapidly adapting their business models for net zero.​
    • Strategic implication: We like DM equities and the tech sector as beneficiaries of the climate transition.​

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Read our past weekly commentaries here.

Jean Boivin
Jean Boivin
Head of BlackRock Investment Institute
Jean Boivin, PhD, Managing Director, is the Head of the BlackRock Investment Institute (BII). The institute leverages BlackRock’s expertise and produces proprietary ...
Wei Li
Wei Li
Global Chief Investment Strategist - BlackRock Investment Institute
Wei Li, Managing Director, is Global Chief Investment Strategist at the BlackRock Investment Institute (BII), where she leads its team of investment strategists
Vivek Paul FIA
Vivek Paul FIA
Director, Senior Portfolio Strategist for the Portfolio Research Group within the Blackrock Investment Institute (BII)
Vivek Paul, FIA, Director, is Senior Portfolio Strategist for the Portfolio Research Group within the Blackrock Investment Institute (BII). The BII leverages BlackRock’s ...
Elga Bartch
Head of Macro Research
Elga Bartsch, PhD, Managing Director, heads up economic and markets research at the Blackrock Investment Institute (BII).

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