GLOBAL WEEKLY COMMENTARY

A lopsided energy transition

Key points

Surging coal and gas prices
The economic restart has laid bare a lopsided transition toward low-carbon energy that has amplified a surge in coal and natural gas prices.
Market backdrop
U.S. stocks rallied to all-time highs on better-than-expected corporate earnings. Oil prices hit multi-year highs.
Week ahead
Investors will watch activity and inflation data from the U.S., euro area and Germany for clues on the impact of supply chain disruptions on growth.

Surging natural gas and coal prices amid a powerful economic restart have exposed a lopsided transition toward low-carbon power. We still see an orderly transition in the medium term – but with bumps on the way that could lead to growth and inflation volatility. We expect the transition to reinforce a shift to a higher inflation regime, supporting our new nominal theme that points to a more muted central bank response to rising inflation than in the past.

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Volatile prices

Futures prices of oil, coal and natural gas, 2017-2024

The chart shows coal and natural gas prices have risen more sharply than oil prices. Futures prices indicate much lower coal and gas prices at the end of 2023.

Sources: BlackRock Investment Institute, with data from Refinitiv, October 2021. Notes: Prices are based to 100 at the start of 2017. We use the European Energy Derivatives Exchange futures, ICE Rotterdam coal futures and Brent crude oil futures to represent natural gas, coal and Brent crude oil respectively. The dots show futures prices for contracts that expire in December 2022, December 2023 and December 2024.

The powerful restart has driven up oil prices to multi-year highs, as we argued in the previous Global weekly commentary. Coal and gas prices have surged far more. See the chart above. Why? On top of the restart, a range of weather and geopolitical factors have restricted supplies of coal and renewable energy. It’s been difficult for other sources of power to be brought on stream. This is putting sharp pressure on prices of available sources of power. With governments looking to minimize carbon emissions, gas prices have risen even further than coal. All these events have exposed an underlying issue: The transition to net zero so far has been lopsided, as clean energy investment has not increased enough to make up for the decline in fossil fuel investment. Futures markets are pointing to lower coal and gas prices by the end of next year. Much depends on the temperature in the coming winter. And while the transition remains lopsided, we can expect more volatility of energy prices, inflation and economic activity in future.

For now governments may find themselves compelled to support greater use of fossil fuels – particularly gas – amid energy supply shortages. Natural gas may emit less carbon than oil or coal, but its largest component methane is another potent greenhouse gas. It too will ultimately need to be phased out if the world is to reach net-zero. The phase-out of natural gas and momentum toward net zero therefore rest on accelerating the development of clean energy supply.

There has been massive investment in clean energy – an average of $1 trillion a year between 2016 and 2020 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). More is needed to build a clean, resilient energy infrastructure. A net-zero transition by 2050 will require an average annual investment of nearly $4 trillion between 2026 and 2030, says the IEA. A successful transition will not only need clean energy, but also new technologies to store and distribute clean energy, to decarbonize manufacturing, agriculture and transport, and to capture carbon emissions.

The pace and precise nature of the net-zero transition will be guided by government policy, which will vary across countries. More clarity on climate policies will help encourage the private sector to invest in clean energy and related technologies. That’s why commitments from governments at the upcoming United Nations climate summit (COP26) will be key to watch. The pace of transition around the world will vary by country, and emerging markets are in urgent need of funding for low carbon investment at scale, as we have highlighted in a recent publication The big emerging question.

The bottom line: An orderly – albeit lopsided – net-zero transition will have bumps along the way that could lead to greater inflation and growth volatility. We view the net-zero transition as modestly inflationary overall, and via higher inflation contribute to a new nominal environment (see our investment themes). The transition creates investment opportunities in both public and private markets. Over a strategic horizon we like the sectors that stand to benefit more from the transition, whether for being solution providers or by being less exposed to climate risks, such as tech and healthcare. We also see strategic opportunities in the infrastructure space that are related to the development of new technologies that are needed to reach net zero. We prefer inflation-linked bonds over their nominal counterparts over a strategic horizon due to the inflationary pressure.

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Inflation expectations
The near-term surge in prices so far have had little bearing on inflation expectations. Read more in 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 spot 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 Oct. 21, 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, 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, Refinitiv Datastream U.S. 10-year benchmark government bond index and spot gold.

Market backdrop

U.S. stocks rallied to all-time highs, boosted by better-than-expected corporate earnings. Nearly a quarter of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings so far, and more than 80% of them have beaten expectations, according to Refinitiv. Earnings season reaches a crescendo next week, with 164 companies representing 47% of the S&P 500 market cap due to report earnings, including most of the big-cap tech names. Crude oil prices hit multi-year highs.

Week ahead

Oct 26  –U.S. consumer confidence
Oct 27 U.S. durable goods
Oct 28 –European Central Bank policy decision; U.S. advance Q3 GDP
Oct 29 –Euro area flash inflation and GDP; U.S. personal income and outlays

Market attention this week will be on the flash estimates of GDP for the U.S., euro area and Germany. We will be looking out to assess the impact from supply disruptions on the growth outlook.

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Directional views

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

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

The new normal

 

The powerful restart of economic activity has broadened, with Europe and other major economies catching up with the U.S. We expect a higher inflation regime in the medium term. We see the Fed normalizing policy rates only in 2023 and the European Central Bank standing pat for much longer.

    • The new nominal has largely unfolded in 2021: the rise in long-term yields has been mainly driven by higher market pricing of inflation, with real yields remaining pinned well in negative territory.
    • The Fed has signalled that it is gearing up to start tapering around the end of the year. It appears reluctant to confirm its inflation mandate has been met, and this reinforces our new nominal theme.
    • The ECB has made a significant change to its monetary policy framework by adopting a symmetric inflation target of 2%. We believe this is part of a global trend to relax the constraints in earlier frameworks preventing looser policy.
    • Tactical implication: We are overweight European equities and inflation-linked bonds. We are neutral on U.S. equities. We upgrade EM local-currency debt to modest overweight.​
    • Strategic implication: We remain underweight DM government bonds and prefer equities over credit.
Globalization

 

China is on the path toward greater role of state where social objectives will have primacy over quantity of growth. Yet the 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 ongoing geopolitical tensions, which was underscored by the uncertainty around China’s clampdown on certain industries.
    • Tactical implication: We turn modestly positive on Chinese equities, and maintain an overweight on its debt.​
    • Strategic implication: Given the small benchmark weights and typical client allocation to Chinese assets, allocation would have to increase by multiples before they represent a bullish bet on China, and even more for government bonds.
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 full consequences of the tectonic shift to sustainability are not yet in market prices, in our view. The path is unlikely to be a smooth one – and we see this creating opportunities across investment horizons. ​
    • Certain commodities, such as copper and lithium, will likely see increased demand from the drive to net zero. Yet we think it’s important to distinguish between near-term price drivers of some commodities – notably the economic restart – and the long-term transition that will matter to prices.
    • Climate risk is investment risk, and we also see it as a historic investment opportunity. Our long-run return assumptions now reflect the impact of climate change and use sectors as the relevant unit of investment analysis.
    • Tactical implication: We are overweight the tech sector as we believe it is better positioned for the green transition.​
    • Strategic implication: We like DM equities and the tech sector as a way to play the climate transition.​

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Alex Brazier
Deputy Head – BlackRock Investment Institute
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
Elga Bartsch
Elga Bartsch
Head of Macro Research, BlackRock Investment Institute
Elga Bartsch, PhD, Managing Director, heads up economic and markets research at the Blackrock Investment Institute (BII). BII provides connectivity between BlackRock's ...
Chris Weber
Head of Climate and Sustainability Research - BlackRock Sustainable Investing
Chris Weber, Managing Director, is Head of Climate and Sustainability Research within the BlackRock Sustainable Investing (BSI) team.
Mark Everitt
Head of Investment Research and Strategy - BlackRock Alternative Investors
Mark Everitt, CFA, Managing Director, is Head of Investment Research and Strategy for Blackrock Alternative Investors.