Another 'F' falls
Foreign crisis joins two other "Fs" affecting markets: fiscal policy and Fed.
Regular readers of our market memos know that one of the risks that we’ve cited for equities is the potential for our soft response on Afghanistan provoking action elsewhere, including Ukraine. Well, we got that this week, and then some. A broad-based Russian invasion beyond Ukraine’s eastern border areas already has the country’s capital of Kyiv reportedly in Russian sights. Seeing and imagining the suffering of the Ukrainian people is leaving many of us simply speechless; this kind of naked, unprovoked aggression of one country against another is in some ways unprecedented since World War II. On the other hand, this was precisely one of the scenarios we and others were concerned about after the Afghanistan debacle.
It’s too soon to say with certainty how this plays out. In the very near term, implications for markets are more uncertainty and volatility as tail risks get discussed and reassessed. In the intermediate term, it seems likely that we are left with a permanent Russian occupation of Ukraine and a Western response that ratchets ever higher the sanctions against Russia. For now, markets are cheered that Russia’s energy exports have been exempted but we guess over time they won’t be. That means more pressure on the Fed to accelerate its hiking cycle, something we’ve been expecting in any case.
Although the risk of a policy mistake or further geopolitical disruption beyond Ukraine is now higher, we are still of the view that our base case for more stable markets and a resumption of growth later in the year remains the highest probability outcome. If anything, the dampening impact on demand of the increased pressure on energy prices may help the Fed achieve the soft landing we’ve been projecting and lead markets towards our optimistic year-end outlook of 5,300 on the S&P 500. But volatility should remain higher in the near term, and the hourly drumbeat of the latest news flow out of the Ukraine is likely to only exacerbate that.
Our advice to clients remains to wait for better levels to reinvest the cash we raised in our balanced portfolio models last September and again in January. Markets still need to digest a more hawkish Fed, and pressure on interest rates and therefore growth stock valuations should remain high. Value portfolios, holding stocks with lower valuations, more defensive businesses and inflation beneficiaries should continue to outperform, along with the entire energy complex.