Taking Advantage of Volatility


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Key points

  • Risk opportunities: We could see more temporary risk-off episodes in light summer trading, and would view them as opportunities to re-adjust portfolios to a pro-risk stance.
  • Dovish ECB: The European Central Bank delivered a dovish tilt in its guidance on interest rates, likely to be followed by an increase in its asset purchases.
  • Fed watch: All eyes will be on the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting this week, with the central bank unlikely to flag an imminent tapering of asset purchases.

Market volatility is on the rise, as worries about new virus strains have been exacerbated by stretched positioning and light summer trading. Recent swings in market sentiment reflect the unusually wide range of potential outcomes beyond the current economic restart, in our view. Market overreactions may create opportunities to readjust portfolios to a pro-risk stance as we maintain high conviction in our new nominal investment theme that implies low real yields.

Negative real yields underpin equities

Sources: BlackRock Investment Institute, with data from Refinitiv DataStream, July 2021. Notes: The purple line represents the nominal 10-year U.S. Treasury yield. The yellow line is the real, or inflation-adjusted, yield. The red line is the 10-year breakeven inflation rate, or the average inflation rate over the next decade implied by the pricing of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities. Indexes are unmanaged. Index performance returns do not reflect any management fees, transaction costs or expenses. It is not possible to invest in an index.

Market sentiment has been swinging between extremes: One week the concern is runaway inflation; the next it’s the prospect of a deflationary spiral. Most recently, bond markets appear to have ignored the latest strong U.S. employment and inflation data, and are focusing more on virus fears. Real, or inflation-adjusted, yields have dropped back toward historic lows, as the chart shows. The drop in nominal yields was likely exacerbated by foreign buying and short covering – or investors forced to close out bets that yields would head higher. Shifting sentiment drove equity market volatility too – with large sectoral moves that quickly reversed.

The big picture: We believe these swings are to be expected, given the wide range of potential outcomes beyond the current restart of economic activity. In a noisy and unprecedented economic restart, having an anchor is all the more important. We stick to our new nominal investment theme: Major central banks are slower to respond to rising inflation than in the past, keeping nominal bond yields lower and real rates negative – a positive for risk assets.

We believe the powerful restart of economic activity remains the key story for markets, and it’s too early to make the determination that new virus strains will derail this. The evidence on vaccines is still consistent with their expected effectiveness, in our view, as reflected in hospitalizations significantly lagging the recent rise in cases due to the delta variant. Rising cases in the U.S. are to be expected – given the swift reopening and the emergence of the delta variant. The increase in cases in Europe has come quicker than many foresaw, yet pressure on hospitals is limited so far. The UK remains a test case to monitor — and we are watching for a decline in the rate of growth of new cases after a recent spike. Asian and emerging market economies struggling with vaccination rollouts are suffering most in terms of health outcomes and mobility restrictions. Yet vaccines remain the way out, barring vaccine-resistant variants or new evidence on vaccine effectiveness, in our view. Stay up-to-date with our Covid tracker.

While virus dynamics are uncertain, we remain confident that the policy paradigm has changed: many central banks are now attempting in different ways to overshoot inflation targets to make up for past misses. Our analysis suggests the drop in yields since May was primarily due to a decline in the term premium – the additional compensation that investors demand for moving further out the yield curve in duration. This represents a partial unwinding of a spike in the term premium seen since mid last year. We have also seen a reversal in market expectations of the U.S. “terminal” rate – or the neutral rate consistent with the Fed’s objectives. Markets are pricing in around four quarter percentage point rate hikes by 2025, roughly half what they priced in April – moving back toward our new nominal theme.

The bottom line? We believe the economic restart is real – but it is a restart, and will eventually taper back to the pre-covid trend. We see nominal yields rising far less in response to inflation than during similar episodes in the past. Yet still believe the direction of travel should be higher for nominal yields – and this is why we remain underweight Treasuries and government bonds overall, both on a tactical and strategic basis. Negative real interest rates provide a positive backdrop for equities, in our view. Markets may overreact to economic data and other news flow with thin liquidity in the summer, amid an unusually wide range of macro outcomes, in our view. Yet for now we see the restart intact and the new nominal holding – and would consider any temporary sell-offs as opportunities to readjust portfolios into a pro-risk stance.

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Originally Posted on July 19, 2021 – Taking Advantage of Volatility

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