Vanguard Fixed Income Forum 2022: Stability amid the volatility

Markets are now facing heightened turbulence while they were already digesting the gradual economic recovery from Covid-19, normalising monetary policy and rising inflation. Join us to find out what the implications could be for fixed income assets.

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By Shaan Raithatha, economist, Vanguard UK

The initial impact on the global economy from the tragic events in Ukraine will be delivered primarily through higher commodity prices. The higher prices, most notably for energy, will hamper growth and cause broader prices to climb further than previously expected, new analysis by the Vanguard global economics team shows.

Tighter financial conditions, diminished consumer and business confidence, and elevated uncertainty will also have an effect, though to a lesser extent. The economic impact is likely to be more profound in the euro area, given its greater dependence on Russian energy, than in the United States or the United Kingdom.

Persistently higher energy prices and tighter financial conditions could shave up to a percentage point from previously anticipated 2022 growth for the euro area, UK and US. Meanwhile, inflation, as measured by headline consumer price indices, could accelerate by one to three percentage points above what Vanguard previously forecast.

However, it’s important clients appreciate the tremendous uncertainty confronting markets because our analysis is based on conditions at present and the situation is clearly fast-moving.

Rising energy prices likely to weigh on growth and generate higher inflation

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns
Notes: Prices are daily settlement prices for front-month Brent crude futures traded on the Intercontinental Exchange in London and for front-month West Texas Intermediate crude futures traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Sources: Vanguard illustration, using data from Bloomberg as of March 2, 2022.

Prices of benchmark oil futures trading in both London and New York are up more than 45% since the start of the year and more than 20% since a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reflecting both oil’s greater perceived risk and concerns about restrictions on supply.

Persistently higher energy prices affect growth because it leaves consumers with less to spend on other things. They also weigh on profit margins, leaving businesses less to reinvest.

How long high energy prices persist, and to what degree, will be vital to informing whether our views move from our baseline case to a downside of even slower growth and higher inflation. For conditions to deteriorate to the point of ushering in a recession, oil prices would need to climb to a range of $130 to $150 a barrel for several quarters and financial conditions would need to tighten broadly, our analysis shows. In this case, Vanguard would expect developed-market inflation to average more than 8% for all of 2022.

Growth and inflation effects would be felt more acutely in the euro area, which gets 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia1, than in the UK or the US, which use much less Russian energy.

Central bank policy decisions hang in the balance

The developments in Ukraine present central banks with a pertinent challenge: Do they continue down the path toward tighter monetary policy to fight even higher inflation, or do they pause and take stock given the new risks to growth?

Vanguard currently doesn’t expect recent developments to materially affect US Federal Reserve and Bank of England policy stances. The Fed’s chair told Congress on 2 March that a hike in the federal funds rate target at the Fed’s March 16 meeting remained appropriate, though he did acknowledge concern over events unfolding in Ukraine.

The European Central Bank (ECB), meanwhile, meets sooner, on 10 March. We haven’t changed our expectations for a late-2022 ECB rate hike, though we’ll be watching developments closely.

Our view is that recent events and the accompanying uncertainty have the potential to make the ECB more cautious. This will skew the balance of risks toward the ECB Governing Council delaying its normalisation of monetary policy. The ECB will also stand ready to provide additional liquidity should the proper functioning of markets be impaired.

 

1 Source: Eurostat, the European Union’s official statistical agency.

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