Market Insights

21 MAR 2022

Inez Chow
Inez Chow

Chief Strategist & Co-Head of EAM
(Private Asset Management)

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Key takeaways
  • The Federal Reserve raised interest rates, why did US stocks soar? What is the implementation of this interest rate hike?
  • To raise interest rates seven times this year, where are the risk and opportunity?
  • China: an end to regulatory crackdowns might finally be here?
  • Hong Kong/China market experienced a historical week of extreme volatility, is this just an over-sell rebound or a market reversal is underway?

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates, why did US stocks soar? What is the implementation of this interest rate hike?

US stocks rebounded after the market digested the long-awaited Fed rate hike last week. Investors are now weighing whether the stock market will continue to rebound or there will be more volatility. The S&P rose 6.16% for the week, its biggest weekly gain since November 2020. Investors are optimistic about the growing clarity of the Fed’s monetary policy and the Fed’s encouraging assessment of the US economy.

The Fed raised interest rates by 25 basis points as scheduled, in line with expectations. Although the Fed showed hawkish tendencies, there was no more aggressive surprise action. In the short term, the Fed has sent a signal: both to fight inflation and to avoid recession, to avoid recession, can tolerate some inflation. While the bitmap released at the same time showed that 75% of officials expected to raise interest rates six times after this year, which means they would raise interest rates once in each of the next six meetings. It also hinted that the meeting would begin to shrink the balance sheet as soon as May. Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, said at a news conference after the meeting that high inflation would last longer than expected but the economy was strong enough to cope with the Fed’s monetary tightening and the possibility of recession was not particularly high. The Fed expects core inflation to be 4.1% this year and then fall to 2.6% next year after raising interest rates. They also predict that GDP will grow by 4% this year and fall to 2.2% by 2023. The unemployment rate is expected to fall to 3.5% and remain at this level. The Fed’s forecast for unemployment may be unreasonable but the Fed does want to cool down inflation. This is a systematic move by the Fed as a whole even the most dovish Fed officials.

Ukraine and Russia are global players in the agricultural market, accounting for 53% of the global trade in sunflower oil and sunflower seeds, and 27% of the global trade in wheat. Russia is the world’s second-largest oil exporter, selling about 5 million barrels a day. The Russia-Ukraine conflict could lead to a reduction in Russian oil and gas exports. Conflict-induced increases in food and fuel prices have pushed up inflation in many countries. Airspace restrictions, contractor uncertainty and security concerns are complicating all trade routes through Russia and Ukraine, with freight rates expected due to rising fuel costs, changing trade routes and limited maritime logistics capacity even higher. Trade costs continue to rise. Inflation is difficult to disappear at once. The Fed is bound to use more means to eliminate inflation.

Some economists are sceptical about the Fed’s expectation of raising interest rates seven times. It is a radical interest rate hike but it also raises a question: can the Fed succeed without seriously damaging the economy? Although economists do not explicitly predict a recession, they do see a slowdown in economic growth and the outlook has become more uncertain since Russia’s military action. The crisis in Ukraine has also fuelled inflation because Russia is a major producer of commodities while conflicts and sanctions have raised doubts about the supply of oil, wheat and other major exports. Economists had expected the Fed to be hawkish or aggressive when it raised interest rates for the first time. Many people used to think that the Fed’s decision-making lagged behind because the Fed initially thought that inflation was temporary which has been going on for too long.

We believe that the Fed may raise interest rates several times but it should reconsider its path and economic conditions in the third quarter. If the conflict between Russia and Ukraine improves, inflation and some pressure on the supply chain will ease. Over time, some of the pressure on the supply chain caused by the epidemic may also subside. They are sending the signal as they need to stabilize the market but that would be an open question whether they really take action or not.

To raise interest rates seven times this year, where are the risk and opportunity?

In the short term, the Fed has sent a signal: both to fight inflation and to avoid recession, to avoid recession, can tolerate some inflation. This is what the market wants to see. If the problem of high inflation cannot be solved this year, inflation will be controlled in an “overshoot” way next year and the year after next. This is the Fed’s balanced way of trading the time for room of improvement and it is also the best choice for now.

In the medium term, the Fed’s tolerance of inflation increases the risk of stagflation. If the US economy cannot withstand as many as seven interest rate hikes and faster “contraction”, then a recession is likely to follow. Overall, US monetary tightening will remain the main macro risk point throughout 2022. After the Fed’s balance sheet reduction in May and a high probability of a 50 basis point interest rate hike might occur. The US Treasury 10-year and 2-year yield will begin to invert. The recession will then probably happen at the end of the year. Next year is going to be a tougher year. The rate hike cycle might last till the middle of next year. The massive quantitative easing would eventually lead to severe inflation and curbing hyperinflation will inevitably lead to a recession cycle of about a year and a half (it is predicted that the recession cycle will end in mid-2024, possibly after the US election). 

Raising interest rates, reducing debt and shrinking the balance sheet cannot accurately make the CPI fall back to 2% and end, just like the infinite QE has not controlled the CPI that is about to be 8%. Both of these extreme approaches can lead the economy to extreme scenario that people do not expect. The only thing we have to do is to wait patiently. This is another crisis after 2008 but also another opportunity after 2008. There are risks if Fed officials act as expected. Some economists projected accordingly that the average economic growth in the second half of the year will stop at 1%. This is a semi-hard landing. The Fed faces an extremely daunting challenge and it has to walk a real tightrope between inflation and pushing us into recession. We believe that the Fed is very much going to echo the European Central Bank in trying to offer an element of predictability in what are very uncertain circumstances, while retaining optionality and flexibility. We should be highly alert that not every recession has been caused by an oil price spike but every oil spike has caused a recession. Since Russia plays an important role in global energy supply, the global economy may soon face one of the biggest energy supply shocks in history. Looking to the future, the uncertainty about how to resolve the conflict and oil shortage is unprecedented. This is likely to be a drawn-out affair and will have a sustained impact on commodity prices.

On the bright side, company balance sheets are in fantastic shape. It would be horrible if high debt levels but that is not the case. The only one with high debt is the government. Companies in the S&P 500 have drawn up a USD238 billion share buyback plan for the first two months of 2022, according to Goldman Sachs, analysts recently raised their 2022 share buyback expectations to a record USD1 trillion, up 12% from last year. Corporate share buy-back mechanism: the silent period for major shareholders and executives of Hong Kong stocks to increase their holdings is 2 months before the annual report and 30 days before the interim report and the silent period for the company’s repurchase is 30 days before the annual report. The quiet period for US stocks is one month before the earnings report. At present, most Hong Kong stocks have not officially released their annual reports and the US stocks are in progress. Companies and shareholders cannot repurchase stocks and shorts take advantage of the situation. We believe that this is in addition to the SEC delisting list, the Russian-Ukrainian war and the Sino-US wrestling, an important reason for the continuous plunge last week in the US stocks and Hong Kong stocks.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla said that the company and SpaceX saw significant inflationary pressures. Tesla raised prices again within two weeks to adapt a tight supply-side environment. It showed that Tesla has the ability, like Netflix and Amazon, to pass on inflation that it does not intend to absorb to consumers.

This week’s sharp rise in the stock market is unlikely to quell economic concerns that have sparked bearish sentiment in recent months. The cash allocation of fund managers is at its highest level since April 2020, according to Bank of America Corporation’s monthly survey. Pessimism among retail investors is close to 50%, well above the historical average of 30%. Surely the signs of widespread pessimism, such as high cash levels and pessimism, are often seen as contrarian indicators good for the stock market. In fact, hedge funds have recently been buying up cyclical stocks, which tend to perform strongly when economic growth is strong.

China: an end to regulatory crackdowns might finally be here?

On March 16, the Financial Stability and Development Committee of the State Council held a special meeting to study the current economic situation and capital market issues. Liu he, member of the political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, Vice-Premier of the State Council and director of the Financial Committee, presided over the meeting. This meeting of the Financial Committee can be described as a “reassurance” to remove the gloomy outlook of the current complex situation. The meeting actively introduced policies beneficial to the market and the stable development of the capital market could be expected. The meeting pointed out that “monetary policy should take the initiative to respond and new loans should maintain moderate growth.” Loosening credit and liquidity will continue to move forward and monetary policy is more likely to be looser in 2022 than in 2021.

We see the formal communication by the State Council that might mark a pause, if not an end, to further regulatory crackdowns for the rest of the year. Specifically, the State Council emphasized the need for better policy coordination and for caution to be given to any regulatory changes that might be contractionary. Of course, as we mentioned previously, implementation is key to reducing regulatory uncertainty and effective implementation is not guaranteed. However, we interpret the official announcement as the crucial first step toward a more stable regulatory environment. There are still downside risks facing the Chinese economy. For instance, the recently initiated Covid-19 lockdowns are an evolving downside risk. The regions currently under fairly restrictive lockdowns, which can change on short notice. Yet economic activities in the affected regions have not completely halted, as China has gotten better over the past two years in imposing lockdowns. We need to continue to monitor the development.

Hong Kong/China market experienced a historical week of extreme volatility, is this just an over-sell rebound or a market reversal is underway?

Since the beginning of the year in 2022, negative factors such as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, expectations of raising interest rates and tighter regulation have continued, market sentiment has dropped to the lowest point and global technology stocks have fallen endlessly. Amid the spread of panic, fund flow has also started a selling pattern, with the Hang Seng Technology Index down more than 50% from its high in February last year. At a time when the market was in the doldrums, a series of good news stimulated Hong Kong stocks to rebound. The boots of the Federal Reserve in raising interest rates abroad fell to the ground, meanwhile, US stocks soared collectively and the situation in Russia and Ukraine became more stable; the domestic Financial Committee delivered a major speech to give the stock market a shot in the arm, while brewing measures to crack down on malicious short sellers. The gloomy market saw a glimmer of hope and risk sentiment was reversed.

Looking back on the current round of Hong Kong stock slump, the first round of decline began in early 2021 because of strict regulation of disorderly expansion of capital. At the beginning of this year, the financial results caused by strict supervision was lower than expected, such as, resulting in the second round of valuation correction. However, the two-day slump since the beginning of last week can no longer be explained by fundamentals, most likely it was caused by liquidity issues. Russian stock market is closed and the MSCI emerging markets index funds had to withdraw money from the other most liquid markets such as Hong Kong market and China A shares in the face of huge redemptions from customers, this triggered the sharply and rapid sell off in the market.

However, looking back at history, after the market gradually included extreme situations in expectations and prices, there were often twists and turns and the apocalyptic situation that had been feared did not become a reality and the market significantly repaired it later. Therefore, at this stage, while keeping the risk alert, investors still need to remain calm and look for certainty in the uncertainty on the edge of the cliff. Hang Seng Index at 20,000 points is a medium-term watershed for Hong Kong stocks. Below this level, there will be a defensive area of bulls. Although short-term fluctuations have not disappeared, there is already a good margin of safety in the long term. Over the past 30 years, Hong Kong stocks have experienced ups and downs, large and small external international events. Every time, some people say, “this time is different” but each time it cannot change the upward trend of Hong Kong stocks. The only difference is the length of time spent in the process. Do not underestimate the strength of Hong Kong stocks’ decline but also do not underestimate the capacity of Hong Kong stocks to counter attack.

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Inez Chow

Chief Strategist &

Co-Head of EAM

(Private Asset Management)
  • Responsible Officer of SFC Licenses (Type 1, 4, 9 regulated activities)
With two decades of experience in investment management, Inez is a seasoned investment professional, well-versed in global financial markets. At VSFG, Inez is responsible for thought leadership in forecasting and creating investment recommendations for institutional and high-net-worth clients to align with their individual investment profiles. She specializes in macro analysis and forming predictive thematic investment ideas in global markets, and then aligning those high conviction ideas by recommending the optimal investment vehicles aimed to capture the best risk-adjusted returns for clients.
Prior to joining VSFG, Inez was an Investment Director at a major global asset management firm, focused on developing investment strategies and managing portfolios of family offices and high-net-worth clients. She also managed a flagship fund which produced returns that consistently outperformed the market over many years.


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