Market Insights

22 August 2022

Inez Chow
Inez Chow

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

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Key takeaways
  • The critical moment, the Federal Reserve Jackson Hole annual meeting is coming, will the market usher in a surprise or shock?
  • What might Powell say at the next annual meeting?
  • Upcoming accelerating the speed of balance sheet contraction may lead to an increase in market volatility
  • Extreme pessimism shows signs of reversal
  • Oil market: OPEC downgraded its crude oil demand forecast to warn of oversupply this quarter
  • Berkshire just announced that they are interested in buying up to 50% of shares in Occidental Petroleum
  • China: July retail sales data

The critical moment, the Federal Reserve Jackson Hole annual meeting is coming, will the market usher in a surprise or shock ?

The annual Jackson Hole global central bank meeting is set to hit this Friday, August 26, amid an increasingly fierce game between the market and the Fed.  Traders have reduced their bets on a Fed rate cut in 2023 over the past week.  For most of the past year, investors who bought long-term Treasuries and bet on a flattened yield curve have been winners, with longer-term Treasuries yielding well below the shorter-term yields as traders expected a series of measures by the Fed to raise interest rates sharply in response to persistently high inflation.  But whether the deal continues to win, that is a flatter curve depends not only on how many more interest rate hikes will be made, but also on the economic consequences of continued rate hikes and the Fed’s tolerance for pain.  

Now many investors seem to have concluded that the Fed will soon end monetary tightening and will cut interest rates in 2023 in response to the economic slowdown. The result is a rebound in the stock and bond markets, undermining the Fed’s efforts to fight inflation.  But as a number of senior Fed officials have recently made hawkish remarks, they seem to be setting the tone for Powell’s speech. There is growing speculation that Powell will adopt a tough tone that runs counter to current market expectations at this annual meeting.

What might Powell say at the next annual meeting ?

From “inflation is too low” in 2020 to “inflation is temporary” in 2021, Powell may mentions: inflation is excessive in 2022. At the annual meeting of global central banks a year ago, global investors were listening carefully to every words of Powell’s speech in order to gain insight into the prospects for economic growth, inflation and monetary policy in a highly uncertain environment.  But it turns out that many of his assessments last year were wrong, so it will be difficult for him to be convincing in this year’s annual speech. But he will try for the Fed’s efforts to curb inflation.  In his speech in 2021, Powell was wrong in several important respects. He asserted that the incipient surge in inflation was “probably temporary”, that low unemployment “underestimated the weakness of the labour market” and that “we see little evidence that wage increases could lead to excessive inflation”. He endorsed the more inflation-tolerant monetary policy framework that adopted by the Fed in 2020, which was “well suited to today’s challenges”.

Powell clearly hopes that this year’s speech will be more prescient and is expected to emphasize three themes: 1) The U.S. economy still has momentum to move forward, the labor market is extremely tight and inflation is unacceptably high. 2) The Fed must further tighten monetary policy to restrain the economy and ease the pressure on the labor market. 3) The Fed will not relax unless it has taken measures long enough to achieve its 2% inflation target.  Powell might make it clear even if the Fed shifts to a smaller rate hike in the coming months, it does not necessarily mean a lower peak.  As the Fed narrows the gap between current and target interest rates, it may be able to move towards its ultimate consensus goal in a more cautious manner. From 2004 to 2006, for example, the Fed raised interest rates by 25 basis points 17 times in a row, raising its benchmark interest rate from 1% to 5.25%. The pace of tightening has little to do with the peak interest rates will reach.

Fed officials remain wary of persistently high inflation and a “very tight” labor market, according to the minutes of the Fed meeting released last Wednesday. In order to cool inflation and stabilize consumer inflation expectations, the Fed believes that is necessary to continue to raise the target range of short-term interest rates beyond the “neutral” level to reach the “restrictive” range. But after interest rates reach this range, the Fed wants to slow down the pace of rate hike. 

Upcoming accelerating the speed of balance sheet contraction may lead to an increase in market volatility

The Fed began to shrink its balance sheet in June, starting with a monthly ceiling of USD30 billion for Treasuries and USD17.5 billion for Mortgage Backed Security (MBS) , which will be raised to USD60 billion and USD35 billion, respectively, from September. Powell has previously hinted that the contraction will last for two to two and a half years.  At present, there are two problems with investors’ view of the contraction,there seems to be a blind spot on Wall Street when it comes to the Fed’s tightening of monetary policy through the contraction, because this approach has only been tried once before. Raising interest rates is easier to model than a contraction, so many investors think that a contraction will not have much impact. Some people are confused because the Fed’s MBS holdings do not seem to be decreasing, but seem to be increasing.  However, the increase in the ceiling could change in September and beyond, just as it did after the last time the Fed launched the contraction.  September will also be the time for Fed officials to decide whether to sell MBS directly.  2) very little discussion of shrinking the balance sheet has led to public misunderstanding, with some investors questioning whether the Fed has implemented a shrinking plan so far, especially in the case of MBS. Judging from the chart of the Fed’s MBS portfolio, there is a reason for this sentiment, but it also means that investors may be caught off guard in the coming months.  Part of the reason is that to bring inflation back to 2%, the fed needs to shrink its balance sheet by about USD3.9 trillion, far more than investors had expected. Such a contraction is equivalent to an additional interest rate increase of about 4.5%.

Even if the more aggressive contraction that begins next month, it means that interest rates will eventually need to rise less, investors should be prepared for rising volatility. The Fed is entering uncharted territory, and so are the markets.

Extreme pessimism shows signs of reversal

According to Bank of America’s August Fund Manager Survey (FMS), recently pessimism waned as expectations began to bet that inflation and interest rate shocks would end in the coming quarters.  Inflation remains the key to a Fed pivot, with a drop in Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCE)  inflation below 4% still the most likely reason for a dovish tilt. That’s followed by jobless claims below 300,000, the S&P below 3,500 and high yield bond spreads rising above 600 basis points.  Among the most crowded trades, long U.S. dollar is till on top, with long oil/commodities remaining at No.2.  The biggest tail risk is still stick inflation, with global recession and hawkish central banks second and third.

Widespread bets in the derivatives market predict that inflation will fall to about 3.3% over the next 12 months, which is where it was last August. But investors are making the same mistakes as last year, and time will tell.  At present, some investors are more optimistic about inflation than the Fed.  Fed officials warned the market after the U.S. inflation data that the process of raising interest rates was far from over.

The bond market does not seem to think so. The yield on 2-year Treasuries was still higher than that on 10-year Treasuries.  This is a substantial inverted yield curve and the market is actually pricing this bad situation of low growth.  As long as inflation continued to decline, the classic portfolio of 60% invested in equities and 40% invested in bonds would continue to provide reasonable returns. Spreads in some investment-grade fixed-income corporate bonds and even some non-core fixed-income bonds, such as high-yield bonds, bank loans or emerging market bonds, have widened a lot. Given that there does not seem to be any extreme pressure in the financial markets over the next 6 to 12 months, these areas should have quite attractive returns, especially compared with U.S. Treasuries.

This round of U.S. stock rebound, from the general direction and logic is not much problem, but the time and extent of some “rush” and “overdraft” suspicion.Therefore, against the background that short-term U.S. Treasury interest rates are included in loose expectations and recession fears, or it is difficult to fall sharply further, we cannot rule out the possibility that both U.S. Treasuries and U.S. stocks will return to consolidation, waiting for a definitive turn in policy in the fourth quarter.

Oil market: OPEC downgraded its crude oil demand forecast to warn of oversupply this quarter

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said that it cut global crude oil demand by 260,000 barrels a day this year due to downside risks to the global economy.  With the global economic downturn, OPEC has lowered its annual global oil demand forecast for the third time since April this year.  OPEC expects the global oil market to enter a glut this quarter, and believes that the refined product market may see seasonal support for transport fuel in the second half of the year, and fuel sales may benefit from a slowdown in product prices.  

Crude oil futures trade lower after China’s economic recovery unexpectedly weakened in July on renewed COVID-19 lockdowns and after data from Bloomberg showed an apparent 10% year-on-year drop in oil demand last month. Signs of progress on the European Union’s proposal to revive the Iran nuclear deal, which would increase output from the Middle Eastern countries, was also driving prices lower. Yet, fears of a global recession have caused oil prices to fall sharply in recent weeks, with market participants particularly focused on Chinese and U.S. demand.

Berkshire just announced that they are interested in buying up to 50% of shares in Occidental Petroleum

Earlier this month, Berkshire revealed that it had bought another 6.68 million common shares in the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, giving it a stake of more than 20% in the energy company.  In fact, as we mentioned previously, according to accounting standards, once investors own at least 20% of the company’s common stock, the company’s earnings should have a corresponding share of their own performance-that is, Occidental Petroleum’s earnings may reach USD10.7 billion this year, so if Berkshire ends up owning 20% of Occidental Petroleum. Then Berkshire’s reported profit this year may increase by about USD2 billion.

The acquisition of the whole company seems one step closer.  Buffett may continue to buy, as long as he can buy it for USD70 or less. If you own 30% or 40% and want to buy it out at USD95 or USD100, you can save a lot of money, so far his highest purchase price is USD60.37 per share. Occidental Petroleum (OXY) is of considerable value to Buffett in his portfolio. In August, Occidental Petroleum reported second-quarter results, with quarterly net profit of USD3.75billion, a year-on-year jump of 36 times and 16% higher than analysts had expected.

Buffett’s continued increase in Occidental Petroleum (OXY) positions highlights his bullish outlook on energy. We keep mentioned about it, In fact, when he agreed to provide USD10 billion in financing for OXY, the investment was essentially a bet on higher oil prices.  Even if the recession leads to a drop in oil prices, and OXY slows down dividends, Buffett can still get the gains he prefers.  Buffett already owned OXY before the outbreak.  Already enjoy several waves of dividends from rising oil prices and share prices, and any decline caused by a recession is unlikely to cause the company to experience another collapse as severe as it did during the pandemic, especially as the company continues to reduce its debt burden. OXY is the best performer stock that we picked this year. 

China: July retail sales data

China July retail sales were up 2.7% year-on-year vs. 5.3%(data of market’s expectation), missing expectations. While overall, there was an improvement since May, the rate of recovery in July was lower than the market’s expectation.  The key retail sales drivers by category were gold & jewelries (+22.1% vs +8.1% in June), petrochemicals (+14.2% vs +14.7% in June) and Auto increased 9.7% year-on-year.  Meanwhile, recovery of some categories is weaker than the overall retail sales growth in July. Sales of building & decoration materials, furniture saw year-on-year change of -7.8%, -6.3%. 

August retail sales are likely affected by lockdown at Sanya and consumers’ concern about cross-province traveling. Sanya and parts of Haikou are still under lockdown and many tourists are stranded. We however expect that the lockdown will not be as severe as in Shanghai. That said, this will affect consumers’ travel plans in the next few months. 


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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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