Drumbeat of War: February 2022 Markets
The West Hits Back With Sanctions
In our recent market update, we covered the initial fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine. After the threat of a full-blown invasion became a reality, the West moved quickly to impose sanctions on Russia.
Key measures included curbing Russia Central Bank’s ability to access their $600 billion reserves and locking Russian banks out of the SWIFT financial network. SWIFT is a worldwide financial messaging system for global banks that moves billions of dollars between financial institutions worldwide. These measures could likely cause significant damage to the Russian economy and banking system.
The collapse of the Russian ruble erodes the currency’s buying power, which could also erode Putin’s popularity at home. The hope is that such crippling blows to the economy will bring Russia to the negotiating table and closer towards an end to its aggression against Ukraine. Hopefully the Russians bring some sincerity and negotiations can limit the human cost of war.
Retail Sales Rebound Despite Higher Prices
Here at home, even as prices climb America is still experiencing a consumption boom, and in January retail sales surged by the most in 10 months. Cars and furniture sales saw the biggest gains, and retail sales overall topped expectations. Consumers spent more despite higher prices from lingering supply chain issues, omicron effects and labor shortages. As a result, economists may need to revise their expectations for first quarter economic growth upward.
Encouraging data on US economic activity suggests that the US can weather economic shocks spilling over from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi wrote that “The impact of the Russian invasion on the US economy will be on the margins.”
Rate Hike Watch Continues
Coming soon is a highly anticipated Federal Open Market Committee meeting where the Federal Reserve is expected to announce its first rate hike, one of up to six rate hikes that Wall Street has priced in. The question remains whether they will hike interest rates by a 25 or 50 basis points (0.25% or 0.5%). The Vice Chair and New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams was quoted as saying, “Personally, I don’t see any compelling argument to take a big step at the beginning.” Other Fed officials seem to support this steady approach. 
The market bounce following the Russian invasion partly bet on the idea that the Fed won’t be acting as aggressively to curb inflation given the backdrop of war. More clarity is yet to come, as Fed Chair Jerome Powell begins Congressional testified in front of Congress last week, and he was questioned on inflation and the impact of geopolitical events, including the effect on higher gasoline prices. He suggested that it is impossible to predict the trajectory of the conflict or the economic impact, but they are monitoring the situation closely. Additionally, the February employment report showed the US economy added a whopping 678,000 jobs, blasting past expectations. The unemployment rate dipped to 3.8% led by leisure and hospitality jobs and signals that the Omicron impact is waning.
Retail Sentiment Bearish
With everything going on, it makes sense if you feel a little nervous—you wouldn’t be alone. An American Association of Individual Investors survey found the highest level of bearish and neutral investors since May 2016. However, interestingly enough, when you look back at history, heightened fear tends to be a bullish indicator for markets.
Since 1990, when fear and uncertainty have risen to current levels, the S&P 500 has actually averaged 18% returns in the next 12 months.
In general, market corrections are quite common, and market pullbacks are historically followed by rebounds. It looks like some turbulence remains ahead, but resetting valuations are a part of the cycle and it’s important to stay calm and stick to a bigger picture plan.
War has devastating consequences, and Ukraine under siege casts a heavy shadow over an already volatile market. We can only hope diplomacy prevails to limit casualties and the human cost of conflict. Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people fighting for their homes and their lives.
Here in the office, we are monitoring the impact of these events on our clients’ investment and financial needs, and we are looking for opportunities as they arise.
As always, we’re here to answer your questions or discuss market events at any time. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.
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The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index measures the investment-grade U.S. dollar-denominated, fixed-rate taxable bond market and includes Treasury securities, government-related and corporate securities, mortgage-backed securities, asset-backed securities and commercial mortgage-backed securities.
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SWIFT – Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) is a messaging network that financial institutions use to securely transmit information and instructions through a standardized system of codes. Although SWIFT has become a crucial part of global financial infrastructure, it is not a financial institution itself: SWIFT does not hold or transfer assets. Rather, its utility lies in its power to facilitate secure, efficient communication between member institutions.
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Performance table sources:
S&P 500: http://performance.morningstar.com/Performance/index-c/performance-return.action?t=0P00001G7J®ion=usa&culture=en-US