Markets shift sharply as uncertainty rises

Invesco Fixed Income remains cautious on risk until the dynamic between growth and monetary policy is resolved

Aug 19, 2019 | Rob Waldner, James Ong

Financial markets have undergone a pretty sharp shift over the past two weeks. Interest rates have rallied while risk assets like credit, equity, and emerging markets have underperformed. Volatility measures are higher, and the Treasury yield curve is now largely inverted.

Invesco Fixed Income believes that several market drivers are at play, in the following order of importance:

  1. Elevated trade tensions that reduced global growth forecasts
  2. Uncertainty over Federal Reserve (Fed) policy — will the Fed ease aggressively or is it “behind the curve”?
  3. Mixed global economic performance

Can the Fed ease the market’s concerns?

Over the past two weeks, perceptions of the Fed have changed. At first, it seemed that the Fed was keeping up with market easing expectations; now, it appears the Fed is falling behind amid declining growth expectations. The driver of this change has been increased trade uncertainty and a weakening global growth outlook.

The inversion of the Treasury curve (when shorter-term Treasury yields are higher than longer-term Treasury yields) suggests that the market is urging the Fed to accelerate its easing program or else face the risk of recession. Without further easing, the market believes tightening financial conditions could drag down consumption. With capital expenditure spending already relatively weak, a consumption decline could risk pushing the US economy toward cyclically low growth rates.

We believe it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Fed to “out-dove” market expectations and generate truly easier financial conditions. For example, the market is currently pricing in a roughly 50% chance of a 50 basis point rate cut in September.1 To “out-dove” that expectation, the Fed would have to deliver a 50 basis point cut and provide further dovish guidance to the market, or deliver an intra-meeting cut. We believe this is unlikely.

Invesco Fixed Income outlook

Invesco Fixed Income’s macro factor framework has pointed to increased market volatility since May, when we forecasted that growth expectations were at their peak. Trade and monetary policy uncertainty are likely to add to market volatility, in our view, and we believe it will be important to monitor some key market developments going forward:

  1. Currency markets. So far, the market has avoided a large-scale dollar rally (at least versus developed market currencies). However, periods of financial stress tend to cause dollar rallies, and an appreciating dollar tends to tighten financial conditions globally. We are especially watching the Chinese renminbi for any sharp dislocation, since moves in the Chinese currency have tended to negatively impact global markets.
  2. Global central bank communication. Hints that the Fed will not react to current market stress could generate increased volatility.
  3. Consumer confidence. Declines in consumption or consumption forecasts could represent danger signs for the economy.

Invesco Fixed Income has been, and continues to be, close to neutral in our stance on credit risk, interest rates, and currency exposure, and we are cautious on overall risk taking. The opposing forces of slowing growth expectations and easier monetary policy are likely to keep the market outlook uncertain in the near term. Bond valuations are not sufficiently compelling, in our view, to justify increasing risk. Rather, we believe it will be necessary to resolve the current dynamic between growth and monetary policy before we add risk to our portfolios.

Rob Waldner is Chief Strategist and Head of Macro Research for Invesco Fixed Income. James Ong is Director of Derivative Portfolio Management for Invesco Fixed Income.

^1 Source: Bloomberg L.P. Aug. 16, 2019.

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