Reflections of the CIO

November 2022

30 November 2022

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With our Chief Investment Officer, David Cooke, making his way to Antarctica, I’m afraid you will have make do with ‘Reflections from the Head of Research’ for this month. November saw markets push higher, testing important resistance levels, as they continued to build on the rally that began back in October. It’s testament to the desire of financial markets to put this year behind them; that the recent rallies were caused by a -0.2% ‘lower than expected’ CPI (inflation) number in the United States. Moves were most pronounced in places which have been at the epicentre of pain year to date. UK mid-caps finished the month up over 7% whilst the much-maligned Pound Sterling saw its second consecutive positive month in November, versus the US dollar. These last two months have been 2 of only 3 positive months this year for the pound against the dollar.

The reason this CPI miss was so effective in cajoling markets, was it offered investors more tangible evidence that the Federal Reserve might be able to ‘pivot’ sooner, if required. Comments from the Fed Chair, Jerome Powell, suggesting there would smaller interest rate rises going forward were met with far more confidence than the caution suggested by his latter comments about terminal rates remaining higher for longer. We have entered a strange period where bad news has started being good news for markets. Global economies have become slavishly attached to cheap credit and government intervention; without central bank support they don’t know how to function properly (as we have witnessed in the LDI market in the UK).

Interestingly, the data point that ultimately tapered the recent optimism, was an unwaveringly strong unemployment print in the US. How can low levels of unemployment be considered a bad thing? Only financial markets can combine the required amounts of forward-thinking and real-world detachment to solve that equation. The logic here is that without unemployment rising, people have the ability to stomach higher prices and even, dare I say it, demand higher wages that protect their purchasing power. Ultimately, this is what all financial markets are currently dreading. Any sign of the previously supply-led, constraint-driven, commodity-focussed, or questionably transitory inflation infecting the wage system will require a far more drastic solution to fix. One that will come at a far greater cost to the global economy, than simply waiting for ‘higher prices to reduce demand’.  The signs are ominous for markets with wages rising in the Eurozone, UK and USA at the fastest pace for decades.

So, in this new paradigm, expect to see weaker employment data, and already faltering PMI data, being met with confidence that the cure is working, and that the economy’s health is finally failing – but by just the right amount! What we are seeing is that, at the margin, this is beginning to come through in the numbers. Every month that passes with inflation lower than expected, will be met with significant optimism from investors. However, this comes with a cost. Every month that passes will see another month of consumers and companies squeezed by higher mortgage costs (for those whose fixed terms are coming to an end) and higher interest costs respectively. For a world that has filled its boots with the cheap credit on offer during the pandemic, the effects of these rising costs are only just beginning to be felt.

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So where is the good news? Firstly, the starting point. Value has returned to parts of asset markets in a way that we haven’t seen for years. The bond market is one area that is now looking much more attractive, even more so when you consider where it’s been for the last decade. These lower starting points feel even more of a positive, when you haven’t been the one holding these assets while they fell from their overpriced levels to this subsequent discount. Secondly, tightening financial conditions have a very successful track record in separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to well-run companies, compared to their more speculative peers. Many companies use these more difficult periods to gain market share and pick up clients from less financially stable firms. These periods can therefore provide the perfect foil for an active manager with an eye for a bargain and a strong understanding of the business. We have been building positions in managers of this ilk throughout this year.

For now, we don’t expect to see a shift in the underlying tone of markets. Thin levels of data (the headline inflation prints are released monthly) only exacerbate market movements as investors tend to extrapolate trends, and then have to wait for a subsequent data point to confirm or disprove them. With a full month between the core data points, we can expect these heightened levels of volatility to continue. The FED obviously has a major role in how the next few months play out, but the likelihood is we are a still some distance from having any conclusive evidence that inflation has faded, or rates have peaked. The target of 2% is still a long way away (with all post-war periods of inflation over 5% takes years not months to recede to 2%) however we have tentative, but continued, signs that we are heading on the right path, which may be enough to bring markets back from the brink of despair, that we saw earlier this year. As always, if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us or your financial adviser.

 

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All authors have considerable industry expertise and specific knowledge on any given topic. All pieces are reviewed by an additional qualified financial specialist to ensure objectivity and accuracy to the best of our ability. All reviewer’s qualifications are from leading industry bodies. Where possible we use primary sources to support our work. These can include white papers, government sources and data, original reports and interviews or articles from other industry experts. We also reference research from other reputable financial planning and investment management firms where appropriate.

The views expressed in this article are those of the Saltus Asset Management team. These typically relate to the core Saltus portfolios. We aim to implement our views across all Saltus strategies, but we must work within each portfolio’s specific objectives and restrictions. This means our views can be implemented more comprehensively in some mandates than others. If your funds are not within a Saltus portfolio and you would like more information, please get in touch with your adviser. Saltus Asset Management is a trading name of Saltus Partners LLP which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Information is correct to the best of our understanding as at the date of publication. Nothing within this content is intended as, or can be relied upon, as financial advice. Capital is at risk. You may get back less than you invested. Tax rules may change and the value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances.

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