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The 2022 Sell-Off: Making Sense of the Markets

The 2022 Sell-Off: Making Sense of the Markets

The market weakness in 2022 has continued to accelerate, driving equity prices lower. While it may feel like a pretty extreme selloff, the S&P 500 selling off 15% is fairly normal, occurring every 2.5 years. Even if we reach a “bear market”, defined as a 20% or more decline, this will occur on average every 4 years, so we are experiencing a phenomenon that is relatively frequent.

This, of course, doesn’t make anyone feel particularly better. As our revenue is tied to our clients’ assets under management and every advisor in our firm invests in the stock market in some form, we all feel the pain. There are many reasons for this. Inflation has run significantly above target levels. The Fed is moving away from ultra-low interest rate policies. And the war in Ukraine continues. These have all contributed to the uncertainty surrounding companies and their future outlook.

We have continued to watch earnings as they have been reported. Presently, they still are strong but earnings surprises have trended lower and future earnings are looking a bit more tenuous pending all the above uncertainty. This is not to say that we haven’t already hit the bottom of this pullback, nor is it saying that things can’t get worse. It is worth mentioning that today’s stock prices reflect the expectations of future earnings by companies. It is predictive in nature, and that’s why we have seen the results in 2022 when we look in a rearview mirror. An end to the Ukraine war, easing of inflation numbers, reduced COVID cases & lockdowns, and better news on supply chains could all be factors that will likely drive equity markets higher. A dive into a bear market could be caused by a worsening of any of the above as well, and that is precisely why we tend to advise caution in making any short-term decisions that can have long-term impacts.

Did you also know that the bond market is having its worst year since 1842(!!!)? Normally we see an inverse relationship between stocks and bonds, with bonds increasing in value while we see a negative stock market.

So, What to Do?

Assessing timeframes is obviously extremely important. Keep in mind that despite the pretty awful market we’ve seen so far this year, the longer-term returns look strong. Here’s a chart of the S&P 500 over the last five years:

Just from eyeballing the chart, you can also see that we’ve had some pretty feracious pullbacks before we hit higher highs. The difference between now and then? Inflation is running hot, and recent reports are showing that it is not coming down quickly.

What Can We Expect in the Future?

According to research by First Trust, out of the last 185 quarters, only 16 had stocks and bonds falling together. When we look back at historical data, returns tend to be positive in the stock and bond markets, especially in the 1- and 3-year periods. See this chart that lays out prior stock and bond market returns. While we know that the future is uncertain, we also know that it’s almost never about timing the market, it’s about time in the market.

Clint Walkner

Market Correction: What It Is and Why Market Corrections Matter

Market Correction: What It Is and Why Market Corrections Matter

The domestic and international stock markets have started 2022 with a level of volatility unseen for the past few years. The rather benign market conditions, over the last 10 years, have lulled investors into a false sense of security and normalcy that is anything but normal. 

This is completely understandable when we look at the recent history of the S&P 500, a benchmark for US stocks. The S&P 500 has only posted one year of negative returns greater than 1% since 2009. The index’s loss of 6.24% in 2018 was paltry compared to its 38% loss in 2008 and three consecutive double-digit down years of 2000-2002. This is all to say that the beginning of 2022 is a reminder that volatility and market corrections are part of the normal market cycle, not a deviation from it. 

What is a Market Correction?

The term “market correction” is generally defined as a drop in a given market index of at least 10%, but not more than 20%. A drop of more than 20% is referred to as a bear market.

To give some perspective on the recent history of market corrections, the S&P 500 experienced a market correction in 11 of the past 20 years. Further, the S&P has experienced a correction, on average, every 19 months since 1928. This helps to illustrate the fact that market corrections are common over most periods of time and should be viewed as the market resetting stock valuations back to a more fundamental level.

Most economists believe that periodic corrections are healthy for investment markets, particularly stock markets, as equities tend to have large price swings. As stock prices appreciate over periods of time, there can start to become a disconnect between the valuation for a company and the price of its common stock. While the relationship of company valuations and respective stock prices can be a moving target, market corrections help to bring this relationship back in line, and, in some cases, corrections can provide a buying opportunity as the stock price may fall too far relative to the valuation. The circumstances and variables that cause the to market slide are different each time, which makes predicting when a correction will happen and for how long nearly impossible. Furthermore, many corrections have been caused by non-financial related events such as geopolitical issues or military skirmishes.

Investing During a Market Correction

Now that we have a better understanding of corrections and their history, we need to turn our attention to how we should react during a correction. Corrections can be a scary, unnerving period of time in a market cycle, however, history shows us that corrections last, on average, four months before the market makes up the loss. This is the reason why most economists recommend riding out market downturns. Often people ask the question, “why not just sell stock positions when the market begins to fall and buy back in when the market bottoms”. This is almost always a recipe for disaster as it requires correct market timing, not one, but two major moves in a portfolio. It also requires that we are actually at the start of a correction. We know that we are in a correction once the market has already fallen 10% and, by that point, it is too late to avoid the loss by selling shares. The best advice for weathering volatility in the markets is to fully understand your personal risk tolerance and accurately match your investment allocation to that risk profile. This way, we can have confidence that our portfolio is built to withstand the appropriate amount of market loss for your specific situation.

Nate Condon

It Only Gets Harder from Here: Valuations, Bond Environment and Wage Growth

It Only Gets Harder from Here: Valuations, Bond Environment and Wage Growth

If we look back at the stock and bond markets with a Monday Morning quarterback lens post-2008 financial crisis, one has to consider if the “easy money” has already been made. It’s almost hard to believe that the historically good run in equity markets has also been coupled with a favorable bond environment as well, with returns looking very solid net of inflation through many portfolios. The simplicity of this gain also bears noting  – if you simply bought the S&P 500 and coupled it with an aggregate bond strategy solely based in the United States, you did very well for yourself.

Note: SPY used for S&P 500 index proxy, AGG for aggregate bonds, DBC for commodities, EFA for international developed companies, and VWO for emerging markets. 

Naturally, we can ascertain from this chart that it hasn’t been a totally smooth ride from the equities perspective, but it is also safe to say that stocks have pretty much acted as stocks should. It also should be noted that a globally diversified portfolio detracted from your gains over this period compared to a solely U.S.-focused one. 

Looking forward, as we digest both the longer-term past as well as the last 12 months, some headwinds are developing that may affect the future of our portfolio management. Some of these will be more fleshed out in the remainder of our commentary, as they bear a deeper dive. 

Here are three of the main challenges we see as we go forward.

Stretched Valuations, Particularly in U.S. Equities?

Generally, the thoughts we get from many of our clients is that the U.S. stock market is overvalued. Over the last year, however, many may not realize that the “overvaluation” of the market 12 months ago was even more pronounced than it is today. See this price to earnings ratios (P/E) chart since 2017:

Note: This is the S&P 500 index price to earnings (P/E) ratio.

Why did this occur? Simply speaking, the earnings of companies ended up catching up while revenues remained strong due to waning COVID lockdown measures coupled with unprecedented government stimulus. Treating 2020 as somewhat of an outlier due to COVID factors, today’s P/E ratio remains elevated relative to the last 10 years. 

The question remains whether this elevated P/E ratio actually signals that the U.S. market is overvalued. There are several factors that come into play – low interest rates with expected interest rate increases, pension and institutional wealth funds trying to hit rate of return targets, inflation expectations, and many others. These factors when coupled together paint a much more complex picture of the “why” concerning elevated P/E. But in the end, we will continue to need strong earnings to support higher prices. In 2022, we see more headwinds due to an anticipation of higher rates, potentially pouring some cold water on the inflation heat and possibly slowing growth as a result. We also believe that there should be tailwinds – at some point, we will emerge from COVID, leisure activities and travel will increase significantly, and taxation on businesses and individuals will likely remain low until at least 2025 absent any unexpected legislation. 

Low-Interest Rate Environment Matched with Expected Low Returns in Bonds

The Fed has been quite transparent about its plans to raise interest rates throughout 2022 in a response to inflationary pressures and potential overheating of the U.S. economy. While we have been through a long-term decline in interest rates over the last thirty years, there have been periods of time where interest rates have been on an upward trajectory, albeit relatively short ones. One more recent period of time where this occurred was in 2018 when the 10-year treasury rate increased over 12%. In looking at how this increase in rates affects bond prices and yields, we can reference the following chart:

Note: BND used to represent the total bond market, BSV used to represent short-term bonds.

Some takeaways from this:

    • The 10-year treasury did not move in a straight line during the year. Despite this, dividend yields from the two ETFs (used as examples), steadily climbed throughout much of the year.
    • As yields climbed, prices fell, which is the conventional wisdom we learn in economic textbooks. Keep in mind that the 10-year treasury started in the 2.5% range in 2018 and crested over 3%. We ended 2021 with a rate of around 1.5%. Here is a data source for treasury rates.
    • Short-term bonds weathered the higher interest rates better than longer-term bonds, which again would fit conventional wisdom. Additionally, shorter-term bonds were less volatile than longer ones during this period.

As we look at 2022 and beyond, we expect interest rates to keep climbing throughout the year, though it is unlikely the climb will be in a straight line. One strategy to employ for the year would be to keep the duration of your bonds short if interest rates do indeed rise, and perhaps consider using some inflation-protected bonds if you expect inflation to continue to remain high. The issue with that is we are starting from a very low-interest rate – the 10-year treasury (which would be considered intermediate bond duration) is still well below 2% at the time of this writing in early January. As rates rise, bond prices will fall, so it is highly unlikely we will see much in the way of gains.

Another strategy is to move into higher-yielding bonds – perhaps considering lower credit quality or floating rate bonds to juice up yields. The issue with going too far down that path is simply that a decrease in credit quality will lead to taking higher risk in your overall portfolio, and aren’t bonds supposed to be your hedge against falling stock prices and your way to diversify? 

If you are gathering from the above comments that this is a tough environment for bond investors, you would be correct. Starting from such low yields, historically speaking, with the prospects of increases in interest rates, would portend a less than rosy outlook for bonds in the near future.

Uncertainty of Wage Growth

Nearly 70% of our GDP measurement ends up coming from consumer spending. When we emerged from the depths of the pandemic, as states started to reopen, there was a significant shortage of workers to fill job openings. Resultantly, we saw a significant increase in wages that persists today (and at the bottom of the wage ranges, this started before COVID). This is the good news. 

The bad news is this is only one side of the equation, as we care more about “real” wage growth, defined as wage growth minus inflation. Unfortunately, we have seen inflation quickly overwhelm wage gains. As we all have felt the higher prices at the pump and in our grocery stores, we all hope these will be temporary

If Americans are feeling the effects of inflation, several things could happen:

    • Purchases could be delayed or canceled due to the increased costs of items.
    • Substitutions could be made to minimize the impact of price increases, for example, instead of buying the organic strawberries you choose to buy non-organic or you substitute pork for beef.
    • Purchases are accelerated with the thought that prices will be higher in the future. For example, ordering countertops from Home Depot now instead of waiting a few years.

Aside from the accelerated purchases, cancellations or substitutions will be negative for GDP growth. Additionally, the greater wage uncertainty one has, the less “risk” they are willing to take when making purchases. If “real” wage growth isn’t so real, despite the likely outcome of prices being higher a few years from now, a family may not choose to buy a home, automobile, or other higher-priced items just based on the perception that they won’t be able to maintain their purchasing power. 

So What Does This Mean for 2022?

We don’t believe in producing a market forecast, as it is a fool’s errand. What we will posit is that we expect greater volatility, as the first few days of 2022 would indicate, while returns may come a bit harder than 2021. As it stands, to score runs right now we may have to settle for some small ball and lots of singles – for those baseball fans out there. For advisors, it means that we have to remain open to considering investments beyond the S&P 500, as we always have. In any market, there will always be opportunities. Perhaps this can be found in considering a rotation towards value-oriented U.S. stocks, a more substantive allocation to non-U.S. stocks, or potentially, more tangible assets such as commodities or real estate. In the end, we all must remember that time frame and time in the market are inherently crucial to long-term success, so review these items with your advisor in your strategy meetings to see how it applies to you specifically.

Clint Walkner

2022 Investment & Market Outlook Guide

Clint Walkner’s piece is part of Walkner Condon’s 2022 Investment & Market Outlook Guide, a comprehensive reflection of 2021 and glimpse at the factors impacting the year ahead in 2022.

Reviewing Sector Performance in 2021 and Positioning in 2022

Reviewing Sector Performance in 2021 and Positioning in 2022

A LOOK AT SECTOR PERFORMANCE

Every single U.S. sector, as determined by S&P Dow Jones Indices, posted gains in 2021. You heard that correctly, every single one! Of course, each sector doesn’t move in unison, so let’s explore this a bit further. 

The energy sector was the big winner in 2021, whether it be large-cap, mid-cap, or small-cap companies. They posted 2021 gains of 53.4%, 71.3%, and 60.0%, respectively. Real estate also had a solid 2021, posting gains of 46.2%. 

One thing that we talk a lot about is cyclicality and reversion to the mean. When we are talking about sectors, cyclicality means that sectors generally go in and out of favor. Said another way, a sector that outperforms one year may underperform the following year or vice versa. For example, let’s look at what energy did in 2020 (keep in mind we just talked about it being the big winner in 2021). Returns for large, mid, and small-cap energy stocks were -32.8%, -42.8%, and -40.0% respectively. From 2020 to 2021, energy went from the worst-performing to the best-performing sector. 

Financials is a sector that many are looking at opportunistically in 2022. The reason being is that banks are one of the few places that benefit from rising interest rates. One of the key points to take away is that it’s unlikely that a single sector can consistently be the “winner” year-in and year-out over the long haul.

A Look at Factor Performance

Factors are another variable, like sectors, that move in and out of favor. Most people are familiar with sectors, but might not be able to list as many investment factors off the top of their heads. BlackRock describes factor investing as “an investment approach that involves targeting specific drivers of return across asset classes.” Factor investing is not passive; one tries to find attractive attributes of a security that will enhance returns and/or reduce risk. There are macroeconomic factors and style factors. Similar to the sector discussion above, each of the seventeen factors (among S&P 500 companies) delivered positive returns in 2021. The top performing factor in 2021 was High Beta, at 40.9%. 

One item that many clients have asked about over the last several years is growth versus value. Growth has dominated value in recent memory, including in 2020 when it outperformed value with a 33.5% return vs. 1.4% return. In 2021, S&P 500 growth again outperformed S&P 500 Value, 32.0% to 24.9%. In 2022, we might see growth and value continue to have less of a dispersion compared to the 2010s, where growth significantly outperformed value. Momentum, the worst performing factor in 2021– granted it still produced a 22.8% return – was the third-best performing factor the year prior when it returned 28.3%. Momentum is another good example of a factor that outperformed the general index in one year (2020), only to underperform the index the following year (2021). 

Where to go from here?

Does this mean that you should only own energy? Or only own high beta? Of course not. There is generally a reversion to the mean. Again, most investors need exposure to a diversified portfolio and a disciplined investment process. Rebalancing is one technique to help take small gains over time and not become too concentrated on a single sector or factor. 

Note that diversification doesn’t imply that owning every sector equally-weighted is always the best approach, either. If you own an S&P 500 index fund, you own every sector, but in different weights. If we’re looking at the end of 2021, 29.2% of your S&P 500 exposure would be in information technology alone. Also, keep in mind that true diversification includes more than just sector diversification. Having a mix of uncorrelated assets from a geographic, asset class, and allocation perspective must all be considered when building a diversified portfolio.

Mitch DeWitt, CFP®, MBA

2022 Investment & Market Outlook Guide

Mitch DeWitt’s piece is part of Walkner Condon’s 2022 Investment & Market Outlook Guide, a comprehensive reflection of 2021 and glimpse at the factors impacting the year ahead in 2022.

The Year of Impossible Choices: 2022 Market Outlook and 2021 Review

The Year of Impossible Choices: 2022 Market Outlook and 2021 Review

In last year’s market outlook, I described the current state of global monetary policy as a giant exercise in price control, specifically, control of the cost of capital. An environment in which perpetually falling rates and equity premiums favor longer duration growth stocks, but hardly resulted in what might be described as widespread prosperity. 

The (short-lived) revenge of the bottom half

During the grand re-opening of 2021, for a brief moment, dare I say it, things seemed to be going well. Bolstered by massive government stimulus and a strong job market, something remarkable happened to the average American household: they got richer.

While household wealth rising is not surprising given equity, real estate, and cryptocurrency gains, what was truly remarkable was the relative gain attributable to the bottom 50% of American households, whose share of total wealth rose above 2.5% in Q3. While the percentage remains low in absolute terms, we had not seen this metric rise above 2% since the 2008 crisis, and 2.5% was last witnessed in the early 2000s.

A tight labor market, marked by the “great resignation” (an unusual number of people quitting their jobs), has certainly contributed to the slight, but noticeable, narrowing of inequalities. For the first time in years, the labor market appears to have shifted in favor of workers, who may be in a much stronger position to secure higher wages, strengthening their ability to accumulate wealth. Direct COVID relief payments and expended child credits also contributed to this continued improvement in household wealth.

Unfortunately, before anyone could celebrate a resurgence of the American middle class, a much bigger story would steal the headline: the return of inflation. In the short term, moderate levels of inflation can have a beneficial effect on the job market, support asset prices, ease debt burden, and even reduce income inequality. In the long term, however, the upside risk to inflation makes me less than enthusiastic about the potential for a continued trend in narrowing wealth inequalities. 

While higher inflation means that everyone, in aggregate, gets poorer, some might get hurt more than others. Over time, cost pressures are likely to favor owners of productive assets at the expense of small savers and wage earners. A recent analysis by the Penn Wharton Budget Model already highlights the increasing burden on middle-income family budgets, who spent about 7% more in 2021 for the same products they bought in 2020 or in 2019.

The era of low inflation never started, now it may be ending

The return of higher inflation, in the form of her CPI numbers, was heralded as a momentous shift in the economic environment in 2021. After all, inflation has not been a major concern in most of the developed world in the last decade, some have even suggested that we lived in the era of low inflation, and central bank action certainly focused on fighting the perceived threat of deflation first and foremost.

I was never a huge believer in the idea of a “low-inflation era.” To be sure, we may have had moderate levels of inflation on average, but more importantly, we’ve had an era of uneven, patchy inflation, where falling prices in some areas were offset but rapid increases in others. 

What charts like the one above highlight, is that the supposed low-inflation era has, in fact, been an era of selective inflation. An era in which, broadly speaking, the price of things we don’t really need, like toys and electronics, has collapsed, but the price of things we need (say, food, housing, and healthcare…) has continued to rise. 

In this environment, it is perhaps no surprise that middle-class households hardly seemed to reap the benefits of low prices. All else being equal, and despite the prevailing inflationist narrative: no inflation is good, deflation is even better (how often have you complained about prices at the store being too low?). For two decades deflation has been limited to a relatively small segment of largely discretionary expenses, while higher costs in other products may have actually reinforced inequalities.  

Regardless of how the Consumer Price Index is composed, it is also important to recognize the limitation of the CPI (our policy makers’ main tool in measuring inflation). CPI is a complex set of data maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the years, its methodology has been revised multiple times, and most recent adjustments have tended, in my opinion, to make monetary policy look better. Some of the most convenient CPI adjustments include: substitutions (the idea that if something is too expensive, we’ll just buy something else, say lemons instead of bananas…) or, even better: hedonics (an adjustment made when a price increase isn’t actually deemed to be a price increase, but just a reflection of improved product features). Not to mention the fact that shelter, one of the largest components of CPI, is for the most part not collected using a market-based mechanism. Instead, most of the CPI’s shelter data comes from something called Owner Equivalent Rent (OER). OER is basically a survey of homeowners, who get asked a simple question about how much they think their property could be rented for (imagine calling your parents who’ve lived in their house since 1976, and asking them what they think the rent is). 

Regardless of how much I doubt inflation numbers, what became obvious in 2021 is that no amount of adjustments could make inflation look benign. Since March 2021, CPI inflation started exceeding the Federal Reserve’s 2% target and has continued to rise ever since.

In August 2020, the Federal Reserve implemented a new flexible approach to inflation, effectively warning the market that it may allow inflation to “run hot” for a while if it deemed necessary. We are now in our ninth month of excess inflation, and just how much more of these inflation numbers will be tolerated is unclear. 

Over the last few years, central bank officials have often felt the subtle (or not so subtle) pressure to keep their policy stance accommodative (remember Donald Trump praising Janet Yellen for being a “low-interest person?). But politicians and the general public can be fickle, and the pressure to remain accommodative can just as easily morph into a pressure to tighten. If inflation continues to take hold, being a low-interest rate kind of person may not look so flattering anymore.

The trillion-dollar checking account

I have long been telling clients that the pandemic could, somewhat counterintuitively, be the catalyst for higher inflation. By pushing governments and central banks to implement a combination of both extremely loose monetary and fiscal policy, they may just have poured fuel on a fire that had been simmering for years underneath the low CPI numbers. While 2020 saw unprecedented levels of new debt issuance and stimulus, a lot of promises only reached full implementation in 2021, which may explain the sudden, but somewhat delayed, change in inflation dynamics. 

The U.S. Department of Treasury’s general account with the Federal Reserve (effectively, the government’s checking account) spent most of 2020 swelling up to unprecedented levels: normally fairly steady at a balance of around $300 billion, it reached a balance of $1.8 trillion in mid-2020 at the height of the pandemic.

In contrast, 2021 was truly the year of the great spending spree, when checks were finally cashed, even as treasury bill issuance slowed. $1.6 trillion was promptly spent in a matter of months between February and July 2021. As Citi’s market strategist Matt King highlighted back in February 2021: the flood of cash created by the drawdown in the treasury’s general account (TGA) risked tripling the amount of bank reserves, and pushing rates even further towards zero or negative territory: “surfeit of liquidity and a lack of places to put it – hence the rally in short-rates to almost zero, with the risk of their going negative.” As King further notes, “if relative ‘real’, inflation-adjusted Treasury yields fall, it could weaken the dollar sharply (…) at the global level the TGA effect will indeed prove highly significant.

As shown above, real yield would indeed fall throughout 2021, to levels unprecedented in modern history, and one of the side effects of negative real yield may have been to propel the now-familiar “risk on” investment theme to new heights. We all thought money was cheap at -1% real rates in February, how about -6.5% In November? 

The treasury department wasn’t the only one spending. As it turns out, American households too were fast and loose with their checkbooks. Individual savings rates had risen during the pandemic and remained relatively elevated well into the beginning of 2021. Since March 2021 however, saving rates have fallen back to their pre-COVID levels.

Against this backdrop, it is perhaps no surprise that the “buy everything” ethos, long limited only to financial assets, now seems to have spread into housing, commodities, energy, various consumption goods, and even used cars.

With gains of nearly 50% since December 2020, the Manheim Used Vehicle index outperformed both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones in 2021.

Impossible choices

Over the last decade, central bankers have been almost entirely focused on supporting the economy. With the threat of inflation only a distant concern, there has been basically no downside to perpetually flooding markets with free money. To be sure, central bankers have been fairly successful in averting deflationary fears and consistently driving down real (inflation-adjusted) rates. With short-term rates at zero and longer-dated bonds at historic lows, many observers felt that yields had nowhere else to go. Real, inflation-adjusted rates have no such lower bound. And as much of what the recent spike in inflation will be heralded as a change of regime, in many ways, it can also be seen as the culmination of a broader trend in lower real rates that started many years ago – and arguably as far back as the mid-80s.

With real yield deeply negative, and central bank balance sheets at all-time highs, 2021 brought the scale of global monetary policy to yet another record-breaking year. However, for the first time in over a decade, inflation may truly force central banking officials to tighten policy this time. So far, policy response in the U.S. has been mainly limited to tougher talk and a planned reduction of the pace of asset purchases (the now-famous “tapering”). While FOMC guidance does indicate an expectation of multiple rate hikes in 2022, the Federal Reserve will be walking a very fine line as it looks to change course.

One of the paradoxes of the current environment is the continued flattening of the yield curve. A flood of bank liquidity may have contributed to the collapse in real short-term rates but has not resulted in any real upward shift in long-dated bond yields. This could be interpreted in numerous ways. Perhaps the bond market is simply not buying the idea of long-term inflation or may think it raises the probability of a policy mistake (excessive tightening leading to a deflationary crisis), or perhaps the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program has simply distorted bond prices to such a degree that rates no longer reflect any realistic growth and inflation expectations. Whatever the case may be, hiking rates in this environment would mean running the risk of yield curve inversion: a situation where short-term rates would exceed long-term rates. While not always predictive of a crisis, an inverted yield curve generally sends a very negative signal and isn’t consistent with a healthy economy, in which opportunity cost should correlate positively with time.

Central banking officials are very aware of the risk, and the issue of curve flatness was explicitly brought up by members of the FOMC in their December meeting. There is a certain common-sense logic to the idea that, before resorting to traditional monetary tightening policies (raising short-term rates) the Federal Reserve should first get rid of the more exotic, experimental, crisis-time measures, such as quantitative easing. Doing so may allow long-term interest rates to rise, resulting in a more constructive environment in which to hike short-term rates. After all, if the economy is strong, to the point of raising rates, why have QE at all? That does not seem to be what committee members are thinking. In fact, according to their latest minutes, they seem intent on doing the exact opposite: begin to raise rates as early as March 2022, and then tackle balance sheet reduction. Even so, balance sheet reduction would not resemble a complete termination of their bond-buying program, but would probably involve a monthly cap on the amounts of “runoffs” (treasury bonds allowed to mature without being reinvested). Assuming that the monthly cap on runoffs does not exceed monthly maturities, the net effect of this policy may be that the Federal Reserve will be continuing to buy billions of dollars worth of bonds every month for the foreseeable future. Presumably with the hope that slowing the pace of balance sheet reduction will act as a buffer against the possible negative effects of rate hikes. 

In this balancing act between tapering and rate hikes, one might perhaps perceive a subtle acknowledgment that central bank officials have made themselves into de-facto custodians of stock prices. After all, their previous attempts at an interest rate hike cycle in 2018 ended in a 20% market sell-off and had to be promptly reversed. At today’s valuations, a similar sell-off would wipe out nearly 10 trillion dollars of value from the S&P 500 alone. Ultimately, the message buried in the complex mix of central banking rhetoric may simply be that the Federal Reserve intends to stay behind the curve in its attempts to tackle inflation. That it intends to tighten policy slowly, while remaining accommodative and relying on the magic of negative real rates to support asset prices and the economy, tightening without tightening. Exactly how long they can get away with this in the face of higher inflation is anyone’s guess. Given the huge political stakes around issues of wealth inequalities, and with midterm elections around the corner, I expect pressure on the Federal Reserve to ramp up over the coming months. Backed into a corner, central banking officials may just have to pick between continuing to support market valuations and curbing cost pressures. However things turn out, 2022 may very well be the year when investors and US households alike realize that free money does have a cost after all.

Syl Michelin, CFA

2022 Investment & Market Outlook Guide

Syl Michelin’s piece is part of Walkner Condon’s 2022 Investment & Market Outlook Guide, a comprehensive reflection of 2021 and glimpse at the factors impacting the year ahead in 2022.

2022 Investment and Market Outlook Guide

2022 Investment and Market Outlook Guide

Walkner Condon’s team of experienced financial advisors explores key topics that are top-of-mind as we transition out of 2021 and into a new calendar year, featuring the market outlook and review from Syl Michelin, a Chartered Financial Analyst™. Other topics include index funds, sector & factor performance, a pair of U.S. expat-focused pieces, and more.

Below you can find a breakdown of the individual pieces in this year’s outlook. 

1. The Year of Impossible Choices: 2021 Market Recap & 2022 Outlook
Syl Michelin, Chartered Financial Analyst™

Through a lens of current and historical data, Walkner Condon’s resident CFA® explores the last year in the markets, with an eye on factors that may impact 2022. 

2. It Only Gets Harder from Here: Valuations, Bond Environment & Wage Growth
Clint Walkner

With a multitude of market highs throughout 2021 and a long stretch of gains post-2008 financial crisis, it would appear the “easy” money, if we can call it that, has been made. In this piece, Clint dives into the three main challenges as we move forward into 2022.

3. Reviewing 2021 Sector and Factor Performance and Positioning in 2022
Mitch DeWitt, CFP®, MBA

The markets were up routinely throughout 2021, but that doesn’t mean the gains were shared equally. Mitch discusses the sector winners (and losers) of the last year, along with what factors – things like high beta, value, and quality – had their day in the sun. He also goes into what might be on the horizon this year.  

4. Exploring Index Funds: History, Construction, Weightings & Factors
Nate Condon

The goal of this piece from Nate is to provide a general overview of indexes, the differences in how indexes are constructed, including equal-weighted indexes versus market capitalization-weighted indexes, and passive and factor indexing strategies.

5. Three Reasons to Look at Investing Internationally in 2022
Keith Poniewaz, Ph.D.

Though the U.S. dollar had its best year since 2015 in 2021, Keith explains several reasons to think about international investments in 2022, including the very strength of that U.S. dollar, valuations, and the rest of the world’s growth in GDP.  

6. Top Five International Destinations for U.S. Expats in 2022
Stan Farmer, CFP®, J.D.

One of our U.S. expat experts, Stan jumps headfirst into possible locations for Americans to consider in 2022 if they’re thinking about a move abroad – or even if they’re just wanting to dream a little bit. Stan covers ground in South America, Europe, and Asia in this thorough piece, perhaps his first crack at being a travel journalist in his spare time.