What are the Key Market Themes for 2022?
Read on for Bill Blain’s gallop around some of the market themes to look out for this year.
As I write this we are already well into the new year and it’s becoming clear 2022 has a very different outlook from last year when the “everything rally” was fuelled by easy money, ongoing COVID recovery and mitigation spending programmes, the market’s belief central banks would act to avoid any market instability from derailing sentiment, and COVID uncertainty.
This year has opened with a much clearer perspective on how quickly central banks will act to address inflation, normalise rates and unwind the quantitative easing programmes that juiced markets with liquidity over the last decade. Welcome back to grown-up markets!
The critical uncertainties are how destabilisation rising/normalising rates become, how inflation – “transitory” or “persistent” – develops (and the danger it morphs into stagflation), and how quickly the global economy puts COVID-19 behind it to start growing again. That leaves geopolitical tensions over Ukraine and with China as the other known unknowns.
My tech valuation stupidity indicators – ARK, Bitcoin, Tesla – opened the year into negative numbers suggesting fundamental analysis is coming back into vogue.
In short, investors are going to have to think hard about what this market is telling them through 2022. The game is changing. One aspect I expect to change dramatically is “euphoric” market sentiment – the everything rally fuelled speculation to supercharged irrational levels. As a famous boxer never said: “I go into the fight prepared with a plan to get rich – which I stick with right up till I get punched hard in the face”.
Sentiment, especially towards get-rich tech scams, is changing. My tech valuation stupidity indicators – ARK, Bitcoin, Tesla – opened the year into negative numbers suggesting fundamental analysis is coming back into vogue. To be fair, Morgan Stanley disagrees with me on Tesla – predicting a rally to $1400 on the back of improving numbers and it’s already on the final lap of the EV marathon when everyone else is still tying their shoelaces… really? I predict everyone could be making decent EVs within a few years. But they won’t be… and to find out why, keep reading.
I would never grace my market haverings with the legitimacy of being “predictions” but let’s run through some ideas for the coming year.
Inflation is nailed on – which is perversely good for stocks on a relative basis. The upside will come from higher corporate dividends as the globe recovers from COVID. Sound stocks which will continue to beat risk-adjusted bond returns. But it will be a selective market – distributable profits matter as rates rise, spelling a crisis for the tech sector where unprofitable firms telling the pursuit of size over returns will struggle. In a rising rate environment, fundamental value stocks will outperform. I’m also expecting an ESG backlash to benefit the detest oil majors as energy shortages in Q1 trigger a fundamental review of climate change transition, and the acknowledgement we can’t dump gas overnight and expect the global economy to keep working.
If we assume the global economy stages a covid recovery I’d expect a knew jerk Q1 market rally, before rising rates and lower liquidity sees a pretty flat second half.
This is not going to be a good year for consumers – tax rises, massive increases in energy bills, inflation of food, accommodation, and modern necessities like Netflix will dramatically hit discretionary spending. Wages are likely to remain sticky for most workers, unless they are prepared to move into the more challenging sectors like service, entertainment and logistics where wages are rising. Issues like consumer exposure to interest-free debt (like Klarna) could prove “interesting” – if discretionary spending falls, then so will the amount of consumer free-cash to service debt.
Forget transitory – that’s a 2021 expression. Supply chain bottlenecks triggered inflation – but they have themselves spawned significant consequences. We’re now seeing higher wages and supply chains evolving. Energy prices will hoick inflation. While 6-7% inflation rates will characterise the early part of the year we may see moderation to 4% later – but that will be remained sustained as the economy adjusts and finds a new equilibrium at a higher permanent inflation rate.
The market now expects the Fed could hike four times this year. The Bank of England has already hit the button. Rising rates mean a bad year for bonds – but remember they are also the ultimate safe haven if markets snap. We’re likely to see an acceleration of corporate defaults which have been artificially low for over a decade due to ultra-low rates allowing unfit companies to survive – and that could get very messy due to terminally dismal liquidity in bond markets – which will set like concrete when the selling starts. Corporate spreads will widen – and the markets will have to relearn the fundamentals of credit strength.
Crypto vs Gold
No contest. Gold will win. Crypto enthusiasts can argue gold is as destructive to the environment as Bitcoin. Really. But it’s also real. Bitcoin isn’t.
2021 demonstrated the dangers of Energy Sovereignty. Without it, nations are vulnerable – as Europe is finding out. Ensuring sufficient stocks of energy – particularly oil and gas – will become paramount. ESG concerns will be dismissed as it becomes clear the optimal routes to Net Carbon Neutrality by 2050 depend on a phased approach with gas replacing coal before gas can be replaced itself. The likelihood is for oil and gas prices to remain elevated through 2022.
Will 2022 be the year the world wakes up to the fact wind and solar might be marvellous in terms of fooling the people we’re greening the planet? They are the least efficient source of power, more expensive than expected to maintain, but can achieve easy funding at tight levels because every institutional investor wants to show off how green and ESG compliant they are by holding renewable assets. A better route to zero carbon involves a much wider range of non-CO2 emitting, but more “difficult” energy sources such as tidal, nuclear and clean gas, and mitigants like reforestation and better waste carbon sequestration. These are all achievable – but difficult. Nuclear fusion – will remain a tomorrow solution. I haven’t mentioned hydrogen – because it’s far more difficult than folk expect.
A world where Rivian made 1400 cars in 2021 but is worth more than the German auto sector has never made much sense. It makes even less when we appreciate that every single EV on the planet today is based on lithium batteries. Lithium is a nasty, dirty dangerous element that will kill us all if it leaks into the water table. Whatever Elon Musk says, it is very difficult to recycle. If we are going to make 35 million EVs by 2030, then we either mine every single atom of it on the planet or hope that a friendly asteroid comprising pristine lithium and cobalt makes a soft landing (as it didn’t happen in the film “Don’t Look Up”). Otherwise – we probably need a rethink on EV power – soon!
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