HOW MUCH MORE PAIN IS THERE TO COME?
Investment Company Managers on Interest Rates, Inflation and Bond Markets
Expert Comment from Chris Clothier, Co-Manager of Capital Gearing Trust, Samantha Fitzpatrick, Fund Manager of Murray International Trust and Andrew Bell, Chief Executive Officer of Witan Investment Trust
With UK inflation coming in above expectations at 8.7%, the likelihood of an interest rate hike from the Bank of England has increased. The Association of Investment Companies (AIC) has gathered comments from investment company managers on the outlook for UK consumers and borrowers, and where they see investment opportunities in the current environment.
Could we be near the peak for interest rates?
Chris Clothier, Co-Manager of Capital Gearing Trust, said: “The market is forecasting a peak rate of just under 6% for Q1 2024. Leading indicators are beginning to show the labour market cooling, and the impact of interest rate rises is starting to be felt on mortgage rates as mortgage holders come to the end of their fixed terms. We expect that this will eventually depress demand which, combined with energy and food inflation moderating, will eventually control inflation.”
Samantha Fitzpatrick, Fund Manager of Murray International Trust, said: “Many central banks, including the Bank of England, have continued with planned interest rate hikes amid volatile markets in an attempt to tame inflation. We are only now seeing the huge knock-on effect on mortgage rates as previous deals are rolling off in significant numbers. This, above all else, may curtail future interest rate hikes here in the UK.”
Andrew Bell, Chief Executive Officer of Witan Investment Trust, said: “In the US, a further nudge higher cannot be ruled out, but the data is likely to make the recent pause look more justified in a month’s time. In Europe and the UK, a further quarter-point rise or two is widely assumed, but it is impossible to be precise because of the lags before higher rates impinge on sentiment. After such a long period of a near-zero cost of borrowing, small steps would be wise. No central bank wants to crash the economy and have to cut rates aggressively next year just to crown the credibility lost from failing to anticipate the surge in inflation with blame for exaggerating its persistence.
“With inflation starting to converge with official targets, greater patience can be exercised than when the gap was widening. So we expect the peak in rates to resemble Table Mountain more than the Matterhorn. It is an unspoken reality that the government debt mountain will have to be eroded by inflation – not the destabilising rates of the past year but likely higher than official 2% targets.”
Is inflation calming down?
Andrew Bell, Chief Executive Officer of Witan Investment Trust, said: “Yes, most obviously in the US, which tightened first and most aggressively, together with a strengthening dollar in 2022. Energy prices there have fallen and rental inflation is also set to fall, lagging the declines in rent seen in newer contracts. In Europe and the UK, inflation is proving stickier but rates are still rising and the effect of past rises has yet to be fully felt. In the UK, particularly, the greater use of fixed rate mortgages has blunted, but only delayed, the effect of rapid rises over the past year. Having seen several disappointing inflation numbers in recent months, investors may be guilty of extrapolating the disappointment, ignoring the possibility that the numbers will start to match, or undershoot, forecasts.”
Samantha Fitzpatrick, Fund Manager of Murray International Trust, said: “Headline inflation is already falling sharply almost everywhere and should continue to decline over 2023 due to energy base effects. However, core inflation remains elevated, including here in the UK. It also needs to be remembered that even a lower positive number still means prices are rising, not falling, or even staying the same, so inflationary pressures will not disappear anytime soon.”
Chris Clothier, Co-Manager of Capital Gearing Trust, said: “We expect inflation to come down later this year, but at a slower pace than markets or the Bank had initially expected. A combination of supply and demand-side factors has served to keep inflation elevated. On one hand, supply-side factors such as tight labour markets and the prolonged impact of shocks from food and energy have kept input costs elevated. On the demand side, continued wage increases and longer fixed terms on mortgages have kept household spending elevated for longer. This experience of more protracted inflationary episodes is in line with historical experience: a study by Research Affiliates of OECD countries since 1970 showed that, once inflation has gone through a 6% peak on average it took seven years to fall back to 3%.”
Where are you seeing investment opportunities in the current circumstances?
Chris Clothier, Co-Manager of Capital Gearing Trust, said: “The bond market is replete with opportunities not seen for 15 years. We are attracted to UK Treasury Bills yielding more than 5%, short-dated investment grade corporate credit yielding between 6.0% and 7.5% and five-year UK index linked gilts offering real yields of 0.9%.”
Samantha Fitzpatrick, Fund Manager of Murray International Trust, said: “At Murray International Trust, the soaring cost of borrowing led to £60 million of debt being repaid at the end of May this year. Our approach to gearing remains unchanged, in that it should always be driven by opportunity – can we make money on the debt? We are fortunate to be able to pick and choose what debt we decide to have in these uncertain times.”
Andrew Bell, Chief Executive Officer of Witan Investment Trust, said: “Bond yields have risen from risible to visible and now offer a positive real yield based on long-term inflation forecasts. They can now just about fulfil their role as portfolio diversifiers and preservers of value but that is about it. In Western economies, long bond yields are lower than short-term yields, suggesting that the bond markets think rates will need to be cut in the next year. If central banks avoid overkill (and stop steering policy using the rear-view mirror) growth should pick up in 2024, which might slow progress on inflation and nudge long yields up but would benefit the parts of global equity markets that are pessimistically valued. Broadly, that means non-US equities in cyclically sensitive sectors and those benefiting from enduring growth themes, of which two particularly interesting ones are the decarbonisation energy transition and the spread of AI.”