Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has fully miscalculated the West’s response to his invasion of Ukraine. The speed, strength and unity of global sanctions is bringing about economic collapse in his country. A survey of economists by the Bank of Russia indicates the economy will contract 8% in 2022 and inflation will surge to 20% by the end of the year.1
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the deep human, political and economic impact it is bringing about is forcing a reassessment by leaders globally around political and military alliances, energy and food security as well as economic and supply-chain dependence. The globalization and economic interdependence developed over the last 30 years means this redefining of the global architecture will not be instant and require multiple reworkings.
Even if a peaceful solution is found in the near term, continued instability in the region will weigh on Western leaders’ collective conscious. They have been reminded of the lessons of the Cold War and the original intent behind NATO; this will drive policy making for decades.
The US Federal Reserve (Fed) looks to have underestimated the underlying price pressures that have accumulated in the US economy. Fiscal stimulus, multiple rounds of quantitative easing (QE), and supply disruption from COVID-19 have driven wages and, in turn, inflation higher. The energy and food crisis post Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has now firmly placed the Fed “behind the curve.”
The policy challenge of raising rates to bring down inflation, in the full knowledge that it risks slowing the economy, suggests future economic data are going to look distinctly stagflationary, which creates further challenges for the Fed.
The Earnings Challenge
The growth scare post-Ukraine will mean significantly higher US interest rates over the next 12 months. Combined with the impact of slowing revenues and shrinking margins from higher wages and input costs, the overall picture implies slower future profit growth. Consensus expectations for the MSCI World Index is for mid-single digit earnings growth in 2023.2 However, the risk is skewed toward downward revisions to earnings next year.
Emerging markets are expected to witness a recovery in earnings growth to low double-digit levels in 2023,3 driven primarily by a recovery in China and India. While there are risks to earnings in both these markets, decisionmakers in China are easing policy to offset risks to growth.
An Easing of Tensions in Asia
The developing new world order will force a recalibration of China’s entire stance on building regional influence in Asia via military projection. Primarily, this could mean a review of its plans for reunification with Taiwan.
The West’s response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine suggests China’s position of “not ruling out force” in unifying Taiwan with the motherland could be re-examined. A rebalancing of the approach to emphasizing soft power to encourage Taiwanese reunification over the long term would be positive for East Asia.
Markets have yet to focus on a less talked about but likely positive spillover from the thawing of Sino-Indian tensions across the Himalayas. This last ruptured in 2020 and a pragmatic Chinese leadership should correctly weigh, albeit belatedly, that their strategic interests here will be better served through socio-economic cooperation rather than military expansion.
The potential easing of tensions is most positive for Taiwan and could bring about some reduction in its long-term equity risk premium but is also clearly positive for India and East Asia.
China: Stuck in a Cycle of COVID-19
While the rest of the world slowly but surely reopens post-COVID, China’s zero COVID-19 policy implies they are stuck in a cycle of spiking cases and lockdowns. Unlike the rest of the world, a combination of relatively limited vaccine efficacy and no herd immunity means a renewed spread could have a major health impact with human cost and bring about further economic disruption.
This will likely create demand destruction as well as supply chain tightness and add to global inflationary pressures.
COVID-19 aside, policymakers have committed to further policy loosening to support a slowing economy, as well as completing the regulatory review of the web economy. This means that the Chinese market will be supported, particularly in the face of growing uncertainty elsewhere.
Recalculating the Beneficiaries
The sharp shift in events in 2022 has shaken emerging markets and attention has pivoted to the beneficiaries of this new landscape.
In 2021, Brazil retreated with rising political risk from the upcoming presidential elections as well as a tightening monetary policy stance. In contrast, this year the market has witnessed a sharp recovery. With historically low valuations,4 its position as an energy and commodity exporter plus high relative real interest rates, we think Brazil will continue to be a relative beneficiary globally.
The Middle East markets are a further contrast, benefiting from the combination of higher energy prices, a powerful fiscal backdrop and continued social and economic reform. As a relative newcomer to the global emerging markets universe, we expect to see this region to continue benefiting from increased portfolio capital flows, with Saudi Arabia a particular beneficiary.
What Are the Risks?
All investments involve risks, including the possible loss of principal. The value of investments can go down as well as up, and investors may not get back the full amount invested. Investments in foreign securities involve special risks including currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments. Investments in emerging markets, of which frontier markets are a subset, involve heightened risks related to the same factors, in addition to those associated with these markets’ smaller size, lesser liquidity and lack of established legal, political, business and social frameworks to support securities markets. Because these frameworks are typically even less developed in frontier markets, as well as various factors including the increased potential for extreme price volatility, illiquidity, trade barriers and exchange controls, the risks associated with emerging markets are magnified in frontier markets. To the extent a strategy focuses on particular countries, regions, industries, sectors or types of investment from time to time, it may be subject to greater risks of adverse developments in such areas of focus than a strategy that invests in a wider variety of countries, regions, industries, sectors or investments. China may be subject to considerable degrees of economic, political and social instability. Investments in securities of Chinese issuers involve risks that are specific to China, including certain legal, regulatory, political and economic risks.