Thoughts on the Market

By Morgan Stanley

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Short, thoughtful and regular takes on recent events in the markets from a variety of perspectives and voices within Morgan Stanley.


Episode Date
Martijn Rats: Will Oil Prices Continue to Fall?
00:03:47

While the global oil market has seen a decrease in demand, supply issues are still prevalent, leaving investors to question where oil prices are headed next.


----- Transcript -----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Martijn Rats, Morgan Stanley's Global Commodity Strategist. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll discuss the current state of the global oil market. It's Tuesday, September 27th, at 2 p.m. in London. 


U.S. consumers have no doubt noticed and appreciated a welcome relief from the recent pain at the gas pump. Up until last week, U.S. gas prices had been sinking every day for more than three months, marking the second longest such streak on record going back to 2005. This gas price plunge in the U.S. was driven in part by the unprecedented releases of emergency oil by the White House. But what else is happening globally on the macro level? 


Looking at the telltale signs in the oil markets, they tell a clear story that physical tightness has waned. Spot prices have fallen, forward curves have flattened, physical differentials have come in and refining margins have weakened. A growth slowdown in all main economic blocks has pointed to weaker oil demand for some time, and this is now also visible in oil specific data. China has been a particularly important contributor to this. 


However, prices have also corrected substantially by now. Adjusted for inflation, Brent crude oil is back below its 15 year average price. In this context, the current price is not particularly high. Also, the Brent futures curve has in fact flattened to such an extent that current time spreads would have historically corresponded with much higher inventories expressed in days of demand. That means, in short, that the market structure is already discounting a significant inventory built and/or a large demand decline. 


Then there is still meaningful uncertainty over what will happen to oil supply from Russia once the EU import embargo kicks in later this year for crude oil, and early next year for oil products. The EU still imports about three and a half million barrels a day of oil from Russia. Redirecting such a large volume to other buyers, and then redirecting other oil back to Europe is possible over time, but probably not without significant disruption for an extended period. For a while, we suspect that this will lead to a net loss of oil supply to the markets in the order of one and a half million barrels a day. To attract enough other oil to Europe, European oil prices will need to stay elevated. The relative price of oil in Europe is Brent crude oil. 


Elsewhere, there are supply issues too. We started off the year forecasting nearly a million barrels a day of oil production growth from the United States. But so far this year, actual growth in the first six months of the year has just been half that level. We still assume some back end loaded growth later this year, but have lowered our forecast already several times. Then Nigerian oil production has deteriorated much faster than expected, currently at the lowest level since the early 1970s. Kazakhstan exports via the CBC terminal are hampered, OPEC's spare capacity has fallen to just over 1%, and the rig count recovery in the Middle East remains surprisingly anemic. 


The long term structural outlook for the oil market still remains one of tightness, but for now this is overshadowed by cyclical demand challenges. As long as macroeconomic conditions remain so weak, oil prices will probably continue to linger on. However, that should not be taken as a sign that the structural issues in the oil market around investment and capacity are solved. As we all know, after recession comes recovery. Once demand picks up, the structural issues will likely reassert themselves. We have lowered our near-term oil price forecast, but still see a firmer market at some point in 2023 again. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

Sep 27, 2022
Mike Wilson: A Sudden Drop for Stocks and Bonds
00:03:50

After last week’s Fed meeting and another rate hike, both stocks and bonds dropped back to June lows. The question is, will this turn to the downside continue to accelerate?


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, September 26, at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Last week's Fed meeting gave us the 75 basis point hike most investors were expecting, and similar messaging to what we heard at Jackson Hole a month ago. In short, the Fed means business with inflation and is willing to do whatever it takes to combat it. So why was there such a dramatic reaction in the bond and stock markets? Were investors still hoping the Fed would make a dovish pivot? Whatever the reason, both stocks and bonds are right back to their June lows, with many bellwether stocks and treasuries even lower. As we wrote a few weeks ago, we think investor hopes for a Fed pivot were misplaced, and Chair Powell has now made that crystal clear. 


Secondly, we noted last week that the only remaining hope for stocks would be if the bond market rallied at the back end on the view that the Fed was finally ahead of the curve and would win its fight against inflation, while slowing the economy materially. Instead, interest rates spiked higher, squelching any hopes for stocks. While 15.6x price earnings ratio is back to the June lows, that P/E still embeds what we think is a mispriced equity risk premium given the risk to earnings. 


Said another way, with a Fed pivot now off the table, the path on bond and equity prices will come down to growth - economic growth for bonds and earnings growth for stocks. On both counts we are pessimistic, particularly on the latter as supported by our recent cuts to earnings forecasts. We have been discussing these forecasts with clients for the past several weeks and while most are in agreement that consensus 2023 earnings estimates are too high, there is still a debate on how much. Suffice it to say, we are at the low end of client expectations. Interestingly, recent economic data have kept the economic soft landing view alive, and interest rates have moved above our rates team's year end forecast. From an equity market standpoint, that means no relief for valuations as earnings come down. This is a major reason why stocks sank to their June lows on Friday. 


Ultimately, we do think economic surprise data will likely disappoint again, but until it does there is no end in sight for the rise in 10 year yields, especially with the run off of the Fed's balance sheet increasing. As such, our rates team has raised its year end target for 10 year Treasury yields to 4% from 3.5%. This is a very tough backdrop for stocks and epitomizes our fire and ice thesis to a T. In other words, rising cost of capital and lower liquidity in the face of slower earnings growth or even outright declines. 


Finally, the Fed's historically hawkish action has led to record strength in the U.S. dollar. On a year over year basis the dollar is now up 21% and still rising. Based on our analysis that every 1% change in the dollar has a .5% impact on S&P 500 earnings growth, fourth quarter S&P 500 earnings will face an approximate 10% headwind to growth all else equal. This is in addition to the other challenges we've been discussing for months, like the pay back in demand and higher cost from inflation to name a few. 


Bottom line Part 2 of our Fire and ice thesis is now on full display, with rates and the U.S. dollar ratcheting higher, just as the negative revisions for earnings appear set to accelerate to the downside. In our view, the bear market in stocks will not be over until the S&P 500 reaches the range of our base and bear targets, i.e. 3000 to 3400 later this fall. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show.

Sep 26, 2022
U.S. Economy: The Fed Continues to Fight Inflation
00:07:38

After another Fed meeting and another historically high rate hike, it’s clear that the Fed is committed to fighting inflation, but how and when will the real economy see the effects? Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Global Chief Economist Seth Carpenter discuss.


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Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. 


Seth Carpenter: And I'm Seth Carpenter, Morgan Stanley's Global Chief Economist. 


Andrew Sheets:] And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about the global economy and the challenges that central banks face. It's Friday, September 23rd at 2 p.m. in New York. 


Andrew Sheets: So, Seth, it's great to talk to you. It's great to talk to you face to face, in person, we're both sitting here in New York and we're sitting here on a week where there was an enormous amount of focus on the challenges that central banks are facing, particularly the Federal Reserve. So I think that's a good place to start. When you think about the predicament that the Federal Reserve is in, how would you describe it? 


Seth Carpenter: I think the Federal Reserve is in a such a challenging situation because they have inflation that they know, that everyone knows, is just simply too high. So they're trying to orchestrate what what is sometimes called a soft landing, that is slowing the economy enough so that the inflationary pressures go away, but not so much that the economy starts to contract and we lose millions of jobs. That's a tricky proposition. 


Andrew Sheets: So we had a Federal Reserve meeting this week where the Fed raised its target interest rate by 75 basis points, a relatively large move by the standards of the last 20 years. What did you take away from that meeting? And as you think about that from kind of a bigger picture perspective, what's the Fed trying to communicate? 


Seth Carpenter: So the Federal Reserve is clear, they are committed to tightening policy in order to get inflation under control, and the way they will do that is by slowing the economy. That said, every quarter they also provide their own projections for how the economy is likely to evolve over the next several years, and this set of projections go all the way out to 2025. So, a very long term view. And one thing I took away from that was they are willing to be patient with inflation coming down if they can manage to get it down without causing a recession. And what do I mean by patient? In their forecasts, it's still all the way out in 2025 that inflation is just a little bit above their 2% target. So they're not trying to get inflation down this year. They're not trying to get inflation down next year. They're not trying to get inflation down even over a two year period, it's quite a long, protracted process that they have in mind. 


Andrew Sheets: One question that's coming up a lot in our meetings with investors is, what's the lag between the Fed raising interest rates today and when that interest rate rise really hits the economy? Because, you are dealing with a somewhat unique situation that the American consumer, to an unusual extent, has most of their debt in a 30 year fixed rate mortgage or some sort of less interest rate sensitive vehicle relative to history. And so if a larger share of American debt is in these fixed rate mortgages, what the Fed does today might take longer to work its way through the economy. So how do you think about that and maybe how do you think the Fed thinks about that issue? 


Seth Carpenter: It's not going to be immediate. In round terms, if you take data for the past 35 years and come up with averages, you know, probably take something like two or three quarters for monetary policy to start to affect the real side of the economy. And then another two or three quarters after that for the slowing in the real side of the economy to start to affect inflation. So, quite a long period of time. Even more complicated is the fact that markets, as you know as well as anyone, start to anticipate central bank. So it's not really from when the central bank changes its policy tools when markets start to build in the tightening. So that gives them a little bit of a head start. So right now, the Fed just pushed its policy rate up to just over 3%, but markets have been pricing in some hiking for some time. So I would say we're already feeling some of the slowing of the real side of the economy from the markets having priced in policy, but there's still a lot more to come. Where is it showing up? You mentioned housing. Mortgage rates have gone up, home prices have appreciated over the past several years, and as a result we have seen new home sales, existing home sales both turnover and start to fall down. So we are starting to see some of it. How much more we see and how deep it goes, I think remains to be seen. 


Andrew Sheets: So Seth, another issue that investors are struggling with is on the one hand, they're seeing all of these quite large moves by global central banks. We're also seeing a reduction in the central bank balance sheet, a reversal of the quantitative easing that was done to support the economy during COVID, the so-called quantitative tightening. How do you think about quantitative tightening? What is it? How should we think about it? 


Seth Carpenter: I have to say, during my time at the Federal Reserve, I wrote memos on precisely this topic. So what is quantitative tightening? It is in some sense the opposite of quantitative easing. So the Federal Reserve, after taking short term interest rates all the way to zero, wanted to try to stimulate the economy more. And so they bought a lot of Treasury securities, they bought a lot of mortgage backed securities with an eye to pushing down longer term interest rates even more to try to stimulate more spending. So quantitative tightening is finding a way to reverse that. They are letting the Treasury securities that they have on their balance sheet mature and then they're not reinvesting, and so their balance sheet is shrinking. They're letting the mortgage backed securities on their balance sheet that are prepaying, run off their balance sheet and they're not reinvesting it. And when they make that choice, it means that the market has to absorb more of these types of securities. So what does the market do? Well, the market has to make room for it in someone's portfolio, and usually what that means is to make room on a portfolio prices have to adjust somewhere. Now, markets have been anticipating this move for a long time, and I suspect our colleagues who are in the Rate Strategy Group suspect that most of the effect of this unwind of the balance sheet is already in the price. But the proof is always really in the pudding, and we'll see over time, as the private sector absorbs all these securities, just how much more price adjustment there has to be. 


Andrew Sheets: And then, I imagine this is a hard question to answer, but if the Fed started to think that it was tightening too much, if the economy was slowing a lot more than expected or there was more stress in the system than expected - do we think it's more likely that they would pause quantitative tightening or that they would pause the rate hikes that the market's expecting? 


Seth Carpenter: I feel pretty highly convicted that if the slowing in the economy that they're seeing is manageable, if it's within the range of what they're expecting, it's interest rates. Interest rates are, to refer once again to what Chair Powell has said many times, the primary tool for adjusting the stance of monetary policy. So they're hiking rates now, at some point they'll reduce the size of those rate hikes and at some point they'll stop those rate hikes. Then the economy, hopefully in their mind, will be slowing to reduce inflationary pressure. They might judge that it's slowing too much if they feel like the adjustment they have to make is to lower interest rates by 25 basis points, maybe 50 basis points, even a little bit more than that if it happens over the course of a year, I still think the primary tool is short term interest rates. However, if the world changes dramatically, if they feel like, oh my gosh, we totally misjudged that. Then I think they would curtail the run off of the balance sheet. 


Andrew Sheets: Seth, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Seth Carpenter: Andrew, It's always my pleasure to talk to you. 


Andrew Sheets: And thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Sep 23, 2022
Thematic Investing: Moonshots
00:08:23

With high returns in mind, investors may be looking to get in on the ground floor with the next ambitious and disruptive technology, but how are these ‘moonshots’ identified and which ones could make a near-term impact? Head of Thematic Research in Europe Ed Stanley and Head of the Global Autos and Shared Mobility Team Adam Jonas discuss.


----- Transcript -----


Ed Stanley: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ed Stanley, Morgan Stanley's Head of Thematic Research based in London. 


Adam Jonas: And I'm Adam Jonas, Head of the Global Autos and Shared Mobility Team. 


Ed Stanley: And on this special episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing the bold potential of moonshot technologies, and particularly in the face of deepening global recession fears. It's Thursday, the 22nd of September, at 4 p.m. in London. 


Adam Jonas: And 11 a.m. in New York. 


Adam Jonas: Let me start with an eye popping number. Since 2000, 1% of companies have generated roughly 40% of shareholder returns by developing moonshots, that is ambitious and radical solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems using disruptive technology. So here at Morgan Stanley Research, we naturally spend a lot of time wondering what are the potential moonshots of the next decade? What's the next light bulb, airplane, satellite, internet? What technologies are developing literally as I record this that we'll be focused on in 2032? So Ed, I know you really want to dig into the specifics of some of the sectors that are touched on in the Moonshot Technologies report you wrote, but first can you maybe explain the framework for identifying these moonshots? 


Ed Stanley: So this is a totally different horizon and way of thinking to what most investors are used to. Typically, when looking for investable themes or technologies in public markets, we focus on those that are at or have surpassed a 20% adoption rate, those essentially with the wind at their back already. But clearly, with moonshots, we're looking much, much earlier, but with a much greater risk reward skew. There are a number of potentially groundbreaking technologies out there incubating right now. The next iPhone moment is out there, is being developed, and it should be all of our job to sniff out what, when and where that pivotal product will come from. But the question we've received is how do you whittle that funnel of potential technologies down? So we come at it from first principles. Academic research, either by individuals, governments or companies, tends to be the genesis for most groundbreaking ideas. This then feeds patenting, or in other words R&D, for small and big companies alike to build a moat around that research they pioneered. And then venture capital comes in to support some of those speculative innovations, but importantly, only those that have product market fit, which is what we focus on. 


Adam Jonas: So Ed, why do you think now is such an interesting time to be thinking about moonshots, given such a challenging macro backdrop? 


Ed Stanley: It's a great question. So if you take a step back, there are always reasons to be concerned in the markets. But moments of peak anxiety in hindsight tend to be the moments of peak opportunity. I'll steal an overused cliche, necessity is the mother of invention. We're more likely to see breakthroughs in energy technology, for example, at the moment, at the point of peak acute pain than five years ago when there was no real impetus. This is exactly why some of the most innovative companies are born during or just after recession or inflationary periods. In fact, if you look at the stats, one third of Fortune 500 companies were born in the handful of recessionary years over the last century. So macro may be getting worse, but we remain pretty committed to uncovering long term, game changing themes and investments. 


Adam Jonas: Can you give us a summary of the output and to which moonshots really stood out to you as having the potential for profound change over the medium term? 


Ed Stanley: Sure. So there are clearly some that are not only profound but frankly unfathomable in terms of their potential impacts. Things like life extension, a startup developing artificial general intelligence, also known as a singularity, and Web3 remains a fascinating sandbox of crypto and blockchain experiments. So there's a wealth of fascinating moonshots in there, but I'd focus on two that have more prescient implications for investors near-term. First is pre-fab housing. It's nothing new as a concept. It's essentially the process of bringing construction into the factory to increase efficiency. But we're now moving from 2D assemblies of walls and roof panels to the real moonshot, which is 3D assembly of the entire house, pre-made, and that is now happening. These pre-built whole houses can be 40 to 50% cheaper and quicker, and so coming back to your question around why now? Moonshots like this have little momentum in good years, but construction input costs up 20% year on year, suddenly you have the catalyst for innovative, greener, low waste pre-fab solutions. And the second one, I think is really fascinating and few people are well versed in it, is deepfakes and the new era of synthetic reality. These are livestream videos and voice renderings to create the impression that you are watching or speaking to someone that you are not. And I think by highlighting this, we are also trying to show that not all moonshots are good news. At the moment, the risk is fake news, but that is the tip of the iceberg. But with that said, Adam, I want to jump to you. You're the perfect person to speak to given your knowledge of EVs in particular. And just like the smartphone market, those were once considered to be far fetched moonshots by some people, and yet they're heading towards ubiquity. So you've written a lot in the last couple of years around the "muskonomy", as you call it. Before we get into some moonshots you're interested in, can you explain to us what the "muskonomy" is? 


Adam Jonas: We're referring to the portfolio of businesses and endeavors of Elon Musk, of course, across EVs and batteries and renewable energy and autonomous vehicles. Of course, his efforts in space and tunneling technology. Taken together we think he's in a position where any improvement in one of those businesses can help the advancement and accelerate development of the other three domains and then kind of feedback on itself and create a bit of velocity. But the point is, these businesses address huge physical markets. Markets that address the atomic economy, what I mean by that, the periodic table not the not the metaverse. Right, we need to kind of sort reality out here. These are high CapEx businesses, high moat businesses where trillions and trillions of capital will need to be redeployed with regulatory oversight, environmental planning, supply chain, industrialization, standards setting and of course, taxpayer involvement along the way. 


Ed Stanley: It's a fascinating point, which we touched on in some of our other research around the innovation stack and how building technology on top of other layers of technology accelerates the disruption. I'm keen to understand from an investability perspective, what time horizons do you think we could expect some of these breakthroughs in? And where are the tailwinds coming from? 


Adam Jonas: Right now, of course his efforts in EVs are well known. What I think is less appreciated is changing how manufacturing is done. Elon wants to make a car, ideally out of a single piece of injected molded aluminum in a 12,000 ton giga press. To really make a fuselage of a car and take the parts count down dramatically. And he wants to inject into this fuselage his structural battery pack, his 4680 battery battery pack. And so changing how vehicles are made and designing the battery into the car is something that really excites us in terms of finally getting that price of EVs down. So the other thing I would highlight that makes us very excited is his tunneling technology, we would watch that. And so we pay attention to Los Angeles and Las Vegas and Austin, Texas and San Antonio and Fort Lauderdale, Miami. These city, city pairs in states where we think Elon Musk can yield influence and we think this could be really the next big thing in infrastructure, not in a 2 to 3 year period, but certainly in a 5 to 10 year period with investment being attracted and relevant right now. 


Ed Stanley: Well, that's a fantastic synopsis. Plenty to whet the appetite on moonshots of the next 5 to 10 years. Adam, thanks very much for taking the time to talk. 


Adam Jonas: Great speaking with you, Ed. 


Ed Stanley: And thanks for listening. If you enjoyed Thoughts on the Market, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or a colleague today. 

Sep 22, 2022
Michael Zezas: Why Isn’t Fed Hiking Impacting Inflation?
00:02:47

Though the Fed continues to raise interest rates, inflation is still high year over year, so why haven’t rate hikes begun to bring inflation down yet?


----- Transcript -----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Global Thematic and Public Policy Research for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, September 21st at 10 a.m. in New York. 


The Fed continues to hike interest rates, but inflation is still running hot in the U.S. as demonstrated by last week's 8.3% year over year growth in the Consumer Price Index. When and how the Fed will eventually succeed in dampening inflation is an important consideration for markets, but investors should also focus on another question. Why hasn't fed hiking worked to bring down inflation yet? 


Well, there's a strong case to be made that the U.S. economy is less sensitive to changes in interest rates today than it has been in the past. In total, about 90% of all household debt today is fixed rate, meaning that as the Fed hikes rates and market rates rise, consumers’ debts don't cost them more to service. If they did, then rising interest rates would dampen economic growth by dampening aggregate demand. Those higher rates would in theory crimp consumption, as households direct less of their money toward buying goods and services and more toward paying their debts. That, in turn, would ease inflation. 


Understanding this dynamic is important for investors in a few ways. Take the housing market, for example. After the housing crisis that touched off the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, adjustable rate mortgages only now make up a small fraction of all mortgages. Sure, higher mortgage rates means buying a new home is effectively more expensive, but with so many more mortgages in the U.S. carrying a fixed rate and issued to individuals with higher credit scores, the cost of owning a home to current owners hasn't changed. That means there's little incentive for homeowners to sell and or reduce the asking price for their home. Hence, our housing strategists expect home sales to decline meaningfully, but you may not see a lot of price deterioration in the aggregate. 


The bond market is another place we see this dynamic on display. Our interest rate strategy team expects you'll see the yield curve continue to flatten and invert, with shorter maturity yields rising faster than longer ones. Why? Because shorter maturities typically track the Fed funds rate, which the Fed has clearly stated will continue going higher until there's clear evidence of inflation deceleration, which could take longer given the economy's lessened sensitivity to rising rates. For bond investors, the bottom line is you should consider something that historically has been pretty unusual - longer maturities might perform better even as rates go higher. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

Sep 21, 2022
Robin Xing: Can China’s Economy Stabilize Global Growth?
00:04:05

As the global economic outlook turns toward a slowdown in growth, some investors may look to China for stability, but, when they do, what will they find?


----- Transcript -----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Robin Xing, Morgan Stanley's Chief China Economist. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I will discuss whether China can stabilize global growth amid recession fears. It's Tuesday, September 20th at 9 AM in Hong Kong. 


The global economic outlook is dimming, and my colleagues have already discussed their expectations for slowdown in developed market economies driven by surging prices and aggressive monetary policy tightening. In this context, investors are likely to turn their attention to China, perhaps hoping it can once again stabilize global growth as it did after the 2008 global financial crisis. China's economy, however, appears to be fragile. While it has bottomed after the contraction due to Shanghai lockdown in the second quarter, it is still modeling not yet through. And we forecast a below consensus 2.8% GDP growth this year, and only a modest rebound to slightly above 5% in 2023. 


To date, China has deployed the monetary policy easing and the infrastructure investment spending. But these steps have not got a lot of traction because of two key hurdles; continuing COVID restrictions and the trouble in its housing market. We see growth rebounding in next year, but that recovery depends heavily on policy addressing these two key hurdles. Hence, we look for a more concerted policy response in the housing market, and a clearer path towards reopening post the upcoming 20th Party Congress in October. 


First, to limit the fallout from the housing sector, Beijing will likely ramp up policy support. It is true that China's aging population has pushed the housing market into a structural downward trajectory, but the pace of the recent collapse vastly exceeds that trend. The choke point is homebuyers lack of confidence in developers ability to deliver the pre-sold house, which shrinks new home sales and puts more stress on developers liquidity. We think that Beijing will provide additional funding and intervention to ensure contracted home construction is completed. This, combined with more home purchases, stimulus and the liquidity support to surviving developers could break the negative feedback loop. 


Second, we expect a gradual exit from COVID-zero next spring. With the more transmissive Omicron, the rolling lockdowns in China are taking their toll on consumption and even posing challenges to supply chains. The renewed lockdowns in several major cities and the recent slowdown in vaccination progress suggest that COVID-zero would not end swiftly after the Party Congress in October. But the key metrics to watch by then will be, first, the pace of vaccination, second, wider adoption of domestic covid treatment and finally shift in public opinion from fearing the virus to a more balanced assessment. 


Provided that policy can address these two hurdles I just described, China's economic recovery should firm up from second quarter 2023 onwards, with growth of slightly above 5% for next year are our numbers. But even with this rebound, the positives spill over to the rest of the world is unlikely to be on par with history. Construction activities might improve with the stabilizing property sector, which is a familiar driver of Chinese imports. But the key driver will be a turnaround in domestic private consumption, particularly of services, so that demand pull from other economies will be somewhat muted. 


Thus, while we doubt that China would tip the global economy into recession, neither do we see China at its salvation. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

Sep 20, 2022
Seth Carpenter: Tracking the Coming Slowdown
00:04:09

From Europe, to China, to the U.S., global economies are facing unique challenges as the brewing storm of recession risks seem to still indicate a slowdown ahead.


----- Transcript -----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Seth Carpenter, Global Chief Economist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the rising risks of global recession and what might be ahead. It's Thursday, September 22nd at 10 a.m. in New York. 


About a year ago, I wrote about the brewing storm of recession risks around the world. Some downbeat economics news has come in since then, but the worst of the global slowdown is ahead of us, not behind us. We have an outright recession as our baseline forecast in the euro area and the U.K. The Chinese economy is on the brink with such weak growth that whether we have a global recession or not might just turn out to be a semantic distinction. 


First, Europe. It's hardly out of consensus at this point to call for a recession there, but we have been forecasting a recession since the start of the summer. The energy crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a cost shock that is now effectively locked into the outlook for the next couple of quarters. Consumer bills will stay high, sapping purchasing power, fiscal deficits will take a hit and industries are already rationing energy use. 


For the UK, leaving Europe has not left behind the energy crisis across the channel. And the UK is also suffering from structural changes to its labor supply and trade relationships, and that's dragging down growth beyond these cyclical movements. That said, new leadership in Parliament is pointing to a huge fiscal stimulus that will mitigate the pain to households and reduce the depth of the recession. 


Now turning to China, markets have looked at China as a possible buoy for global growth, but this time any such hope really needs to be tempered, China's economy is in a fragile position. In our forecasts growth this year will be about 2.75%, below consensus and well below the potential growth of the economy. And then we think there'll be a rebound in growth next year, we're only looking for a modest 5.25% next year. Those sorts of numbers are not the real game changers people hope for. So far, the fiscal and monetary policy that has been deployed has not got a lot of traction. 


There are two key restraints on the Chinese economy right now; trouble in the housing market and continuing COVID restrictions. After the party Congress in mid-October things should probably start to change, but we're not expecting a quick fix. Right now construction and delivery of new homes is not getting done, so the cash flow is drying up, creating an adverse feedback loop. So far, the PBOC has rolled out about 200 billion renminbi bank loans to support this delivery, and we expect more intervention and funding over time. So as easy as it is to be gloomy on the outlook, a catastrophic collapse in housing doesn't seem likely. As for COVID, we are now expecting only a gradual exit from COVID zero next spring. The key metrics to watch will be the pace of vaccinations and wider adoption of domestic COVID treatments and a shift in public opinion. In particular, we think getting the over 60 population to at least an 80% booster vaccination rate next spring will flag the removal of restrictions. 


If there is a silver lining, it's that we still think the U.S. avoids a near-term recession. Despite notching a technical recession in the first half of the year, the U.S. outlook is somewhat brighter. For the first half of the year nonfarm payrolls averaged almost 450,000 per month, that's hardly the stuff of nightmares. But we don't want to be too cheerful. From the Fed's perspective, the economy has to slow to bring down inflation. They are raising interest rates expressly to slow the economy. So far, the housing market has clearly turned, but payrolls have only slowed a bit, and the moderation in wage inflation is probably not as much as the Fed is looking for. To date, we have not seen much slowing in consumer durables, so the economy remains beyond its speed limit and the Fed will keep hiking. How much? Well, depends on how strong the economy stays. So there really isn't much upside, only downside. The Fed is committed to hiking until the demand pressures driving inflation back off, so one way or another, the economy is going to slow. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy this show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Sep 19, 2022
Andrew Sheets: The Case for Credit
00:03:04

While credit and equities have both suffered this year, economic conditions in the U.S. and Emerging Markets may lead to credit having a bit more stability in the coming months.


----- Transcript -----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, September 16th, at 3 p.m. in London. 


Year-to-date, both credit and equities have suffered. Looking ahead, we think credit is better positioned in both the U.S. and emerging markets, given the outlook for growth, policy and relative valuations. 


Conventional wisdom can change quickly in markets. Two months ago, there was widespread concern that the United States was already in a recession, given weak readings of quarterly GDP and some of the lowest levels of consumer confidence since the 2009 financial crisis. That weakness drove hope over July and August. Maybe the Federal Reserve had raised interest rates enough. Maybe it was nearly done. 


But the data since points to an American economy that continues to trundle along. The labor market continues to look extremely healthy, with about 315,000 jobs added last month and over 3.5 million jobs added year-to-date. Manufacturing activity has expanded every month this year. And consumer spending remains solid, one of the reasons core inflation remains elevated. 


In short, if the U.S. economy is going to slow down, that risk lies ahead of us, not behind us. And as long as the data remains solid and core inflation remains elevated, the Federal Reserve will face pressure to air on the side of caution and keep raising rates to tamp down on inflationary pressure. 


For investors this backdrop, where economic activity is still solid but might slow in the future, where inflation is high and the central bank is hiking, and where the labor market is tight and the yield curve is inverted, is what's commonly referred to as a "late cycle" environment. 


It's a set of conditions that has historically been challenging for future returns overall, but it's often been worse for equities relative to credit over the following 12 months, as the former is more sensitive to a potential slowdown in growth that hasn't happened yet. 


In addition to the economic conditions, relative valuations have also moved in favor of credit markets relative to equities. In the US, 1 to 5 year corporate bonds now yield about 4.9%, rapidly nearing the current earnings yield of the S&P 500 at about 5.9%. Despite just a 1% difference in yield, those short dated bonds have about one fifth of the volatility of stocks over the last 30 days. 


We hold a similar view on Emerging Markets. The sovereign debt index yields about 7.7%, just 1% less than the earnings yield of the MSCI Emerging Market Equity Index. Not only is EM sovereign debt less volatile than EM equities, but it has more exposure to the countries our analysts think provide the better risk reward. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Sep 16, 2022
U.S. Public Policy: The Impact of Student Loan Forgiveness
00:06:37

The White House recently announced a student loan forgiveness program, prompting questions about implementation, economic implications, and whether the program will have an impact on consumer spending. Sarah Wolfe of the U.S. Economics team and Arianna Salvatore of the U.S. Public Policy team discuss.


----- Transcript -----


Sarah Wolfe: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Sarah Wolfe from Morgan Stanley's U.S. Economics Team. 


Ariana Salvatore: And I'm Ariana Salvatore from Morgan Stanley's U.S. Public Policy Research Team. 


Sarah Wolfe: And on this episode of the podcast, we'll focus on student loans, in particular the recent student loan forgiveness program, and we'll dig into the impact on consumers and the economy. It's Thursday, September 15th, at 12 p.m. in New York. 


Sarah Wolfe: So, Ariana, the White House recently announced plans to forgive individuals up to $20,000 in federal student loans and extend the moratorium on interest payments. However, there was some confusion earlier in the year as both President Biden and Speaker Pelosi expressed doubts about the president's authority to cancel student debt. So is this something that requires an act of Congress, or can the president really do it alone? 


Ariana Salvatore: As you mentioned, prior to the announcement, there was some unresolved questions out there surrounding the legality of canceling student debt. In revealing the program, the administration cited authority from a 2003 law called the 'Heroes Act' that gives the executive the power to reduce or eliminate student debt during a national emergency, “when significant actions with potentially far reaching consequences are often required”. That being said, don't expect it to go over quietly. Reporting indicates that some Republican attorneys general are looking to bring legal challenges to the plan, which could present a risk to execution. But let's put questions about implementation aside for a second. What does reduced student debt impact more, longer term planning or immediate spending? And how do you quantify the impact on consumer spending? 


Sarah Wolfe: Thanks, Ariana. I'd like to just take a step back for a second before I talk about the economic impact, just so we could size up the program a bit. We estimate that there's going to be $330 to $390 billion in debt directly forgiven as part of this program. However, we estimate that the fiscal multiplier is actually quite small. So every dollar of debt that's forgiven that's going to get spent and put back into the economy, is really estimated at only 0.1. This is really small when you consider the fiscal multiplier of the COVID stimulus programs. So for example, the stimulus checks, supplemental unemployment benefits, that had a fiscal multiplier of 0.5 to 0.9. So it was much larger. The reason for this is because our survey work shows that people who have their student debt forgiven don't actually change their immediate spending patterns. Instead, it really impacts longer term planning. We're talking about paying down other debts, planning for retirement, perhaps buying a house or having a child earlier, and so there's not really an immediate spending impact on the economy. What does have a larger fiscal multiplier is forbearance coming to an end. Prior to COVID, people were on average paying $260 a month in student loan payments. That's been on hold for two and a half years. So when that resumes again in January, it's likely going to be less than $260 a month because of the loan forgiveness and other measures passed by the White House to limit loan payments per month. However, that's an immediate impact to discretionary income, and as a result, we're going to see a lot of households adjust their spending in the near term to make these new loan payments. Arianna, speaking of student loan forbearance, which I mentioned is set to end at the end of this year after a number of extensions, the White House is hoping that forgiveness is going to kick in right when forbearance comes to an end. Can we actually count on the timing working out like this? 


Ariana Salvatore: So there's definitely a risk that the program is delayed because of normal implementation hurdles, right. Things like determining eligibility for cancellation among millions of borrowers. The Department of Education memo that was released following the announcement says that 8 million borrowers may be eligible to receive relief automatically because relevant income data is already available. However, the department is also in the process of creating an application so borrowers can apply for forgiveness on their own, but that hasn't gone live yet. The DOE said it would be ready no later than when the pause on federal student loan repayments expires at the end of this year. Unfortunately, there's no real way to know when exactly that will be. 


Sarah Wolfe: So let me just get this clear. The Department of Education only has the information on 8 million student loan borrowers right now. So they're going to need to gather the information for the remaining borrowers up to 43 million in order to start this forgiveness program. 


Ariana Salvatore: Yeah, exactly. And that's why we tend to see large scale government programs like this take a little bit of time to ramp up rollout and have impacts on the economy. So in the event that all of those eligible to take advantage of the forgiveness program actually do so, let's focus in on the macroeconomic impacts. In this high inflation environment, wouldn't student loan forgiveness also have an additional inflationary effect? 


Sarah Wolfe: Definitely at face value, student loan forgiveness is inflationary. However, as I mentioned earlier, because it doesn't impact near-term spending decisions and is more about longer term planning, the inflationary impact, I think, is less than people would think. It's estimated to only add 0.1 to 0.5 percentage points to inflation 12 months following the cancellation. However, the forbearance program, as I mentioned, since that's going to have more of an immediate impact on spending decisions, that's going to have a deflationary impact. And it's estimated that forbearance programs are going to shave 0.2 percentage points off inflation over the 12 months following forbearance starting again. And so if you think about forgiveness being inflationary and forbearance being disinflationary, it's likely that forbearance is going to outweigh some of the inflationary impact, if not all of it, from forgiveness. 


Ariana Salvatore: Okay, so bringing it back to a more micro level. Last question for you here, Sarah. What are the implications for consumer credit and consumer ABS? 


Sarah Wolfe: We think that student loan payments restarting in January pose quite a bit of risk to consumer credit quality. Although we're seeing consumer credit quality today is very healthy and delinquencies are low, we are starting to see delinquencies rise for subprime borrowers in recent months. Also, if we dig into the data and look at how student loan borrowers have been paying down their student loans over the last 2.5 years versus those who haven't been, the credit quality for those who have not been is much worse than those who have been. That leads us to believe that come January, when everybody needs to start paying down their student loans, that in particular these more subprime, lower income borrowers are really going to struggle and it's going to deteriorate credit quality. 


Sarah Wolfe: Well, Ariana, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Ariana Salvatore: Great speaking with you, Sarah. 


Sarah Wolfe: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

Sep 15, 2022
Michael Zezas: Why the Midterm Elections Matter
00:02:34

With only 60 days to go until the U.S. midterm elections, investors will want to know how different outcomes could impact markets, both locally and globally.


----- Transcript -----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Global Thematic and Public Policy Research for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, September 14th, at 10 a.m. in New York. 


We're less than 60 days from the U.S. midterm elections and investors should pay attention. A lot has changed since we published our midterm election guide earlier this year, so here's what you need to know now. 


First, there's still key policies in play. Sure, Democrats have had more legislative success in recent months than many expected. By enacting corporate tax increases, a prescription drug negotiation plan, a major appropriation to clean energy transformation, and the China competition bill, Democrats took off the table many of the policy variables whose outcomes would have relied on the outcome of the election. But some key policy variables remain that matter to markets. In particular tech regulation, crypto regulation and tougher China competition measures, such as outbound investment controls, become more possible if Democrats manage to keep control of Congress. That would give them a greater opportunity to enact policies that could otherwise be held up or watered down by partisan disagreement. 


Second, this means there's a lot at stake for some pockets of global markets. Tech regulation would be a fundamental challenge to the U.S. Internet sector. Crypto regulation could be a key support for financial services by putting the crypto industry on the same regulatory playing field as the banks. And outbound investment controls could be a clear challenge for China equities by putting a substantial amount of foreign direct investment at risk. 


Finally, investors should understand these impacts aren't just hypotheticals, because, unlike earlier this year, Democrats electoral prospects have improved. Better showings in polls on key Senate races and the generic ballot have translated into prediction markets and independent models, marking Democrats as a modest favorite to keep Senate control, though they're still rated as an underdog to keep control of the House of Representatives. While it's difficult to pinpoint what's driven this change, voter discontent with the Supreme Court's Roe decision, as well as easing of some inflation pressures, may have contributed. 


Bottom line, the midterm election remains a market catalyst and it's coming up quickly. We'll keep tracking developments and potential market impacts and keep you informed. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

Sep 14, 2022
Daniel Blake: The Resilience of Japanese Equities
00:03:49

As various global markets contend with high inflation, recession risks, and monetary policy tightening, Japanese equities may provide some opportunities to diversify away from other developed markets.


----- Transcript -----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Daniel Blake from Morgan Stanley's Asia and Emerging Markets Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll discuss the resilience of Japanese equities in the face of an expected global downturn. It's Tuesday, September 13, at 8 a.m. in Singapore. 


As Morgan Stanley's Chief Global Economist Seth Carpenter noted in mid-August, the clouds of recession are gathering globally. In the U.S., the Fed is hiking rates and withdrawing liquidity. Europe is suffering from high inflation, looming recession and an energy shortage. And China is facing a rocky path to recovery. In this global context, the external risks for Japan are rising quickly. And yet, compared to the turbulence in the rest of the world, Japanese equities are enjoying rather calm domestic, macro and policy waters. 


In Japan, we see support for this cycle coming from three sources; domestic policy, the Japanese yen and capital discipline at the corporate sector. First, the monetary policy divergence between the Bank of Japan and global peers has been remarkable, and in our view justified by differences in inflation and growth backdrops. Japanese core inflation is just 1.4%, and if we strip out food and energy, inflation is a mere 0.4% year over year. And so we don't expect any tightening from the Bank of Japan or of fiscal policy over the next six months. Secondly, the Japanese yen is acting as a funding currency and a buffer for earnings, rather than the typical safe haven that historically tends to amplify earnings drawdowns in an economic downturn. And third, improving capital discipline is contributing to newfound earnings resilience and insulating the return on equity, with buybacks tracking at a record pace of ¥10 trillion annualized year to date. 


In addition to monetary and fiscal policy, Japan's more cautious approach to reducing COVID restrictions and employment focused stimulus programs have meant that the economy is in a different phase vis-a-vis other developed markets. Our expectation for Japan's economy is low but steady growth of 1.3% on average over 2022 and 2023. 


As for the Japanese yen, we believe that a weaker yen is still a tailwind for TOPIX earnings. As a result of policy and real rate divergence, as well as the negative terms of trade shock from higher commodity prices, the yen has fallen to fresh record lows on a real effective exchange rate basis. The impact of a historically weak currency on the overall economy is still the subject of some debate, but one of the largest transmission channels of a weaker yen into supporting domestic services and employment is through tourism activity, which has been constrained to date by COVID policies. But looking ahead, the combination of reopening and a highly competitive tourism offering should set up a very strong recovery in passenger volumes and spending, as we saw during the European summer this year. 


So where do all these global and domestic cross-currents leave us with respect to Japanese equities? We remain overweight on the TOPIX index versus our MSCI Asia-Pacific, ex-Japan and emerging markets coverage. We've been above consensus in forecasting an exceptional recovery in TOPIX earnings per share, but we acknowledge that to date it has been largely driven by export oriented stocks. 


But currently, the external environment for Asia's major exporters is weakening as a result of tighter policies, slower growth and a revision in spending from goods to services. So while this trend will impact, we think, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore more so, China and Japan will also feel the impacts given their large goods trade surpluses. But with all this said, the Japanese market still provides liquid opportunities to diversify away from the U.S. and Europe, where Morgan Stanley strategists are cautious. 


So while Japanese equities have historically underperformed in global downturns, the current setup leaves us more optimistic on Japan in particular, compared with other regions like the U.S. and Europe. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Sep 13, 2022
Graham Secker: European Equities Face Earnings Concerns
00:03:57

Even as the European equity market contends with inflation, a slowing economy and a climate of decreased earnings, there are positives to be found if you know where to look.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the outlook for European equity markets for the remainder of this year. It's Monday, September 12th, at 2 p.m. in London. 


After a brief rally in European equities earlier in the summer, reality has reasserted itself over the last month with markets unable to escape a tricky macro backdrop characterized by central banks speeding up rate hikes into what is a deepening economic slowdown. In the last couple of weeks alone, our economists have raised their forecasts for ECB rate hikes and cut their GDP numbers to signal a deeper upcoming recession. 


So let's dig into the investment implications of these challenges in a bit more detail. First on rates, over the last 20 years there has been a close relationship between interest rates and equity valuations, whereby higher rates lead to lower price to earnings ratios. Hence, the fact that central banks are still in the early stages of their hiking cycle suggests a high probability that PE ratios have further to fall. In addition to higher base rates, the pace of quantitative tightening is also speeding up, and our bond strategists forecast higher sovereign yields ahead. Here in Europe, they see ten year bond yields rising to 2% or more later this year, which will be consistent with a further fall in Europe's PE ratio to around 10x or so. That would imply 15% lower equity prices from here. 


Second, we expect the European economy to slow over the next couple of quarters and this should put pressure on corporate profits which have been resilient so far this year, thanks to strong commodity sector upgrades and a material boost from the weakness we've seen in the euro and sterling. Looking forward, our models are flagging large downside risks to consensus earnings estimates for the next 12 to 18 months and we are 16% below consensus by the end of 2023. To provide some additional context, we note that consensus expects European earnings, excluding the commodity sectors, to grow faster next year than this year. This acceleration looks odd to us when you consider that our economists see slower GDP growth in 23 than 22, and our own margin lead indicator is suggesting we could face the largest year on year drop in corporate margins since the global financial crisis. 


Our concern on earnings is a significant factor behind our continued preference for defensives over cyclicals. While some investors argue that the latter group are now sufficiently cheap to buy, we question the sustainability of the earnings that is underpinning the low PE ratios given the, first, we have seen very few downgrades so far. Second, margins are currently at record highs for many of these cyclical sectors. And then lastly, cyclicals tend to see larger earnings declines during downturns than the wider market. This gives rise to the old adage that investors should buy cyclicals on high PE ratios, not low ones. 


Consistent with this view, we have recently downgraded three cyclical sectors to underweight from our top down perspective, these being autos, capital goods and construction. We are also underweight chemicals and retailing. So what do we like instead? Sectors with more defensive characteristics, such as health care, insurance, telecoms, utilities and energy. We also like stocks that offer a high and secure cash return yield, whether that be driven by dividends, buybacks or both. To end on a positive note, the level of buyback activity in Europe has never been stronger than what we are seeing today, whether we measure it by the number of companies that are repurchasing their shares or the amounts of money they are spending to do so. In addition, we note that those European companies who have offered a healthy buyback yield over time have been consistent outperformers. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Sep 12, 2022
Andrew Sheets: The Complex U.K. Economy
00:03:10

As the world turns to the U.K., the country faces a host of domestic and international economic challenges, but there may yet be some bright spots for investors.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape, and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, September 9th at 2:00pm in London.


Queen Elizabeth II passed away yesterday. She was the only monarch most in Britain have ever known, a steady constant over a period of enormous global change. She defined an era, and will be missed. 


The eyes of the world have now turned to the United Kingdom, and they do so at a time when the country is facing an unusually high level of uncertainty.


The U.K. economy, which was recently surpassed in size by India, is still the worlds sixth largest. But it’s currently being buffeted by a host of economic challenges. Some are domestic, some are international, but combined they create one of the trickiest stories in the global economy.


First among these challenges is inflation. Rising costs for energy have driven Consumer prices in the U.K. up 10% year-over-year, but even excluding volatile food and energy, U.K. core inflation is still over 6%. And elevated inflation is not expected to be fleeting. Market-based estimates of U.K. inflation, over the next 10 years, are the highest since 1996.


Those elevated prices have driven U.K. interest rates higher, but even so, U.K. rates relative to inflation are still some of the lowest of any major economy, which makes holding the currency less attractive. That has weakened the British Pound, but since the U.K. runs a current account deficit, and imports more than it exports, imported things have become more expensive, creating even more inflationary pressure.


The U.K’s decision to leave the European Union, its largest trading partner, is another complication. By restricting the movement of labor, it’s created a negative supply shock and increased costs.  And it has increased the fiction in trading abroad, especially with Europe, making it harder for U.K. exporters to take advantage of the country’s weaker currency.


The response to all this high inflation will likely be further rate hikes from the bank of England. But this has the potential to feed back into the economy unusually fast. Over here, many student loan payments are tied to the bank of England rate. And the rate on U.K. mortgages is often fixed for only 2 to 5 years, in contrast to the 30 year fixing common in the United States. That means the impact of higher interest rates into higher mortgage costs could be felt very soon.


For U.K. assets, the fact that a 10 year U.K. Government bond yields less than a 6-month U.S. Treasury bill, and much less than U.K. inflation, creates poor risk/reward. The Pound could continue to weaken, given all of these myriad economic challenges. But one bright spot might be the equity market, the FTSE 100. Trading at about 9x next year earnings, and benefiting from a weaker currency as many of these companies sell product abroad, we forecast stocks in the U.K. to outperform those in the Eurozone.


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We’d love to hear from you.

Sep 09, 2022
Matthew Hornbach: How Markets Price in Quantitative Tightening
00:04:02

The impact of quantitative monetary policies is hard to understand, for investors and academics alike, but why are these impacts so complex and how might investors better understand the market implications?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Matthew Hornbach, Global Head of Macro Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about global macro trends and how investors can interpret these trends for rates and currency markets. It's Thursday, September 8th, at 10 a.m. in New York. 


QT is the talk of the town. QT stands for quantitative tightening, which is meant to contrast it with QE, or quantitative easing. QT sounds intimidating, especially when respected investors mention the term and, at the same time, ring the fire alarm on financial news networks. 


Unfortunately, the exact workings of QT and QE and their ultimate impact on markets aren't well understood. And that's not just a comment about the general public's understanding. It even applies to investors who have long dealt with quantitative policies and for academics who have long studied them. 


There are four reasons why the impact of quantitative monetary policies, as the Fed has implemented them, is hard to understand. First, different institutions take the lead in determining the impact of QE versus QT. The Fed determines the first round impact of quantitative easing, while the U.S. Treasury and mortgage originators determine the first round impact of quantitative tightening. 


Second, as the phrase "first round impact" implies, there are second round impacts as well. In the case of quantitative easing, the first round occurs when the Fed buys a U.S. Treasury or Agency mortgage backed security, also known as an agency MBS, from an investor. The second round occurs when that investor uses the cash from the Fed to buy something else. 


In the case of quantitative tightening, the first round occurs when an investor sells something in order to raise the cash that it needs. What does it need the cash for? Well, to buy a forthcoming Treasury Security or agency MBS. The second round occurs when the U.S. Treasury auctions that security or when a mortgage originator issues an agency MBS in order to raise the cash that the Fed is no longer providing. 


Third, QE and QT affect different markets in different ways. QE affects the Treasury and agency MBS markets directly in the first round. But in the second round, investor decisions about how to invest that cash could affect a wide variety of markets from esoteric loan products to blue chip equities. 


In that sense, some of the impact of QE is indirect and could affect some markets more than others. Similarly with QT, investor decisions about what to sell could affect a large number of markets, again some more than others. In addition, what the U.S. Treasury issues and what mortgage originators sell can change over time with financing needs and different market environments. 


Finally, markets price these different effects with different probabilities and at different times. For example, when the Fed announces a QE program, we know with near certainty that the Fed will buy Treasuries and agency MBS and generally know how much of each the Fed will buy. So investors can price in those effects relatively soon after the announcement. 


But we don't know, with nearly the same probability, what the sellers of those treasuries and agency MBS will do with the cash until they actually get the cash from the Fed. And that could be months after the announcement when the Fed actually buys the securities. 


Figuring out the effect on markets from QT is even more complicated because even though we know what the Fed will no longer buy, we don't know exactly what or how much the U.S. Treasury or mortgage originators will sell. 


If all of this sounds complex, believe me it is. There are no easy conclusions to draw for your investment strategies when it comes to QT. So the next time someone rings the fire alarm and yells QT, first look for where there might be smoke before running out of the building or selling all of your risky assets. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show. 

Sep 08, 2022
U.S. Housing: Will Housing Prices Continue to Rise?
00:05:42

While home price appreciation appears to be slowing, and a rapid increase in supply is hitting the market, how will housing prices fare through the rest of the year and into 2023? Co-Heads of U.S. Securitized Products Research Jay Bacow and Jim Egan discuss.


-----Transcript------


Jim Egan: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jim Egan, Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research here at Morgan Stanley. 


Jay Bacow: And I'm Jay Bacow. The other Co-Head of U.S. Securities Products Research. 


Jim Egan: And on this episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing supply and demand in the U.S. housing market. It's Wednesday, September 7th, at 3 p.m. in New York. 


Jay Bacow: All right, Jim. Housing headlines have started to get a little more bleak. Home price appreciation slowed pretty materially with last week's print. Now, your call has been that activity is going to decrease, but home prices are going to keep growing. Where do we stand on that? 


Jim Egan: We would say that the bifurcation narrative still holds. We think housing activity metrics, and when we say housing activity we're specifically talking about home sales and housing starts, have some continued sharp declines in the months to come. But we do think that home prices are going to continue growing on a year over year basis, even despite a disappointing print that you mentioned from last week. 


Jay Bacow: But I have to askv, what are you looking at that gives you confidence in your home price call? Where could you be wrong given the slowdown we just saw? 


Jim Egan: We say a lot of fancy sounding things when we talk about the housing market, but ultimately they're just different ways of describing supply and demand. Demand is weakening. That's that drop in activity we're forecasting. But supply is also very tight and that contributes to our view that while home price growth needs to slow, it should remain positive on a year over year basis. 


Jay Bacow: All right, but haven't some metrics of supply been moving higher? 


Jim Egan: Look, we knew we were not going to be able to say that supply was historically tight forever. Existing inventories are now climbing year over year for the first time in 37 months. And another very popular metric of supply, months of supply, is effectively getting a 1-2 punch right now. Months of supply measures how much the current supply of housing listed for sale, would take to clear at current demand levels. So in a world in which supply is increasing and demand is falling, you have a numerator climbing and a denominator falling, so you're effectively supercharging months of supply, if you will. We were at a cycle low of 2.1 months of inventory, the lowest we've seen in at least three and a half decades, in January of this year. We're at 4.1 months of supply just six months later. 


Jay Bacow: So that number is a lot higher, but 4.1 months of supply is still really low. Isn't there some old saying that anything less than six months of supply is a seller's market? So wouldn't that be good for home prices? 


Jim Egan: Yes. And given recent work that we've done, we think that that saying is there for good reason. If we go back to the mid 1980s, so the Case-Shiller index that we're forecasting here that's as far back as this index goes. And every single time that months of supply has been below six, the Case-Shiller index was still appreciating six months forward. Home prices were still climbing, six months forward. So the absolute level of inventory is in a pretty healthy place despite the recent increases. However, that rate of change is a little concerning. We've gone from 2.1 months to 4.1 months over just six months of actual time, and when we look at that rate of change historically, it actually does tend to predict falling home prices a year forward. So, absolute level of inventory leaves us confident in continued home price growth, but the rate of change of that underlying inventory calls continued home price growth in 2023 into question. 


Jay Bacow: So we're going to have more inventory, but the pace has been accelerating. How do we think about the pace of that increase?


Jim Egan: If that pace were to continue at its current levels, that would make us really concerned about home prices next year. But we do think the pace of inventory growth is going to slow and we think that for two main reasons. The two biggest inputs into inventory are new inventories and existing. New inventories, and we've talked about this on the podcast before, we think they're about to really slow down. Homebuilder confidence is down 43% from cycle peaks in November of 2020. Part of that's the affordability deterioration we talked about earlier, but it's also because of a backlog in the building process. Single unit starts are back to 1997 levels. Units under construction, so between starts and completions, are back to 2004 levels - it is taking longer to finish those homes. And we have had a forecast that we thought that was going to lead to single unit starts slowing down, it finally has over the past two months after plateauing for almost a year. We think they're going to continue to fall pretty precipitously in the back half of this year, which should mean that new inventory stop climbing at the same pace that they've been climbing. Existing inventories also should stop their current pace of climb because of the lock in effect that we've talked about here before. Effectively, current homeowners have been able to lock in very low mortgage rates over the course of the past two years. They're not going to be incentivized to list their homes at similar rates to historical places because of that lock in effect. So for both of those reasons, we think the pace of increase in inventory is going to slow, and that's why we continue to think that home prices are going to grow on a year over year basis. They're just going to slow from 18% now, to 9% by the end of this year, to 3% by the end of 2023. 


Jay Bacow: Okay. So effectively the low amount of absolute supply is going to keep home prices supported. The change in the amount of supply makes us  a little bit more cautious on home prices on a longer term outlook. But we think that pace of that change is going to slow down.


Jay Bacow: Jim, always a pleasure talking to you. 


Jim Egan: Great talking to you too, Jay. 


Jay Bacow: And thank you for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on the Apple Podcasts app and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

Sep 07, 2022
Mike Wilson: Preparing for an Icy Winter
00:04:22

While interest rates have already weighed on asset markets this year and growth continues to slow, the Fed seems poised to continue on its tightening path, meaning investors may need to prepare for part two of our Fire and Ice narrative.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Tuesday, September 6th, at 9 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


At the risk of stating the obvious, 2022 has been a challenging year for stock investors of all stripes. The Russell 3000 is down approximately 18% year to date, and while growth stocks have underperformed significantly it's been no picnic for value investors either. As far as sectors only energy and utilities are up this year, and just 24% of all stocks in the Russell 3000 are in positive territory. To put that into context, in 2008, 48% of the Russell 3000 stocks were up on the year as we entered the month of September and then the bottom dropped out. Suffice it to say, this year has been historically bad for stocks. However, that is not a sufficient reason to be bullish in our view. 


As bad as has been for stocks, it's been even worse for bonds on a risk adjusted basis. More specifically, 20 year Treasury bonds are now down 24% year to date, and the Barclays AG Index is off by 11%. Finally, commodities have been a mixed bag too, with most commodities down on the year, despite heightened concerns about inflation. For example, the CRB RIND Index, which measures the spot prices of a wide range of commodities, is down 7% year to date. Cash, on the other hand, is no longer trash, especially if one has been able to take advantage of higher front end rates. 


So what's going on? In our view, asset markets are behaving right in line with the fire and ice narrative we laid out a year ago. In short, after ignoring the warning signs from inflation last year and thinking the Fed would ignore them too, asset markets quickly woke up and discounted the Fed's late but historically hawkish pivot to address the sharp rise in prices. Indeed, very rarely has the Fed tightened policy so quickly. Truth be told, as one of the more hawkish strategists on the street last December, I never would have bet the Fed would be doing multiple 75 basis point hikes this year, but here we are. And remember, don't fight the Fed. 


While the June low for stocks and bonds was an important one, we've consistently been in the camp that it wasn't the low for the S&P 500 in this bear market. Having said that, we are more confident it was the low for long term treasuries in view of the Fed's aggressive action that has yet to fully play out in the real economy. It may have also been the low for the average stock, given how bad the breadth was at that time and the magnitude of the decline in certain stocks. 


Our more pessimistic view on the major index is based on analysis that indicates all the 31% de-rating in the forward S&P 500 P/E that occurred from December was due to higher interest rates. We know this because the equity risk premium was flat during this period. Meanwhile, forward earnings estimates for the S&P 500 have come down by only 1.5%, and price earnings ratio's back up 9% from where it was. With interest rates about 25 basis points below the June highs, the equity risk premium has fallen once again to just 280 basis points. This makes little sense in a normal environment, but especially given these significant earnings cuts we think are still to come. 


With the Fed dashing hopes for a dovish pivot on this policy a few weeks ago, we think asset markets may be entering fire and ice part two. In contrast with part one, this time the decline in stocks will come mostly through a higher equity risk premium and lower earnings rather than higher interest rates. In fact, our earnings models are all flashing red for the S&P 500, and we have high confidence that the decline in forward S&P 500 earnings forecasts is far from over. 


In short, part two will be more icy than fiery, the opposite of the first half of the year. That's not to say interest rates don't matter, they do and we expect bonds to perform better than stocks in this icier scenario. Importantly, if last Thursday marked a short term low for long duration bonds, i.e. a high in yields, the S&P 500 and many stocks could get some relief again as rates come down prior to the next rounds of earnings cuts that won't begin until later this month. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show. 

Sep 06, 2022
Andrew Sheets: The State of Play in Markets Globally
00:03:26

There has been a lot of market movement in recent months, so as we exit the summer, what are the market stories and valuations that investors should be aware of?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, September 2nd at 3 p.m. in London. 


As summer draws to a close, there is quite a bit that investors are coming back to. Here's a state of play of our global economic story, and where cross-asset valuations sit today. 


The global economy faces challenges, but these challenges differ by region. The U.S. economy is seeing elevated inflation and still strong growth, as evidenced by today's report that the U.S. economy added another 315,000 new jobs last month. That makes it likely that the Federal Reserve will have to air on the side of raising rates more to bring inflation down, which would further invert the U.S. yield curve and, in our view, support the U.S. dollar. 


Europe also has high inflation, but of a different kind. Europe's inflation isn't nearly as pronounced in so-called core elements, and it isn't showing up in wages. Instead, Europe is in the midst of a major energy crunch, that in our base case will push the economy into a mild recession. Markets expect that the European Central Bank will raise rates significantly more than the U.S. Federal Reserve over the next 12 months, but given our risks to growth we disagree, a reason we forecast a weaker euro. The economic situation in the UK is also very challenged, leaving us cautious on gilts and the UK pound. 


China and Japan are very different and core inflation in both countries is less than 1%. China continues to face dual uncertainties from a weakening property market and zero-covid policy, factors that lead us to think it is still a bit too soon to buy China's equity market, despite large losses this year that have driven much better valuations. We remain more optimistic on Japanese equities on a currency hedged basis, given that it remains one of the few developed market economies where the central bank is not yet tightening policy. 


To take a closer look at those global equity markets we enter September with the U.S. S&P 500 stock index trading at about 17x earnings. That's down from over 20x earnings at the start of the year, but it's still above average. U.S. small cap valuations, at about 11x earnings, are less extreme. Stocks in Europe, Australia, Japan, China and emerging markets all trade at about 11 to 12x forward earnings at the index level. Of all of these markets our forecasts imply the highest returns, on a currency hedged basis, in Japan. 


In bonds, it's important to appreciate that yields remain much higher than they were a year ago. As we discussed last week, investors can now earn about 3.3% on 6 month U.S. government treasury bills, U.S. investment grade bonds yield almost 5% and U.S. high yield yields over 8.5%. In Europe, yields on European investment grade credit and Italian 10 year bonds are pretty similar, a spread at which we think European investment grade bonds are more attractive. 


Markets have been moving over the summer. We hope our listeners have managed some time to rest and recharge and that this discussion has given some helpful context to where the different stories and valuations in the market currently sit. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Sep 02, 2022
Chetan Ahya: Why are Asia’s Exports Deflating?
00:04:06

As consumers around the globe scale back on goods spending, how are Asian export markets impacted and where might opportunities lie?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Chetan Ahya, Morgan Stanly's Chief Asia Economist. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be focusing on the challenging landscape for Asia's exports post-COVID. It's Thursday, September 1st, at 8:30 a.m. in Hong Kong. 


As listeners of the show are no doubt aware, the post-COVID recovery around the world has not been uniform, and each region is facing its own specific challenges. In Asia, one of those challenges is that the Asia export engine seems to be losing steam as goods demand continues to deflate. For instance, real export growth decelerated to just an average of 3% on a year on year basis in the past six months, as compared to a peak of 30% in April 2021. 


Whichever way you slice and dice Asia's exports, it is evident that the underlying trends are soft everywhere. Whether by destination or by product, there is simply pervasive weakness. Let's start with product: when we look at Asia exports by product across the different categories of consumer, capital and intermediate goods exports, we are seeing a synchronized slowdown. Commodities are the only product category which is holding up, supported by trailing elevated prices. But with industrial commodity prices falling by some 30% since their March peak, we think there is every chance that commodity exports will slow significantly too in the coming months. 


Now let's turn to destination. Demand is slowing in 70% of Asia's export destinations. While exports to the U.S. are still holding up, we expect that the slowing in the U.S. economy plus the continued normalization in goods spending, will weigh on exports to the U.S. too. Against this backdrop of weak aggregate demand, we see more downside for Asia's exports to the U.S. in the coming months. 


One of the reasons why Asia's exports are deflating rapidly is because developed markets consumers are shifting back into spending on services after an outsized spending on goods earlier during the pandemic. As a case in point, US spending on goods had risen by 20% between January 2020 and March 2021. Since reaching its peak in March 21, goods spending has been on a decelerating path, declining by 5%. We expect further weakness in goods spending as the share of goods spending still has not normalized back towards pre-COVID levels. 


Against this backdrop, investors should look at countries where domestic demand offsets the weakness in external demand. We continue to be constructive on India, Indonesia and Philippines as they are well placed to generate domestic demand alpha. 


Within this group, we believe that India is the best placed economy within the region for three reasons. First, we see a key change in India's structural story. Policymakers have made a clear shift in that approach towards lifting the productive capacity of the economy and creating jobs while reducing the focus on redistribution. Second, the India economy is lifting off after a prolonged period of adjustment. The corporate sector has delivered and the balance sheet in the financial sector has also been cleaned up. This backdrop of healthy balance sheets and rising corporate confidence bodes well for the outlook for business investment. Third, against this backdrop, we are seeing unleashing of pent up demand, especially in areas like housing and consumer durables. 


Finally, what about China - the largest economy in Asia? Typically when export slows down, we would expect China to be able to stimulate domestic demand. But in this cycle, while easing is already underway, the recovery in domestic demand is being held back by the housing market problem and its COVID management approach. We think that China domestic demand recovery should pick up pace by early next year as the full effects of its stimulus kicks in and private confidence lifts, thanks to China's anticipated shift to a living with COVID stance. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts, and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or a colleague today.

Sep 01, 2022
Serena Tang: Global Cross-Asset Risk Premiums
00:04:18

While markets wrestle with high inflation and recession worries, investors will want to keep an eye on the rise in risk premiums and the outlook for long-run returns.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Serena Tang, Morgan Stanley's Head of Cross-Asset Strategy for North America. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll focus on the current state of global cross-asset risk premiums. It's Wednesday, August 31st at 10 a.m. in New York. 


Markets in 2022 have been incredibly turbulent, and global cross-asset risk premiums have shifted dramatically year to date. Various markets have been buffeted by higher inflation and tighter policy, geopolitical risks and worries about recession. Some impacted much more than others. What this means is that there are segments of markets where risk premiums, that is the excess returns an investor can expect for taking on additional risk, and long-run expected returns look much more attractive than they were at the beginning of the year. And while expected returns and risk premiums have broadly risen, the improvements have been uneven across asset classes and regions. For example, we believe that compared to U.S. stocks, rest-of-world equities have seen equity risk premiums move much higher since December, and currently have an edge over U.S. equities in terms of risk reward, in line with our relative preferences. 


So let me put some actual numbers around some key regional disparities. Our framework, which incorporates expectations on income, inflation, real earnings growth and valuations, see U.S. equities returning about 7.5% annually over the next decade, compared to just 5.7% at the start of the year. However, a steep climb in U.S. Treasury yields from historical lows mean that from a risk premium perspective, U.S. equities is still below its 20 year historical average by nearly one percentage point. This is in contrast to other regions whose risk premiums have increased significantly more during the sell off. Notably, European equity risk premiums are 8.9%, close to a 20 year high, similarly for emerging markets at 5.3%, and Japanese equity risk premiums at 4.7%, also above average. And remember, higher risk premiums typically signal that it's a good time to invest in riskier assets. 


For fixed income, with nominal yields rising on the back of more persistent inflationary pressures and quantitative tightening, long-run expected returns are now higher than they were 12 months ago. In fact, we're now back to levels last seen in 2019. Our framework now predicts that ten year U.S. Treasuries can return 3.7% annually over the next decade, up from 2.2% just a year ago. 


Credit risk premiums, such as for corporate bonds, have also readjusted year to date. As with risk free government bonds, rising yields mean that long run expected returns for these bonds have improved significantly since the start of the year. In terms of numbers, our model forecasts for U.S. high yield risk premium, at 188 basis points compared to near nothing 12 months ago. 


So what does all this mean? Well, for one thing, as my colleague Andrew Sheets has pointed out in a previous Thoughts on the Market episode, lower prices, wider risk premiums and higher 10 year expected returns have raised our long-run expected returns forecasts for a portfolio of 60% equity and 40% high quality bonds to the highest it's been since 2019, above the 10 year average. So we believe that the case for a 60/40 type of approach remains. 


For another, it means that the opportunities for investors right now lie in relative value rather than beta, given our strategists macro outlook for the next 12 months is more cautious than our long-run expected forecast. So for example, based on our long-run expected returns, our dollar optimal portfolios favor segments of the markets with more credit risk premium, like high yield and emerging market bonds. And similarly, as I've mentioned before, our current cross-asset allocation has a preference for ex-U.S. equities versus the U.S. because of former's higher equity risk premium. The rest of 2022 will likely continue to be turbulent, but there is good news for investors with a longer term focus. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Aug 31, 2022
Seth Carpenter: Is a Global Recession Upon Us?
00:03:47

Amid global shocks across supply, commodities and the U.S. Dollar, central banks continue to fight hard against inflation, leading many to wonder if a global recession is imminent.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Seth Carpenter, Morgan Stanley's chief global economist, along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives. Today, I'll be revisiting a topic that's front and center: concerns about a global recession. It's Tuesday, August 30th, at 2p.m. in New York.


One key market narrative right now is that the clouds of recession have been gathering globally. And the question that I get from clients every day, 'is a global recession upon us?'


A recession is our baseline scenario for the Euro area. The flow of natural gas from Russia has been restricted and energy prices, as a result, have surged. We expect a recession by the fourth quarter but, as is so often the case, the data will be noisy. A complete gas cutoff, which is our worst-case scenario. That's still possible. On the other hand, even if somehow we had a full normalization of the gas flows, the relief to the European economy would only be modest. Winter energy prices are already partly baked in, and we've got the ECB with an almost single-minded focus on inflation. There are going to be more interest rate hikes there until the hard data force them to stop.


Now, I am slightly more optimistic about the U.S. The negative GDP prints in the first two quarters of this year clearly cast a pall but those readings are misleading because of some of the details. Now, bear with me, but a lot of the headline GDP data reflects inventories in international trade, not the underlying domestic economy. Household spending, which is the key driver of the U.S. economy, averaged about 1.5% at an annual rate in the first half and the July jobs report printed at a massive 520,000 jobs. Since the 1970s, the U.S. has never had a recession within a year of creating so many jobs. But the path forward is clearly for slowing. Consumption spending was slammed by surging food and energy prices and more importantly, the Fed is hiking interest rates specifically to slow down the economy.


So what is the Fed's plan? Chair Powell keeps noting that the Fed strategy is to slow the economy enough so that inflation pressures abate, but then to pivot or, as he likes to say, 'to be nimble.' That kind of soft landing is by no means assured. So, we're more optimistic in the U.S., but the Fed is going to need some luck to go along with their plan.

 

The situation in China is just completely different. The economy there contracted in the second quarter amid very stringent COVID controls. The COVID Zero policies in place are slowly starting to get eased and we think more relaxation will follow the party Congress in October. But will freedom of mobility be enough to reverse the challenges that we're seeing on consumer spending because of the housing market? The recent policy action to address the housing crisis will probably help some but I fully expect that a much larger package will be needed. Ultimately, we'll need the consumer to be confident in both the economy and the housing market before we can make a rapid recovery.


The world has been simultaneously hit by supply shocks, commodity shocks and dollar shocks. Central banks are pulling back on demand to try to contain inflation. Even if we avoid a global recession, it's really hard to see how economic activity gets all the way back to its pre-COVID trend.


It's still the summertime, so I hope it's sunny where you are. You can worry about the storm later.


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy this show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

Aug 30, 2022
Mike Wilson: The Increasing Risks to Earnings
00:04:18

With Fed messaging making it clear they’re not yet done fighting inflation, the market is left to contend with the recent rally and prepare to adjust growth expectations.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, August 29th, at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


After the Fed's highly anticipated annual meeting in Jackson Hole has come and gone with a very clear message - the fight against inflation is far from over, and the equity markets did not take it very well. As we discussed in this podcast two weeks ago, the equity markets may have gotten too excited and even pre traded a Fed pivot that isn't coming. For stocks, that means the bear market rally is likely over. 


Technically speaking, the rally looks rather textbook. In June, we reached oversold conditions with breadth falling to some of the lowest readings on record. However, the rally stalled out exactly at the 200-day moving average for the S&P 500 and many key stocks. On that basis alone, the sharp reversal looks quite ominous to even the most basic tactical analysts. 


From a fundamental standpoint, having a bullish view on U.S. stocks today is also challenging. First, there is valuation. As we have discussed many times in our research, the Price/Earnings ratio is a function of two inputs; 10 year U.S. Treasury yields and the Equity Risk Premium. Simplistically, the U.S. Treasury yield is a cost of capital component, while the Equity Risk Premium is primarily a function of growth expectations. Typically, the Equity Risk Premium is negatively correlated to growth. In other words, when growth is accelerating, or expected to accelerate, the Equity Risk Premium tends to be lower than normal and vice versa. Our problem with the view that June was the low for the index in this bear market is that the Equity Risk Premium never went above average. Instead, the fall in the Price/Earnings ratio from December to June was entirely a function of the Fed's tightening of financial conditions, and the higher cost of capital. 


Compounding this challenge, the Equity Risk Premium fell sharply over the past few months and reached near record lows in the post financial crisis period. In fact, the only time the Equity Risk Premium has been lower in the past 14 years was at the end of the bear market rally in March earlier this year, and we know how that ended. Even after Friday's sharp decline in stocks, the S&P 500 Equity Risk Premium remains more than 100 basis points lower than what our model suggests. In short, the S&P 500 price earnings ratio is 17.1x, it's 15% too high in our view. 


Second, while most investors remain preoccupied with the Fed, we have been more focused on earnings and the risk to forward estimates. In June, many investors began to share our concern, which is why stocks sold off so sharply in our view. Companies began managing the quarter lower, and by the time second quarter earnings season rolled around positioning was quite bearish and valuations were more reasonable at 15.4x. This led to the "bad news is good news" rally or, as many people claim, "better than feared" results. Call us old school, but better than feared is not a good reason to invest in something if the price is high and the earnings are weak. In other words, it's a fine reason for stocks to see some relief from an oversold condition, but we wouldn't commit any real capital to such a strategy. Our analysis of second quarter earnings showed clear deterioration in profitability, a trend we believe is just starting. In short, we believe earnings forecast for next year remains significantly too high. 


Finally, last week's highly anticipated Fed meeting turned out to be a nonevent for bonds, while it appeared to be a shock for stock investors. Ironically, given the lack of any material move in yields, all of the decline in the Price/Earnings ratio was due to a rising Equity Risk Premium that still remains well below fair market levels. 


The bottom line, we do think Friday's action could be the beginning of an adjustment period to growth expectations. That's good. In our experience, such adjustments to earnings always take longer than they should. Throw on top of that, the fact that operating leverage is now more extreme than it was prior to COVID, and the negative revision cycle could turn out to be worse than usual. Next week, we will attempt to quantify more specifically how challenging the earnings outcome might be based on an already reported macro data. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show. 

Aug 29, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Is Cash an Efficient Asset Allocation?
00:02:59

Though returns offered by cash have been historically bad over the last 10 years, the tide has begun to turn on cash yields and investors will want to take note.


-----Transcript------


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, August 26, at 2 p.m. in London. 


For much of the last 12 years, the question of whether to hold cash in a portfolio was really a question of negativity. After all, for most of that time, holding cash yielded nothing or less than nothing for those in Europe. Holding it implied you believed almost every other investment option was worse than this low bar. 


Unsurprisingly, the low returns offered by cash over this period led to... low returns. For 8 of the 10 years from 2010 through 2020, holding cash underperformed both U.S. stocks and U.S. Treasuries. And while cash is often like stocks and bonds over time, the returns to holding cash since 2010 were historically bad. 


But that's now changing, because cash no longer yields nothing. As central banks have raced to raise rates in the face of high inflation, the return on holding cash or near cash investments has jumped materially. One year ago, a 6 month U.S. Treasury bill yielded 0.04%. It now yields 3.25%. 


That is 3.25% for an investment with very low volatility backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. That's a higher yield than a U.S. 10 year Treasury bond. It is more than double the dividend yield of the S&P 500 stock index. And it's just a quarter of a percentage point less than the dividend yield on U.S. real estate investment trusts. 


It's important to note that not all short term liquid investments are created equal. While six month U.S. T-bills now yield 3.25%, the average yield on 6 month bank CD's is less than 1%, and the average U.S. savings account yields just 0.2%. In other words, it pays to shop around. And for those in the business of managing money market and liquidity funds, we think this is a good time to add value and grow assets. 


What are the market implications? For equity markets, if investors can now receive higher yields on low risk cash, we think it's reasonable to think that that should lead investors to ask for higher returns elsewhere, which should lower valuations on stocks. My colleague Michael Wilson, Morgan Stanley's Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist, sees poor risk reward for U.S. equities at current levels. 


More broadly, we think it supports holding more U.S. dollar cash in a portfolio. That's true for U.S. investors, but also globally, as we forecast the U.S. dollar to continue to strengthen. Holding cash isn't necessarily a sign of caution, it may simply be efficient allocation to an asset that has recently seen a major jump in yield. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Aug 26, 2022
Martijn Rats: Rising Gas Prices and Shifting Oil Demand
00:03:46

This year has seen a sharp rally in the oil and gas markets, leading to high prices and a delicate balancing act for global supply and demand. 


Important note regarding economic sanctions. This research references country/ies which are generally the subject of selective sanctions programs administered or enforced by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), the European Union and/or by other countries and multi-national bodies. Users of this report are solely responsible for ensuring that their investment activities in relation to any sanctioned country/ies are carried out in compliance with applicable sanctions.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Markets. I'm Martijn Rats, Morgan Stanley's Global Commodity Strategist and the Head of the European Energy Research Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be giving you an update on global oil and the European gas market. It's Thursday, the 25th of August, at 4 p.m. in London.

 

As the world emerged from COVID, commodities have rallied strongly. Between mid 2020 and mid 2022, the Bloomberg Commodity Index more than doubled, outperforming equities significantly and fulfilling its traditional role as an inflation hedge.


However, this rally largely ran out of steam in June, even for oil. For nearly two years, the oil market was significantly undersupplied. For a while, storage can help meet the deficit, but at some point, supply and demand simply need to come into balance. If that can't happen via the supply side quick enough, it must happen via the demand side, and so the oil markets effectively searched for the demand destruction price.


The price level where that happens can be hard to estimate, but in June we clearly got there. For a brief period, gasoline reached $180 per barrel and diesel even reached $190 a barrel. Those prices are difficult for the global economy to absorb, especially if you take into account that the dollar has been strengthening at the same time. With the world's central banks hiking interest rates in an effort to slow down the economy as well, oil demand has started to soften and prices have given up some of their recent strength.


Now these trends can take some time to play out, possibly even several quarters. As long as fears of a recession prevail, oil prices are likely to stay rangebound. However, after recession comes recovery. There is still little margin of safety in the system, so when demand starts to improve again, there is every chance the strong cycle from last year repeats itself. This time next year we may need to ask the question, 'What is the demand destruction price?' once again.


Now, one commodity that has defied all gravity is European natural gas. Over much of the last decade, Europe was accustomed to a typical natural gas price of somewhere between sort of $6 to $7 per million British thermal units. Recently, it reached the eye-watering level of $85 per MMBtu. On an energy equivalent basis, that would be similar to oil trading at nearly $500 per barrel.


Now, the reason for this is, of course, the sharp reduction in supply from Russia. As the war in Ukraine has unfolded, Russia has steadily supplied less and less natural gas to Europe. Now total volumes have already fallen by around about 75%. Furthermore, Gazprom announced that flows through the critical Nord Stream 1 pipeline would temporarily stop completely later this month for maintenance to one of its turbines. In principle, this will only last three days, but the market is clearly starting to fear that this is a harbinger of a much longer lasting shutdown.


These exceptional prices are already leading to large declines in demand. During COVID, industrial gas consumption in Europe fell only 2 or 3%. Last month, industrial gas use was already down 19% year-on-year. With these demand declines, Europe can probably manage with the reduced supply, but to keep demand lower for longer gas prices need to be higher for longer. The gas market has clearly noticed. Even gas for delivery by end 2024 is now trading at close to $50 per MMBtu, 10x the equivalent price in the United States.


The full implications of all of this for the European economy going forward are yet to become clear, but we'll be sure to keep listeners up to date on the latest developments.


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Aug 25, 2022
Jonathan Garner: What's Next for Asia and Emerging Markets?
00:04:04

As Asia and EM equities continue to experience what may end up being the longest bear market in the history of the asset class, looking to past bear markets may give investors some insight into when to come off the sidelines.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jonathan Garner, Chief Asia and Emerging Market Equity Strategist at Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be discussing whether we're nearing the end of the current bear market in Asia and emerging market equities. It's Wednesday, August the 24th, at 8 a.m. in Singapore. 


The ongoing bear market in Asia and EM equities is the 11th which I've covered as a strategist. And in this episode I want to talk about some lessons I've learned from those prior experiences, and indeed how close we may be to the end of this current bear market. 


A first key point to make is that this is already the second longest in duration of the 11 bear markets I've covered. Only that which began with the puncturing of the dot com bubble by a Fed hike cycle in February 2000 was longer. This is already a major bear market by historical standards. 


My first experience of bear markets was one of the most famous, that which took place from July 1997 to September 1998 and became known as the Asian Financial Crisis. That lasted for 518 days, with a peak to trough decline of 59%. And as with so many others, the trigger was a tightening of U.S. monetary policy at the end of 1996 and a stronger U.S. dollar. That bear market ended only when the U.S. Federal Reserve did three interest rate cuts in quick succession at the end of 1998 in response to the long term capital management and Russia defaults. 


Indeed, a change in U.S. monetary policy and/or a peak in the U.S. dollar have tended to be crucial in marking the troughs in Asia and EM equity bear markets. And that includes the two bear markets prior to the current one, which ended in March 2020 and October 2018. However, changes in Chinese monetary policy and China's growth cycles, starting with the bear market ending in October 2008, have been of increasing importance in recent cycles. Indeed, easier policy in China in late 2008 preceded a turn in U.S. monetary policy and helped Asia and EM equities lead the recovery in global markets after the global financial crisis. 


Although China has been easing policy for almost a year thus far, the degree of easing as measured by M2 growth or overall lending growth is smaller than in prior cycles. And at least in part, that's because China is attempting to pull off the difficult feat of restructuring its vast and highly leveraged property sector, whilst also pursuing a strategy of COVID containment involving closed loop production and episodic consumer lockdowns. Those key differences are amongst a number of factors which have led us to recommend staying on the sidelines this year, both in our overall coverage in Asia and emerging markets, but also with respect to China. We have preferred Japan, and parts of ASEAN, the Middle East and Latin America. 


Finally, as we look ahead I would also note that one feature of being later on in a bear market is a sudden fall in commodity prices. And certainly from mid-June there have been quite material declines in copper, iron ore and more recently, the oil price. Meanwhile, classic defensive sectors are outperforming. And that sort of late cycle behavior within the index itself raises the question of whether by year end Asia and EM equities could once again transition to offering an interesting early cycle cyclical play. That more positive scenario for next year would depend on global and U.S. headline inflation starting to fall back, whether we would see a peak in the U.S. dollar and Fed rate hike pricing.


For the time being, though, as the clock ticks down to the current bear market becoming the longest in the history of the asset class, we still think patience will be rewarded a while longer. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and recommend Thoughts on the Market to a friend or colleague today. 

Aug 24, 2022
U.S. Public Policy: The Inflation Reduction Act and Clean Energy
00:08:13

The Inflation Reduction Act represents the single biggest climate investment in U.S. history, so how will these provisions influence consumers' pocketbooks and the clean energy market? Head of Global Thematic and Public Policy Research Michael Zezas and Global Head of Sustainability Research Stephen Byrd discuss.


----- Transcript -----

Michael Zezas Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Morgan Stanley's Head of Global Thematic and Public Policy Research.


Stephen Byrd And I'm Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley's Global Head of Sustainability Research.


Michael Zezas And on this special episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll focus on the Inflation Reduction Act's bold attempt to stem the tide of climate change. It's Tuesday, August 23rd at noon in New York.


Michael Zezas Regular listeners may have heard our previous episodes on the potential impact for the U.S. economy and on taxes from the Inflation Reduction Act. Today, we'll focus on another essential aspect of this new legislation, namely its sweeping support for clean energy, which represents the single biggest climate investment in U.S. history. So, Stephen, there's a ton of important issues to address here. Let's start with an immediate pain point that most of us deal with on a daily basis, the cost of energy. How does the Inflation Reduction Act aim to lower energy costs for Americans?


Stephen Byrd The simplest way to think about this is that in the past decade, wind and solar costs in the U.S. declined every year by double digits. What's exciting about the IRA is that there are really important investments that will increase the scale of manufacturing. So, the fundamental point in terms of the benefit of the IRA really is support for a variety of clean energy investments that's going to increase efficiency, reduce per unit costs. This is becoming really essentially a very big business. To put this in context, in the last 12 months utility bills in the U.S. and most of the U.S. have increased by sometimes well into the double digits. And yet clean energy costs remain quite low. Given some of the near-term COVID supply chain dynamics, costs aren't dropping as quickly as they normally would, but before long we're going to see those reductions continue. That should result in lower power costs for customers across the U.S. and that's the single biggest benefit from a sort of deflationary point of view that I can think of around the IRA.


Michael Zezas And the IRA also has a stated aim to increase American energy security. In what ways does it attempt to do that?


Stephen Byrd Yeah, Michael, it's really interesting. The IRA has some very broad areas of support for domestic manufacturing of all kinds, of not just clean energy but related technologies like energy storage. And we do think that's going to likely result in quite a bit of onshoring of manufacturing activity. That is good for American energy security, that brings our sources of energy production right back home, creates jobs, reduces dependency on other governments. So, for example, the subsidy for solar manufacturing is really very large. It can be as high as essentially $0.17 a watt, and to put that into context, the selling price at the wholesale level for many of these products is around $0.30 a watt. So that subsidy for domestic manufacturing should result in real investment decisions in real U.S. factories, and that will help to improve American energy security.


Michael Zezas Now, another aspect of this legislation is its attempt to substantially limit carbon emissions in the U.S. What are some of the measures that are aimed at doing this?


Stephen Byrd Decarbonization is a major area of focus, just as you said, for the IRA and this shows up in many ways. I'd say the most direct way would be providing a number of incentives to increase the growth of wind and solar. So, we'll see a great deal of growth there as a result. However, there are other elements that are really interesting. One example is support for nuclear. I think the drafters really wanted to ensure that we didn't lose any additional nuclear power plants. Those plants provide obviously zero carbon energy, but they also provide really important grid reliability services so that's helpful. There is also quite a bit of capital for carbon capture, which should reduce the emissions profile of other sectors as well. There's quite a bit of support for electric vehicles that will help with the pace of electrification. And that's kind of a nice double benefit in the sense that if more consumers choose electric vehicles and the grid becomes cleaner then we get a double benefit. So, we're really seeing very broad-based support for decarbonization in the IRA.


Michael Zezas Now, one of the methods here to incentivize decarbonization is through tax credits. What are some of these tax credits? How do they work?


Stephen Byrd We have a lot of tax credits in this IRA for what I think of as wholesale players, that is the big clean energy developers. There are tax credits for wind and solar that get extended well into the next decade. We have a new tax credit for energy storage. We have tax credits that have been enhanced for carbon capture and utilization, which is very exciting because that's at a level needed to incent quite a bit of investment in carbon capture. We have a new very large tax credit for green hydrogen. That's great, because today hydrogen is made in a process called ‘gray hydrogen’ that does have quite a high carbon profile. So, a variety of tax credits essentially at the wholesale level or at the developer level, but also that could benefit consumers as well, such as on electric vehicles and those are quite sizable as well.


Michael Zezas Now these tax credits and the other efforts in the Inflation Reduction Act aimed at carbon reduction, they represent a major pickup in spending on clean technologies. Can you give us some perspective on that? And is the industry ready to supply all the equipment and labor needed to make this a reality?


Stephen Byrd I think what we're seeing with many technologies here in clean energy is that the demand is starting to grow very rapidly. Now the industry is really pushing very hard to keep pace, essentially. The limit on growth for some of our companies is really down to people. That is, how many people can they hire and train. So, for some of those companies, that growth rate caps out at about 25% per year. You know, that's quite good and we'll see that continue for many years. I think we're going to see a lot of increased efforts on education. And you'll see also within the IRA a lot of language around prevailing wage and ensuring that employees get paid a fair wage. On top of that, though, there are some areas of shortage. So in energy storage, for example, demand is very high across the U.S., not just for electric vehicles, but also to help with grid reliability. A good example would be in Texas during the winter storm, parts of the Texas grid failed and quite a few people were without power during very cold conditions. That was very challenging. And as a result, a lot of customers, both individuals and corporations, want to have storage. There are limits, there is a shortage essentially globally in terms of energy storage, and that's going to take years to address. That said, the IRA does make important headway in terms of providing incentives and financial support to bring a lot of manufacturing back to the U.S. so we have better control of manufacturing. We'll be able to scale up more quickly and also avoid a lot of the logistics and supply chain issues that have plagued some of our companies that have dealt with very complex and challenging global supply chains.


Michael Zezas So, for investors, then, what's the takeaway? Is this perhaps a boon for the clean tech sector, or is it maybe too much, too soon?


Stephen Byrd I think this is a boon for not just the clean tech sector. I think ultimately this is going to translate into much more rapid adoption of clean energy, which fundamentally is very much a deflationary force. So what we're going to see is further innovation, further manufacturing in the U.S. That means more jobs in the U.S, that means a faster pace of innovation and a faster rate of cost reduction. So that does look to us to be a virtuous cycle that's going to benefit not just the decarbonization of the U.S. economy but benefit the consumer and provide jobs as well.


Michael Zezas Stephen, thanks for taking the time to talk.


Stephen Byrd Great speaking with you, Michael.


Michael Zezas As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

Aug 23, 2022
Mike Wilson: Will the Bear Market Rebound Last?
00:04:15

While stocks and bonds have rallied since June, investors should be asking if this bear market rebound is a sign that economic growth is on its way up, or if there are negative earning revisions yet to come.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, August 22nd at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Taking a few weeks off can sometimes provide a fresh perspective on markets needed at times like today. The fact that it happens to be August, the most popular time for vacations of the year, can also play into that perspective. Over the past 6 weeks many financial markets have had a strong rebound. As an example, both stocks and bonds have rallied sharply from their June lows. The question that equity investors must ask themselves is how much of the rally in stocks is due to the fall in interest rates versus a real improvement in the prospects of a soft landing in the economy? 


For better or worse our view has remained consistent since April that the primary concern for stocks was no longer inflation, or the Fed's reaction to deal with it, but rather the outlook for growth. In May, the consensus moved strongly into our camp, with the cries for a recession reaching a fever pitch in June. Equity markets became very oversold and the stage was set for a powerful rally. Truth be told, this rally exceeded our expectations for a normal counter trend bear market rally. However, in order to set the stage for the next leg lower, the rally needed to be convincing enough to change the very bearish sentiment to outright bullish. Based on what I have seen in the press and from our peers around the street, that sentiment has flipped with many declaring the end of the bear market and the increasing likelihood of new all time highs as soon as later this year. 


While there are some strong indications that inflation has peaked from a rate of change standpoint, it's too soon for the Fed to declare victory in our view. In other words, the rising hope for the Fed to pivot away from rising rates or curtailing its balance sheet reduction remains optimistic. Nevertheless, this is the primary justification for why equity markets have rallied and why it can continue. 


However, even if that were true, there are very few data points suggesting we have reached a trough in growth, either economically or from an earnings growth standpoint. In fact, our growth is suggesting the opposite, with earnings revision breadth accelerating to the downside, along with our other leading indicators. To put it more bluntly, rarely have we been more confident that consensus growth expectations for earnings over the next 12 months are too high. More importantly, the equity market almost never rallies if forward earnings estimates are falling, unless the valuation is completely washed out. In June, one could have credibly argued valuations were discounting a sharp decline in growth and the risk of a recession. At the lows the forward price earnings ratio reached 15.4x and was down almost 30% from the end of last year. At 15.4x is almost exactly our year end target price earnings multiple at the beginning of this year based on our view that the Fed would have to tighten aggressively to combat inflation. 


The problem with assuming 15.4x was a washed out level for valuations is that all of the degradation was a result of higher interest rates, while the equity risk premium remained flat to down over that time frame. In other words, at no time did the price earnings multiple discount a material slowdown in growth. Now, with the price earnings multiple exceeding 18x last week, valuations are inappropriate if one agrees with our view that earnings estimates are too high. On Friday, stocks reversed lower and that seems to be carrying into this week. Many are once again blaming the Fed and perhaps acknowledging its work in fighting inflation remains unfinished. We agree. However, with price earnings multiples still 17.4x as I record this podcast, valuations are not discounting that resolve, nor is it discounting the negative earnings revisions still to come. 


The bottom line stocks have experienced a classic bear market rebound after having reached a near record oversold condition on many metrics. With the Fed still very much in the picture and earnings estimates likely to fall further, equity markets are almost as unattractive as they were at the beginning of the year. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show.

Aug 22, 2022
Simon Waever: Is an EM Debt Crisis Coming?
00:03:28

In the past two years Emerging Market sovereign debt has seen rising risks given increased borrowing, higher interest rates and a greater number of defaults, leading investors to wonder, are we heading towards an EM debt crisis? 


Important note regarding economic sanctions. This research references country/ies which are generally the subject of comprehensive or selective sanctions programs administered or enforced by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), the European Union and/or by other countries and multi-national bodies. Any references in this report to entities, debt or equity instruments, projects or persons that may be covered by such sanctions are strictly incidental to general coverage of the relevant Russian economic sector as germane to its overall financial outlook, and should not be read as recommending or advising as to any investment activities in relation to such entities, instruments or projects. Users of this report are solely responsible for ensuring that their investment activities in relation to any sanctioned country/ies are carried out in compliance with applicable sanctions.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the market. I'm Simon Waever, Morgan Stanley's Global Head of EM Sovereign Credit Strategy. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today, I'll address the possibility of an emerging markets debt crisis. It's Friday, August 19th, 12p.m. in New York.


The most frequent question I get from investors right now is, 'are we heading towards an EM debt crisis?' It's not unreasonable to ask this. After all, a lot of the ingredients that led to prior EM debt crises are in place today. First, EM countries have taken on a lot of debt, not just since the pandemic, but in the past ten years, meaning most countries are at or near multi-decade highs. Second, global central banks are quickly hiking rates, with the Fed in particular a key driver in tightening global financial conditions. Third, which is related, is that servicing and rolling over that debt has suddenly become much more expensive, driven not just by a stronger dollar, but also much higher bond yields. And then fourth, which is perhaps the most important one, is that today we are as close to an extended sudden stop in flows to EM as we have been in a long time. That means that many countries have lost access to markets, so that even if they were willing to pay up to borrow, there's just no demand.


Markets are telling us the risks are rising as well. Outside of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the 2020 pandemic, you'd have to go back 20 years to find EM sovereign credit spreads trading as wide. And high yield credit spreads are much wider than investment grade spreads, so markets are differentiating already.


Finally, just looking at actual sovereign defaults and restructurings, they're already higher than in recent history. We have had six in the past two years and now already three in 2022, namely Russia, Belarus and Sri Lanka.


From here, there are likely to be more defaults, but three key points are worth making. One, the countries at risk now are very different to the prior debt crisis in EM. Two, none would be systemic defaults. And three, they would not all happen at the same time.


Large countries like Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia don't seem to be at risk of defaulting. They are completely different to what they were 20 to 30 years ago. They're now inflation targeters, have mostly free-floating currencies, meaning imbalances are less likely to build up, have large effects reserves and have the majority of that debt in local currency.


Instead, the concern now is mostly with the newer issuers that benefited from the abundant global liquidity in the past ten years. And by this I mean the frontier credits, many of which are in Africa, but also in Asia and Central America. And then it's key to actually look at who has upcoming Eurobond maturities, as not all countries do. But even among these credits, the International Monetary Fund stands ready to help and there are FX reserves that can be used. So, it's not clear to me that you're going to see multiple defaults and even if you were to see two or more defaults among them, they're very unlikely to be systemic.


But, all in, while there's no denying that EM countries are facing debt sustainability issues, let's not paint all EM with the same brush. The nuances should make for some exciting years ahead for sovereign debt analysts and should also open up the potential for significant alpha within the asset class.


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

Aug 19, 2022
U.S. Public Policy: Tax Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act
00:04:47

The Inflation Reduction Act includes a variety of provisions regarding tax policy, so how will these policy changes affect corporations and what should investors be aware of? Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy Michael Zezas and Head of Global Valuation, Accounting, and Tax Todd Castagno discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Morgan Stanley's Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy. 


Todd Castagno: And I'm Todd Castagno, Morgan Stanley's Head of Global Valuation, Accounting and Tax Research. 


Michael Zezas: And on this special episode of Thoughts on the Market we'll focus on what you need to know about some significant changes to tax policy from the Inflation Reduction Act. It's Thursday, August 18th, at noon in New York. 


Michael Zezas: President Biden has now signed the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, into law. As our listeners may remember, last week we discussed the potential impact of the IRA on the U.S. economic outlook. Today we want to dig deeper into a specific area of this new law, namely taxes. So Todd, there's been some criticism of the IRA with regard to the 15% minimum tax on the largest corporations. What are your thoughts on this provision? 


Todd Castagno: Thanks, Michael. Let's first discuss how this 15% minimum corporate tax operates. So the law now intends for large corporations that earn on average of $1 billion or more over a three year period to pay at least 15%. Now, what's important is what is that profit base to tax that 15% and its derived from financial statement net income with certain adjustments. That is why this tax is commonly referred to as a book tax, that is primarily based on book or financial statement measures of income. So if you peel back a few layers of what's driving the criticism, there's a recognition that this tax effectively just overrides incentives or timing differences that Congress consciously enacted. Critics will say that Congress should just fix certain areas of the tax codes directly. However, the politics of fixing specific policies directly can be extremely difficult politically. The other point of criticism is that taxing authority has effectively been ceded to independent accounting standards setters. Changes in the accounting rules may now affect changes in minimum tax revenue. There have been some concerns from investors over earnings quality as the tail now wags the dog where accounting can now drive the economics. So those are just a few of the criticisms. It's also important to note, Michael, that we've had a version of a book tax back in the 1980s, so it would be interesting to see longevity of this tax as that tax only lasted effectively 2 to 3 years. 


Michael Zezas: And another piece of the legislation is a softening and reduction of the Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax on advanced manufacturing activities such as automation, computation, software and networking. What can you tell us about that? 


Todd Castagno: Good question. When Senator Sinema announced a carve out for advanced manufacturing, we were scratching our heads of what that actually meant. Well, it's quite broader and it really affects most manufacturing. So what the adjustment is, is you start with book income and you'd make an adjustment to basically replace what we book for accounting depreciation with tax depreciation. And so tax depreciation is usually front run it and it's usually accelerated versus book. So what that will mean for manufacturers is that their minimum tax base will be lower given this adjustment. 


Michael Zezas: And also in the IRA is a 1% stock buyback tax for companies that are repurchasing their own shares. Todd, is that likely to impact corporate profits or change behavior in a meaningful way? 


Todd Castagno: Overall, we don't believe at a 1% level this will materially affect the level of buybacks or corporate behavior. You could see a modest tilt towards dividends as a more preferential form of capital return. You could also see perhaps some buybacks being pulled forward into 22 as the law takes effect in 2023. You know, we think the bigger risk is that 1% rate skews higher in the future if a future Congress needs more revenue. We should also note that it's net of issuances, so that's important. A lot of firms have large amounts of stock based compensation and they repurchase their shares in order to prevent dilution. And so effect of that issuance will also really reduce the amount of the buyback tax. 


Michael Zezas: And finally, let's talk about tax credits. Which tax credits stand out to you from this bill and how material might their impact be? 


Todd Castagno: I think this one is in the eye of the beholder. The reality is that the IRA increased credits significantly across the board for clean energy investment, whether that's electric vehicles, decarbonization. Also, the structure of many of those credits has evolved where they can be monetized more upfront, whether that's the refund ability or transferability to other taxpayers. So I think the magnitude of the investment, the magnitude of the credits, outweighs any specific credit or provision. 


Michael Zezas: Todd, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Todd Castagno: Great speaking with you, Michael. 


Michael Zezas: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show. 

Aug 18, 2022
Allocation, Pt. 2: The Value in Diversification
00:06:11

While shifts in stock and bond correlation have increased the volatility of a 60:40 portfolio, investors may still find some balance in diversification. Chief Cross Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Chief Investment Officer for Wealth Management Lisa Shalett discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research.

Lisa Shalett: And I'm Lisa Shalett, Chief Investment Officer for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

Andrew Sheets: And on part two of this special episode, we'll be continuing our discussion of the foundational 60/40 portfolio.  It's Wednesday, August 17th at 4:00 PM in London.

Lisa Shalett: And it's 11:00 AM here in New York.

Andrew Sheets: So Lisa, I know the positive correlations won't lift the 60:40 portfolio’s volatility too much, but would you say that investors have been inclined to accept more equity risk in recent decades because the cushioning effect of fixed income and this idea that if anything goes wrong, the Fed will kind of ride to the rescue and support markets?

Lisa Shalett: Yes I do. And I think, you know, part of the issue has been that we've been not only in a regime of falling interest rates, which has supported overall equity valuations, but we've lived in a period of suppressed volatility with regard to the direction of policy. We've been in this forward guidance regime, if you will, from the central bank where not only was the central bank holding down the cost of capital but they were telegraphing the speed and order of magnitude and pace of things which took a huge amount of volatility out of the market for both stocks and bonds and permitted risk taking. I mean, my goodness, you know, when was the last time in history that we had such negative “term premiums” in the pricing of bonds? That was a part of this function of this idea that the Fed's going to tell us exactly what they're going to do and there's this Fed put, and any time something unexpected happens, they will, you know, “come to save the day.”

And so I think we're at the beginning, we're literally in my humble opinion in the first or second innings of the market fundamentally wrapping their heads around what it means to no longer be in a forward guidance regime. Where the central bank, in their ambitions to normalize policy to crush inflation have to inherently be more data dependent and data dependency is inherently more volatile. And so I do think over time we are going to see these equity risk premiums, which, you know, as we've discussed earlier, had gotten quite compressed, widen back out to something that is more normal for the amount of risk that equities genuinely represent.


Andrew Sheets: And Lisa, I think that's such a great point about the predictability of monetary policy cause you're right, you know, that's another interesting similarity with the period prior to 2000. That period was a period of a much more unpredictable Fed between, you know, 1920 and the year 2000 where in more recent years, the Fed has become very predictable. So, that's another good thing that we should, as investors, think about is does that shifting predictability of Fed action, does the rising uncertainty that the Fed is facing, you know, is that also an important driver of this stock bond correlation. So boiling it all down, how are you talking about all of this to clients to help them reposition portfolios to navigate risk and potential return?

Lisa Shalett: I think at the end of the day you know, the most important thing that we're sitting with clients and talking about is that these fundamental building blocks of asset allocations, stocks and bonds, while they may correlate to one another differently, while they're each inherent volatilities may move up and therefore the volatility of that 60:40 portfolio may readjust some, the reality is, is that they’re still very important building blocks that play different roles in the portfolio that are both still required. So, you know, your stocks are still going to be that asset class that allows you to capture unexpected growth in the economy and in the overall profit stream, while fixed income and your rates market is still going to be that opportunity to cushion, if you will, disappointments in growth.

As we know that they, come over the course of a cycle. In that regard, as we look to this repricing of interest rates and what it may mean, we are encouraging our clients to look much more deliberately, actively, at being diversified across styles, across factors, across market capitalizations because these dynamics are changing. If we look back over the last 13 years, because the narrative around falling interest rates and Fed forward guidance and low volatility, and these correlations, these very stable correlations, and everything's going our way, you didn't need to look very far beyond just owning that passive S&P 500 index. Now, as things begin to normalize and get more inherently volatile and idiosyncratic, we look at where there may be, “value” in the traditional factor sense, to look down the market capitalization scheme to smaller and mid-cap stocks, to look at more cyclical oriented stocks that may be responding to this higher interest rate, higher inflation regimes. And so we're encouraging maximum levels of diversification within these building blocks and very active management of risk


Andrew Sheets: Lisa as always, thanks for taking the time to talk.

Lisa Shalett: It's my pleasure, Andrew.

Andrew Sheets: And as a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

Aug 17, 2022
Allocation, Pt. 1: Stock & Bond Correlation Shifts
00:09:54

In the current era of tighter Fed policy, the status quo of stock and bond correlation has changed, calling the foundational 60:40 portfolio into question. Chief Cross Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Chief Investment Officer for Wealth Management Lisa Shalett discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research.

Lisa Shalett: And I'm Lisa Shalett, Chief Investment Officer for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

Andrew Sheets: And on part one of this special episode, we'll be discussing the foundational 60/40 stock bond portfolio. In an era of tighter policy, is a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds fundamentally broken?  It's Tuesday, August 16th at 4:00 PM in London.

Lisa Shalett: And it's 11:00 AM here in New York.

Andrew Sheets: Lisa, it's so good to talk to you again. So, you know, one of the most important, fundamental building blocks of asset allocation is the so-called 60/40 portfolio, a portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds, and both of us have been writing about that this year because this strategy of having diversified stocks and bonds worked unusually well for the 40 years up through 2021, but this year has suffered a real historical reversal, seeing some of the worst returns for this diversified balanced strategy we've seen in 40 or 50 years. So when you think about these dynamics, when you think about the historically poor performance, can you give some context of what's been happening here and what our listeners should make of it?

Lisa Shalett: Sure, absolutely. I think as we know, we've gone through this 13-year period through the pandemic when the narrative was very much dominated by Federal Reserve intervention repression and keeping down of interest rates and in fact, falling interest rates, that produced financial market returns both for stocks and for bonds. But as we know, entering 2022, that narrative that was so concentrated on the direction of interest rates, you know, faced a major pivot from the Federal Reserve itself who, as we know, was facing an inflation fight which meant that they were going to have to move the federal funds rate up pretty significantly. The implication of that was pretty devastating for both stocks and bonds, that combined 60/40 portfolio delivered aggregate returns of about -12 to -13% on average that's the performance for that diversified portfolio benchmark in over 50 years. But again, we have to remember a lot of that performance was coming from a starting point where both stocks and bonds had been extraordinarily valued with those valuations premised on a continuation of Federal Reserve policy that unfortunately because of inflation has had to change

Andrew Sheets: Lisa I'm so glad you mentioned that starting point of valuations because, you know, it matters, I think in two really important ways. One, it helps us maybe understand better what's been happening this year, but also, you know, usually when prices fall, and this year prices are still down considerably from where they started, that means better valuations and better returns going forward. So, you know, could you just give a little bit more context of you and your team run a lot of estimates for what asset classes can return potentially over longer horizons. You know, maybe what that looked like for a 60/40 portfolio at the start of this year, when, as you mentioned, both stocks and bonds were pretty richly valued, and then how that's been developing as the year has progressed.

Lisa Shalett: Yeah. So, fantastic question. And, you know, we came into 2022 quite frankly, on a strategic horizon given where valuations were, not very excited about either asset class. You know for bonds, we were looking for maybe 0-2% or somewhat below coupon, because of the pressures of repricing on bonds. And for stocks we were looking for something in the, you know, 4-5% range, which was significantly below what historical long term capital market assumptions, you know, might expect for many institutional clients who benchmark themselves off of a 7.5 or 8% return ambition. So, when we entered this bear market, this kind of ferocious selloff, as we noted, from January through June, there were many folks who were hoping that perhaps valuations and forward looking expectations of returns were improving. Importantly, however, what we've seen is that hasn't been the case because what you have to do when you're thinking about valuation is you've gotta look at stock valuations relative to the level of interest rates.

And we're now in a scenario where, you know, the terminal value for the US economy may be something very different than it was and that means somewhat lower valuations. So, you know, if I had to put a number on it right now, my expectations for equity returns going forward from the current mark to market is really no better, unfortunately, than perhaps where it was in January. For bonds on the other hand, we've made some progress. And so to me, you know, I, I could see our estimates on bonds being a little bit more constructive than where they were with the 10 year yield somewhere in the, in the 2.8 zip code. 


Lisa Shalett: So Andrew we've talked about the stock bond correlation as keying off the direction of inflation and the path of Fed policy. With both of those changing, do you view a positive correlation as likely over the longer term?

Andrew Sheets: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Lisa. So I think this issue of stock bond correlation is, is really interesting and, and gets a lot of attention for, for good reasons. And then, I think, can also be a little bit misinterpreted. So the reason the correlation is important is, I think, probably obvious to the listeners, if you have a diversified portfolio of assets, you want them to kind of not all move together. That's the whole point of diversification. You want your assets to go up and down on different days, and that smooths the overall return. Now, you know, interestingly for a lot of the last hundred years, the stock bond correlation was positive. Stock and bond prices tended to move in the same direction, which means stock and bond yields tended to move in the opposite direction. So higher yields meant lower stock prices.

That was the history for a lot of time, kind of prior to 2000. The reason I think that happened was because inflation was the dominant fear of markets over a lot of that period and inflation was very volatile. And so higher yields generally meant a worsening inflation backdrop, which was bad for stock prices and lower bond yields tended to mean inflation was getting back under control, and that was better for stocks. Now, what's interesting is in the 90s that dynamic really kinda started to change. And after 2000, after the dot-com bubble burst, the fear really turned to growth. The market became a lot less concerned about inflationary pressure, but a lot more concerned about growth. And that meant that when yields were rising, the market saw that as growth being better. So the thing they were afraid of was getting less bad, which was better for stock prices.

So, you had this really interesting flip of correlation where once inflation was tamed really in the 90s, the markets started to see higher yields, meaning better growth rather than higher inflation, which meant that stocks and bonds tend to have a negative correlation. Their prices tend to more often move in opposite directions. And as you alluded to, that really created this golden age of stock bond diversification that created this golden age of 60/40 portfolios, because both of these assets were delivering positive returns, but they were delivering them at different times. And so offsetting and cushioning each other's price movements, which is really, you know, the ideal of anybody trying to invest for the long run and, and diversify a portfolio. So that's changed this year. It's been very apparent this year that both stock and bond prices have gone down and gone down together in a pretty significant way.

But I think as we look forward, we also shouldn't overstate this change. You know, I think your point, Lisa, about just how expensive things were at the start of the year is really important. You know, anytime an asset is very expensive, it is much more vulnerable to dropping and given that both stocks and bonds were both expensive at the same time and both very expensive at the same time, you know, their dropping together I think was, was also a function of their valuation as much of anything else. So, I think going forward, it makes sense to assume kind of a middle ground. You know, I don't think we are going to have the same negative correlation we enjoyed over the last, you know, 15 years, but I also don't think we're going back to the very positive correlations we had, you know, kind of prior to the 1990s.

And so, you know, I think for investors, we should think about that as less diversification they get to enjoy in a portfolio, but that doesn't mean it's no diversification. And given that bonds are so much less volatile than stocks, you know, bonds might have a third of the volatility of the stock market, if we look at kind of volatility over the last five years. That still is some pretty useful ballast in a portfolio. That still means a large chunk of the portfolio is moving around a lot less and helping to stabilize the overall asset pool. 


Andrew Sheets: Thanks for listening. Tomorrow I’ll be continuing my conversation with Lisa Shalett, and as a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

Aug 16, 2022
Ellen Zentner: Cooling Inflation and Shifting Labor Trends
00:04:19

Based on July reports inflation may finally be cooling down, and the labor market remains strong, so how might this new data influence policy changes in the September FOMC meeting?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ellen Zentner, Chief U.S. Economist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be catching you up to speed on U.S. inflation, the labor market and our outlook for Fed policy. It's Monday, August 15th, at 11 a.m. in New York. 


Let me start with some encouraging news. If we look at the July readings for both the Consumer Price Index data and the Producer Price Index, inflation finally appears to be cooling. And that should take some pressure off the Fed to deliver another 75 basis point hike in September. So that's the good news. However, inflation is still elevated and that suggests the Fed still has a lot of work to do, even if there's a reduced need for a third consecutive 75. We're forecasting a 50 basis point hike at the September and November meetings and 25 basis points in December for a peak interest rate of 3.625%. 


Okay, let's look a bit more under the hood. July CPI on both headline and core measures surprised to the downside, and the PPI came in softer as well. Together, the reports point to a lower than previously anticipated inflation print that will be released on August 26th. Now, the recent blowout July employment report led markets to price a high probability of a 75 basis point hike. But the inflation data then came in lower than expected and pushed the probability back toward 50 basis points. 


Based on the outlook for declining energy prices, we think headline inflation should continue to come down and do so quite quickly. However, core inflation pressures remain uncomfortably high and are likely to persist. For the Fed signs of a turn around in headline inflation are helpful and are already showing up in lower household inflation expectations. However, trends in core are more indicative of the trajectory for underlying inflation pressures, and Fed officials came out in droves last week to stress that the steep path for rates remains the base case. Sticky core inflation is a key reason why we expect the Fed to hold at 3.625% Fed funds, before making the first cut toward normalizing policy in December 2023. 


Now, let me speak to July's surprising employment report. As the data showed, the labor market remains strong, even though some of the data flow has begun to diverge in recent months. Leading up to the recent release, the market had taken the softening in employment in the household survey, so that is the employment measure that just goes out to households and polls them, were you employed, were you not, were you part time, were you full time, and generally because that's been very weak, the market was taking it as a potential harbinger of a turn in the payrolls data, payrolls data are collected from companies that just ask each company how many folks are on your payrolls. Household survey employment was again softer in July, coming in at 179,000 versus 528,000 for the payroll survey. 


Now, this seems like a sizable disparity, but it's actually not unusual for the household and payroll surveys to diverge over shorter periods of time. And these near term divergences largely reflect methodological differences. But what's interesting here and worth noting is that these differences in data likely reflect a shift in the form of employment. 


While the economy saw a large increase in self-employment in the early stages of the pandemic, the data now suggest workers may be returning to traditional payroll jobs, potentially because of higher nominal wages and better opportunities. If the economy is increasingly pulling workers out of self-employment and into traditional payroll jobs, similar pull effects are likely reaching workers currently out of the labor force. 


And this brings me to one of our key expectations for the next year and a half, which is a continued increase in labor force participation, in particular driven by prime age workers age 25 to 54. Higher wages, better job opportunities and rising cost of living will likely bring workers back into the labor force, even as overall job growth slows. Fed researchers, in fact, have recently documented that a delayed recovery in labor force participation is quite normal, and that's something we think is likely to play out again in this cycle. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Aug 15, 2022
Consumer Spending: Have Consumers Begun to Trade Down?
00:05:40

As inflation persists, economic concerns such as recession rise, and consumer spending patterns begin to shift, is there any evidence to suggest consumers are already trading down to value and discount products? U.S. Softlines Analyst Kimberly Greenberger and Hardlines, Broadlines and Food Retail Analyst Simeon Gutman discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Kimberly Greenberger: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Kimberly Greenberger, Morgan Stanley's U.S. Softlines Analyst. 


Simeon Gutman: And I'm Simeon Gutman, Hardlines, Broadlines and Food Retail Analyst. 


Kimberly Greenberger: And on this special episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll be discussing shifting consumer spending patterns amid persistent inflation and concerns about the economy. It's Friday, August 12th, at 11 a.m. in New York. 


Kimberly Greenberger: As our listeners are no doubt aware, many retail segments were big pandemic beneficiaries with record sales growth and margins for 2+ years. But now that spending on goods is normalizing from high levels and consumers are facing record high inflation and worrying about a potential recession, we're starting to see signs of what's called "trade down", which is a consumer migration from more expensive products to value priced products. So Simeon, in your broad coverage, are you seeing any evidence that consumers are trading down already? 


Simeon Gutman: We're seeing it in two primary ways. First, we're seeing some reversion away from durable, high ticket items away to consumable items. And the pace of consumption of some of these high ticket durable items is waning and pretty rapidly. Some of these are items that were very strong during the pandemic, electronics, some sporting goods items, home furnishings, to name a few. So these items we're seeing material sales deceleration as one form of trade down. As another in the food retail sector, we're definitely seeing signs of consumers spending less or finding ways to spend less inside the grocery store. They can do that by trading down from national brands to private brands, buying less expensive alternative, buying frozen instead of fresh and even in the meat counter, buying less expensive forms of protein. So we're seeing it manifest in those two ways. What is the situation in softlines, Kimberly? Is your coverage vulnerable to trade down risk? 


Kimberly Greenberger: Absolutely. In softlines retail, which is apparel, footwear, accessories retail, these are discretionary categories. Yes, there's sort of a minimum level of spending that's necessary because clothing is part of the essentials, food, shelter, clothing. But Americans' closets are full and they're full because last year there was a great deal of overspending on the apparel category. So where we have seen trade down impact our sector this year, Simeon, is we have seen consumers budget cutting and moving away from some of those more discretionary categories like apparel especially. We just have not yet seen any benefits to some of the more value oriented retailers that we would expect to see in the future if this behavior persists. 


Simeon Gutman: So when we're thinking about the context of our collaborative work with other Morgan Stanley sector analysts around trade down risks, what do you hear, Kimberly, about the impact on segments such as household products and restaurants? 


Kimberly Greenberger: We have found most fascinating, actually, the study of those real high frequency purchases. Because in order to understand how consumer behavior is changing at the margin, we think it's most important to look at what consumers were spending on last week, two weeks ago, three weeks ago as a better indication of what they're likely to spend on for the next three or six months. How that behavior has been changing is that on those of very high frequency purchases like the daily tobacco purchase or the daily food at home purchase, as you mentioned, is that there is trade down from higher priced brands and products into more value oriented brands and products. The same thing is happening in fast food. Another category that we consume on a somewhat more frequent basis than, for example, eating in casual dining restaurants where we're sitting down for a meal. So now we've got a good number of months of evidence that this is, in fact, happening, and that gives us more conviction that it's likely to continue through the second half of the year. So Simeon, in your view, what parts of retail are the likely winners and laggards should this trade down behavior persist and broaden out, particularly if a recession did materialize? 


Simeon Gutman: So in the event of a recession, I think the typical answers here are a little bit easier to identify. The two big beneficiaries, the channel beneficiaries, would be the dollar slash discount stores and then secondarily, off price. First, the dollar and discount stores, they are already seeing some initial signs of trade down and that is mostly in the consumable area. That is the place where the consumer feels the pinch immediately. The other piece of it is the discretionary spend. The longer these conditions persist, high inflation and potential other pressures on the consumer, then you'll start to see a more pronounced trade down and shift of discretionary purchases. And that's where off price plays a role. 


Kimberly Greenberger: Simeon, thanks so much for taking the time to talk. 


Simeon Gutman: Great speaking with you, Kimberly. 


Kimberly Greenberger: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people to find the show. 

Aug 12, 2022
Sheena Shah: When will Crypto Prices Find a Bottom?
00:03:55

As bitcoin has been experiencing a steep decline in the last 6 months, investors are beginning to wonder when Cryptocurrencies will finally bottom out and start the cycle anew.


Digital assets, sometimes known as cryptocurrency, are a digital representation of a value that function as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, or a store of value, but generally do not have legal tender status. Digital assets have no intrinsic value and there is no investment underlying digital assets. The value of digital assets is derived by market forces of supply and demand, and is therefore more volatile than traditional currencies’ value. Investing in digital assets is risky, and transacting in digital assets carries various risks, including but not limited to fraud, theft, market volatility, market manipulation, and cybersecurity failures—such as the risk of hacking, theft, programming bugs, and accidental loss. Additionally, there is no guarantee that any entity that currently accepts digital assets as payment will do so in the future. The volatility and unpredictability of the price of digital assets may lead to significant and immediate losses. It may not be possible to liquidate a digital assets position in a timely manner at a reasonable price.

Regulation of digital assets continues to develop globally and, as such, federal, state, or foreign governments may restrict the use and exchange of any or all digital assets, further contributing to their volatility. Digital assets stored online are not insured and do not have the same protections or safeguards of bank deposits in the US or other jurisdictions. Digital assets can be exchanged for US dollars or other currencies, but are not generally backed nor supported by any government or central bank.

Before purchasing, investors should note that risks applicable to one digital asset may not be the same risks applicable to other forms of digital assets. Markets and exchanges for digital assets are not currently regulated in the same manner and do not provide the customer protections available in equities, fixed income, options, futures, commodities or foreign exchange markets.

Morgan Stanley and its affiliates do business that may relate to some of the digital assets or other related products discussed in Morgan Stanley Research. These could include market making, providing liquidity, fund management, commercial banking, extension of credit, investment services and investment banking.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Sheena Shah, Lead Cryptocurrency Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I address the question everyone seems to be asking about the crypto cycle: when will crypto prices find a bottom? It's Thursday, August 11th, at 5 p.m. in London. 


After a 75% peak to trough fall in bitcoin's price between November 2021 and June this year, it seems like almost everyone in the market is asking the same question. When will crypto prices find the bottom? We will discuss three topics related to this question; the pace of new bitcoin creation, past bitcoin cycles and dollar liquidity. 


What can bitcoin's creation tell us about where we are in the crypto cycle? Bitcoin's relatively short history means there is little available data, and yet the data is quite rich. In its short 12 year history, bitcoin has experienced at least 10 bull and bear cycles. Bitcoin creation follows a 4 year cycle. Within these 4 year cycles, price action has so far followed three distinct phases. First, there is a rapid and almost exponential rise in price. Second, at a peak in price, a bear market follows. And third, prices move sideways, eventually leading into a new bull market. 


The question for investors today is, is bitcoin's price moving out of the second phase and into the third? Only time will tell. There have only been three of these halving cycles in the past, and so it is difficult to conclude that these cycles will repeat in the future. 


What about past bear markets? The 75% peak to trough fall in bitcoin's price and this cycle is currently faring better than previous cycles, in which the falls after peaks in 2011, 2013 and 2017 ranged between 85 and 95%. There is, therefore, speculation about whether this cycle has further to drop. 


Previous cycles have shed similar characteristics. In the bull runs there was speculation about the potential of a particular part of the crypto ecosystem. In 2011, it was the excitement about Bitcoin and the development of ecosystem technologies like exchanges and wallets. In 2020 to 2021, this cycle, there were NFTs, DeFi and the rising dominance of the institutional investor. 


In previous cycles, the bear runs were triggered by regulatory clampdowns or a dominant exchange being hacked. In 2013, a crackdown in China led to the world's largest exchange at that time, BTC China, stopping customer deposits. In this cycle, the liquidity tap dried up as inflation concerns gripped the market. 


Central bank liquidity and government stimulus fueled the speculation driven 2020-2022 crypto cycle. For this reason, day to day crypto traders are focusing on what the U.S. Federal Reserve plans to do with its interest rates and availability of dollars. 


To find a bottom, there are two liquidity related factors to look out for. First, market expectations that central banks will continue to tighten the money supply, turn into expectations that central banks will resume monetary expansion. Second, crypto companies increase appetite to build crypto leverage again. Both of these would increase liquidity and drive a new cycle of speculation. 


Which brings us back to the question about the bottom of the crypto cycle that almost everyone is asking: are we there yet? To answer that question, look at bitcoin creation, past cycles and above all, liquidity. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed Thoughts on the Market, share this and other episodes with a friend or colleague today. 

Aug 11, 2022
U.S. Public Policy: Will the Inflation Reduction Act Actually Reduce Inflation?
00:04:48

The Senate just passed the Inflation Reduction Act which seeks to fight inflation on a variety of fronts, but the most pressing question is, will the IRA actually impact inflation?


-----Transcript-----


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Morgan Stanley's Head of U.S. Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy. 


Ellen Zentner: And I'm Ellen Zentner, Morgan Stanley's Chief U.S. Economist. 


Michael Zezas: And on this special episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll discuss the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, with a focus on its impact on the U.S. economic outlook. It's Wednesday, August 10th, at noon in New York. 


Michael Zezas: So, Ellen, the Senate just passed the Democrats Inflation Reduction Act on a party line vote. And we know this has been a long awaited centerpiece to President Biden's agenda. But let me start with one of the more pressing questions here; from your perspective, does the Inflation Reduction Act reduce inflation? Or maybe more specifically, does it reduce inflation in a way that impacts how the Fed looks at inflation and how markets look at inflation? 


Ellen Zentner: So for it to impact the Fed today and how the markets are looking at inflation, it really has to show very near term effects here, where the IRA focuses more on longer term effects on inflation. So today we've got recent inflation report that came out this week showing that inflation moved lower, so softened. Especially showing the effects of those lower energy prices, which everyone notices because you go and gas up at the pump and so, you know right away what inflation is doing. And that's led to some more optimism from households. That at least gives the Fed some comfort, right, that they're doing the right thing here, raising rates and helping to bring inflation down. But there's a good deal more work for the Fed to do, and we think they raise rates by another 50 basis points at their September meeting. The rates market also took note of some of the inflation metrics of late that are looking a little bit better. But still, it's not definitive for markets what the Fed will do. We need a couple of more data points over the next few months. So the IRA is just a completely separate issue right now for the Fed and markets because that's going to be in the longer run impact. 


Michael Zezas: So the bill is constructed to actually pay down the federal government deficit by about $300 billion over 10 years, and conventional wisdom is that when you're reducing deficits, you're helping to calm inflation. Is that still the case here? 


Ellen Zentner: So it's still the case in general because it means less government debt that has to be issued. But let's put it in perspective, $300 billion deficit reduction spread over ten years is 30 billion a year in an economy that's greater than 20 trillion. And so it's very difficult to see. 


Michael Zezas: Okay, so the Inflation Reduction Act seems like it helps over the long term, but probably not a game changer in the short term. 


Ellen Zentner: That's right. 


Michael Zezas: Let's talk about some of the more specific elements within the bill and their potential impact on inflation over the longer term. So, for example, the IRA extends Affordable Care Act subsidies. It also allows Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs, or at least some prescription drugs, for the first time. How do you view the impacts of those provisions? 


Ellen Zentner: So these are really the provisions that get at the meat of impacting inflation over the longer run. And I'll focus in on health care costs here. So specifically, drug prices have been quite high. Being able to lower drug prices helps lower income households, that helps older cohorts, and the cost of medical services gets a very large weight in overall consumer inflation and it gets a large weight because we spend so much on it. The other thing I'd note here, though, is that since it allows Medicare to negotiate prices for some drugs for the first time, well, that word negotiate is key here. It takes time to negotiate price changes, and that's why this bill is more something that affects longer run inflation rather than near term. 


Michael Zezas: Right. So bottom line, for market participants, this Inflation Reduction Act might ultimately deliver on its name. But if you want to understand what the Fed is going to do in the short term and how it might impact the rates markets, better off paying attention to incoming data over the next few months. It's also fair to say there's other market effects to watch emanating from the IRA, namely corporate tax effects and spending on clean energy. Those are two topics we're going to get into in podcasts over the next couple of weeks. 


Michael Zezas: Ellen, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Ellen Zentner: Great speaking with you, Michael. 


Michael Zezas: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

Aug 10, 2022
U.S. Housing: Will New Lending Standards Slow Housing Activity?
00:06:34

As lending standards tighten and banks get ready to make some tough choices, how will the housing market fare if loan growth slows? Co-Heads of U.S. Securitized Products Research Jim Egan and Jay Bacow discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Jay Bacow: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jay Bacow, Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research here at Morgan Stanley. 


Jim Egan: And I'm Jim Egan, the other Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research. 


Jay Bacow: And on this episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing how tightening lending standards could impact housing activity. It's Tuesday, August 9th, at 11 a.m. in New York. 


Jim Egan: Now Jay, you published a high level report last week with Vishy Tirupattur, who is the Head of Fixed Income Research here at Morgan Stanley, on the coming capital crunch. Basically, rising capital pressures will mean that banks will have to make tough choices in their lending books. Is that about right? 


Jay Bacow: Yeah, that's it. Basically, we don't think that markets have really appreciated the impact of the combination of how rising rates caused losses on banks portfolios, the regulatory changes and the results of the stress test capital buffers. All of these things are going to require banks to look at the composition of not just the assets that they own, but their business models in general. Our large cap banking analyst Betsy Graseck thinks that banks are going to look at things differently to come up with different solutions depending on the bank, but in general across the industry, expects lending standards to tighten for this year and in 2023, and for loan growth to slow. So, Jim, if banks are going to tighten lending standards then what does that mean for housing activity? 


Jim Egan: I think, especially if we look at home sales, that's a negative for sales volumes and home sales are already falling. We've talked about affordability deterioration on this podcast a few times now, not just the fact of where affordability is in the housing market, but how rapidly it's deteriorating. If lending standards are going to tighten on top of those affordability pressures, then that just argues for potentially an even more substantial decrease in sales volumes going forward, and we're already seeing this in the data. Through the first half of the year new home sales are down 14% versus the first half of 2021. Purchase applications, that's our highest frequency data point that we have, they're getting progressively weaker each month. They were down 17% year over year in June, 19% year over year in July. Existing home sales, and that's referencing a much larger volume of sales then new home sales, they're down a comparatively strong 8% year to date. But with all of the dynamics that we're discussing, we believe that they're going to see a much more precipitous drop in the second half of the year. We have it down over 15% year over year versus 2021. Now, that's because of affordability pressures. It's because of the potential for tightening lending standards. It's also because of the lock in effect from a rate perspective. 


Jay Bacow: On that lock in effect, with just 2% of the market having incentive to refinance, lenders are sitting there and saying, well, what do we do in this environment where we can't just give people a rate refi? Now, you mentioned the purchase activity, that's obviously one area, but Black Knight just reported another quarterly record of untapped equity in the housing market, and consumers would love to be able to tap that. The problem is when you do a cash out refinance, you end up increasing the rate on your entire mortgage. And homeowners don't want to do that. So they'd love to do something like a home equity line of credit or second lien where they're getting charged the higher rate on just the equity they take out. But the problem is it's harder to originate those in an environment where lending standards are tightening, particularly given the capital allocation against those type of loans can be onerous. 


Jim Egan: Right. And the level of conversations around an increase in kind of the second lien or the hill market have certainly been picking up over the past weeks and months, both on the originator side, on the investor side, as people look to find ways to access that record amount of equity that you mentioned in the housing market. 


Jay Bacow: Thinking about trying, people are still trying to sell houses and you just commented on the housing activity, but what about the prices they're selling at? Some of the recent data was pretty surprising. 


Jim Egan: The most recent month of data, I think the point that has raised the most eyebrows was the average or median price of new home sales saw a pretty significant month over month decrease. We continue to see month over month increases in the median and average price of existing home sales at. When we think about average and median prices, there's a mix shift issue there. So month over month, depending on the types of homes that sell things can move. What we actually forecast, the repeat sales index Case-Shiller, we're starting to see a slowdown in growth. The past two months have been consecutive deceleration in the pace of home price growth. I think the thing that we'd highlight most is the growing geographic pervasiveness of the slowdown. Two months ago, 11 of the Case-Shiller 20 city index was showing a deceleration month over month. This past month, it was 16. Now, all 20 cities continue to show home price growth, but again, 16 are showing that pace slowdown. There is some regional specificity to this, the cities that continue to accelerate largely in Florida, Miami and Tampa to name two. 


Jay Bacow: Okay. So that's what we've seen. What do we expect to see on a go forward basis? 


Jim Egan: We talked about our expectations for sales a few minutes ago. I think the one thing that we do want to highlight is on the starts front, we think that single unit starts are going to start to decrease over the course of the back half of this year. There's a couple of reasons for that. We talked about affordability pressures, another dynamic that's been playing out in the space is that there's been a backlog not just of housing starts, but before those starts to get the completion units under construction has swollen back to 2004 levels, starts themselves are only at 1997 levels. We do think that that is going to kind of disincentivize starts going forward. We're already starting to see it a little bit in the underlying data, trailing 12 month single unit starts had plateaued for largely a year. They've been down the past two months, we think that they're going to continue to fall in the back half of this year. It's already playing through from a sentiment perspective, homebuilder confidence is down 39% from its peak in November of 2020, and that's being driven by their perception of traffic on their sites as well as their perception of future sales conditions. So we do think that starts are going to fall because a number of these dynamics. And we think that home price growth is going to remain positive and we've highlighted this on this podcast before, but the pace is going to start slowing pretty materially in the back half of this year. The most recent print was 19.7%, down from over 20%, but we think it gets all the way to 9% by December 2022, 3% by December 2023. So continued home price growth, but the pace is going to slow pretty materially. 


Jim Egan: Jay, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Jay Bacow: Jim. Always a pleasure. 


Jim Egan: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

Aug 09, 2022
Josh Pokrzywinski: Deflationary Opportunities
00:03:59

While inflation remains high and the battle to bring it down is top of mind, there may be some opportunities in technologies that could help bring down inflation in some sectors.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Josh Pokrzywinski, Morgan Stanley's U.S. Electrical Equipment and Multi-Industry Analyst. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about deflationary opportunities in this high inflation environment. It's Monday, August 8th, at 4 p.m. in New York. 


As most listeners no doubt know, the battle to bring down inflation is the topic of 2022. But today I want to talk about inflation from a slightly different perspective, and that's how automation and productivity enhancing technologies could actually help bring down inflation in areas such as labor, supply chain procurement and energy. 


And while these technologies require capital investment, something that's often difficult when the economy is uncertain, we believe structural changes in demographics, energy policy and security, and an aging capital base make technologies focused on cost reductions and productivity actually more valuable. 


So for investors focusing on stocks that enable productivity and cost reduction through automation, efficiency, or their own declining cost curves while maintaining strong barriers to entry and attractive equity risk/reward, is something to consider. 


To dig into this, the U.S. Equity Strategy Team and equity analysts across the spectrum at Morgan Stanley Research created a deflation enabler shopping list. And that list is composed of stocks that produce tangible cost savings for their customers, where costs themselves are rising due to inflation, such as labor and energy, or scarcity, for example semiconductors or materials. In many cases, the cost of the product itself has also come down through technology or economies of scale, benefitting the purchaser and therefore adoption on both lower cost to implement and higher cost avoidance through use. 


So where should investors look? Although there are a number of deflationary companies across areas such as automation and semiconductors, we identified three major deflationary technologies which permeate across sectors and which are at long term inflection points in their importance for both enterprise and consumer. 


The first is artificial intelligence or AI. AI is proving relentless and increasingly deflationary. In biotech, AI could shorten development timelines, lower R&D spend and improve probability of success. 


The second is clean energy. My colleague Stephen Burd, who covers clean energy and utilities, has pointed out that against the backdrop of inflationary fossil fuels and utility bills, companies with deflationary clean energy technologies and high barriers to entry will be able to grow rapidly and generate increasing margins. 


And finally, mass energy storage and mobility. Although the cost of batteries have been falling for some time, competition in the space has led to heightened investment. In addition, ambitious top down government emissions goals have facilitated an exponential uplift in demand for batteries and their component raw materials. 


Although supply chains for batteries remain immature, battery storage technology is only beginning to have profound effects on society mobility, inclusivity and ultimately climate. As investment by automakers rises along with generous European subsidies aimed at staying competitive with U.S. and Chinese investment, the supply chain and innovation in new battery technologies such as solid state mean that the price should continue to fall as innovation and demand rise. 


This is extended beyond the personal vehicle market, with the cost savings and efficiency improvements driving profound changes and improvements in the range and cost of heavy duty and long haul trucking EV, and ultimately autonomous, markets. 


To sum up, in an inflationary world we believe companies that have developed deflationary products and services will become increasingly valuable, as long as they have significant barriers to entry with respect to those products and services. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

Aug 08, 2022
Andrew Sheets: What Can We Learn from Market Prices?
00:03:13

The current market pricing can tell investors a lot about what the market believes is coming next, but the future is uncertain and investors may not always agree with market expectations. Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets explains.


--- Transcript ---

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, August 5th, at 2 p.m. in London.

Trying to predict where financial markets will go is difficult. The future, as they say, is uncertain, and even the most talented investors and forecasters will frequently struggle to get these predictions right.

A different form of this question, however, might be easier. What do markets assume will happen? After all, these assumptions are the result of thousands of different actors, most of which are trying very hard to make accurate predictions about future market prices because a lot of money is on the line. Not only is there a lot of information in those assumptions, but understanding them are table stakes for a lot of investment strategy. After all, if our view only matches what is already expected by the market to happen, it is simply much less meaningful.

Let's start with central banks, where current market pricing can tell us quite a bit. Markets expect the Fed to raise rates by another 100 basis points between now and February to about three and a half percent. And then from there, the Fed is expected to reverse course, reducing rates by about half a percent by the end of 2023. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is expected to raise rates steadily from a current level of 0 to 1.1% over the next 12 months.

Morgan Stanley's economists see it differently in both regions. In the U.S., we think the Fed will take rates a little higher than markets expect by year end and then leave them higher for longer than markets currently imply. In the U.S., we think the Fed will take rates higher than markets expect by year end and then leave them higher for longer than is currently implied. In Europe, it's the opposite. We think the ECB will raise rates more slowly than markets imply. The idea that the Fed may do more than expected while the ECB does less is one reason we forecast the US dollar to strengthen further against the euro.

A rich set of future expectations also exists in the commodity market. For example, markets expect oil prices to be about 10% lower in 12 months time. Gasoline is priced to be about 15% lower between now and the end of the year. The price of gold, in contrast, is expected to be about 3% more expensive over the next 12 months.

I’d stress that these predictions are not some sort of cheat code for the market. The fact that oil is priced to decline 10% doesn't mean that you can make 10% today by selling oil. Rather, it means that foreign investor, a 10% decline in oil, or a 3% rise in gold will simply mean you break even over the next 12 months.

Again, all of this pricing informs our views. We forecast oil to decline less and gold to decline more than market prices imply. Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley equity analysts can work backwards looking at what these commodity expectations would mean for the companies that produce them. We won't get into that here, but it's yet another way that we can take advantage of information the market is already giving us.

Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Aug 06, 2022
Michael Zezas: The U.S. and China, a History of Competition
00:02:42

As investors watch to see if tensions between the U.S. and China will escalate, it’s important to understand the underlying competitive dynamic and how U.S. policy may have macro impacts.


--- Transcript ---

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public pPolicy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Thursday, August 4th, at 1 p.m. in New York.

This week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's Asia trip had the attention of many investors as they watched to see whether her actions would escalate tensions between the U.S. and China. In our view, though, this event wasn't a potential catalyst for tensions, but rather evidence of tensions that persist between the two global powers. Hence, we think investors are better served focusing on the underlying dynamic rather than any particular event.

The U.S.-China rivalry has many complicated causes, many of which we've covered on previous podcasts. But the point we want to reemphasize is this; this rivalry is going to persist. China is interested in asserting its global influence, which in ways can be at odds with how the U.S. and Europe want the international economic system to function. Nowhere is this clearer than in the policies the U.S. has adopted in recent years aimed at boosting its competitiveness with China.

The latest is the enactment of the Chips Plus Bill, which allocates over $250 billion to help US industries, in particular the semiconductor industry, to devolve its supply chain reliance on China for the purposes of economic security and to protect sensitive technologies. Policies like this have more of a sectoral effect than the macro one. But the primary market impact here being a defraying of rising costs for the semiconductor industry. But investors should be aware that there's potential policy changes on the horizon that could have macro impacts. For example, Congress considered creating an outbound investment restriction mechanism in that Chips Plus bill. Such a restriction could have significantly interrupted foreign direct investment in China with substantial consequences for China equity markets.

That provision didn't make it into this bill, and with little legislative time between now and the midterm elections, it's unlikely to resurface this year. That's cause some to conclude that it's likely to be years before such a provision could become enacted, particularly if Republicans take back control of one or both chambers of Congress creating a risk of gridlock.

But we'd caution that's too simple of a conclusion. The concept of outbound investment restrictions enjoys bipartisan support. So we think investors should be on guard for this provision to get serious consideration in 2023. We'll, of course, track it and keep you informed.

Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share thoughts on the market with a friend or colleague or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

 

Aug 04, 2022
Matthew Hornbach: The Fed Pivot That Wasn’t Quite As It Seemed
00:03:39

After the July FOMC meeting, markets took a quick dive and then made an immediate recovery, so what happened?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Matthew Hornbach, Global Head of Macro Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about global macro trends and how investors can interpret these trends for rates and currency markets. It's Wednesday, August 3rd, at 1 p.m. in New York. 

In the weeks since the July meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC, rates and currency markets have made quite the round trip. Treasury yields from 2 out to10 year maturities fell by over 25 basis points in the three days that followed the meeting. And the U.S. dollar index declined by 2% over the same period. 

However, looking at these markets today, as I sit here recording this podcast, it's almost as if the July FOMC meeting didn't happen. 10 year Treasury yields are about where they were going into the meeting last week, and 2 year yields are a bit higher even. As for the U.S. dollar index, it's back to the range it was in ahead of the meeting. 

So what happened? Going into the meeting, investors thought that the Fed would deliver a 75 basis point rate hike, but recognized that there was a tail risk of a larger 100 basis point hike. And even if the tail risk didn't materialize, investors had acknowledged that the additional 25 basis points might be delivered in September instead. And that would make for the third 75 basis point hike in this cycle. In short, investors were positioned for a hawkish outcome. 

The FOMC statement and Chair Powell's prepared remarks didn't disappoint. The message was on par with what FOMC participants had been saying over recent weeks and months. Inflation is still top of mind, and more work is needed to bring it down to acceptable levels. If the meeting ended with Powell's prepared remarks, rates and currencies would have likely taken a different path to where they trade today. 

However, the meeting didn't end there, and the Q&A session of Powell's press conference struck a more dovish tone. Three messages contributed to this interpretation. First, Powell suggested that rates had achieved a neutral setting, or one that neither puts upward nor downward pressure on economic activity relative to its potential. 

Second, he said that because a neutral policy setting had been reached, the pace of subsequent rate hikes could soon begin to slow. 

And finally, he suggested that the committee's view of the peak policy rate in the cycle hadn't changed since the last FOMC meeting, even though inflation data since then continued to surprise on the higher side. The reason for this seemed to be focused on the deterioration in activity data or growth data. 

In many ways, investors should have expected these statements from Powell, given guidance coming from the June summary of economic projections. In addition, because Fed policy had tightened financial conditions this year, and those financial conditions helped slow economic growth, the case for a less hawkish performance might have been predictable. 

The data that arrived in the wake of the meeting underscored the recent themes of slower growth and higher inflation. But the Fedspeak that arrived in the wake of the data, well, it continued to focus on inflation, as it had done before the Fed met in July. 

Where does all of that leave the Fed on policy and us on markets? Well, the Fed's job bringing inflation down hasn't yet been accomplished, the bond market is pricing less policy tightening than the Fed is last guided towards, and downside risks to global growth are rising. As a result, we remain neutral on bond market duration, but remain bullish on the U.S. dollar, particularly against the euro. 

Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people find the show.

Aug 03, 2022
Pharmaceuticals: The Global Obesity Challenge
00:07:51

As studies begin to show that obesity medications may save lives, will governments and insurances begin to consider them preventative primary care? And how might this create opportunity in pharmaceuticals? Head of European Pharmaceuticals Mark Purcell and Head of U.S. Pharmaceuticals Terence Flynn discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Mark Purcell: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mark Purcell, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Pharmaceuticals Team. 

Terence Flynn: And I'm Terence Flynn, Head of the U.S. Pharmaceuticals Team. 

Mark Purcell: And on this special episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll be talking about the global obesity challenge and our outlook for the next decade. It's Tuesday, August the 2nd, and it's 1 p.m. in London. 

Terence Flynn: And 8 a.m. in New York. 

Terence Flynn: So Mark, more than 650 million people worldwide are living with obesity as we speak. The personal, social and economic costs from obesity are huge. The World Health Organization estimates that obesity is responsible for 5% of all global deaths, which impacts global GDP by around 3%. Obesity is linked to over 200 health complications from osteoarthritis, to kidney disease, to early loss of vision. So tackling the obesity epidemic would impact directly or indirectly multiple sectors of the economy. Lots to talk about today, but let's start with one of the key questions here: why are we talking about all this now? Are we at an inflection point? And is the obesity narrative changing? 

Mark Purcell: Yeah Terence look, there's a category of medicine called GLP-1's which have been used to treat diabetes for over a decade. GLP-1 is an appetite suppressing hormone. It works on GLP-1 receptors, you could think of these as hunger receptors, and it helps to regulate how much food our bodies feel they need to consume. Therefore, these GLP-1 medicines could become an important weapon in the fight against obesity. The latest GLP-1 medicines can help individuals who are obese lose 15 to 20% of their body weight. That is equivalent to 45 to 60% of the excess weight these individuals carry in the form of fat which accumulates around the waist and important organs in our bodies such as the liver. There is a landmark obesity study called SELECT, which has been designed to answer the following key question: does weight management save lives? An interim analysis of this SELECT study is anticipated in the next two months, and our work suggests that GLP-1 medicines could deliver a 27% reduction in the risk of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular deaths. We believe that governments and insurance companies will broaden the reimbursement of GLP-1 medicines in obesity if they are proven to save lives. This comes at a time when new GLP-1 medicines are becoming available with increasing levels of effectiveness. It's an exciting time in the war against obesity, and we wanted to understand the implications of the SELECT study before it reads out. 

Terence Flynn: So, our collaborative work suggests that obesity may be the new hypertension. What exactly do we mean by that, Mark? How do we size the global opportunity and what's the timeline here? 

Mark Purcell: Back in the 1960s and 1970s, hypertension was seen as a lifestyle disease caused by stress and old age. Over time, it was shown that high blood pressure could be treated, and in doing so, doctors could prevent heart attacks and save lives. A new wave of medicines were introduced to the market in the mid 1980s to treat individuals with high blood pressure and doctors found the most effective way to treat high blood pressure was to use combinations of these medicines. By the end of the 1990's, the hypertension market reached $30 billion in sales, that's equivalent to over $15 billion today adjusting for inflation. Obesity is seen by many as a lifestyle disease caused by a lack of self-control when it comes to eating too much. However, obesity is now classified as a preventable chronic disease by medical associations, just like hypertension. Specialists in the obesity field now recognize that our bodies have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to put on weight, to survive times where there is a lack of food available and a key way to fight obesity is to reset the balance of how much food our bodies think they need. With the availability of new, effective obesity medicines, we believe that obesity is on the cusp of moving into mainstream primary care management. And the obesity market is where the treatment of high blood pressure was in the mid to late 1980s. We built a detailed obesity model focusing on the key bottlenecks, patient activation, physicians engagement and payer recognition. And we believe that the obesity global sales could exceed $50 billion by the end of this decade. 

Terence Flynn: So Mark, what are the catalysts aligning to unlock the potential of this $50 billion obesity opportunity? 

Mark Purcell: We believe there are full catalysts which should begin to unlock this opportunity over the next six months. Firstly, the SELECT study, which we talked about. It could be stopped early in the next two months if GOP P1 medicines are shown overwhelmingly to save lives by reducing excess weight. Secondly, the demand for GLP-1 medicines to treat obesity was underappreciated by the pharmaceutical industry. But through the second half of this year, GLP-1 medicines, supply constraints will be addressed and we'll be able to appreciate the underlying patient demand for these important medicines. Thirdly, analysis shows that social media is already creating a recursive cycle of education, word of mouth and heightened demand for these weight loss medicines. Lastly, diabetes treatment guidelines are actively evolving to recognize important comorbidities, and we expect a greater emphasis on weight treatment goals by the end of this year. 

Terence Flynn: Mark, you mentioned some bottlenecks with respect to the obesity challenge. One of those was patient activation. What's the story there and how does social media play into it? 

Mark Purcell: Yes, great question Terence, look it's estimated that less than 10% of individuals suffering from obesity are diagnosed and actively managed by doctors. And that compares to 80 to 90% of individuals who suffer from high blood pressure, or diabetes, or high levels of cholesterol. Once patients come forward to see their doctors, 40% of them are treated with an anti-obesity medicine. And as more effective medicines become available, we just think this percentage is going to rise. Lastly, studies designed to answer the question, what benefit does 15 to 20% weight loss deliver in terms of reducing the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease? Will help activate governments and insurance companies to reimburse obesity medicines. But it all starts with individuals suffering from obesity coming forward and seeking help, and this is where we expect social media to play a really important key role. 

Terence Flynn: To a layperson, there's significant overlap between diabetes and obesity. How do we conceptualize the obesity challenge vis a vis diabetes, Mark? 

Mark Purcell: Terence, you're absolutely right. There is significant overlap between diabetes and obesity and it makes it difficult and complicated to model. It's estimated that between 80 to 85% of diabetics are overweight. It's estimated that 35% of diabetics are obese and around 10% of diabetics are severely obese. GLP-1 medicines have been used to treat diabetes for over a decade, not only being extremely effective in lowering blood sugar, but also in reducing the risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and removing excess body weight, which is being recognized as increasingly important. This triple whammy of benefit means that the use of GLP-1 medicines is increasing rapidly, and sales in diabetes are expected to reach over $20 billion this year, compared to just over $2 billion in obesity. By the end of the decade our work suggests that the use of GLP-1 based medicines in obesity could exceed the use in diabetes by up to 50%. 

Terence Flynn: Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk. 

Mark Purcell: Great speaking with you again, Terrence. 

Terence Flynn: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

Aug 03, 2022
Mike Wilson: Are Recession Risks Priced in?
00:04:01

As the Fed continues to surprise with large and fast interest rate increases, the market must decide, has the Fed done enough? Or is the recession already here?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, August 1st at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Over the past year, the Fed has come under scrutiny for their outlook on inflation, and they've even admitted themselves that they misjudged the call when they claimed inflation would be transient. In an effort to regain its credibility, the Fed has swiftly pivoted to its most hawkish policy action since the 1980s. In fact, while we may have been the most hawkish equity strategists on the street at the beginning of the year, we never expected to see this many rate hikes in 2022. Suffice it to say, it hasn't gone unnoticed by markets with both stocks and bonds off to their worst start in many decades. 


However, since peaking in June, 10 year Treasuries have had one of their largest rallies in history, with the yield curve inverting by as much as 33 basis points. Perhaps more importantly, market based five year inflation expectations have plunged and now sit very close to the Fed's long term target of 2%. Objectively speaking, it appears as though the bond market has quickly turned into a believer that the Fed will get inflation under control. 


This kind of action from the Fed is bullish for bonds, and one of the main reasons we turned bullish on bonds relative to stocks back in April. Since then, bonds have done better than stocks, even though it's been a flat ride in absolute terms. It also explains why defensively oriented stocks have dominated the leadership board and why we are sticking with it. 


Meanwhile, stocks have rallied with bonds and are up almost 14% from the June lows. The interpretation here is that the Fed has inflation tamed, and could soon pause its rate hikes, which is usually a good sign for stocks. 


However, in this particular cycle, we think the time between the last rate hike and the recession will be shorter, and perhaps after the recession starts. In technical terms, a recession has already begun with last week's second quarter GDP release. However, we don't think a true recession can be declared unless the unemployment rate rises by at least a few percentage points. Given the deterioration in profit margins and forward earnings estimates, we think that risk has risen considerably as we are seeing many hiring freezes and even layoffs in certain parts of the economy. This has been most acute in industries affected by higher costs and interest rates and where there's payback in demand from the binge in consumption during the lockdowns. 


In our conversations with clients over the past few weeks, we've been surprised at how many think a recession was fully priced in June. While talk of recession was rampant during that sell off, and valuations reached our target price earnings ratio of 15.4x, we do not think it properly discounted the earnings damage that will entail if we are actually in a recession right now. As we have noted in that outcome, the earnings revisions which have begun this quarter are likely far from finished in both time or level. Our estimate for S&P 500 earnings going forward in a recession scenario is $195, which is likely to be reached by the first quarter of 2023. Of course, we could still avoid a recession defined as a negative labor cycle, or it might come later next year, which means the Fed pause can happen prior to the arrival of a recession allowing for that bullish window to expand. We remain open minded to any outcome, but our analysis suggests betting on the latter two outcomes is a risky one, especially after the recent rally. 


The bottom line, last month's rally in stocks was powerful and has investors excited that the bear market is over and looking forward to better times. However, we think it's premature to sound the all-clear with recession and therefore earnings risk is still elevated. For these reasons, we stayed defensively oriented in our equity positioning for now and remain patient with any incremental allocations to stocks. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people to find the show.

Aug 01, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Is 60:40 Diversification Broken?
00:04:10

One of the most common standards for investment diversification, the 60:40 portfolio, has faced challenges this year with significant losses and shifting correlations between stocks and bonds. Is this the end of 60:40 allocation?


---- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, July 29th, at 2 p.m. in London.


The so-called 60:40 portfolio is one of the most common forms of diversified investing, based on the idea of holding a portfolio of 60% equities and 40% high-quality bonds. In theory, the equities provide higher returns over time, while the high-quality bonds provide ballast and diversification, delivering a balanced overall portfolio. But recently, we and many others have been talking about how our estimates suggested historically low returns for this 60:40 type of approach. And frequently these estimates just didn't seem to matter. Global stocks and bonds continued to hum away nicely, delivering unusually strong returns and diversification.


And then, all at once, those dour, long term return estimates appeared to come true. From January 1st through June 30th of this year, a 60:40 portfolio of U.S. equities and the aggregate bond index lost about 16% of its value, wiping out all of the portfolio's gains since September of 2020. Portfolios in Europe were a similar story. These moves raise a question: do these large losses, and the fact that they involved stock and bond prices moving in the same direction, mean that diversified portfolios of stocks and bonds are fundamentally broken in an era of tighter policy?


Now, one way that 60:40 portfolios could be broken, so to speak, is that they simply can't generate reasonable returns going forward. But on our estimates, this isn't the case. Lower prices for stocks and higher yields on bonds have raised our estimate for what this type of diversified portfolio can return. Leaving those estimates now near the 20-year average.


A bigger concern for investors, however, is diversification. The drawdown of 60:40 portfolios this year wasn't necessarily extreme for its magnitude—2002 and 2008 saw larger losses—but rather its uniformity, as both stocks and bonds saw unusually large declines.


These fears of less diversification have been given a face, the bond equity correlation. And the story investors are afraid of goes something like this. For most of the last 20 years, bond and equity returns were negatively correlated, moving in opposite directions and diversifying each other. But since 2020, the large interventions of monetary policy into the market have caused this correlation to be positive. Stock and bond prices are now moving in the same direction. The case for diversification is over.


This is a tempting story, and it is true that large central bank actions since 2020 have caused stocks and bonds to move together more frequently. But I think there's also a risk of confusing direction and magnitude. Bonds can still be good portfolio diversifiers, even if they aren't quite as good as they've been before.


Even if stocks and bonds are now positively correlated, that correlation is still well below 1 to 1. That means there are still plenty of days where they don't move together, and this can matter significantly for how a portfolio behaves, and how diversification is delivered, over time.


Another important case for 60:40 style diversification is volatility. Even after one of the worst declines for bond prices in the last 40 years, the trailing one-year volatility of the US aggregate bond index is about 6%. That is one third the volatility of U.S. stocks over the same period. Having 40% of a portfolio in something with one third of the volatility should dampen overall fluctuations. For all these reasons, we think the case for a 60:40 style approach to diversified investing remains.


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Jul 29, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Big Moves From The Fed
00:03:25

Yesterday, the U.S. Federal Reserve raised interest rates by another 75 basis points. What is driving these above average rate hikes and what might the effect on markets be?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Thursday, July 28th at 4 p.m. in London. 


Yesterday, the Federal Reserve raised rates by 75 basis points, and the Nasdaq market index had its best day since April of 2020, rising over 4%. It was a day of big moves, but also some large unanswered questions. 


A 75 basis point rise in Fed funds is large and unusual. In the last 30 years, the Fed has only raised rates by such a large increment three times. Two of those instances were at the last two Federal Reserve meetings, including the one we had yesterday. 


These large moves are happening because the Fed is racing to catch up with, and get ahead of, inflation, which is currently running at about 9% in the U.S. In theory, higher fed rate should slow the economy and cool inflationary pressure. But that theory also assumes that higher rates work with a lag, perhaps as long as 12 months. There are a couple of reasons for this, but one is that in theory, higher rates work by making it more attractive to save money rather than spend it today. Well, I checked my savings account today and let's just say the rate increases we've had recently haven't exactly shown up. So the incentives to save are still working their way through the system. 


This is part of the Fed's predicament. In hockey terms, they're trying to skate the proverbial puck, aiming policy to where inflation and the economy might be in 12 months time. But both inflation and their policy changes are moving very fast. This is not an easy thing to calibrate. 


Given that difficulty, why did the markets celebrate yesterday with both stock and bond prices rising? Well, the Fed was vague about future rate increases, raising market hopes that the central bank is closer to finishing these rate rises and may soon slow down, or pause, its policy tightening as growth and inflation slow. After all, long term inflation expectations have fallen sharply since the start of May, perhaps suggesting that the Fed has done enough. 


And as my colleague Michael Wilson, Morgan Stanley's chief investment officer and chief U.S. equity strategist, noted on Monday's podcast, markets have often seen some respite when the Fed pauses as part of a hiking cycle. But it's also important to stress that the idea that the Fed is now nearly done with its actions seems optimistic. The last two inflation readings were the highest U.S. inflation readings in 40 years, and Morgan Stanley's economists expect core inflation, which is an important measure excluding things like food and energy, to rise yet again in August. 


In short, the Fed's vagueness of future increases could suggest an all important shift. But it could also suggest genuine uncertainty on growth, inflation and how quickly the Fed's actions will feed through into the economy. The Fed has produced some welcome summer respite, but incoming data is still going to matter, significantly, for what policy looks like at their next meeting in September. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you. 

Jul 28, 2022
Michael Zezas: Midterms Remain a Market Factor
00:02:17

While midterm polls have shown a preference for republican candidates, this lead is narrowing as the election grows closer, and the full ramifications of this ever evolving race remain to be seen.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome the Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, July 27th, at 1 p.m. in New York. 


We're still months away from the midterm elections, and polls still show strong prospects for Republicans to win back control of Congress. As we previously discussed, such an outcome could result in stalling key policy variables for markets such, as tax changes and regulations for tech and cryptocurrency. But remember not to assume that such an outcome is a sure thing. 


Take, for example, recent polls showing voters' preference for Republican congressional candidates over Democrats actually narrowing. A month ago, the average polling lead for Republicans was nearly 3%, it's now closer to 0.5%. Some independent forecasting models even now show the Democrats as a slight favorite to hold the Senate, even as they assess Democrats are unlikely to keep control of the House. The reasons for Democrats' improvement in the polls are up for debate, but that's not the point for investors. In our view, the point is that the race is still evolving and that can have market ramifications. 


Even if Democrats don't ultimately keep control of Congress, making it a closer race means markets may have to account for a higher probability that certain policies get enacted. Take corporate tax hikes, for example. Recent news suggests they're off the table, but if Democrats hold Congress, it's likely they'd be revisited as a means of funding several of their preferred initiatives. That could pressure a U.S. equity market already wary of margin pressures from inflation and slowing growth. A more constructive example is the clean tech sector. Again, reports are that the plan to allocate money to clean energy is off the table, but this could be revisited if Democrats keep control. Hence, improved Democratic prospects could benefit the sector ahead of the election. 


The bottom line is that the midterm elections are still a market factor over the next few months. We'll keep you in the loop right here about how it all plays out. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

Jul 27, 2022
Jorge Kuri: Buy Now, Pay Later in Latin America
00:03:42

As young, digitized consumers have popularized the “Buy Now, Pay Later” payment system across global markets, there may yet be related market opportunities in Latin America.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jorge Kuri, Morgan Stanley's Latin America Financials Analyst. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the rise of Buy Now, Pay Later, or BNPL, in Latin America. It's Tuesday, July 26th, at 2 p.m. in New York. 


As many of you no doubt remember, the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were boom times for e-commerce, as quarantines made us all habitual online shoppers. This period also helped fuel the Buy Now, Pay Later payment method, which allows online shoppers the ability to make a purchase and defer payments over several installments with no fees or interest when paid on time. 


Buy Now, Pay Later first gained traction in New Zealand and Australia, then in Europe and most recently in the U.S. and now BNPL could offer a vast market opportunity in Latin America. In fact, we see volumes reaching $23 billion in Mexico and $21 billion in Brazil by 2026. 


So let's take a closer look at why. BNPL in Latin America is driven by a number of secular tailwinds, starting with favorable demographics: BNPL appeals to young, digitalized consumers who fuel the electronification of payments and e-commerce. Combine that with low credit penetration, growing consumer awareness and merchant acceptance, and you have a recipe for strong and sustainable multi-year growth. Mexico and Brazil offer the most attractive market opportunities within Latin America. 


In Mexico, the population is very young and digitalized - 65% is 39 years old or younger, and smartphone penetration among individuals 18 to 34 years is 83%. Yet the population of unbanked adults is quite large, 51% do not have a bank account and 80% do not have a credit card. Digitalization of payments is a big tailwind, as cash remains by far the most frequently used payment method, while e-commerce penetration is expected to double and reach 20% by 2026.


In Brazil, the situation is a bit different. Similar to Mexico, the population is young and digitalized. But in contrast, credit penetration is higher in Brazil, with 75% of households utilizing at least one form of credit and one or more credit cards. The ubiquity and effectiveness of PIX, the instant payments ecosystem in Brazil, combined with the large and fast growing e-commerce industry and the boom in fintech companies, could facilitate the distribution and acceptance of BNPL in the country.


It's worth noting that the BNPL opportunity does not come without risks. Delinquency risk is obvious given the unsecured nature of the product, adverse selection risks and a challenging macroeconomic environment. Most BNPL providers have some funding disadvantages and competition among both BNPL players and incumbent banks will likely ensue. Despite these various risks, BNPL remains one of the most significant multi-year trends to watch in Latin America financials. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy this show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

Jul 26, 2022
Mike Wilson: Is this the End of the Bear Market?
00:03:37

As markets grapple with pricing in inflation, central bank rate hikes, and slowing growth, can the recent S&P 500 rally help investors gauge what may happen next for equities?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, July 25th, at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Since the June lows at 3650, the S&P 500 has been range trading between those lows and 3950. However, this past week, the S&P 500 peaked its head above the 50 day moving average, even touching 4000 for a few hours. While we aren't convinced this is anything but a bear market rally, it does beg the question is something going on here that could make this a more sustainable low and even the end to the bear market? 


First, from a fundamental standpoint, we are more convicted in our view that S&P 500 earnings estimates are too high, and they have at least 10% downside from the recent peak of $240/share. So far, that forecast has only dropped by 0.5%, making it difficult for us to agree with that view that the market has already priced it. Of course, we could also be wrong about the earnings risk and perhaps the current $238 is an accurate reflection of reality. 


However, with most of our leading indicators on growth rolling over, we continue to think this is not the case, and disappointing growth remains the more important variable to watch for stocks at this point, rather than inflation or the Fed's reaction to it. Having said that, we do agree with the narrative that inflation has likely peaked from a rate of change standpoint, with commodities as the best real time evidence of that claim. We think the equity market is smart enough to understand this too, and more importantly, that growth is quickly becoming a problem. Therefore, part of the recent rally may be the equity market looking forward to the Fed's eventual attempt to save the cycle from recession. With time running short on that front. 


And looking at past cycles, there's always a period between the Fed's last hike and the eventual recession. More importantly, this period has been a good time to be long equities. In short, the equity market always rallies when the Fed pauses tightening campaign prior to the oncoming recession. The point here is that if the market is starting to think the Fed's about to pause rate hikes after this week’s, this would provide the best fundamental rationale for why equity markets have rallied over the past few weeks despite the disappointing fundamental news and why it may signal a more durable low. 


The problem with this thinking, in our view, is  it's unlikely the Fed is going to pause early enough to save the cycle. While we appreciate that investors may be trying to leap ahead here to get in front of what could be a bullish signal for equity prices remain skeptical that the Fed can reverse the negative trends for demand that are already now well-established, some of which have nothing to do with monetary policy. Furthermore, the demand destructive nature of high inflation is presenting itself today will not easily disappear even if inflation declined sharply. This is because prices are already out of reach in areas of the economy that are critical for this cycle to extend in areas like housing and autos, food, gasoline and other necessities. Secondarily, high inflation provides a real constraint for the Fed to pause or pivot, even if they decided a risk of recession was imminent. That's the main difference versus more recent cycles and why we think it remains a good idea to stay defensively oriented in one's equity positioning until further earnings disappointments are factored into consensus estimates or equity prices. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show.

Jul 25, 2022
Europe: Why is the ECB Increasing their Rate Hikes?
00:09:43

This week the European Central Bank surprised economists and investors alike with a higher than anticipated rate hike, so why this hike and what comes next? Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Chief European Economist Jens Eisenschmidt discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. 


Jens Eisenschmidt: And I'm Jens Eisenschmidt, Morgan Stanley's Chief Europe Economist. 


Andrew Sheets: And on this special episode of Thoughts on the market will be discussing the recent ECB rate hike and the path ahead. It's Friday, July 22nd at 4 p.m. in London. 


Andrew Sheets: So, Jens, I want to talk to you about the ECB's big rate decision yesterday. But before we do that, I think we should start by laying the scene of the European economy. In a nutshell, how is Europe's economy doing and what do you think are the most salient points for investors to be aware of? 


Jens Eisenschmidt: Great question, Andrew. We have revised downwards our growth outlook for the euro area economy on the back of the reduced gas flow coming out from Russia into Germany starting at some point in mid-June. And we are now seeing a mild recession for the euro area economy setting in towards the end of this year and the beginning of next. This is in stark contrast to what the ECB, as early as June, has been saying the euro area economy would look like. I think incoming data, since our call for a bit more muted economic outlook, has been on the negative side. So for instance, we just today had the PMIs in contractionary territory. So the PMIs are the Purchasing Managers Indexes, which are soft indicators of economic activity. Soft because are survey evidence they're essentially questions ask industry participants about what they see on their side, and out of these questions an index is derived for economic activity. So all in all, the outlook is relatively muted, as I said, and I think a recession is clearly in the cards. 


Andrew Sheets: But Jens, why is growth in Europe so weak? When you think about things like that big decline in PMI that we just saw this week, what's driving that? What do you think is the key thing that maybe other forecasters might be missing in terms of driving this weakness? 


Jens Eisenschmidt: I mean, Europe is very, very close to one of the largest, geopolitical conflicts of our time. We have, as a consequence of that, to deal with very high energy prices. The dependance on Russian gas, for instance, is very high in several parts of Western Europe. But you're right, we have still accommodative monetary policy, so, all in all, we still have positive and negative factors, but we think that the negative factors are starting now to have the bigger weight in all this. And we have seen for the first time, as you just mentioned to PMI's in contractionary territory, while we are of course having a bit in the service sector, a different picture which is still driven from reopening dynamics coming out from COVID. So everybody wants to have a holiday after they didn't have one last year and the year before. 


Andrew Sheets: So I guess speaking of holidays, it involves a lot of driving, a lot of flying. I think that's a good segway into the energy story in Europe. This has been a really challenging dynamic because you've had obviously the risk of energy being cut off into Europe. When you think about modeling scenarios of less energy being available via Russia, how do you go about modeling that and what could the impact be? 


Jens Eisenschmidt: No, that's really the hard part here. Because, ultimately, if the energy is flowing and continues to flow, you can rely on data that goes back and that gives you some relationship between the price and then what the impact on economic activity on that price schedule will be. But if energy is falling to levels where governments have to decide duration, then the modeling becomes so much harder because you have to decide then in your model who gets gas or oil and at what price. That makes it very hard and it also explains why there's a huge range of model outcomes out there showing GDP impact for some economies as deep, in terms of contraction, of 10 to 15%. We are not in that camp. We think that even in a situation of a total cut off of, say, Russian gas, the euro area economy would contract, but not as deeply. Part of that is that we think that some time has elapsed since the threat has first become a possibility and the system has adjusted to some extent. And then what you get is a system that's a little bit more resilient now to a cut than it may have been in March. 


Andrew Sheets: Jens. I think that's also a good connection to the inflation story. So on one hand, inflation dynamics in Europe look quite similar to the U.S. On the other hand those inflation dynamics seem somewhat different from the U.S., core inflation is not as high, wage inflation is not as high. Could you kind of walk us through a bit of how you see that inflation story in Europe and how it's similar or different to what we see going on in the U.S.? 


Jens Eisenschmidt: There is clearly a difference here, and I think the ECB has never been tiring in stressing that difference that most of the inflation here in Europe is driven by external factors. And here, of course, energy is the big elephant in the room. It's not helped by the fact that we had a depreciation of the Euro against the U.S. dollar and most of the energy is, as we know, a built in U.S. dollar. We also have a significant food inflation, and of course, it's also linked very, very tightly to the conflict in Ukraine, where we have Ukraine as a big food exporter. Just think of oil, think of wheat, all these things that are in the headlines. So that's structurally different from a situation in the U.S. where you do have a significant part of the inflation being internal demand driven. And of course that leads to interconnection with a very tight labor market to a higher core inflation. Now core inflation in the euro area has also been picking up and it's certainly not at levels where the European Central Bank can be happy with. But, you know, all in all, both our set of assumptions and forecasts as well as the ECB's in the end boil down to a slight overshoot in the medium term of their inflation target. 


Andrew Sheets: So Jens, all of this brings us back to the main event, so to speak. The European Central Bank raised interest rates yesterday for the first time since 2011, and it was a pretty large increase. It was a half a percentage point increase. So what's driving the ECB thinking here and how is it trying to weigh all these different factors, in a world where rates are rising? 


Jens Eisenschmidt: So indeed, the ECB yesterday ended its negative rates policy, which was designed for a completely different environment, an environment of a persistent undershoot of its inflation target. By all available measures, they are now at target or above. So that in itself justifies ending this policy, and this is what they did yesterday. Now, of course, there is a concern that the high inflation that we see today is feeding into wage negotiations, is feeding into a process of more structurally higher inflation, and that risks the anchoring inflation expectations. So there is a need, even if you see the economy going weaker, there is a need to tighten its monetary policy. At the same time, they have this geopolitical conflict just very near to them. They have the risk to growth that we were talking about before. So that also means you cannot just now go out and line out a significant path of rate increases. So that leads to the second component of their decision yesterday. So they were say we will go meeting by meeting and we will be data dependent in our move. 


Andrew Sheets: So Jens, let's bring this back to markets. When you look at what markets are currently expecting from the ECB in terms of rate hikes out over the next, say, 18 months, do you think the ECB is likely to deliver more tightening than those rates imply or deliver rates that are lower than those current market expectations? 


Jens Eisenschmidt: So if you just talk about where markets see the ECB peaking, that's at 1.5%. We agree, just that we don't agree on the timing. So we, for instance, see the ECB going 50 basis points in September, but then slowing down to 25 in October and another 25 in December. And then we really see the ECB pausing until September next year. And the pause is introduced because the economy is weakening and significantly so, and we see this centered around the end of the year. Now in the markets, there is a bit of an assumption that the ECB will be more aggressive in terms of getting to the 1.5% earlier. Not necessarily still this year, but at some point early next year. 


Andrew Sheets: And just from the perspective of markets, you know, this is a reason why Morgan Stanley's foreign exchange team thinks that the euro will continue to weaken against the dollar. It's both a function of Jens your weak growth forecasts, but also potentially this idea that rates won't rise in Europe quite as fast as the market is expecting. Which would mean somewhat less support for the currency. 


Andrew Sheets: Jens, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Jens Eisenschmidt: Thanks a lot, Andrew. It was a pleasure being with you. 


Andrew Sheets: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show. 

Jul 22, 2022
Special Encore: Michelle Weaver - Checking On The Consumer
00:04:16

Original Release on July 1st, 2022: As inflation continues to be a major concern for the U.S., investors will want to pay attention to how spending, travel and sentiment are changing for consumers.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michelle Weaver, a U.S. equity strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be sharing the pulse of the U.S. consumer right now amid elevated inflation and concerns about recession. It's Thursday, July 7th, at 2 p.m. in New York. 


Consumer spending represents roughly 65% of total U.S. GDP. So if we're looking for a window into how U.S. companies could perform over the next 12 months, asking consumers how confident they're feeling is a great start. Are consumers planning on spending more next month or less? Are people making plans for outdoor activities and eating out or are they staying at home? Are they changing travel plans because of spending worries? 


These are a few of the questions that the equity strategy team asks in a survey we conduct with the AlphaWise Group, the proprietary survey and data arm of Morgan Stanley Research. We recently decided to change the frequency of our survey to biweekly to get a closer look at the consumer trends that will affect our outlook. So today, I'm going to share a few notable takeaways from our last survey, which was right before the July 4th holiday. 


First, let's take a look at sentiment. The survey found that inflation continues to be the top concern for two thirds of consumers, in line with two weeks before that, but significantly higher compared to the beginning of the year. Concern over the spread of COVID-19 continues to trend lower, with 25% of consumers listing it as their number one concern versus 32% last month. And 41% of consumers are worried about the political environment in the U.S. versus 38% two weeks ago, a slight tick up. Apart from inflation, low-income consumers are generally more worried about the inability to pay rent and other debts, while upper income consumers over index on concerns over investments, the political environment in the U.S., and geopolitical conflicts. 


A second takeaway to note is that consumer confidence in the economy continues to weaken, with only 23% of consumers expecting the economy to get better. That's the lowest percentage since the inception of our survey and down another 3% from two weeks ago. In addition, 59% of consumers now expect the economy to get worse. This lines up with the all-time lows observed in a recent consumer sentiment survey from the University of Michigan. 


A third takeaway is that consumers are planning to slow spending directly as a result of rising prices. 66% of consumers said they are planning to spend less over the next six months as a result of inflation. These numbers are influenced by income level, with lower income consumers planning to reduce spending more. We also asked consumers where they were planning to reduce spending in response to inflation. Dining out and take out, clothing and footwear, and leisure travel were among the most popular places to cut back, and all represent highly discretionary spending. 


And finally, the survey noted that travel intentions are considerably lower to the same time last year, with 55% of consumers planning to travel over the next six months, versus roughly 64% in the summer of last year. We also asked consumers if they were planning to cancel or delay post-Labor Day travel because of inflation. Generally, planned travel post-Labor Day is in line with broader travel intentions. Cruises and international travel were the most likely to be delayed or postponed. 


So what's the takeaway for investors? It is important to allocate selectively as consumer behavior shifts in order to cope with inflation and company earnings and margins come under pressure. Our team recommends defensive positioning, companies with high operational efficiency, and looking for idiosyncratic stories where companies have unique advantages. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.  

Jul 21, 2022
Special Episode: The Next Phase of ESG
00:08:48

Interest in ESG investing has risen exponentially in recent years, leading to increased scrutiny around, and appreciation for, the hard data. Head of U.S. Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy Michael Zezas and Head of the ESG Fixed Income Research Team Carolyn Campbell discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, head of U.S. Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy. 


Carolyn Campbell: And I'm Carolyn Campbell, head of the ESG fixed income research team at Morgan Stanley. 


Michael Zezas: And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be assessing the next phase of the environmental, social, governance, ESG, market. It's Wednesday, July 20th, at 10 a.m. in New York. 


Michael Zezas: As some listeners may have read, in late May of this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed new rules that would require ESG funds to disclose their goals, criteria and strategies, along with data measuring ESG progress. And this tells us that although the market for ESG investing has grown, so has investor desire to see real data and empirical analysis on impact. And this could be seen as really the next phase of the ESG market, that companies and funds won't just claim to be focused on ESG but will provide real proof. So, Carolyn, just to set the stage, I notice that people sometimes use the term sustainable investing and ESG interchangeably. So, I think it might be good to start with what exactly ESG is. 


Carolyn Campbell: At its core ESG is about adding a new lens to risk management in our investment practices by looking at environmental, social and governance factors in addition to our traditional financial metrics and whatnot. ESG has been around in some way, shape or form for decades, beginning with what we call negative exclusions. Initially, that looked like excluding companies that conflicted with religious views such as gambling, alcohol or pornography. But it's probably best known more recently for what we would think of as the fossil fuel divestment movement; selling out of coal and oil and gas companies, for example. On the other end of the spectrum, we've got impact investing where money is put towards projects that are both worthy financial investments but are also meant to generate some type of positive impact, whether it be environmental or social. In between, ESG can look like a lot of things, whether that's selecting companies that are best in class or building a portfolio geared towards a certain theme like biodiversity, net zero or gender diversity. 


Michael Zezas: Now, you're a fixed income strategist and ESG investing through the bond market is a bit newer and still evolving. What are some of the challenges of investing in ESG through bonds as opposed to stocks? 


Carolyn Campbell: Well, so one big difference in fixed income is that there are products that are actually dedicated sustainability assets. Companies, governments and super nationals can issue bonds that are specifically ESG instruments, which isn't something that you can quite do in the stock market. The most common is the green bond. The net proceeds of the issuance go towards green projects, which can be things like retrofitting your buildings to be more energy efficient, building out a solar paneled roof, reducing water waste and so on. There are also social bonds with projects related to decreasing inequality or access to health care and sustainability bonds, which fund both types of projects. We spend a lot of time trying to understand how these instruments trade compared to normal vanilla bonds from the same issuer. A big driver of the difference in price and performance is that there are just a lot fewer of these label bonds and quite a large appetite to invest in them. So those supply and demand dynamics have historically helped these labor bonds trade well, particularly in the primary market. We recently completed some analysis, though, that found that when you strip away a lot of the structural differences, the premium afforded to these green bonds is pretty small over time, just around half a basis point. The big difference comes from green bonds that go the extra mile. These bonds have voluntary external verification, science-based targets, so on and so forth. Investors can see the green criteria of the bond and feel confident that the governance structures are in place to ensure the materiality of the green bond going forward. And these bonds on average trade with higher premiums to their vanilla counterparts than just your regular green bond. 


Michael Zezas: So I want to get into some of the challenges I mentioned at the start around the debate over ESG's impact and validity. What's been the catalyst for the increased scrutiny over what's often called 'greenwashing?' 


Carolyn Campbell: Yeah, great question. So if we take it back a step, ESG really took off during 2020 with the onset of the pandemic. And there was a surge of focus on, and enthusiasm around, ESG and climate change more broadly. The market's grown exponentially since then, and it was natural that some of these new products and developments would be met with a raised eyebrow. Protests and social unrest in 2020, for instance, marked a turning point for companies with society asking companies to state their values upfront and to start walking the walk. Much of the scrutiny around ESG is ensuring that companies are not taking advantage of ESG as a marketing exercise to generate goodwill and are, in a sense, putting their money where their mouth is. That's really accelerated this year with the war in Ukraine, which is highlighted that within ESG there are some potentially competing priorities, namely the social cost of high energy prices versus the far reaching implications of climate change, or the rising food insecurity versus a more sustainable value chain. Investors have begun to adopt more nuanced views of what ESG is and how it might evolve in a world with higher volatility and decades-high inflation prints. And not everybody has the same definition of what ESG means to them. At the end of the day, the debate centers around, is it affecting change, and if so, by how much? 


Michael Zezas: So I certainly understand the clamor for demonstrable proof of impact. But would you say that, even with incidents of greenwashing, has ESG moved the needle on achieving its goals? 


Carolyn Campbell: Another great question, and unfortunately, it's probably still too early to tell. ESG is really about playing the long game and moving the market's focus away from its bias towards short-termism. So the effects of these new cleaner investments might not necessarily be realized overnight. I think what is clear, though, is that the global greenhouse gas emissions haven't declined in recent years, despite this push towards more sustainable investing. In fact, 2021 marked the highest amount of global CO2 emissions ever recorded. That being said, while policy development at the federal level on climate might be facing some serious headwinds here in the US, there has been a positive push from the private sector to decarbonize, regardless of a legislative incentive. Just because we haven't seen a decline in emissions yet, doesn't mean it won't happen. It just means that there's a lot more work to do and a lot more money that needs to flow towards these sustainable solutions. 


Michael Zezas: So one of your key skills as a strategist is how you apply data and empirical analysis to ESG investments. Can you walk us through your work and your process? 


Carolyn Campbell: We start every report with a research question—how do you see factors, impacts, spread performance, for instance, or how much of a premium do these green bonds trade with? Sometimes these questions are commonly discussed and dissected in the news, in academic research and so on. But we try to begin each project with no presupposition of what we might find so that we don't bias our results. We want to let the data and results speak for itself. And we're not trying to push an agenda. We're trying to get to the bottom of complex problems that investors demonstrably care about. ESG data is incredibly tricky because it tends to have a shorter history than most financial metrics and is released slowly and often with lags. That doesn't give us a ton of wiggle room, but once we know the question we're trying to answer, we always start by collecting data, and we'll look for data from myriad sources: public and private, startups, the US government—you name it, we've looked into it. And then sadly, a lot of the work is data cleaning, as any data scientist listening knows all too well. Once we build the dataset, we start tackling that research question. Sometimes we're doing something a bit more simplistic, like standardizing metrics in order to facilitate a comparison of different instruments or companies. This is a big hurdle for ESG in particular, because we don't have anything like GAAP accounting metrics that every company has to report on. Just getting to a point where you can do an apples to apples comparison is not always straightforward. Often though, we look to use different types of regression models or other types of machine learning techniques to understand relationships in the market and to build the confidence in our results. Once we have those results, it's all about visualizing it in a compelling and clear way. 


Michael Zezas: If an investor is interested in the ESG space, what should they keep front of mind as they consider their investments? 


Carolyn Campbell: ESG is full of tradeoffs and it's rarely straightforward. We mentioned some of these dilemmas before, such as the social cost of the high gas prices and the implications of climate change by continuing to rely on fossil fuels. It's never clear cut. ESG isn't a one size fits all solution, and different investors are going to have different priorities. Understanding your priorities at the outset and keeping those as a guiding light will help keep the investment process on track and drown out some of the noise. That being said, it's also important in this fast evolving space to be flexible to new information and to be adaptable. The world looks very different now than it did a year ago or five years ago, and ESG in particular is rapidly changing with new regulations, new issues and new conflicts every day. Relying on the data and facts and understanding how trends change within the industry will be of utmost importance. 


Michael Zezas: Carolyn, thanks so much for talking. 


Carolyn Campbell: Great talking with you, Michael. 


Michael Zezas: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Jul 20, 2022
Michelle Weaver: Beneficiaries of China’s Reopening
00:03:13

As U.S. Equities continue to face challenges this year, investors may want to look to a more positive story across the world—the reopening of China.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michelle Weaver, U.S. equity strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about China's reopening as COVID Zero policies evolve. It's Tuesday, July 19th, at 3 p.m. in New York. 


Recently, our China economics team has become more positive on the region due to the relaxation in domestic and international travel policies and signs of gradual reopening. The team believes that in order for China to shift away from COVID Zero, the three necessary conditions will be sufficiently high vaccination coverage, a broadening toolbox to preserve health care capacity and a change in public perception of COVID. 


Progress has been made on all of these conditions, and the team expects the economy to reopen more broadly in the back half of the year and that a COVID Zero exit could happen towards year-end. 


This is notable for global investors since the broad U.S. equity turmoil of the last few months makes it important to look for stocks whose stories are not levered to the market at large and are more thematic ideas. The potential reopening of a country with 1.4 billion residents hits both of these criteria. 


To dig into this, the US equity strategy team, headed by Chief Investment Officer Mike Wilson, and our European Equity Strategy Team, led by Graham Secker, sourced industries and names that could have high revenue exposure to China. We then asked sector analysts which stocks they thought stand to benefit the most from the reopening. 


In the US, the biggest beneficiaries were in the consumer discretionary, materials, industrials and information technology sectors. The names who stand to benefit here are American brands that have consumer appeal, benefit from out of home experiences or feature China as a key driver of revenue, where pent up demand could provide tailwinds. 


In Europe, the potential beneficiaries are companies that have the highest revenue exposure to China. But it's important to be selective here, as a relatively large number of industrial and commodity focused stocks could be exposed to wider concerns around a global economic slowdown. For that reason, companies who also have exposure to the Chinese consumer may be best positioned. 


Narrowing even further from a top-down perspective, we think the most direct beneficiary of a potential reopening narrative in China is the luxury goods sector, also known as consumer durables in MSCI terminology, which has the third highest China exposure of any European sector after semiconductors and materials. Relevant to the reopening angle specifically, the team believes the luxury sector has the highest exposure to the China consumer and is a beneficiary of reduced restrictions around travel. Given this exposure and the recent pullback in government bond yields, they have upgraded the sector to overweight from a top-down strategy perspective. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

Jul 19, 2022
Mike Wilson: Preparing for Potential Recession
00:03:27

Some investors think a potential recession is already priced in but given defensive leadership, labor statistics and incoming Fed rate hikes, it may be too early to tell.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, July 18th, at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.


Last week, we highlighted how extreme the 12-month price momentum weightings are for defensive sectors. In fact, it's unprecedented for this type of price momentum to occur outside of an economic recession. One reaction to this development we've heard from many clients is that a recession must already be priced based on this relationship. If true, then defensive leadership is likely to reverse with something else taking the lead, like growth stocks or even cyclicals. We disagree and believe defensive leadership will likely persist until either a recession is officially announced, or the risk of a recession is definitively extinguished.


In our view, the first outcome can only be achieved with a series of negative payroll data releases, something that still seems far away given last month's 372,000 new job additions. The second outcome—a soft landing—will also be hard to prove to the market until earnings revisions bottom out and companies stop doing hiring freezes.


With respect to the recession outcome, the odds have been steadily increasing now for months. Morgan Stanley's proprietary economic model is currently suggesting a 36% probability of a recession in the next 12 months. Historically speaking, once it reaches 40%, it's usually a definitive reading that recession is oncoming. Furthermore, jobless claims have been rising the past few weeks. Secondarily, the household survey for total employment peaked in March and has fallen by approximately 400,000 jobs so far. While not the gold standard for measuring labor market health, it's worth watching closely as things can change rapidly for hiring and firing, particularly when profits come under significant pressure, as we expect. Finally, the job openings data has started to roll over, albeit from record high levels, while consumer and business confidence readings remain at record lows.


In the very near term, equity markets seem to be digesting another hot Consumer Price Index release very well, even as concerns rose that the Fed might raise rates as much as 100 basis points next week. Our view is that 75 basis points is still the base case, and that should be plenty to keep the Fed on track to getting ahead of the curve. Importantly, the bond market seems to agree with the yield curve inverting the most since the 2000 cycle, quickly catching up to the defensive leadership of the stock market. The bullish take which this market seems to want to try and run with one more time, is that the Fed can pivot before a recession arrives.


The other positive that has investors excited again is the fact that bank stocks had a strong rally on Friday, even as the earnings results were quite mixed. While this kind of price action is a necessary condition for the bear market to be over, we would caution that second quarter results are likely to be the first of several cuts, not just for banks, but for the market overall.


The bottom line is that this earnings season is likely to be the first of several disappointing ones, especially if a recession is the endgame. Therefore, staying defensively oriented in one's equity positioning should remain the best course of action for the next several months.


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people to find the show.

Jul 18, 2022
Andrew Sheets: When Will High Inflation End?
00:03:04

This week brought yet another reading of inflation that exceeded expectations, but if markets and central banks are able to think long-term, there may be some hope on the horizon.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, chief cross-asset strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape, and how we put those ideas together. 


It's Friday, July 15th at 4:00pm in London.


One of the big stories this week was, once again, a high reading of US inflation that came in above economists’ expectations. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. US consumer price inflation was also higher than expected in June, May and April.


These upside surprises to inflation create a trio of problems. First, investors will feel more confident if inflation starts coming down, and this is yet another month where that isn’t the case. Second, the Fed has been adamant that it will keep raising interest rates until inflation moderates, which means that more rate hikes are likely coming. And third, this sets up a real predicament; the Fed wants to bring inflation down, and sees this as key to its credibility, but raising rates today won’t do much for inflation over the short-term. That creates additional uncertainty.


Markets are responding to that uncertainty by raising expectations of how much the Fed will increase rates in the near-term, while simultaneously becoming more worried about medium-term growth, and lowering expectation of rates over the long term. That has inverted the yield curve, something that, while rare, has historically signalled high odds of a recession.


What’s notable, however, is that while there is intense focus on the concerns and negative surprises from the current rate of inflation, the longer-term picture is arguably getting better. One can observe expected rates of inflation over the next 5, 10 or 30 years, also called inflation break-evens. Those expectations have been falling rapidly over the last 2 months.


In the US, markets currently see US Consumer Price Inflation to average about 2.35% over the next decade. That is more than half-a-percent lower than where that same estimate was just two months ago, and it’s similar to where these expectations were in March of 2021. 2.35% is also pretty close to the Fed’s inflation target; markets do not see inflation accelerating in an uncontrolled manner over the long term.


For investors, think of this dynamic as one of short-term pain but longer-term gains. Near-term high inflation, and uncertainty of when it will decline, could keep the Fed cautious and argues against buying the dip.


But looking further out, the market is giving encouraging signs that inflation is a manageable problem, and that central bank actions are working at addressing it. In the autumn, we could see a situation where the inflation data is moderating, while long-term inflation expectations confirm that that moderation continues. For markets, and for central banks, that would be much more helpful.


Thanks for listening! Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review! We’d love to hear from you.

Jul 15, 2022
Special Encore: Global Equities - Are Value Stocks on the Rise?
00:08:18

Original Release on July 1st, 2022: For the last decade investors have been focused on highflying growth stocks, but this investing environment may be the exception rather than the rule. Chief European Equity Strategist Graham Secker and Global Head of Quantitative Investment Strategies Research Stephan Kessler discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Graham Secker: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Morgan Stanley's Chief European Equity Strategist. 


Stephan Kessler: I am Stephan Kessler, Global Head of Quantitative Investment Strategies Research. 


Graham Secker: And on this special episode of the podcast, we'll be talking about the potential return of value investing post its decade long decline since the global financial crisis. It's Friday, July the 1st, at 10 a.m. in London. 


Graham Secker: As most listeners of this particular podcast are probably aware, for much of the past decade, investors have had something of a love affair with the highflying growth stocks in the market. Meanwhile, their value priced counterparts, the shares of which tend to trade at relatively low price to earnings multiples and or offering higher dividend yields, have had a considerably rougher time of it. But I believe that the last decade is more the exception to the rule rather than the norm. And I think your analysis, Stephan, shows that this is true, yes? 


Stephan Kessler: Yes, I agree. We have looked at the performance of value as an investment style back to the 1920s, and we find that the period between the end of the global financial crisis and the COVID pandemic was only the decade where value did underperform. For me, the why here is really an interesting question to pick apart, which you and I look at through two different lenses. You're the fundamental strategist and I'm the quantitative analyst. So I think my first question to you is, from your fundamental point of view, what were the main drivers of value’s underperformance during this lost decade? 


Graham Secker: Yes. So from our perspective, we think there were two main drivers of values underperformance post the GFC. Firstly, a backdrop of low growth, low inflation and low and falling and negative interest rates, created a particularly problematic macro backdrop for value stocks. The former two factors were weighing on the relative profitability of value stocks, while the very low interest rates were actually boosting the PE ratio of longer duration growth stocks. This unpalatable macro backdrop then coincided with a challenging micro backdrop as the broad theme of disruption took hold across markets. This prompted greater hope among investors for the long term growth potential of the disruptors, while undermining the case for mean reversion across other areas of the market whereby cyclical slowdowns were often effectively viewed as structural declines. So, Stephan, you've said that the discount on value stocks cannot be explained fully by fundamentals or justified by the earnings overview. What do you believe are the deeper drivers for this discount?  


Stephan Kessler: When you look at the value, it faced over the past few years, a range of challenges really. On the behavioral side, investors have focused on growth stocks and growth opportunities. This led to a substantial and persistent deviation of equities from their fair values and an underperformance of value investors. Next to this more behavioral argument, we find that the environmental, social and governance related aspects or in short, ESG and monetary policy were themes which drove price action. Equity value has a negative exposure to those themes. And finally, when you look at the 2020 period, there was a classical value trap situation. Companies which were most affected by the COVID pandemic sold off and appear cheap based on quite a range of value metrics, while the COVID catalyst continued to disrupt markets and led to companies which were cheaply valued not being able to recover as they had exposure to these disruptors. This only start to resolve in 2021, which is also when we start to see value regain performance. To get back to a more generalist view of the main drivers of values underperformance, I'd like to get back to you, Graham. You've observed a link between the macro and the micro, which created something of a vicious circle for value in the last cycle. Can you talk about how this situation looks going forward? 


Graham Secker: Yes, going forward, we think this vicious cycle for value could actually turn to be something more of a virtuous cycle over the next few years. We argue that we've entered a new environment of higher inflation and associated with that higher nominal growth, and that drives a recovery in the profitability of these older economy type companies. And at the same time, a rising cost of capital undermines the case for the disruptors. And that can happen both in terms of lower valuations off the back of higher interest rates, but also as liquidity starts to subside, a lack of capital to fund their future business growth. Stephan, you mentioned two of these key disruptive forces, quantitative easing by the central banks and then the rise of ESG. Can you talk about the impact of these two elements on the equity investment landscape? 


Stephan Kessler: ESG is a major theme in financial markets today, and in particular in this 2018-20 period we saw ESG positive names build up a premium, which made them appear expensive in the context of value metrics. These ESG valuation premia then turned out to be persistent and at times even grew. This then goes, of course, against value investors who try to benefit from this missed valuations mean reverting. And to the extent these valuations even turn stronger, that drove their losses. Quantitative easing is another aspect that drove price action. We find that value tends to underperform in time periods of low interest rates and does well in a rising rates environment. The economic driver behind this empirical observation is that the very low rates you saw in the past make proper valuations of firms difficult as discounted cash flow approaches are challenged. And so on the back of that, lower rates simply lead to valuation and value as signals being challenged and not properly priced. So given the historical narrative and all the forces at play during the past decade, what is your preference between value versus growth for the second half of 2022 and beyond that, Graham? 


Graham Secker: Yes. So in the short term, a backdrop of continued high inflation and rising interest rates should we think continue to favor value over growth. However, perhaps right towards the end of this year, we do envisage a situation where that could reverse a little bit, albeit temporarily, once inflation has peaked and the economic downturn has materialized, investor attention may start to focus on rates no longer rising, and that will put a little bit of a bid back under the growth stocks again. But I think if we look longer term, actually, I'm beginning to think that what we'll see is the whole value versus growth debate actually becomes a bit more balanced and hence I can see more range bound relative performance thereafter. And Stephan, from your perspective, in a world of rising bond yields and lower or normalized QE, what is your outlook for value going forward, too? 


Stephan Kessler: Well, when we look at the two catalysts for value underperformance, ESG and quantitative easing I mentioned earlier, we see that their grip on the market is loosening. For one, markets have moved into rates tightening cycle which means investors focus more on near-term cash flows rather than terminal value. This is a positive for value companies, which tend to well under such considerations. Furthermore, the dynamism of ESG themes has abated compared to the 18-20 period, leading to a lower effect on value. Another angle on this is also a look at the valuation of value as a style. It's quite cheap, so it's a good entry point. This leads to a positive outlook for value, but also for other styles. We like, particularly the combination of value and quality as it benefits from the attractive entry levels for value, as well as the defensiveness of an investment in quality shares. 


Graham Secker: So to summarize from a fundamental and quantitative approach, both Stephan and I think that the extreme underperformance of value that we've seen over the prior decade has ended, value looks well-placed to return to its traditional outperformance trends going forward. Stephan, thanks for taking the time to talk today. 


Stephan Kessler: Great speaking with you, Graham. 


Graham Secker: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

Jul 14, 2022
Michael Zezas: Renewed Motivation In Congress
00:02:41

After the recent Supreme Court ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency, Democrats appear poised to respond with a budget reconciliation plan that could impact health care, clean energy, and corporate taxes.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to the Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, July 13th, at 10 a.m. in New York. 


The Supreme Court just finished a busy session, and one of the judgments that investors should pay attention to was for the case, West Virginia vs the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA. That judgment said the EPA had overreached on some regulations, embracing something called the Major Questions Doctrine, whereby the court suggested regulators should not be using prior legal authority to decide issues of major economic and political significance. Said more simply, the ruling suggests regulators need explicit authorization from Congress rather than just stretching current legal authorization. So the ruling basically punts many of the EPA's climate policies back to Congress for deliberation. 


And that matters for investors because it might be a motivating factor in the Democrats getting their budget reconciliation plan over the finish line. Without being able to rely on the EPA to enact climate policies, Democrats may be willing to compromise more within their own party to get done a package of tax increase funded initiatives on climate and health care. And recent news flow suggests Democrats continue to make progress in this direction. 


So let's break down what's reportedly in this package that investors should be aware of. There's a plan to let Medicare negotiate the prices it pays for certain prescription drugs. That's a fundamental challenge for the pharma sector. But as our pharma team has noted, it's not an existential one. And so the sector could still be an outperformer in a market that needs to further price in the potential for a recession, an environment where defensive sectors like pharma typically do well. 


Also reportedly in the plan is fresh spending on, and tax breaks for, clean energy technologies, a potential demand boost for the clean tech sector which our analysts remain quite constructive on.


But funding that plan is several tax adjustments, including a potential implementation of a corporate book tax, which you can think of as a corporate minimum tax. This could exacerbate corporate margin pressures from inflation in the economic growth slowdown. So while the sectors we just discussed could be outperformers, they would likely do so against the backdrop of a bear market for equities overall. With Congress in session ahead of its August recess, we expect to learn more in the next couple of weeks, and we'll, of course, keep you in the loop. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Jul 13, 2022
Graham Secker: Will European Earnings Continue to Fall?
00:03:56

As Europe continues to curtail Russian gas imports, equity markets are preparing for further downturn in European economic growth, but there may be more risks yet to be priced in.


Important note regarding economic sanctions. This research references country/ies which are generally the subject of comprehensive or selective sanctions programs administered or enforced by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), the European Union and/or by other countries and multi-national bodies. Any references in this report to entities, debt or equity instruments, projects or persons that may be covered by such sanctions are strictly incidental to general coverage of the relevant Russian economic sector as germane to its overall financial outlook, and should not be read as recommending or advising as to any investment activities in relation to such entities, instruments or projects. Users of this report are solely responsible for ensuring that their investment activities in relation to any sanctioned country/ies are carried out in compliance with applicable sanctions.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the two key issues that are dominating our current discussions with European equity clients, namely Russia gas supplies and the belated start to a new earnings downgrade cycle. It's Tuesday, July the 12th, at 2 p.m. in London. 


Over the last few months, we have been arguing that a curtailment of Russia gas imports represented the biggest risk to European equities and the main catalyst to push us down to our bear case scenario. While we are not yet ready to formally change our bull, base, or bear case index targets, recent news flow does suggest that risks remain skewed to the downside, and we note a further 17% downside from here to our bear case price target for MSCI Europe. 


Recent headlines about a reduction in Russia gas flows and the German government's move to level two of their emergency gas plan, has prompted our European economists to further lower their own GDP forecasts, and they now see a mild recession developing over the winter. However, with higher energy costs keeping inflation higher for longer, they make no changes to their European Central Bank forecasts and still expect European interest rates to move out of negative territory over the next few months. 


We have been expecting an EPS downgrade cycle to start in the third quarter, even before the recent rise in concerns around Russian gas supplies. While the realization of this risk event would likely drive a materially larger hit to profits, we note that European earnings revisions have already turned negative over the last couple of weeks, i.e. we are now seeing more analysts lowering EPS estimates than raising them. 


The sharp fall in equities over the last few months suggests that investors are already anticipating a sizable pullback in European profits. However, we do not think this means all of the bad news is already in the price. Rather, we note that a study of prior downturns suggests the stock markets tend to trough 2 to 3 weeks before earnings revisions bottom and that the minimum time duration between the start of a new downgrade cycle and this trough in earnings revisions is at least 3 months, but more often runs for over 6 months. In short, we are likely starting a 3 to 6 month earnings downgrade cycle and equities are unlikely to trough until we move towards the fourth quarter. 


Within the market, we expect the more defensive sectors to continue to outperform over the next couple of months, given their traditionally lower level of earnings volatility into a recession. The recent move lower in bond yields should also encourage some reinvestment into quality and growth stocks, and we have just raised luxury goods to overweight on this theme. In addition, the luxury sector should be a key beneficiary of the recent upturn in investor sentiment towards China. Luxury has a greater exposure to the China consumer than any other European sector. 


In contrast, we continue to recommend a more cautious stance on cyclicals, who don't traditionally start to outperform until the market itself troughs. Year to date, cyclical underperformance has been primarily driven by weakness in consumer facing stocks, reflecting the pressure on disposable income from high inflation. However, going forward, we expect to see greater underperformance from industrial cyclicals as weakness in end demand starts to move up the chain. These same companies are also likely to be the most adversely impacted by the disruption to Russia gas supplies, whether this be in terms of top line volumes, profit margins or both. For this reason, we are most cautious on stocks within the industrial, materials and autos sectors that also have a high degree of exposure to European end markets. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Jul 12, 2022
Mike Wilson: U.S. Dollar Strength vs. Earnings Growth
00:03:21

While stocks have recently rallied, the strength of the U.S. dollar has risen sharply over the past year, presenting a major potential headwind for equities in the coming earnings season.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, July 11th, at 11 a.m. in New York. 


One of the more popular views over the past decade has been the eventual decline of the U.S. dollar. After all, with the Fed printing so many dollars since the global financial crisis and then doubling down during the COVID pandemic, this idea has merit. However, after the great financial crisis, these printed dollars never made it into the real economy, as they were simply used to patch up broken balance sheets from the housing bust. Therefore, money supply never got out of hand. In fact, during the entire period after the Fed first embarked on quantitative easing in November 2008 through the end of the cycle in March of 2020, money supply growth averaged only 6%, right in line with the long term trend of money supply and nominal GDP growth. As a result, the U.S. dollar maintained its reserve currency status and actually rose 40% during that decade. 


However, as we pointed out back in April of 2020, the stimulus provided during COVID was very different. At the time, we suggested that the coordinated fiscal and monetary policy was unprecedented. The result is that money supply growth exploded and since February 2020 has averaged 17%, or three times a long term trend, a truly unprecedented outcome that left us with much more inflation than what was desired. Now, with the Fed reversing course so quickly and the checks having stopped long ago, money supply growth has fallen all the way back to its long term trend of just 6%. Given the projected path for rate hikes and quantitative tightening, money supply growth is likely to fall even further, and the dollar is unlikely to show any signs of decline until the Fed pivots. Such a pivot seems unlikely any time soon, especially after last week's strong jobs report. 


So why does this matter so much for stocks? Based on the extreme rally so far this year, the U.S. dollar is now up 16% year over year. This is about as extreme as it gets historically speaking and unfortunately it typically coincides with financial stress on markets, a recession or both. For stocks the stronger dollar is also going to be a major headwind to earnings for many large multinationals. This could not be coming at a worse time as companies are already struggling with margin pressure from cost inflation, higher or unwanted inventories and slower demand. The simple math on S&P 500 earnings from currency is that for every percentage point increase in the dollar on a year over year basis, it's approximately a 0.5 hit to earnings per share growth. Of course, things can change quickly, but it doesn't seem likely until the path of inflation slows enough to warrant a Fed pivot. 


The main point for equity investors is that this dollar strength is just another reason to think earnings revisions are coming down over the next few earnings seasons. Therefore, the recent rally is likely to fizzle out before too long. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show.  

Jul 11, 2022
Lauren Schenk: Consumer Spending and Online Dating
00:03:21

As investors in the internet industry have begun to wonder if online dating platforms will sink or swim in the case of a recession, looking back on the last recession may shed some light on a potential shelter from the storm.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Lauren Schenk, Equity Analyst covering the small and mid-cap Internet Industry. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be giving some insight into consumer spending trends through the lens of online dating. It's Friday, July 8th, at noon in New York. 


How does online dating perform in a recession? 


Believe it or not, it's the number one question I've heard from investors over the last several weeks. And I think another way of getting at this question broadly, and you can really extrapolate this across many industries, is do consumers view a product as a necessary staple or as non-essential spending? 


On one hand amid elevated inflation on indispensable items like gas and groceries, you may think consumers would view online dating as a nonessential item. On the other hand, finding love or a significant other ranks usually pretty high in most people's life goals, so maybe it's a staple. 


So that's the question we sought to answer recently when we looked into how online dating platforms perform during a recession. To dig into this, we looked into some historical data from 2007-2010. What we found was that, for one online dating platform, subscriber growth was largely unaffected and actually accelerated slightly in 2008 and 2009. The net impact for this platform was a slight slowdown in organic revenue growth from low double digit growth in 2007, to mid-single digits in 2008 and 2009, and then accelerating to high teens by the end of 2010. 


So overall, we found that the continued need for human connection, and the low price of online dating, resulted in minimal business impact during the global financial crisis, despite a significant pullback in consumer spending. 


Looking at today, online dating has now become a more widely accepted service to a wider range of people. But how are things different from the last recession? Well, I'll share a few key differences from our research. 


First, online is now a primary way for couples to meet, with the percentage of U.S. relationships starting online increasing from 22% in 2009 to 39% in 2017, which makes it more of a staple than discretionary. 


Second, we believe there is greater pent up demand for the product today than in 2008 and 2009, given COVID. Which could better insulate online dating, since consumers may be less inclined to cut spending on services that were under consumed during the height of COVID. 


Third, the top brands have changed and are now predominantly mobile based versus desktop, and attract a younger user who typically have a lower income than 40 plus year olds. 


And finally, given the brand and geography shifts, a la carte revenue from things like profile boosting is a larger percentage of revenue today than during the global financial crisis, which may prove more discretionary than subscriptions. 


How does this impact our view of how online dating could perform in a potential recession? Given the 2008-2009 results and the differing macro factors of a potential 2023 recession we have increased confidence in our view that online dating is one of the best consumer internet sub industries to weather a potential recession storm. After all, people still need love and relationships in recession and you can argue they need it more. And the low average monthly cost means it's likely not an item that single consumers would cut first. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

Jul 08, 2022
Michelle Weaver: Checking On The Consumer
00:04:09

As inflation continues to be a major concern for the U.S., investors will want to pay attention to how spending, travel and sentiment are changing for consumers.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michelle Weaver, a U.S. equity strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be sharing the pulse of the U.S. consumer right now amid elevated inflation and concerns about recession. It's Thursday, July 7th, at 2 p.m. in New York. 


Consumer spending represents roughly 65% of total U.S. GDP. So if we're looking for a window into how U.S. companies could perform over the next 12 months, asking consumers how confident they're feeling is a great start. Are consumers planning on spending more next month or less? Are people making plans for outdoor activities and eating out or are they staying at home? Are they changing travel plans because of spending worries? 


These are a few of the questions that the equity strategy team asks in a survey we conduct with the AlphaWise Group, the proprietary survey and data arm of Morgan Stanley Research. We recently decided to change the frequency of our survey to biweekly to get a closer look at the consumer trends that will affect our outlook. So today, I'm going to share a few notable takeaways from our last survey, which was right before the July 4th holiday. 


First, let's take a look at sentiment. The survey found that inflation continues to be the top concern for two thirds of consumers, in line with two weeks before that, but significantly higher compared to the beginning of the year. Concern over the spread of COVID-19 continues to trend lower, with 25% of consumers listing it as their number one concern versus 32% last month. And 41% of consumers are worried about the political environment in the U.S. versus 38% two weeks ago, a slight tick up. Apart from inflation, low-income consumers are generally more worried about the inability to pay rent and other debts, while upper income consumers over index on concerns over investments, the political environment in the U.S., and geopolitical conflicts. 


A second takeaway to note is that consumer confidence in the economy continues to weaken, with only 23% of consumers expecting the economy to get better. That's the lowest percentage since the inception of our survey and down another 3% from two weeks ago. In addition, 59% of consumers now expect the economy to get worse. This lines up with the all-time lows observed in a recent consumer sentiment survey from the University of Michigan. 


A third takeaway is that consumers are planning to slow spending directly as a result of rising prices. 66% of consumers said they are planning to spend less over the next six months as a result of inflation. These numbers are influenced by income level, with lower income consumers planning to reduce spending more. We also asked consumers where they were planning to reduce spending in response to inflation. Dining out and take out, clothing and footwear, and leisure travel were among the most popular places to cut back, and all represent highly discretionary spending. 


And finally, the survey noted that travel intentions are considerably lower to the same time last year, with 55% of consumers planning to travel over the next six months, versus roughly 64% in the summer of last year. We also asked consumers if they were planning to cancel or delay post-Labor Day travel because of inflation. Generally, planned travel post-Labor Day is in line with broader travel intentions. Cruises and international travel were the most likely to be delayed or postponed. 


So what's the takeaway for investors? It is important to allocate selectively as consumer behavior shifts in order to cope with inflation and company earnings and margins come under pressure. Our team recommends defensive positioning, companies with high operational efficiency, and looking for idiosyncratic stories where companies have unique advantages. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.  

Jul 07, 2022
Michael Zezas: The Impact of Tariff Relief
00:02:52

As media reports indicate a possible tariff reduction on imports from China, some investors are wondering if this is signaling a return of modest trade barriers and unfettered investment between the U.S. and China.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, July 6th, at 1 p.m. in New York. 


If media reports citing White House sources are to be believed, the U.S. is getting closer to reducing some tariffs on imports from China, motivated at least in part by trying to ease inflation pressures. This has prompted some investors to ask us if we think this is a signal that the U.S./China economic relationship is starting to head back toward what it was before 2018, where trade barriers between the two countries were modest, and U.S. corporate investment in China was largely unfettered. In short, we do not think this is the case and rather expect that the U.S. and China will continue on its current path of drawing up more barriers to commerce between them, particularly in the areas of new and emerging technologies. 


Let's break it down. Consider that the scope of the tariff reductions being reported is quite small. One report, citing a Biden administration official, suggested tariffs could be reduced on about $10 billion worth of goods, a sliver of the $370 billion of goods currently under tariff. Given that taking away all the tariffs would only result in shaving a few tenths of a percent off consumer price index growth, this modest change, though reportedly intended to curb inflation, is unlikely to be a meaningful inflation fighter. That suggests the U.S. continues to prioritize its long term competition goals with China over inflation concerns, which is not surprising given continued skepticism among U.S. voters of both parties over the role of China in the global economy. 


This leads to another important point, that tariff relief could counterintuitively accelerate U.S. policies that create commerce barriers with China. In line with our expectations, media reports suggest a tariff relief announcement could be paired with news of a fresh Section 301 investigation, which is the process to kick off a new round of tariffs that could be imposed on China. Again, this makes sense when accounting for the long term policy goals of the U.S., as well as the political considerations in a midterm election year. 


So bottom line, don't read too much into tariff relief if it's announced. The U.S. and China are likely to continue drawing up barriers, and accordingly rewiring the global economy as companies shift supply chains and end market strategies. This is 'slowbalization' in motion, and it will continue to drive challenges, such as margin pressure for U.S. multinationals, and opportunities, such as for key sectors like semiconductor capital equipment companies benefiting from a new wave of geopolitical CapEx. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

Jul 06, 2022
Special Encore: U.S. Housing - Breaking Records not Bubbles
00:05:15

Original Release on June 16th, 2022: While many investors may be curious to know what other investors are thinking and feeling about markets, there’s a lot more to the calculation of investor sentiment than one might think.


-----Transcript-----


Jay Bacow: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jay Bacow, Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research here at Morgan Stanley. 


Jim Egan: And I'm Jim Egan, the other Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research. 


Jay Bacow: And on this episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing the path for both housing prices, housing activity and agency mortgages through the end of the year. It's Thursday, June 16th, at noon in New York. 


Jay Bacow: Jim, it seems like every time we come on this podcast, there's another record in the housing market. And this time it's no different. 


Jim Egan: Absolutely not. Home prices just set a new record, 20.6% year over year growth. They set a new month over month growth record. Affordability, when you combine that growth in home prices with the increase we've seen in mortgage rates, we've deteriorated more in the past 12 months than any year that we have on record. And a lot of that growth can be attributed to the fact that inventory levels are at their lowest level on record. Consumer attitudes toward buying homes are worse than they've been since 1982. That's not a record, but you get my point. 


Jay Bacow: All right. So we're setting records for home prices. We're setting records for change in affordability. With all these broken records, investors are understandably a little worried that we might have another housing bubble. What do you think? 


Jim Egan: Look, given the run up in housing in the 2000s and the fact that we,ve reset the record for the pace of home price growth, investors can be permitted a little anxiety. We do not think there is a bubble forming in the U.S. housing market. There are a number of reasons for that, two things I would highlight. First, the pre GFC run up in home prices, that was fueled by lax lending standards that really elevated demand to what we think were unsustainable levels. And that ultimately led to an incredible increase in defaults, where borrowers with risky mortgages were not able to refinance and their only real option at that point was foreclosures. This time around, lending standards have remained at the tight end of historical ranges, while supply has languished at all time lows. And that demand supply mismatch is what's driving this increase in prices this time around. The second reason, we talked about affordability deteriorating more over the past 12 months than any year on record. That hit from affordability is just not as widely spread as it has been in prior mortgage markets, largely because most mortgages today are fixed rate. We're not talking about adjustable rate mortgages where current homeowners can see their payments reset higher. This time around a majority of borrowers have fixed rate mortgages with very affordable payments. And so they don't see that affordability pressure. What they're more likely to experience is being locked in at current rates, much less likely to list their home for sale and exacerbating that historically tight inventory environment that we just talked about. 


Jay Bacow: All right. So, you don't think we're going to have another housing bubble. Things aren't going to pop. So does that mean we're going to continue to set records? 


Jim Egan: I wouldn't say that we're going to continue to set records from here. I think that home prices and housing activity are going to go their separate ways. Home prices will still grow, they're just going to grow at a slower pace. Home sales is where we are really going to see decreases. Those affordability pressures that we've talked about have already made themselves manifest in existing home sales, in purchase applications, in new home sales, which have seen the biggest drops. Those kinds of decreases, we think those are going to continue. That lack of inventory, the lack of foreclosures from what we believe have been very robust underwriting standards, that keeps home prices growing, even if at a slower pace. That record level we just talked about? That was 20.6% year over year. We think that slows to 10% by December of this year, 3% by December of 2023. But we're not talking about home prices falling and we're not talking about a bubble popping. 


Jim Egan: But with that backdrop, Jay, you cover the agency mortgage backed securities markets, a large liquid way to invest in mortgages, how would you invest in this? 


Jay Bacow: So, buying a home is generally the single largest investment for individuals, but you can scale that up in the agency mortgage market. It's an $8.5 trillion market where the government has underwritten the credit risk and that agency paper provides a pretty attractive way to get exposure to the housing outlook that you've described. If housing activity is going to slow, there's less supply to the market. That's just good for investors. And the recent concern around the Fed running off their balance sheet, combined with high inflation, has meant that the spread that you get for owning these bonds looks really attractive. It's well over 100 basis points on the mortgages that are getting produced today versus treasuries. It hasn't been over 100 basis points for as long as it has since the financial crisis. Jim, just in the same way that you don't think we're having another housing bubble, we don't think mortgages are supposed to be priced for financial crisis levels. 


Jim Egan: Jay, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Jay Bacow: Great speaking with you, Jim. 


Jim Egan: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

Jul 05, 2022
Global Equities: Are Value Stocks on the Rise?
00:08:10

For the last decade investors have been focused on highflying growth stocks, but this investing environment may be the exception rather than the rule. Chief European Equity Strategist Graham Secker and Global Head of Quantitative Investment Strategies Research Stephan Kessler discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Graham Secker: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Morgan Stanley's Chief European Equity Strategist. 


Stephan Kessler: I am Stephan Kessler, Global Head of Quantitative Investment Strategies Research. 


Graham Secker: And on this special episode of the podcast, we'll be talking about the potential return of value investing post its decade long decline since the global financial crisis. It's Friday, July the 1st, at 10 a.m. in London. 


Graham Secker: As most listeners of this particular podcast are probably aware, for much of the past decade, investors have had something of a love affair with the highflying growth stocks in the market. Meanwhile, their value priced counterparts, the shares of which tend to trade at relatively low price to earnings multiples and or offering higher dividend yields, have had a considerably rougher time of it. But I believe that the last decade is more the exception to the rule rather than the norm. And I think your analysis, Stephan, shows that this is true, yes? 


Stephan Kessler: Yes, I agree. We have looked at the performance of value as an investment style back to the 1920s, and we find that the period between the end of the global financial crisis and the COVID pandemic was only the decade where value did underperform. For me, the why here is really an interesting question to pick apart, which you and I look at through two different lenses. You're the fundamental strategist and I'm the quantitative analyst. So I think my first question to you is, from your fundamental point of view, what were the main drivers of value’s underperformance during this lost decade? 


Graham Secker: Yes. So from our perspective, we think there were two main drivers of values underperformance post the GFC. Firstly, a backdrop of low growth, low inflation and low and falling and negative interest rates, created a particularly problematic macro backdrop for value stocks. The former two factors were weighing on the relative profitability of value stocks, while the very low interest rates were actually boosting the PE ratio of longer duration growth stocks. This unpalatable macro backdrop then coincided with a challenging micro backdrop as the broad theme of disruption took hold across markets. This prompted greater hope among investors for the long term growth potential of the disruptors, while undermining the case for mean reversion across other areas of the market whereby cyclical slowdowns were often effectively viewed as structural declines. So, Stephan, you've said that the discount on value stocks cannot be explained fully by fundamentals or justified by the earnings overview. What do you believe are the deeper drivers for this discount?  


Stephan Kessler: When you look at the value, it faced over the past few years, a range of challenges really. On the behavioral side, investors have focused on growth stocks and growth opportunities. This led to a substantial and persistent deviation of equities from their fair values and an underperformance of value investors. Next to this more behavioral argument, we find that the environmental, social and governance related aspects or in short, ESG and monetary policy were themes which drove price action. Equity value has a negative exposure to those themes. And finally, when you look at the 2020 period, there was a classical value trap situation. Companies which were most affected by the COVID pandemic sold off and appear cheap based on quite a range of value metrics, while the COVID catalyst continued to disrupt markets and led to companies which were cheaply valued not being able to recover as they had exposure to these disruptors. This only start to resolve in 2021, which is also when we start to see value regain performance. To get back to a more generalist view of the main drivers of values underperformance, I'd like to get back to you, Graham. You've observed a link between the macro and the micro, which created something of a vicious circle for value in the last cycle. Can you talk about how this situation looks going forward? 


Graham Secker: Yes, going forward, we think this vicious cycle for value could actually turn to be something more of a virtuous cycle over the next few years. We argue that we've entered a new environment of higher inflation and associated with that higher nominal growth, and that drives a recovery in the profitability of these older economy type companies. And at the same time, a rising cost of capital undermines the case for the disruptors. And that can happen both in terms of lower valuations off the back of higher interest rates, but also as liquidity starts to subside, a lack of capital to fund their future business growth. Stephan, you mentioned two of these key disruptive forces, quantitative easing by the central banks and then the rise of ESG. Can you talk about the impact of these two elements on the equity investment landscape? 


Stephan Kessler: ESG is a major theme in financial markets today, and in particular in this 2018-20 period we saw ESG positive names build up a premium, which made them appear expensive in the context of value metrics. These ESG valuation premia then turned out to be persistent and at times even grew. This then goes, of course, against value investors who try to benefit from this missed valuations mean reverting. And to the extent these valuations even turn stronger, that drove their losses. Quantitative easing is another aspect that drove price action. We find that value tends to underperform in time periods of low interest rates and does well in a rising rates environment. The economic driver behind this empirical observation is that the very low rates you saw in the past make proper valuations of firms difficult as discounted cash flow approaches are challenged. And so on the back of that, lower rates simply lead to valuation and value as signals being challenged and not properly priced. So given the historical narrative and all the forces at play during the past decade, what is your preference between value versus growth for the second half of 2022 and beyond that, Graham? 


Graham Secker: Yes. So in the short term, a backdrop of continued high inflation and rising interest rates should we think continue to favor value over growth. However, perhaps right towards the end of this year, we do envisage a situation where that could reverse a little bit, albeit temporarily, once inflation has peaked and the economic downturn has materialized, investor attention may start to focus on rates no longer rising, and that will put a little bit of a bid back under the growth stocks again. But I think if we look longer term, actually, I'm beginning to think that what we'll see is the whole value versus growth debate actually becomes a bit more balanced and hence I can see more range bound relative performance thereafter. And Stephan, from your perspective, in a world of rising bond yields and lower or normalized QE, what is your outlook for value going forward, too? 


Stephan Kessler: Well, when we look at the two catalysts for value underperformance, ESG and quantitative easing I mentioned earlier, we see that their grip on the market is loosening. For one, markets have moved into rates tightening cycle which means investors focus more on near-term cash flows rather than terminal value. This is a positive for value companies, which tend to well under such considerations. Furthermore, the dynamism of ESG themes has abated compared to the 18-20 period, leading to a lower effect on value. Another angle on this is also a look at the valuation of value as a style. It's quite cheap, so it's a good entry point. This leads to a positive outlook for value, but also for other styles. We like, particularly the combination of value and quality as it benefits from the attractive entry levels for value, as well as the defensiveness of an investment in quality shares. 


Graham Secker: So to summarize from a fundamental and quantitative approach, both Stephan and I think that the extreme underperformance of value that we've seen over the prior decade has ended, value looks well-placed to return to its traditional outperformance  trends going forward. Stephan, thanks for taking the time to talk today. 


Stephan Kessler: Great speaking with you, Graham. 


Graham Secker: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

Jul 01, 2022
Jonathan Garner: Why Japan Should Have Investors’ Attention
00:04:15

As the risks to international economic growth increase, global investors may find some good news in the Japanese equities market. 


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jonathan Garner, Morgan Stanley's Chief Asia and Emerging Markets Equity Strategist. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be reflecting on a recent visit to Japan. It's Thursday, June the 30th, at 1 p.m. in London. 


I spent two weeks in Tokyo meeting with a wide range of market participants and others. This trip came together as Japan opened up to business visitors and small groups of tourists, after a lengthy period of COVID related travel restrictions. Japan equities - currency hedged for the U.S. dollar based investor - are our top pick in global equities and have been doing well this year relative to other markets. 


My first impression was how cheap prices in Japan now are at the current exchange rate of ¥135 to the U.S. dollar. For example, a simple metro journey in the inner core of Tokyo is priced at ¥140, so almost exactly $1 USD currently. It's possible to get a delicious lunchtime meal of teriyaki salmon, rice, pickles, miso soup and a soft drink in one of the numerous small cafes under the giant urban skyscrapers of the Central District of Marinucci for ¥1,000 or even lower. So that's about $6 to $7 USD currently. 


We feel this competitive exchange rate bodes well for the major Japanese industrial, technology and pharmaceutical firms, which dominate the Japan equity market as they compete globally. Indeed, the currency at these levels is one of the reasons that earnings revisions estimates, by bottom up analysts covering these companies, continue to move higher. Unlike the overall situation in global equities currently. 


In meetings, I was often asked whether we shared some of the concerns which have been voiced by some commentators on the Bank of Japan's monetary policy stance. The Monetary Policy Committee meeting for June was held during my trip, and the Bank of Japan kept its short term policy rate at -0.1% and also reiterated its pledge to guide the ten year government bond yield at +/- 25 basis points around a target of zero. Clearly, this monetary policy is divergent with trends elsewhere in the world currently and in particularly with the U.S. And this divergence is a key reason why the yen has been weakening this year. 


We at Morgan Stanley feel strongly that this approach is the right one for Japan, for one key reason. Unlike the U.S., UK or other advanced economies, Japan's inflation rate remains in line with policy goals. Headline CPI inflation is running at just 2.5% year on year, while CPI ex food and energy is 0.8%. Japan does not have a breakout to the upside in wage inflation either. We also think BOJ Governor Kuroda-san was correct in identifying downside risks to international economic growth as a risk factor for Japan's own GDP growth going forward, which at the moment we think is likely to track at around 2% this year. 


During our trip, we also spent time with investors discussing Japan Prime Minister Kishida-san's modifications to the policies of his two predecessors, in particular around a more redistributive approach to fiscal policy and digitalization of the public sector. The trend to greater corporate engagement with minority investors and activist investors was also debated. Japan is now the second largest market globally after the US for activist investor campaigns to promote corporate restructuring, thereby unlocking shareholder value. 


For us. Ultimately, the proof of the pudding, and how the Japan story all comes together, is the trend in corporate return on equity for listed equities. This has risen from less than 5% on average in the 20 years prior to Abe-san's premiership to above 10% currently. And it's now converged with two key North Asian peers; China and Korea. With Japan equities trading at the low end of the valuation range for the last 10 years, below 12 x forward price to earnings multiple, we think it's a market which deserves more attention from global investors. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

Jun 30, 2022
Michael Zezas: Next Steps for the U.S. and China
00:03:19

As legislators try to manage the U.S. and China’s economic relationship, outbound investors will want to keep tabs on potential policy coming down the pipeline.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, June 29th, at 10 a.m. in New York. 


Washington, D.C., continues to focus on two areas of bipartisan concern: fighting inflation and managing the economic relationship with China. To that end, deliberations continue on legislation intended to reduce reliance on China supply chains for semiconductors and rare earth materials, as well as invest in research and development for emerging technologies. The Senate and House have both passed versions of this legislation, respectively called the USICA and the COMPETES Act. Now there's a conference committee deciding what's in the final bill. And here's where investors need to pay attention, because there continues to be news that this committee could end up including a provision that would limit U.S. companies ability to make business investments in, quote, unquote, countries of concern. If they do, it could create downside pressure for markets in China in the near term, and would underscore the secular trend we continue to focus on: "slowbalization", which creates both equity sector challenges and opportunities. 


Consider that these outbound investment restrictions would mirror ones already in place for inbound investments through CFIUS. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. In short, it could make it difficult for companies to, say, build a factory in China if the product or production process includes technology that the U.S. deems critical to its economic or national security. Some independent estimates suggest this could reduce foreign direct investment in China by as much as 40%. 


This is classic slowbalization in motion, where policy choices are cutting against the cost benefits of globalization, driven by security concerns as we move toward a multipolar world; one with more than one political economy power base. And the level of disruption from this particular provision could create downward pressure on equity markets in China. It could also underscore current headwinds to U.S. markets, suggesting that many U.S. companies' margins will be pressured as they spend more in the future to diversify supply chains away from China. Of course, in line with our thesis of slowbalization, there's opportunity too. The CapEx needed to build these new supply chains has to go somewhere, and for example, semiconductor capital equipment companies could see a major up shift in demand. 


So investors need to stay tuned to the deliberations on outbound investment restrictions. It's far from a done deal, to be clear, but a major policy development if it happens. While there's no timeline for when we will know if this provision is included, we recommend paying attention to the Biden administration's deliberations on China tariffs. If the administration decides to provide even just targeted and temporary tariff reductions, in an attempt to ease inflation pressures over the next couple of months, it might also feel compelled to, at the same time, announce new measures to demonstrate its continued seriousness about competing with China. An announcement of a legislative agreement on outbound investment restrictions could be one way to do this. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Jun 29, 2022
U.S. Fixed Income: When will the Treasury Market Rally?
00:09:36

As the Fed continues with aggressive policy tightening, fixed income investors may be wondering if the bond market is accurately priced and when we might see it rally. Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Director of Fixed Income Research Vishy Tirupattur discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. 


Vishy Tirupattur: And I'm Vishy Tirupattur, Director of Fixed Income Research at Morgan Stanley. 


Andrew Sheets: And today on the podcast, we'll be discussing the outlook for the U.S. bond markets. It's Tuesday, June 28th, at 9 a.m. in San Francisco. 


Andrew Sheets: A note to our listeners, Vishy and I are recording this while we're on the road talking to clients, so if the audio quality sounds a little bit different, we hope you'll bear with us. 


Andrew Sheets: So Vishy, this has been a historically volatile start to the year for U.S. fixed income. We've seen some of the largest bond market losses in 40 years. Before we get into our views going forward, maybe just give a little bit of perspective about how you see this year so far, and what's been driving the market. 


Vishy Tirupattur: Andrew, what's been driving the market is the significant and substantial change in the monetary policy expectations, not only in the U.S. but also across most developed market economies. That means we started the year with the target Fed funds rate around close to 0%, and we have now ratcheted up quite significantly. And markets are already pricing in a further substantial increase in the Fed funds rate going forward. All this has meant that the duration sensitive parts of the bond market have taken it on the chin. 


Andrew Sheets: So Vishy that's interesting because we might be seeing kind of a transition in the market narrative as we head in the second half. What do you think the bond market, especially the Treasury market, is currently pricing in terms of Fed expectations? And do you think the bond market is priced for a recession? 


Vishy Tirupattur: I think bond market is sending some signals here. So the bond market is pricing that the Fed will continue to combat high inflation by being aggressively frontloaded in interest rate hikes. So this frontloading of the interest rate hikes means the front end of the Treasury curve perhaps has some more to go. And we expect that the end of the year, the two year Treasury will be at 4%. But on the other hand, the ten year Treasury, we expect the year at 350. That means the market is already beginning to become concerned about how growth and growth prospects for the U.S. economy will work out in the next 6 to 12 months. So by all measures we can look at the probability of a recession have significantly increased. That is what is being priced in the market at this point. 


Andrew Sheets: You know, I think it's safe to say that the dominant story, right, to start the year has been these upside surprises to inflation and then central banks, including the Fed, racing to catch up to those upside inflation surprises. And yet it's really interesting the way that Chair Powell and the Fed are now describing the way they're going to react to inflation is to say that we will effectively keep tightening policy as long as inflation surprises to the upside. But isn't the Fed using a tool that works with a lag?


Vishy Tirupattur: That is absolutely correct Andrew. What the withdrawal of policy accommodation that the Fed is accomplishing through these frontloaded hikes is tightening of financial conditions. We have begun to see some effect of this tightening of financial conditions on the economic growth already. But in reality, the long experience suggest that these effects will be lagged anywhere between 6 to 18 months. So this is what our economists are thinking, given this frontloaded hiking path. We think the Fed will stop hiking towards the end of this year in December, and we will watch for how these tighter financial conditions will restrain aggregate demand and slow the growth or slow the U.S. economy over the course of the next 6, 12, 18 months. 


Andrew Sheets: So Vishy, I'd like to move next into what all this means for our fixed income recommendations and to run through the major sectors of that market. So let's start with Treasuries. What do you see as our key views in the Treasury market? And where do you think we might differ the most from what's currently in market pricing? 


Vishy Tirupattur: I think we are still neutral in taking duration risk at this point. I expect that in the not so distant future we would become constructive on taking interest rate risk to the Treasury market. So our expectation is that a year from now, so second quarter of next year, ten year Treasury will be at three or five. 


Andrew Sheets: And Vishy, you know, we're in this environment where inflation is high and usually high inflation is bad for bonds. But growth is slowing, which is good for bonds. So, you know, given that push and pull, how do we think treasuries come out of that? 


Vishy Tirupattur: I think Treasuries will come out pretty well out of this. Why I say that is that the bulk of the pain from aggressive monetary policy has already been felt and taken in the market. So going forward, our expectation is not for incrementally more aggressive policy pops to be priced, but actually something that is more or less in line with already what is priced in the market. 


Andrew Sheets: Vishy, the next market I want to ask you about is the mortgage market. This is another huge part of the aggregate bond index. How do we think mortgages perform? Do we think they perform better or worse than the Treasury segment? 


Vishy Tirupattur: So the mortgage market is interesting. We started the year with the the generic mortgage rate around 3%. It had gone up almost to 6%, more or less doubled over the course of the last six months or so. So embedded in the mortgage market is a mortgage spread, but around 130 basis points of nominal mortgage spread is nearly at an all time high. And we think that that means a lot of this expectation coming out of higher rates, a slowing of the housing market, is already well priced into the mortgage market. So my expectation is that going forward, the mortgage market, will outperform the treasury market over the course of the next 6 to 12 months. 


Andrew Sheets: And Vishy, you know we talked about treasuries and we talked about mortgages and I probably can't ask you about those markets without also asking about quantitative tightening. The fact that the Fed has been big buyers, both Treasuries and mortgage bonds, and the Fed is going to stop doing that and is going to let its holdings of those securities roll off. So how important is that to the outlook for these markets? And is that quantitative tightening already in the price? 


Vishy Tirupattur: So two things on this. There is something called a stock effect and the flow effect. We think the stock effect component of the quantitative tightening, both in the context of treasuries and in the context of NBS, is mostly priced in. The flow effect will begin to manifest itself as the quantitative tightening actually begins to happen and we see this portfolio rebalancing channel to actually materialize. All that means is that the portfolio managers that had been underweight mortgages and overweight credit. We think that will change in favor of mortgages going from underweight towards neutral and credit going from overweight towards neutral. 


Andrew Sheets: So the last market I want to ask you about was the credit market, which is, I think, especially relevant given we've seen more market discussion of the risk to growth, the probability of a recession, the potential that defaults usually pick up during periods of weak economic growth. How do you see the outlook for corporate bonds fitting into this picture? 


Vishy Tirupattur: So if you look at the corporate bond market, the good thing here is that compared to other points at the beginning of a rate hiking cycle, the fundamentals of corporate bond market are in really good shape. You can see that in terms of leverage, interest coverage, as well as cash and balance sheet metrics. So that's a good thing. The second thing is that the financing needs of many of these companies is not as imposing as would otherwise being the case. Take the high yield market, high yield market and the leveraged loan market together about 3 trillion outstanding market. Only 10% of this is due for refinancing over the course of this year, 2022, 2023 and 2024. That means the world of maturities being an imposing challenge for the credit markets is that much, well, manageable. But that said, there's one segment of the market that is more vulnerable to hiking to higher interest rates, and that is the leveraged loan market, which is a floating rate funding market. So we expect that this market will see its cost of financing increase as interest rates start to get ratcheted up. But the one point I want to make here is that in terms of expectations of default rates, we won't see a dramatic spike in default rates the way we have seen in the past recessions. So compared to 2008-2009 recession, the post-COVID recession, early 2000's recession, in all of those instances when we had an economic slowdown and a recession, we saw a spike in corporate default rates. Because of the starting point of fundamentally is so much better this time, our expectation is that we will not see dramatic spikes in default rates in the credit market.


Andrew Sheets: Vishy, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Vishy Tirupattur: Always a pleasure to talk to you, Andrew. 


Andrew Sheets: Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people find the show. 

Jun 28, 2022
Mike Wilson: The Confounding Bear Market
00:03:59

Talk of recession continues among investors and consumers alike, but last week saw a sharp rally in U.S. Equities. Is this just a blip or could U.S. equity markets rally further?


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, June 27th, at 2 p.m. in New York. So let's get after it.


With talk of recession increasing sharply over the past few weeks, equity markets decided enough bad news had been priced and rallied sharply. Furthermore, the decline in both oil and interest rates helped ease some of the concerns on inflation. In our view, both the fall in oil and rates are being driven more by fears of an economic slowdown rather than a real peak in inflation and will lead to a more dovish Fed. However, with markets so oversold and bearishness pervasive, equity investors have taken the bullish view and rerated stocks higher.


Based on Friday's close, the S&P 500 is trading back at 16.3 times, or one turn higher than where it was at the prior week's lows. This seems unusual given the growing concern about earnings, however. In fact, even taking into account the fall in 10-year yields, the equity risk premium is back below 300 basis points. In our view, that makes little sense in the context of the likely negative earnings revisions coming in the second quarter reporting season and the rising risk of recession over the next 6 to 12 months.


Perhaps the best way to explain last week's rally has to do with the short-term rolling correlation between equities and real yields, which is now deeply negative again. This means the recent decline in bond yields has been perceived as positive for equities, something we think will prove to be incorrect if the falling yields are signaling slower growth or recession. For falling yields to be positive for equities at this stage, we would need to see cresting inflation pressures, a less hawkish Fed policy path, more durable economic growth than we expect, and a reacceleration in earnings revisions.


In addition to this combination of factors, which suggests a soft landing for the economy, we would also need to see limited negative revisions to earnings. Thus, we see the recent rebound in equities as another bear market rally on the path to fair value price levels of 3400-3500 in the case a soft landing is achieved with modest earnings revisions. However, as noted last week, a recession would bring tactical price lows closer to 3000 as earnings decline by at least 20% before working back to our June 2023 bear case target of 3350. In short, the bear market is likely not over, although it may feel like it over the next few weeks. Markets are likely to take the lower rates as a sign the Fed can orchestrate a soft landing and prevent a meaningful revision to earnings forecasts.


In that context, we think U.S. equity markets can rally further. In addition to lower rates and oil prices helping support the belief in a soft landing there is some equity demand from pension funds that need to rebalance at the end of the month and quarter this week. If retail investors join in like last week, that could carry equity prices higher before second quarter earnings season begins and the revisions arrive. Finally, a retracement of 38-50% of the entire decline would not be unnatural or out of line with prior bear market rallies, even ones associated with a recession at the end. In S&P 500 terms, that would translate into 4100-4200 or approximately 5-7% upside from Friday's close. Furthermore, if such a rally were to continue, it would likely be led by the longer duration or interest rate sensitive stocks like technology, or the Nasdaq.


However, we want to be clear that in no way are we suggesting the bear market is over or that earnings estimates won't have to come down. Instead, we are simply being realistic about the nature of bear markets and their ability to confound all market participants at times, even the bears. We suggest using equity market strength over the next few weeks to lighten up further on portfolios.


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people to find the show.

Jun 27, 2022
Special Encore: Andrew Sheets - How Useful is Investor Sentiment?
00:03:10

Original Release on June 9th, 2022: While many investors may be curious to know what other investors are thinking and feeling about markets, there’s a lot more to the calculation of investor sentiment than one might think.


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Thursday, June 9th, at 6 p.m. in London. 


I've found that investors are almost always interested in what other types of investors are doing. Some of this is curiosity, but a lot of it is interest in sentiment and a desire to try to quantify market emotion to give a better indicator of when to buy or sell. 


One can find a variety of metrics that portend to reflect this investor mood. Many of them move in nice, big, oscillating waves between fear and greed. But as anyone trying to use them as encountered, investing based on sentiment is harder in theory than practice. 


The first challenge, of course, is that there is little agreement in professional circles on exactly the best way to capture market emotion. Is it different responses to a regular investor survey? Is it the level of implied volatility in the market? Is it the flow of money in and out of different funds? The potential list goes on. 


Next, once you have an indicator, what's the right threshold to establish if it's telling you something is extreme? If you poll a thousand investors every week, maybe 70% of those investors being negative tells you the mood is sufficiently sour. But maybe the magic number is 80%, or maybe it's 60%. Defining positive or negative sentiment isn't always straightforward. 


Finally, there's the simple but important point that sometimes the crowd is right. Think of a long bull market like the 1990s. People were often optimistic about the stock market and correct to think so as prices kept rising. Meanwhile, people are often bearish in a bear market. We remember the dour mood that persisted throughout 2008. It certainly didn't stop stocks from going down. 


With all of this in mind, our research is focused on finding some ways to use sentiment measures more effectively. 


We think it makes sense to use a composite of different indicators, as true extremes are likely to show up across multiple approaches to measurement. Valuing both the level and direction of sentiment can be helpful. Rather than trying to catch an absolute extreme or market bottom, the best risk reward is often when sentiment is negative but improving. And sentiment is more useful to identify market lows than market peaks, as negativity and despair tend to be stronger, sharper emotions. Identifying peak optimism, at least in our work, is much harder. So don't beat yourself up if you can't find a signal that consistently flags market tops. 


Those ideas underlie the tools that we've built to try to turn market sentiment into signals as the age old debate around the true state of fear and greed continues throughout this year. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you. 

Jun 24, 2022
Seth Carpenter: A Stark Choice for the European Central Bank
00:03:44

Inflation has continued to surprise to the upside, causing global central banks to face a difficult choice; continue to raise rates at the risk of recession, or settle in for a long spell of elevated inflation.


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Seth Carpenter, Morgan Stanley's Chief Global Economist. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives. Today, I'll be talking about the key challenges for central banks and particularly the European Central Bank. It's Thursday, June 23rd, at 3:30 p.m. in New York. 


Just about all conversations these days involve high inflation and monetary policy tightening. It is tough all over. Central banks all have to make harder and harder choices as inflation keeps surprising to the upside. Take the Fed. They hiked 75 basis points at their last meeting. That was 25 basis points more than was priced in just a week before the meeting. 


At the June European Central Bank meeting, President Lagarde also weighed in. She was clear about a 25 basis point hike in July and that the rate hike in September would be larger, presumably 50 basis points if the outlook for medium term inflation is still above target. Putting that simply, if the ECB does not lower its forecast for inflation in 2024, we should expect a 50 basis point hike in September. 


A lower inflation forecast faces long odds. Headline inflation in Europe will be pushed around by commodity prices. Consider that European inflation is much more non-core, that is food and energy, than it is core inflation. And for core inflation, the ECB typically looks to economic growth as the key driver, but with about a one year lag. So their forecast for 2024 inflation is going to depend on their forecast for 2023 growth. And it's just very hard to see what data we are going to get by September that's going to meaningfully lower their forecast for 2023 growth. So now the ECB has joined the ranks of central banks that are hiking more and more with the goal of slowing inflation. But they have to face the dilemma that I wrote a few pieces about back in January. 


At that point, I was discussing the Fed, but the same choice is there and it is stark— either cause a recession and bring inflation down in the near term or engineer a substantial slowdown, but one that is shy of a recession, and accept elevated inflation for years to come. You see, despite the typical lags of policy, if the ECB chose to engineer a recession right now, those effects would almost surely show through to growth by 2023, pulling down inflation in 2024. 


So why are they making this choice? On the most simple level, no central banker really wants to cause a recession if they can avoid it. And remember that euro area inflation is now heavily driven by food and energy prices. Those noncore prices are only barely related to Euro area activity. It would take a severe recession in Europe to meaningfully drive down noncore prices. And finally, reports are swirling of a new tool to ward off fragmentation in European markets. If we get a hard crash of the economy, that by itself could precipitate the market fragmentation that they're trying to avoid. 


So what happens next? The Governing Council is on a hiking cycle, but they want a soft landing. The problem is that we are more pessimistic than they are about Euro Area growth starting as soon as the second half of this year. With inflation currently high and their commitment to tightening to fight that inflation, we might not get the clear signals of a slowdown in the economy before it's too late. 


The ECB might think it is choosing the more benign path but if our forecasts are right, the risks of them hiking into a recession, even inadvertently, are clearly rising. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy this show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Jun 23, 2022
Michael Zezas: Evaluating Anti-Inflation Measures
00:02:36

As inflation remains top of mind from Wall Street to the White House, policy makers continue to propose possible actions to fight inflation, but will these proposals ever be enacted?


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, June 22nd, at 10 a.m. in New York. 


Main Street and Wall Street agree that inflation is a problem. And of course, Washington, DC continues to take notice. The White House and Democratic leadership continues to press publicly that they're taking inflation seriously and pursuing a variety of options to slow rising prices in the economy. This includes today's news that the White House is endorsing a plan for a gas tax holiday, which would need congressional approval. Not surprisingly, then, investors have been asking us a lot lately about policy options that have been floated in news headlines as possible inflation fighters. In short, we think many proposals will remain simply that, proposals, keeping pressure on the Fed to be the inflation fighter. 


Why won't most proposals be enacted? Simply put, most options on the table can't get enough votes in Congress to be enacted due to political concerns, effectiveness concerns, and sometimes both. Take the gas tax holiday proposal. Key Republican senators have already voiced opposition to the move, as have moderates in the Democratic caucus, on concerns that the holiday would have only a limited impact on prices at the pump, while steering money away from infrastructure maintenance. 


Accordingly, you might see the administration take some actions on its own. For example, there have been many headlines about the White House considering easing tariffs on imports from China. But in our view, any tariff reduction is likely to be temporary and small in scope, focusing on a subset of consumer goods rather than blanket tariff reductions, as administration is likely reticent to do too much on tariff reduction without a reciprocal concession from China. Given that independent economists estimate that a blanket tariff removal would only reduce inflation by a few tenths of a percent, this smaller scale action would not meaningfully impact key inflation measures like CPI. 


So that means the Fed remains the main inflation fighter in DC. And fight they will, in the view of our economists, who expect they will hike rates another 2% over the balance of this year in order to curb economic activity. For investors, that means a higher chance of recession, and in the view of our U.S. equity strategy team, some remaining downside for stock prices in the near term. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Jun 22, 2022
Mike Wilson: The Increasing Risk of Recession
00:04:02

As price to earnings multiples fall and inflation continues to weigh on the economy, long term earnings estimates may still be too high as the risk of a recession rises.

 

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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Tuesday, June 21st at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Coming into the year, we had a very out of consensus view that valuations would fall at least 20% due to rising interest rates and tighter monetary policy from the Fed. We also believed earnings were at risk, given payback and demand, rising costs and inventory. With price to earnings multiples falling by 28% year to date, the de-rating process is no longer much of a call, nor is it out of consensus. Having said that, many others are still assuming much higher price to earnings multiples for year end S&P 500 price targets. In contrast, we have lowered our price to earnings targets even further as 10 year U.S. Treasury yields have exceeded our expectations to the upside. In short, the price to earnings multiple should still fall towards 14x, assuming Treasury yields and earnings estimates remain stable. Of course, these are big assumptions. 


At this point, a recession is no longer just a tail risk given the Fed's predicament with inflation. Indeed, this is the essence of our fire and ice narrative - the Fed having to tighten into a slowdown or worse. Our bear case for this year always assumed a recessionary outcome, but the odds were just 20%. Now they're closer to 35%, according to our economists. We would probably err a bit higher given our more negative view on the consumer and corporate profitability. From a market standpoint, this is just another reason why we think the equity risk premium could far exceed our fair value estimate of 370 basis points. Of course, the 10 year Treasury yield will not be static in a recession either, and would likely fall considerably if growth expectations plunge. For example, the equity risk premium exceeded 600 basis points during the last two recessions. We appreciate that the next recession is unlikely to be accompanied by a crisis like the housing bust in 2008, or a pandemic in 2020. Therefore, we're willing to accept a lower upside target of 500 basis points should a recession come to pass. 


Should the risk of recession increase to the point where it becomes the market's base case, it would also come alongside a much lower earnings per share forecast. In other words, a recession would imply a much lower trough for the S&P 500 of approximately 3000 rather than our base case of 3400 we've been using lately. 


As of Friday's close, our negative view is not nearly as fat of a pitch, with so much of the street now in our camp on both financial conditions and growth. Having said that, the upside is quite limited as well, making the near-term a bit of a gamble. Equity markets are very oversold, but they can stay oversold until market participants feel like the risk of recession has been extinguished or at least reduced considerably. We do not see that outcome in the near term. However, we can't rule it out either and appreciate that markets can be quite fickle in the short term on both the downside and the upside. What we can say with more certainty today versus a few months ago is that earnings estimates are too high, even in the event a recession is avoided. Our base case 3400 near-term downside target accounts for the kind of earnings risk we envision in the event a soft landing is accomplished. 


For us, the end game remains the same. We see a poor risk reward over the next 3 to 6 months, with recession risk rising in the face of very stubborn inflation readings. Valuations are closer to fair at this point, but hardly a bargain if earnings are likely to come down or a recession is coming. While investors have suffered quite a setback this year, we can't yet get bullish for more than just a bear market rally until recession arrives or the risk of one falls materially. At the stock level, we continue to favor late cycle defensives and companies with high operational efficiency. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show.

Jun 21, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Balance Sheets Take a Back Seat
00:03:09

With so much going on in markets, some moves that may have been hot topics against a less chaotic backdrop, such as policy shifts towards shrinking central bank balance sheets, are hitting the back burner.


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, June 17th, at 2 p.m. in London. 


There is so much going on in markets that events that would usually dominate discussions find themselves relegated. You'll emerge from an investor meeting having discussed everything from Fed policy to China's COVID response, and realize there was no time for a discussion of, say, the situation in Japan where the yen has just seen one of its sharpest declines in the last 30 years. 


I think that applies, in a notable way, to the conversation around central bank balance sheets. For much of the last decade, the bond buying of central banks, also known as quantitative easing, was the dominant market story. That buying is now reversing with the balance sheet of central banks in the U.S., Euro area, the UK and Japan, set to shrink by about $4 trillion between now and the end of 2023. And yet, with so much else going on, this quantitative tightening really feels like it's taking a backseat. 


One reason is that while the size of this balance sheet reduction is large, it is, for the moment, looking like it will be quite predictable, with central banks stating that these reductions will happen in a regular manner, almost regardless of market conditions. That's in sharp contrast to the situation in interest rates, where central bank policy has been rapidly changing, much less predictable and very dependent on incoming data. 


We were reminded of this again on Wednesday, when the Federal Reserve decided to raise interest rates by 75 basis points, on top of the 50 basis point rise they executed last month. In the press conference that followed Chair Powell emphasized how important incoming data would be in shaping further interest rate decisions. With every data point potentially shifting the near-term interest rate outlook, the steady decline of the balance sheet all of a sudden becomes less pressing. 


There is also a legitimate question of how much central bank bond purchases mattered in the first place. There's a whole branch of statistics designed to test how much of the variance of one thing, like stock prices, can be explained by changes in another thing, like central bank balance sheets. When we put the data through these rigorous tests, most of the stock market moves over the last 12 years are explained by factors other than the central bank balance sheet. 


And one final piece of trivia; bond prices have tended to do worse when Fed bond holdings were rising, and better when bond holdings were shrinking. That might sound counterintuitive, but consider the following. Quantitative easing usually began when the economy was weak and bond prices were already high, while quantitative tightening has occurred when the economy was strong and bond prices were already lower. It's just one more example that the balance sheet is one of many factors driving cross-asset performance. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Jun 17, 2022
U.S. Housing: Breaking Records not Bubbles
00:05:08

With home prices hitting new highs and inventory hitting new lows, the differences between now and the last housing bubble may help ease investors' worries that the market is about to burst. Co-Heads of U.S. Securitized Products Research Jim Egan and Jay Bacow discuss.


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Jay Bacow: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jay Bacow, Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research here at Morgan Stanley. 


Jim Egan: And I'm Jim Egan, the other Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research. 


Jay Bacow: And on this episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing the path for both housing prices, housing activity and agency mortgages through the end of the year. It's Thursday, June 16th, at noon in New York. 


Jay Bacow: Jim, it seems like every time we come on this podcast, there's another record in the housing market. And this time it's no different. 


Jim Egan: Absolutely not. Home prices just set a new record, 20.6% year over year growth. They set a new month over month growth record. Affordability, when you combine that growth in home prices with the increase we've seen in mortgage rates, we've deteriorated more in the past 12 months than any year that we have on record. And a lot of that growth can be attributed to the fact that inventory levels are at their lowest level on record. Consumer attitudes toward buying homes are worse than they've been since 1982. That's not a record, but you get my point. 


Jay Bacow: All right. So we're setting records for home prices. We're setting records for change in affordability. With all these broken records, investors are understandably a little worried that we might have another housing bubble. What do you think? 


Jim Egan: Look, given the run up in housing in the 2000s and the fact that we,ve reset the record for the pace of home price growth, investors can be permitted a little anxiety. We do not think there is a bubble forming in the U.S. housing market. There are a number of reasons for that, two things I would highlight. First, the pre GFC run up in home prices, that was fueled by lax lending standards that really elevated demand to what we think were unsustainable levels. And that ultimately led to an incredible increase in defaults, where borrowers with risky mortgages were not able to refinance and their only real option at that point was foreclosures. This time around, lending standards have remained at the tight end of historical ranges, while supply has languished at all time lows. And that demand supply mismatch is what's driving this increase in prices this time around. The second reason, we talked about affordability deteriorating more over the past 12 months than any year on record. That hit from affordability is just not as widely spread as it has been in prior mortgage markets, largely because most mortgages today are fixed rate. We're not talking about adjustable rate mortgages where current homeowners can see their payments reset higher. This time around a majority of borrowers have fixed rate mortgages with very affordable payments. And so they don't see that affordability pressure. What they're more likely to experience is being locked in at current rates, much less likely to list their home for sale and exacerbating that historically tight inventory environment that we just talked about. 


Jay Bacow: All right. So, you don't think we're going to have another housing bubble. Things aren't going to pop. So does that mean we're going to continue to set records? 


Jim Egan: I wouldn't say that we're going to continue to set records from here. I think that home prices and housing activity are going to go their separate ways. Home prices will still grow, they're just going to grow at a slower pace. Home sales is where we are really going to see decreases. Those affordability pressures that we've talked about have already made themselves manifest in existing home sales, in purchase applications, in new home sales, which have seen the biggest drops. Those kinds of decreases, we think those are going to continue. That lack of inventory, the lack of foreclosures from what we believe have been very robust underwriting standards, that keeps home prices growing, even if at a slower pace. That record level we just talked about? That was 20.6% year over year. We think that slows to 10% by December of this year, 3% by December of 2023. But we're not talking about home prices falling and we're not talking about a bubble popping. 


Jim Egan: But with that backdrop, Jay, you cover the agency mortgage backed securities markets, a large liquid way to invest in mortgages, how would you invest in this? 


Jay Bacow: So, buying a home is generally the single largest investment for individuals, but you can scale that up in the agency mortgage market. It's an $8.5 trillion market where the government has underwritten the credit risk and that agency paper provides a pretty attractive way to get exposure to the housing outlook that you've described. If housing activity is going to slow, there's less supply to the market. That's just good for investors. And the recent concern around the Fed running off their balance sheet, combined with high inflation, has meant that the spread that you get for owning these bonds looks really attractive. It's well over 100 basis points on the mortgages that are getting produced today versus treasuries. It hasn't been over 100 basis points for as long as it has since the financial crisis. Jim, just in the same way that you don't think we're having another housing bubble, we don't think mortgages are supposed to be priced for financial crisis levels. 


Jim Egan: Jay, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Jay Bacow: Great speaking with you, Jim. 


Jim Egan: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

Jun 16, 2022
Michael Zezas: Can the Muni Market Provide Shelter?
00:02:29

With concern high over inflation and tightening Fed policy, investors looking for practical solutions may want to take another look at the municipal bond market.


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, June 15th, at 10 a.m. in New York. 


It's been a tough few days for markets. With last week's inflation data showing yet another surprisingly high reading, both stock and bond markets have been selling off. The concern is that the Fed may have to get more aggressive in hiking rates in order to bring inflation under control. That would mean slower economic growth, which is a challenge for companies and stocks, and higher interest rates, which needs to be reflected in lower bond prices and higher bond yields. Understandably, investors are looking for practical solutions. 


One place we continue to favor is the muni bond market. It's been a volatile performer this year, and it's true that recently bonds haven't been a haven from broader market volatility. And that bumpy performance could go on a bit longer for munis as bond yields rise to price in a more aggressive Fed path. But that should change once the Fed's intentions are better understood. Plus, the coupons of most munis are tax exempt, something that provides extra value for investors who are keeping an eye on developments in Washington, D.C., where negotiations are gaining momentum on a package to raise taxes, to pay for investments in clean energy, health care and paying down the national debt. This means an already solid taxable equivalent yield of over 5% for investors in the top tax bracket, could improve further if D.C. acts to hike taxes. 


Of course, the rising recession risk from the Fed raising rates may have you concerned about muni credit quality, but in our view muni credit should be quite durable even if there is a recession. By our calculation, muni sectors got more federal aid than they needed to deal with the impacts of COVID, and the sharp economic recovery since then had mostly returned muni business activity and revenue growth to pre-COVID or better levels. And even if inflation persists, history suggests this shouldn't be a system wide credit challenge. Sure, municipalities' costs will go higher, but so would their revenues. 


So putting it together, bonds are probably a decent spot for investors to shelter during this volatility, and we think munis stand out among your bond options. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Jun 15, 2022
Graham Secker: The High Cost of Capital
00:03:55

As central bank policy across the globe shifts from tight fiscal policy to tight monetary policy, the rising cost of capital will have long-term consequences for investors.


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives. I'll be talking about the rising cost of capital and its implications for European equities. It's Tuesday, June the 14th, at 2 p.m. in London. 


As we have discussed previously, we believe that we have witnessed a paradigm shift in the macro and market backdrops over the past couple of years, swapping the secular stagnation of the last decade with a new cycle where nominal growth is both higher and more volatile. 


An alternative way to think about this is that the policy dynamic has shifted from an environment of loose monetary and tight fiscal policy over the last two decades, to one of looser fiscal policy, but tighter monetary policy today. If this characterization proves to be true over the coming years, the longer term consequences for investors will be profound. 


While this may sound somewhat grandiose, it is worth noting that global interest rates fell to a record low in this last cycle. From such an unprecedented low, even a moderate increase in borrowing costs may feel significant, and we note that we have just witnessed the largest 2 year increase in 10 year U.S. Treasury yields since the early 1980s. 


The fact that we are starting a new and relatively fast rate hiking cycle, at the same time as central banks are shifting from quantitative easing to quantitative tightening, further magnifies the risk for spread products such as credit or peripheral debt, both of which have underperformed materially over the last couple of months. At this stage, we think it is this dynamic that is arguably weighing most on equity markets rather than the economic impact of higher borrowing costs. 


When thinking through the investment implications for European equity markets of this rise in the cost of capital, we make three points in ascending order of impact. 


First, the consequences of higher borrowing costs are likely to produce a relatively small hit to corporate profits. While we are concerned about a significant decline in corporate margins over the coming quarters, this is predominantly due to higher raw material prices and rising labor costs. In contrast, even a doubling of the effective interest rate on corporate debt should only take around 2.5% off of total European earnings. 


Second, we see a more significant impact from higher capital costs on equity valuations, as price to earnings ratios have exhibited a close negative correlation to both central bank policy rates and credit spreads over time. Hence, while European equity valuations are now beginning to look reasonably attractive after their decline this year, we think risks remain skewed to the downside over the summer, given a tricky backdrop of slowing growth, high and sticky inflation and hawkish central banks. 


Finally, the most significant impact from higher borrowing costs will, as ever, be felt by those entities that are most levered or require access to fresh funding. At this stage, we do not expect the ongoing increase in funding costs to generate a broader systemic shock across markets. However, we do see ample scope for idiosyncratic issues to emerge in the months ahead. Logically, identifying these issues in advance primarily requires due diligence at the stock level. However, from a top down perspective, the European sectors that are most correlated to credit spreads, and or have the weakest balance sheets, include autos, banks, consumer services, food retailing, insurance, telecoms and utilities. 


Ultimately, the volatility within asset markets that will accompany the largest upward shift in the cost of capital in over 30 years will create lots of opportunities for investors. However, for now, we recommend patience and await a better entry point later in the year. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Jun 14, 2022
Mike Wilson: The Decline in Consumer Sentiment
00:03:57

With consumer sentiment hitting an all time low due to inflation concerns, the question investors should be asking is, are these risks to the economy properly priced into the market?


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, June 13th, at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Over time, the lion's share of stock returns is determined by earnings growth if one assumes that valuations are relatively stable. However, valuations are not stable and often hard to predict. In our experience, most investors don't spend nearly as much time trying to predict multiples as they do earnings. This is probably because it's hard to do consistently, and there are so many methodologies it's often difficult to know if you are using the right one. For equity strategists, predicting valuations is core to the job, so we spend a lot of time on it. 


Our methodology is fairly simple. There are just two components to our method; 10 year Treasury yields and the equity risk premium. 


At the end of last year, we argued the P/E at 21x was too high. From our vantage point, both ten year Treasury yields and the equity risk premium appeared to be mispriced. Treasury yields are more levered to inflation expectations and Fed policy. At year end 10 year Treasuries did not properly reflect the risk of higher inflation or the Fed's reaction to it. Today, we would argue it's not the case. In fact, 10 year Treasury yields may be pricing too much Fed tightening if growth continues to erode and recession risks increase further. 


In contrast to Treasury yields, the equity risk premium is largely a reflection of growth expectations. When growth is accelerating, the equity risk premium tends to be lower and vice versa. At year end, the equity risk premium is 315 basis points, well below the average of 375 basis points over the past 15 years. In short, the equity risk remaining was not reflecting the rising risks to growth that we expected coming into this year. Fast forward to today and the equity risk premium is even lower at just 300 basis points. Given the rising risk of slowing growth in earnings, this part of the price earnings ratio seems more mispriced today than 6 months ago. At the end of the day, we think 3400 represents a much better level of support for the S&P 500 and an area we would consider getting bullish. 


Last Friday, consumer sentiment in the U.S. hit an all time low due largely to concerns inflation is here to stay. This has been one of our greatest concerns this year with respect to demand and one of the areas we received the most pushback. We continually hear from many clients that the consumer is in such great shape due to the excess savings still available in checking accounts. However, this view does not take into account savings in stocks, bonds, cryptocurrencies and other assets, which are down significantly this year. Furthermore, while most consumers have more cash on hand than pre-COVID, that cash just isn't going as far as it used to, and that is likely to restrain discretionary spending. 


Finally, we think it's important to point out that the latest reading is the lowest on record, and 45% lower than during the last time the Fed embarked on such an aggressive tightening campaign, and was able to orchestrate a soft landing. In other words, the consumer was in much better shape back then, and that probably helped the economy to stabilize and avoid a recession. Let's also keep in mind that inflation was dormant in 1994 relative to today and allowed the Fed to pause, a luxury they clearly do not have now given Friday's red hot Consumer Price Index report. 


Bottom line, the drop in sentiment not only poses a risk to the economy and market from a demand standpoint, but coupled with Friday's CPI print keeps the Fed on a hawkish path to fight inflation. In such an environment, we continue to recommend equity investors keep a defensive bias with overweighting utilities, health care and REITs until the price or earnings expectations come down further. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show. 

Jun 13, 2022
Robert Rosener: The Continued Rise in Inflation
00:03:24

As inflation continues to rise beyond expectations, the Fed is set to meet next week, leaving markets to wonder if an acceleration in rate hikes might be in store this summer.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Robert Rosner, Senior U.S. Economist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about this morning's inflation data and how that may impact Fed discussions at next week's FOMC meeting. It's Friday, June 10th, at 2 p.m. in New York. 


This morning, we received the Consumer Price Index data for May that showed a faster than anticipated increase in both headline and core inflation. Inflation continues to be lifted by high food and energy prices, and the combination of the two have pushed inflation up to a new high on a year over year basis, to. 8.6%. That rise in inflation reflects not just gains in food and energy prices, but extremely broad based increases under the surface, with core goods prices continuing to reaccelerate and core services prices also remaining strong, reflecting continued upside in travel related airfares and hotels. While other factors like rents and owners' equivalent rents both jumped. Rents in particular posted their fastest sequential month on month pace of increase since 1987.  


That's really impo the Fed next week because this sets a tone of inflation that remains very elevated as the Fed sits down to discuss its policy. Moreover, many, including ourselves, had been expecting that the peak for inflation on a year over year basis would have been registered back in March. But today's data showed that CPI has reached a new high on a year over year basis. That raises uncertainty about the outlook for inflation. And Fed policymakers have expressed some concern about the possibility for some underlying reacceleration in inflation. 


We also saw at the same time that data from the University of Michigan Survey of Consumer Sentiment showed that both short and longer term household expectations for inflation have been on the rise. So the risks around inflation remain high, and as the Fed sits down next week policymakers are likely to see inflation as remaining a top of mind topic. 


We have been expecting the Fed to pursue a series of 50 basis point rate hikes as the FOMC seeks to tighten financial conditions in order to slow demand and eventually slow inflation. And markets after the inflation data moved very quickly to price in an even more hawkish path for Fed policy, with some risk that a 50 basis point rate hike might not be enough and that there might be some chance that the Fed could deliver a 75 basis point rate hike at some point over the summer. 


We'll hear from policymakers next week as to whether or not an acceleration in the pace of rate hikes is something that they see as an attractive option. But the bottom line here is the Fed's work is far from done. Inflation remains high, incoming data suggests that growth has moderated, but has not slowed enough to feel confident that inflation is likely to follow. It's going to be a tricky summer for Fed policymakers, and a tricky summer for data watchers as well, because each incremental inflation data point is likely to inform how Fed policymakers are likely to react and what that path for rate hikes is likely to look like over the summer and into the fall. 


Thank you for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Jun 10, 2022
Andrew Sheets: How Useful is Investor Sentiment?
00:03:03

While many investors may be curious to know what other investors are thinking about current and future market trends, there’s a lot more to the calculation of investor sentiment than one might think.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Thursday, June 9th, at 6 p.m. in London. 


I've found that investors are almost always interested in what other types of investors are doing. Some of this is curiosity, but a lot of it is interest in sentiment and a desire to try to quantify market emotion to give a better indicator of when to buy or sell. 


One can find a variety of metrics that portend to reflect this investor mood. Many of them move in nice, big, oscillating waves between fear and greed. But as anyone trying to use them as encountered, investing based on sentiment is harder in theory than practice. 


The first challenge, of course, is that there is little agreement in professional circles on exactly the best way to capture market emotion. Is it different responses to a regular investor survey? Is it the level of implied volatility in the market? Is it the flow of money in and out of different funds? The potential list goes on. 


Next, once you have an indicator, what's the right threshold to establish if it's telling you something is extreme? If you poll a thousand investors every week, maybe 70% of those investors being negative tells you the mood is sufficiently sour. But maybe the magic number is 80%, or maybe it's 60%. Defining positive or negative sentiment isn't always straightforward. 


Finally, there's the simple but important point that sometimes the crowd is right. Think of a long bull market like the 1990s. People were often optimistic about the stock market and correct to think so as prices kept rising. Meanwhile, people are often bearish in a bear market. We remember the dour mood that persisted throughout 2008. It certainly didn't stop stocks from going down. 


With all of this in mind, our research is focused on finding some ways to use sentiment measures more effectively. 


We think it makes sense to use a composite of different indicators, as true extremes are likely to show up across multiple approaches to measurement. Valuing both the level and direction of sentiment can be helpful. Rather than trying to catch an absolute extreme or market bottom, the best risk reward is often when sentiment is negative but improving. And sentiment is more useful to identify market lows than market peaks, as negativity and despair tend to be stronger, sharper emotions. Identifying peak optimism, at least in our work, is much harder. So don't beat yourself up if you can't find a signal that consistently flags market tops. 


Those ideas underlie the tools that we've built to try to turn market sentiment into signals as the age old debate around the true state of fear and greed continues throughout this year. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you. 

Jun 09, 2022
Seth Carpenter: Spiking Food Prices and the Global Economy
00:04:00

Under the combined stresses of dry weather, COVID, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, agricultural prices are spiking, and many countries are scrambling to combat the consequences to the global economy. Morgan Stanley Chief Global Economist Seth Carpenter explains.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Seth Carpenter, Morgan Stanley's Chief Global Economist. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be talking about the surge in agricultural prices and some of the implications for the global economy. It's Wednesday, June 8th, at 1:30 p.m. in New York. 


Agricultural prices have jumped this year, and that surge has become one of the key topics of the moment, both on a domestic level and a global scale. The Russian invasion of Ukraine clearly contributed significantly to the runup in prices, but even before the war, dry weather and COVID-19 had already started to threaten the global food supply. Rising food prices pose many risks, particularly for lower income people and lower income countries. Even though I'm going to be talking mostly about cold economics today, the human toll of all of this is absolutely critical to keep in mind. In fact, we see the surge in food prices as a risk to the global economic recovery. When prices for necessities like food go up, lower income households just have to spend more on food. And that increased spending on food means they've got less money to spend on discretionary items. 


To put some numbers on how we got here, global food prices have surged about 66% since the start of COVID-19, and about 12% since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Dry weather had already affected crops, especially in Latin America and India. And remember, fertilizer is tightly linked to the petrochemical industry, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has complicated that situation, leaving fertilizer prices at all time highs. 


So what's been the response? Governments across developed markets and emerging markets have started enacting measures to try to contain their domestic prices. In the developed market world, these measures include attempts to boost domestic production so as to relieve some of the pressures. While in EM, some governments have opted to cut food taxes or put in place price controls. In addition, some governments have also imposed bans on exports of certain agricultural products. The side effect, though, is getting more trade disruptions in already tight commodity markets. 


Against this backdrop, there are two key consequences. First, consumption spending is likely to be lower than it would have been. And second, inflation is likely to rise because of the rise in food prices. And if we look at it across the globe, emerging markets really look more vulnerable to these shocks than developed markets. 


First, in terms of consumption spending, our estimates suggest that the recent rise in food prices might decrease real consumption spending throughout this year by about 1% in the U.S. and about 3% in Mexico, all else equal. Now, that said, not every component of spending gets affected uniformly. Historical data analysis suggests that the drop is heavily focused in durable goods spending, like for motor vehicles. And EMs are more exposed because they've got a higher share of food consumption in their overall consumption basket. 


Now, when it comes to inflation, we think that the recent spike in food prices, if it lasts for the rest of this year, it's probably going to add about 1.2 percentage points to headline Consumer Price Index inflation in emerging markets, and about 6/10 of a percentage point increase to inflation in DM. These are really big increases. Now why should the inflationary push be higher in emerging markets? First, just arithmetically, food represents a larger share of CPI in emerging markets than it does in DM, something like 24% versus 17%. And second, in emerging markets, inflation expectations tend to be less well anchored, and so a rise in prices in a critical component like food tends to spread out to lots of other components in inflation as well. 


So what's the bottom line here? Growth is slowing globally. Inflation is high. The surge in food prices is going to increase the risks for both of those. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy this show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or a colleague today.

Jun 08, 2022
U.S. Politics: How the Midterms Could Affect Your Tax Rates
00:05:19

As some provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act start to kick in and others are set to expire, the future of U.S. tax rates may hinge on the results of the upcoming midterm elections. Head of U.S. Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy Michael Zezas and Head of Global Valuation, Accounting and Tax Todd Castagno discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of U.S. Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. 


Todd Castagno: And I'm Todd Castagno, Head of Global Valuation, Accounting and Tax for Morgan Stanley Research. 


Michael Zezas: And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about the 2022 U.S. midterm elections and the potential impact on individual and corporate taxes. It's Tuesday, June 7th, at 10:00 AM in New York. 


Michael Zezas: If you're a regular listener, you may have heard my conversation with our chief U.S. Economist, Ellen Zentner, last week about the economic implications of this year's midterm elections. This week, Todd Castagno and I are going to continue the midterm election topic because individual and corporate taxes could be set to increase starting this year. But the question is how high, when and what the impact from the election could be. So, Todd, you and I have talked about this and we agree that taxes are likely headed higher for both individuals and corporations. Maybe you can tell us why that is. 


Todd Castagno: Thanks, Michael. And it's really a driving function of how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed. And that's because Congress used the budget reconciliation legislation, which is primarily temporary. So, for instance, the individual provisions generally all expire at the end of 2025. And business tax increases have already started to phase in this year. So extension of the status quo for both businesses and individuals really is a function of the political landscape heading into midterms and then the next presidential election. 


Michael Zezas: Okay. So let's start with the individual taxes. Maybe you can name some provisions set to expire and what the changes would be. 


Todd Castagno: So Michael, let's first provide an overview of what the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act did for individuals. First, it reduced individual tax rates. Second, it almost doubled the standard deduction, meaning fewer taxpayers require itemized deductions. It provided a generous 20% deduction for small businesses, and pass-through businesses. It provided a much more generous child tax care credit, that's also refundable. And then the alternative minimum tax was reduced, so fewer taxpayers were caught in that tax. All these provisions are set to expire at the end of 2025 if Congress does not act. 


Michael Zezas: Let's shift over to corporate taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act lowered the corporate tax rate to 21% in 2017. Is there a chance we could see that climb? And to what level? 


Todd Castagno: That's true. One of the only permanent items of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. However, starting this year, there are other tax increases within the corporate tax system. For instance, the requirement to amortize R&D costs over 5 years starts this year. That will primarily affect technology companies. And then there's elimination of favorable media expensing for capital expenditures, that starts to phase out next year, and that primarily would impact manufacturing and industrial companies. And then there's more restrictive deductibility of interest expense. So these in conjunction, will raise tax obligations. And it really depends on the political climate of how these get extended, and if that 21% corporate rate may nudge higher. 


Michael Zezas: Todd. Last October, you and I talked in the podcast about a two pillar tax overhaul which would come out of global tax reform. Nine months later, how do you see that playing out? 


Todd Castagno: So there's an ongoing effort to A, change the mix of which countries get to tax corporate income and B, the establishment of a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15%. The wheels are still in motion, but let's say the bus has slowed down. For instance, in the U.S., the required reforms are part of the build back better legislation, which has recently stalled. And then in Europe, nearly unanimous agreement, but they're still one or two states that are not fully on board. 


Todd Castagno: Michael, I want to turn it back to you. Investors and policymakers clearly have some worries about inflation risks. How will that factor into what kinds of effective tax increases would be palatable for lawmakers? 


Michael Zezas: Sure. Policymakers in Washington, D.C. have become really sensitive to inflation. And so tax increases now serve a purpose as a tool for Democrats to achieve some of their spending goals, like investing in clean energy, but doing so without contributing to inflation by increasing government deficits. So given that if Democrats manage to get a new spending bill focused on energy across the finish line, the tax increases will likely need to match that spending. So that keeps corporate tax increases and tax increases focused on high income earners on the table. 


Todd Castagno: Finally, before we close, I'm curious if you've heard anything from our economist or equity strategist on what the impact will be on growth, or corporate bottom lines, if some or all of these expirations occur? 


Michael Zezas: Well, tax increases mean higher costs for companies and households. So this becomes one of several factors that our equity strategists say will contribute to the crimping of the bottom line of U.S. companies. And they don't think that's in the price of the stock market quite yet. And so what that ultimately means is that the volatility we've been experiencing in markets is something they think is going to continue. 


Michael Zezas: Todd, thank you so much for talking. 


Todd Castagno: Great talking with you, Michael. 


Michael Zezas: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

Jun 07, 2022
Mike Wilson: Will Earnings Growth Reaccelerate?
00:03:43

While markets look forward to an acceleration in earnings growth and a subsequent rise in valuations over the next year, there are risks to this outlook that investors may want to consider before abandoning a defensive position.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, June 6th, at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Over the past several months, we've been highlighting the declining trend in earnings revision breath. However, it's been a slow moving train and we're barely below zero at this point. This is why forward 12 month earnings estimates are still grinding higher for the S&P 500, and one reason why stocks have rallied over the past few weeks. But now valuations have risen back to 17.5x earnings, despite a rising 10 year Treasury yield. In order for this to make sense, however, one must take the view that earnings growth will reaccelerate later this year. Time will tell, but we think S&P 500 earnings growth will slow further rather than reaccelerate. 


Some have argued these revisions were fully priced, with the major averages down more than 20% year to date. In short, the earnings risk is now understood and the market is looking forward to better growth next year. In the absence of further revisions in the near term, that view can hold up for now. However, if earnings revisions don't reaccelerate, we think the price is too high. This is why we think it could be difficult for the equity market to make much upward progress this summer or fall from current levels. Either the price needs to come down to reflect the further earnings risk we foresee or the earnings need to fall. We think both will happen over the course of the second and third quarter earnings season as companies come to the confessional one by one. In the absence of a recession or a shock like the COVID lockdowns, negative earnings revisions typically take longer than they should, and this time is likely to be no different. 


Therefore, we remain open minded to the idea of stocks hanging around current levels and even rallying further in the near term, especially if there is some kind of pause or cease fire in the Russia Ukraine war. However, even if that were to happen, we don't think this reverses the fire and ice that is now well-established but incomplete. Bottom line, the bear market rally that began a few weeks ago can continue for a few more weeks until the Fed makes it crystal clear they remain hawkish and earnings revisions fall well into negative territory. That combination should ultimately take the S&P 500 down towards our 3400 target by mid to late August. 


As we've been highlighting all year, equity investors should be more focused on single stocks and relative opportunities across sectors. In that regard, real estate has seen the strongest earnings revisions over the past 4 weeks. Food, beverage and tobacco, commercial and professional services and materials have also seen a positive change in revisions. Finally, capital goods and the overall industrial sector have fared relatively well over the past 4 weeks, as their absolute revisions have remained flat. 


The weakest revisions have come from consumer and tech industry groups, two areas we remain underweight. Food and staples retailing revisions have collapsed over the past 4 weeks, as concerns over cost pressures on top of already thin margins hit the space. Consumer discretionary has also continued to see weakness in revisions over the past 4 weeks, despite some modest relief more recently over the past 2 weeks. 


Bottom line, U.S. stocks appear in the midst of a bear market rally that could run a few weeks longer. The Nasdaq and small cap indices will outperform under that view in the short term. However, we remain defensively positioned into the fall when a more durable low in equity markets is likely to coincide with a bottom in earnings growth. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show.

Jun 06, 2022
Special Encore: Mid-Year Economic Outlook - Slowing or Stopping?
00:10:29

Original Release on May 17th, 2022: As we forecast the remainder of an already uncertain 2022, new questions have emerged around economic data, inflation and the potential for a recession. Chief Cross Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Chief Global Economist Seth Carpenter discuss.


----- Transcript -----

Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets. Morgan Stanley's Chief Cross-Asset Strategist. 


Seth Carpenter: And I'm Seth Carpenter, Morgan Stanley's Chief Global Economist. 


Andrew Sheets: And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about our outlook for strategy and markets and the challenges they may face over the coming months. It's Tuesday, May 17th, at 4 p.m. in London. 


Seth Carpenter: And it's 11 a.m. in New York. 


Andrew Sheets: So Seth, the global Morgan Stanley Economic and Strategy Team have just completed our mid-year outlook process. And, you know, this is a big collaborative effort where the economists think about what the global economy will look like over the next 12 months, and the strategists think about what that could mean for markets. So as we talk about that outlook, I think the economy is the right place to start. As you're looking across the global economy and thinking about the insights from across your team, how do you think the global economy will look over the next 12 months and how is that going to be different from what we've been seeing? 


Seth Carpenter: So I will say, Andrew, that we titled our piece, the economics piece, slowing or stopping with a question mark, because I think there is a great deal of uncertainty out there about where the economy is going to go over the next six months, over the next 12 months. So what are we looking at as a baseline? Sharp deceleration, but no recession. And I say that with a little bit of trepidation because we also try to put out alternative scenarios, the way things could be better, the way things could be worse. And I have to say, from where I'm sitting right now, I see more ways for the global economy to be worse than the global economy to be better than our baseline scenario. 


Andrew Sheets: So Seth, I want to dig into that a little bit more because we're seeing, you know, more and more people in the market talk about the risk of a slowdown and talk about the risk of a recession. And yet, you know, it's also hard to ignore the fact that a lot of the economic data looks very good. You know, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates that we've seen in the U.S. in some time. Wage growth is high, spending activity all looks quite high and robust. So, what would drive growth to slow enough where people could really start to think that a recession is getting more likely?


Seth Carpenter: So here's how I think about it. We've been coming into this year with a fair amount of momentum, but not a perfectly pristine outlook on the economy. If you take the United States, Q1, GDP was actually negative quarter on quarter. Now, there are a lot of special exceptions there, inventories were a big drag, net exports were a big drag. Underlying domestic spending in the U.S. held up reasonably solidly. But the fact that we had a big drag in the U.S. from net exports tells you a little bit about what's going on around the rest of the world. If you think about what's going on in Europe, we feel that the economy in the eurozone is actually quite precarious. The Russian invasion of Ukraine presents a clear and critical risk to the European economy. I mean, already we've seen a huge jump in energy prices, we've seen a huge jump in food prices and all of that has got to weigh on consumer spending, especially for consumers at the bottom end of the income distribution. And what we see in China is these wave after wave of COVID against the policy of COVID zero means that we're going to have both a hit to demand from China and some disruption to supply. Now, for the moment, we think the disruption to supply is smaller than the hit to demand because there is this closed loop approach to manufacturing. But nevertheless, that shock to China is going to hurt the global economy. 


Andrew Sheets: So Seth, the other major economic question that's out there is inflation, and you know where it's headed and what's driving it. So I was hoping you could talk a little bit about what our forecasts for inflation look like going forward. 


Seth Carpenter: Our view right now is that inflation is peaking or will be peaking soon. I say that again with a fair amount of caution because that's been our view for quite some time, and then we get these additional surprises. It's clear that in many, many economies, a huge amount of the inflation that we are seeing is coming from energy and from food. Now energy prices and food prices are not likely to fall noticeably any time soon. But after prices peak, if they go sideways from there, the inflationary impulse ends up starting to fade away and so we think that's important. We also think, the COVID zero policy in China notwithstanding, that there will be some grudging easing of supply chain frictions globally, and that's going to help bring down goods inflation as well over time. So we think inflation is high, we think inflation will stay high, but we think that it's roughly peaked and over the balance of this year and into next year it should be coming down.


Andrew Sheets: As you think about central bank policy going forward, what do you think it will look like and do you think it can get back to, quote, normal? 


Seth Carpenter: I will say, when it comes to monetary policy, that's a question we want to ask globally. Right now, central banks globally are generically either tight or tightening policy. What do I mean by that? Well, we had a lot of EM central banks in Latin America and Eastern Europe that had already started to hike policy a lot last year, got to restrictive territory. And for those central banks, we actually see them starting to ease policy perhaps sometimes next year. For the rest of EM Asia, they're on the steady grind higher because even though inflation had started out being lower in the rest of EM Asia than in the developed market world, we are starting to see those inflationary pressures now and they're starting to normalize policy. And then we get to the developed market economies. There's hiking going on, there's tightening of policy led by the Fed who's out front. What does that mean about getting back to an economy like we had before COVID? One of the charts that we put in the Outlook document has the path for the level of GDP globally. And you can clearly see the huge drop off in the COVID recession, the rapid rebound that got us most of the way, but not all the way back to where we were before COVID hit. And then the question is, how does that growth look as we get past the worst of the COVID cycle? Six months ago, when we did the same exercise, we thought growth would be able to be strong enough that we would get our way back to that pre-COVID trend. But now, because supply has clearly been constrained because of commodity prices, because of labor market frictions, monetary policy is trying to slow aggregate demand down to align itself with this restricted supply. And so what that means is, in our forecast at least, we just never get back to that pre-COVID trend line. 


Seth Carpenter: All right, Andrew, but I've got a question to throw back at you. So the interplay between economics and markets is really uncertain right now. Where do you think we could be wrong? Could it be that the 3%, ten-year rate that we forecast is too low, is too high? Where do you think the risks are to our asset price forecasts? 


Andrew Sheets: Yeah, let me try to answer your question directly and talk about the interest rate outlook, because we are counting on interest rates consolidating in the U.S. around current levels. And our thinking is partly based on that economic outlook. You know, I think where we could be wrong is there's a lot of uncertainty around, you know, what level of interest rate will slow the economy enough to balance demand and supply, as you just mentioned. And I think a path where U.S. interest rates for, say, ten year treasuries are 4% rather than 3% like they are today, I think that's an environment where actually the economy is a little bit stronger than we expect and the consumer is less impacted by that higher rate. And it's going to take a higher rate for people to keep more money in savings rather than spending it in the economy and potentially driving that inflation. So I think the path to higher rates and in our view does flow through a more resilient consumer. And those higher rates could mean the economy holds up for longer but markets still struggle somewhat, because those higher discount rates that you can get from safe government bonds mean people will expect, mean people will expect a higher interest rate on a lot of other asset classes. In short, we think the risk reward here for bonds is more balanced. But I think the yield move so far this year has been surprising, it's been historically extreme, and we have to watch out for scenarios where it continues. 


Seth Carpenter: Okay. That's super helpful. But another channel of transmission of monetary policy comes through exchange rates. So the Fed has clearly been hiking, they've already done 75 basis points, they've lined themselves up to do 50 basis points at at least the next two meetings. Whereas the ECB hasn't even finished their QE program, they haven't started to raise interest rates yet. The Bank of Japan, for example, still at a really accommodative level, and we've seen both of those currencies against the dollar move pretty dramatically. Are we in one of those normal cycles where the dollar starts to rally as the Fed begins to hike, but eventually peaks and starts to come off? Or could we be seeing a broader divergence here? 


Andrew Sheets: Yeah. So I think this is to your point about a really interesting interplay between markets and Federal Reserve policy, because what the Fed is trying to do is it's trying to slow demand to bring it back in line with what the supply of things in the economy can provide at at current prices rather than it at higher prices, which would mean more inflation. And there's certainly an important interest rate part to that slowing of demand story. There's a stock market part of the story where if somebody's stock portfolio is lower, maybe they're, again, a little bit less inclined to spend money and that could slow the economy. But the currency is also a really important element of it, because that's another way that financial markets can feed back into the real economy and slow growth. And if you know you're an American company that is an exporter and the dollar is stronger, you likely face tougher competition against overseas sellers. And that acts as another headwind to the economy. So we think the dollar strengthens a little bit, you know, over the next month or two, but ultimately does weaken as the market starts to think enough is priced into the Fed. We're not going to get more Federal Reserve interest rates than are already implied by the market, and that helps tamp down some of the dollar strength that we've been seeing. 


Andrew Sheets: And Seth thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Seth Carpenter: Andrew, it's been great talking to you. 


Andrew Sheets: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

Jun 03, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Are Central Banks Making a Mistake?
00:02:44

In the years since the Global Financial Crisis, central bank policy has been supportive and predictable. But as the economic backdrop changes, shifts in policy will come with risks and rewards.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Thursday, June 2nd, at 2 p.m. in London. 


The period that followed the global financial crisis was filled with paradoxes. It was a period of serially disappointing economic growth, but exceptional asset class returns. Wealth exploded in relation to the economy, while capital investment withered. It was a period of such fragility that it demanded enormous policy support, yet produced remarkably consistent patterns of performance. 


For example, in 9 of the last 12 years, growth outperformed value, bonds outperformed cash and stocks outperformed commodities. That consistency in performance was mirrored by consistency in the economy. Generally speaking, 2010 through 2021 saw low inflation, weak growth and central bank policy that was both supportive and predictable. 


All of these trends are changing. Year to date, commodities have outperformed stocks, cash has outperformed bonds, and value has outperformed growth. The economic backdrop is also different; growth and inflation are high, capital investment is strong and global central bank policy has been more restrictive and less predictable. 


These shifts have risks, but consider the alternative. Over the last decade, it was common to hear investors worry about the bogged down state of the global economy, with weak growth that required large monetary policy support as far as the eye could see. Low growth and low rates clearly were not optimal. 


However, central banks are now adjusting their strategy. It's easy to argue that policy stayed too accommodative for too long. But hindsight is cheap and easy. What matters now is that policy is normalizing in a significant way. 


More importantly, these shifts are accomplishing central bank goals. Markets assume that central banks in the US, the eurozone and Australia can raise interest rates further without material economic declines. Inflation expectations are now falling, the housing market is cooling and credit risk premiums are back near the long run average, all the while labor markets in the US and Europe remain strong. 


In short, there is a lot of talk about whether central banks are making a mistake, especially given the recent market volatility. But looking at the results overall, we suspect central banks are reasonably happy with how things are going so far. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Jun 02, 2022
U.S. Politics: Market Implications of the Midterm Election
00:07:16

Looking back on the 2016 and 2020 elections, it is clear that elections can have a significant impact on the U.S. economic outlook. The question is whether the coming midterm elections have any meaningful implications. Head of U.S. Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy Michael Zezas and Chief U.S. Economist Ellen Zentner discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of U.S. Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. 


Ellen Zentner: And I'm Ellen Zentner, Morgan Stanley's Chief U.S. Economist. 


Michael Zezas: And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about the 2022 U.S. midterm elections and the potential impact on markets and the economy. It's Wednesday, June 1st, at 10 a.m. in New York. 


Ellen Zentner: Michael, I'm going to start us off here because 13 states have now completed their primaries ahead of the midterm elections. And as our key Beltway observer, I'd love to get your initial impressions. There's a fair amount of belief that Democrats will have a difficult time maintaining majorities in both houses of Congress and maybe some investor complacency around this sort of outcome. So what are you hearing from investors and how should they be thinking about the midterms? 


Michael Zezas: Yeah. I think the word complacency is the correct word to use here. I think in some ways this election hasn't gotten as much attention as it should because in prior elections there was a big macro issue at play, whether it be tax cuts and trade policy in 2016, or in 2020 whether or not another tranche of COVID stimulus aid could get approved based on the election outcome. This election, we think the outcomes will really drive more sectoral impacts. So whether or not tech regulation becomes possible or regulation around cryptocurrency, or could there be a path toward spending more money on renewables and traditional energy exploration. And then, of course, corporate taxes. And then when you couple that with polls and other items suggesting that Republicans are very likely to take control of one or more chambers of Congress, it's easy to put this issue aside and become complacent about it. But Ellen, this focus on the micro doesn't necessarily mean that the outcome doesn't matter for the macro, i.e., the U.S. economic outlook. Can we look back a bit to some prior elections and how they changed the trajectory of your economic outlook? 


Ellen Zentner: So, you know, I would start with 2016 where we had a Republican sweep and that led to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act being passed. It was a significant increase in the fiscal deficit and a good deal of stimulus to the economy. And so we really saw that bear out in 2017 where you already had a late cycle dynamic. At the time we called it ill timed policy, where you're throwing stimulus at the economy, when the economy doesn't really need it, you really want to do the majority of your fiscal stimulus when you're actually in a downturn. Trade policy then followed. And of course, late in 2018 started to really bite the global economy. And that's when we saw the Fed also move,v to the sidelines and start cutting rates because they saw a big slowdown in the global economy that was also hitting the U.S. economy. So fiscal policy there had both an uplifting effect and a depressing effect in the outlook. And then I would point to 2020 where the election outcome really opened the door for further fiscal stimulus related to COVID. So we had already done rounds of significant fiscal stimulus, but then in a Democratic sweep, you had two further rounds of fiscal stimulus related to COVID. And so that also had a very big effect on shaping the economy in terms of the excess savings that households were building up and the amount of excess money in the economy. And so I think those are the two best examples, of course, the two most recent examples. 


Michael Zezas: So a common thread between 2016 and 2020 was that the outcome had one party in control of both chambers of Congress as well as the White House. And it's long been part of our framework that one party control is a prerequisite for Congress providing proactive fiscal aid to the economy. So let's say the conventional thinking about this election is correct and the Republicans pick up control of one or both chambers of Congress. Then we'd expect that Congress would be more reactive to economic conditions than proactive, basically, that the economy would have to demonstrably worsen before you'd see Congress deliver aid. Would that shift in dynamic mean anything to your US economic outlook? 


Ellen Zentner: I mean, our baseline outlook fiscal policy is really not a big factor. The biggest factor coming from fiscal policy has already passed. So late last year we passed a significant infrastructure spending bill and while at the time that had a market impact, it doesn't really have an economic impact until about four quarters later when the bulk of those funds hit the economy. And so that's something that starts to lift growth in the fourth quarter of this year, we estimated by about 3/10 lift to GDP from those funds going out. Otherwise, in our baseline outlook, fiscal policy is just not a big factor. I think when we think about our bear case where we actually have a recession, that would be the first chance for fiscal policy to really kick in meaningfully. But even there, because we don't expect the downturn to be very deep, we expect nothing more than, say, the automatic stabilizers that typically go in to support the economy when jobless claims are rising, and the unemployment rate is rising and other economic factors are weakening. Finally, Michael, I want to ask you about election night and the days that follow. And I'm going to ask this because uncertainty around election outcomes also can impact the economy near term. So how likely is it we'll see the same sort of delays in vote tallies that we saw in 2020?. 


Michael Zezas: Yeah. I think investors should be on guard for a very similar time frame. The problem that drove this delayed tally in 2020 was the growth in use of vote by mail, and that really hasn't changed or is unlikely to change in our view. And of course, the problem is voting by mail, those ballots get tallied separately and sometimes later, as opposed to the machine votes which get tallied much quicker on election night. And like last time, it seems that Democrats tend to use vote by mail more than Republicans. So it creates this dynamic where on election night, initial leads could be misleading and you have to wait until the final votes are tallied in order to understand what the true margin is. So investors should prepare to wait a few days to fully understand, particularly if this is a close election, who is going to control the House of Representatives and who is going to control the Senate. That could create some volatile moments in the parts of the market that are most sensitive to these outcomes. Again, that's going to be sectors that are sensitive to corporate tax changes, tech regulation, crypto regulation and energy spending. 


Michael Zezas: Ellen, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. 


Ellen Zentner: As always, great talking with you, Michael. 


Michael Zezas: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

Jun 01, 2022
Jonathan Garner: Keeping it Simple in Turbulent Times
00:02:55

While there continues to be turbulence in many sectors, such as energy and food, some Asia and Emerging Markets may fare better than others through the second half of an already hectic 2022.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jonathan Garner, Morgan Stanley's Chief Asia and Emerging Markets Equity Strategist. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be talking about our mid-year outlook for Asia and Emerging Markets. It's Tuesday, May the 31st at 8 p.m. in Hong Kong. 


In our mid-year outlook, our advice was to stick with the markets and sectors which have performed well already this year. These are in the main plays on high energy, materials and food prices. In our coverage, this means commodity exporters including Australia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, which we have been overweight for some time. We also added another commodity exporter, Brazil, to this overweight group and reiterated our overweight on energy and materials. 


Despite outperformance, we continue to encounter skepticism that these markets and sectors can continue to perform. And this is mainly due to concerns over global growth, and in particular growth in China. Certainly, it's true that energy and materials tend to perform well late on in the cycle, whereas I.T hardware, semiconductors and consumer discretionary tend to do well coming out of recession. And it's also true that the Chinese economy is weak right now, with data showing a considerable slowdown in April and May. And that is a key reason why we remain cautious on China equities themselves. But we think the combination of underinvestment in the prior cycle in supply and the Russia-Ukraine conflict keep the commodity markets tight for the foreseeable future. 


The pattern of earnings revisions confirms our thesis. Analysts are upgrading numbers for stocks in Australia, Brazil, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, in some cases at an accelerating pace. Whilst they’re downgrading for China, Korea and Taiwan, which are manufacturing exporting and commodity importing markets, Japan is slightly different, with balanced earnings revisions as corporate margins are helped by the recent trend to a weaker yen, amongst other factors. 


Hence, thus far, for some key emerging markets, notably Brazil and Indonesia, their commodity producing and exporting characteristics are offsetting, both from a currency and equity market perspective, the traditionally negative impact on growth from a stronger U.S. dollar and monetary policy tightening by the U.S. Federal Reserve. 


In time, this pronounced pattern of earnings dispersion may reverse and we are on the lookout for a trend reversal. This could be driven by factors like a change in COVID management approach in China or cessation of the conflict in Ukraine. For the time being though, we recommend keeping things simple in turbulent times. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

May 31, 2022
Andrew Sheets: The Changing Story of Inflation
00:03:16

So far this year's economic story has been dominated by inflation and central bank policy, but as that landscape changes, is it time to shift focus back towards growth?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, May 27th at 2 p.m. in London. 


2022 has given investors a lot to chew on. But out of the many developments of this year, one really stands out. It's inflation and the impact that high inflation has had on central bank policy. If you had to pick a defining economic trend in the last 40 years, it was probably the steady moderation of inflation. Then, if you had to pick a defining trend of the last decade, it was the issue of inflation being unusually low, a symptom of weak growth that warranted major central bank support. 


This year, the story changed. Rising prices started to be driven by strong demand that outstripped available supply, rather than COVID related disruptions. The persistence of these rising prices caught central banks and professional forecasters by surprise. Central bank policy then shifted rapidly, a shift that drove bond yields higher, market valuations lower, and defined much of the market's performance year to date. 


But now this story may be changing again, away from inflation and back towards growth. After rocketing higher over the first five months of the year, Morgan Stanley's economists do expect U.S. inflation to moderate for the rest of 2022. Some of this is that we're passing the peak rate of change, recall that on a year over year basis, prices today are being compared to May of 2021, a time when the U.S. vaccination rate was still low and activity was a long ways from being back to normal. 


We're also seeing encouraging signs that some of the worst disruption to supply chains are easing. Fewer ships are sitting off of U.S. ports, unloaded. The cost of freight is declining. Many retailers are now reporting plenty of inventory. And don't just take our word for it. Market based estimates of future inflation have been declining, in both the U.S. and Europe, over the last month. 


If this trend of moderating inflation can hold, there are some important implications. First, at a very simple but very important level, inflation that is high but falling, is much less frightening to the market than inflation that's high, but rising. This should help reduce the market's fear about a more extreme, 1970's style scenario. 


Second, it suggests that expectations of future central bank interest rates don't need to rise much further. That, in turn, could help bond yields stabilize, especially in the U.S. And more stable bond yields could help higher quality parts of the fixed income market, like mortgages and municipal bonds, that tend to be very sensitive to that interest rate volatility. 


The flip side is that as markets focus less on inflation, they will likely focus more on growth, where Morgan Stanley's economists see a sharp deceleration. While short term bounces are possible, we'd like to see more conservative estimates for earnings before assuming that the market's challenges are truly behind it. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you. 

May 27, 2022
Matthew Hornbach: Will Treasury Yields Move Higher?
00:03:15

With growth slowing and the Fed focused on fighting inflation, investors should note that the outlook for government bonds depends on more than just central bank policy.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Matthew Hornbach, Global Head of Macro Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about global macro trends and how investors can interpret these trends for rates and currency markets. It's Thursday, May 26th, at 11 a.m. in New York. 


For government bond markets, the start to 2022 will go down in the history books. Since the start of the year, central banks have delivered changes to monetary policies and associated forward guidance. And as a result, government bond markets have had their worst start to the year in decades. The repricing in markets ultimately came as a result of central banks surprising expectations among economists and market participants alike. 


Heading into the year, our economists thought that the Federal Reserve would continue to buy bonds well into 2022 and that it wouldn't be ready to raise policy rates until 2023. Since then, however, the Fed has stopped its asset purchases, announced plans to shrink its balance sheet starting in June and has hiked short term rates by 75 basis points already. 


Our economists now expect the Fed to deliver two more 50 basis point rate hikes this year, then downshift to a series of 25 basis point moves. At the end of the year, they see the Fed funds target range at 2.5% to 2.75%, and the Fed's balance sheet on its way to $6.5 trillion. 


However, investors should note that the outlook for government bonds depends on more than just central bank policies. For example, projected government deficits and related financing needs will decline substantially this year, and more fully in 2023. In addition, risks to global growth skew to the downside already. 


And as monetary policies tighten, downside risks to growth, and eventually inflation, will increase. These conditions, which traditionally support government bonds, factor into our view for how yields will evolve over the next 12 months. 


We expect U.S. Treasury yields to move higher through 2023, but not materially so. A continued focus on above target inflation should keep the Fed marching towards a neutral level for policy this year. 


Our economists anticipate a front loaded hiking cycle, with early increases in the Fed funds rate being more important than the potential for later ones. With this Fed forecast, we expect front end yields to trace market implied forward yields, largely consistent with two year Treasury yields reaching 3.25% by the end of the year. 


In contrast, demand from investors looking to hedge risks to a weaker outcome for global growth will likely show up in the longer end of the Treasury curve. We think the ten year yield will end the year near 3%, which is a level we were at not that long ago. 


As a result, we're forecasting an inverted yield curve at year end. With inflation remaining high and growth slowing, discussions of stagflation or outright recession should continue to lead investor debate this year. And ultimately, that should limit the degree to which Treasury yields rise into year end. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

May 26, 2022
Asia: Supply Chain Woes, and Opportunities
00:07:52

Stress on supply chains has driven a slowdown in globalization, but there are also investment opportunities emerging, particularly in Asia. Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy Michael Zezas and Asia and Emerging Markets Equity Strategist Daniel Blake discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. 


Daniel Blake: And I'm Daniel Blake from Morgan Stanley's Asia and Emerging Markets Equity Strategy Team. 


Michael Zezas: And on this episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll continue our discussion of a theme that's been rightfully getting a lot of attention - "slowbalization", slowing globalization within an ever more multipolar world. It's Wednesday, May 25th, at 8 a.m. in New York. 


Michael Zezas: So Daniel, over the last few years, Morgan Stanley Research has published a lot of collaborative work across regions and sectors on the increasingly important themes of slowbalization and the multipolar world. But while in the past we focused more on the costs and challenges of this transition, today we want to put a greater emphasis on the opportunities from this theme, particularly in Asia. Investors are acutely aware that one of the key drivers behind this slowbalization trend is the tremendous disruption to the supply chain. You've been publishing a supply chain choke point tracker tool, so maybe let's start there with an update on the current state of supply chains in Asia and what your most recent tracker is indicating. 


Daniel Blake: Thanks, Mike. In short, this is showing that the supply chain in general remains very stressed. And in aggregate, we have not seen any material improvement over the last six weeks. Now, when we look at the aggregate measure put together by our economists, the Morgan Stanley Supply Chain Conditions Index, we are seeing that conditions are still slightly better than the peak of the disruptions and backlogs that occurred in late 2021, particularly around the delta wave in South East Asia. But we haven't seen much further improvement beyond that. Our checkpoint tracker does go down to the individual component or service level, and it shows that supply of certain auto and industrial semis and advanced packaging remains a constraint on downstream production. And we are seeing that show up in corporate results in the tech sector as well as the broader impact on margins that we're seeing into the consumer space. 


Michael Zezas: And one of the pressing issues that investors have been paying attention to is the new shocks to supply chains from China's COVID containment policy. Can you give us an update on the current impact of this policy?


Daniel Blake: Now, so far, this is having a more noticeable impact on the domestic Chinese economy rather than on export markets, with policymakers trying to prioritize industrial output through systems such as closed loop management, which sees workers living on site for extended periods to maintain as much production as possible. The challenge has been most acute where mobility is needed, including in the transportation of raw materials and industrial production within China. Geographically, we've seen the impact on the Pearl River Delta around Shenzhen, the Yangtze River Delta around Shanghai and neighboring provinces, and more recently the capital, Beijing, is seeing an outbreak. So progress has been made on reopening from full lockdowns in Shenzhen and Shanghai gradually, but our China economics team still estimate that about 25% of national GDP is being subject to some additional COVID restrictions. And again, we need to watch out for the progression of the outbreak closely.


Michael Zezas: When do you expect to see an easing of supply chain choke points and what factors could drive that easing? 


Daniel Blake: One of the points in the blue paper from late 2021 was the role on the demand side, the generous stimulus and acute shifts in spending patterns from COVID had in driving demand well above the world's productive capacity, even before you consider the supply disruptions we're seeing. So heading into summer 2022, we get the flip side, which is what our consumer analysts call the great reversion. Stimulus rolls off, fiscal spending does taper, and we see spending returning to categories like travel and tourism and leisure, as opposed to demand for goods and electronics. That may mean we get an outright contraction in some product segments. Now, this downturn may not be the best way, but it's the probably quickest way to get to an easing of supply chain choke points. And we are getting more evidence of this in order cuts across PC and smartphone in Asia. On the more constructive side, we're also seeing CapEx coming into areas like driving edge semiconductor foundry. But we'll also need to watch commodity markets, particularly as we've got agricultural trade channels into the European summer looking highly stressed. And we're seeing policy responses in some markets that are looking to prioritize domestic demand for industrial output and for agricultural output over export markets. So we don't think we're through the worst of this just yet. So we really need to watch for conditions to improve potentially later in 2022. 


Michael Zezas: Now let's zero in for a moment on some sector level observations. Semiconductors, for example, has been one of the sectors most in focus in the context of slowbalization. Can you talk about some of the particular challenges semis are facing in East Asia? 


Daniel Blake: There really are two dimensions, I think to this. One is the centrality of semiconductor companies at the leading edge and the concentration of global production in several key markets, and in particular in Taiwan and Korea. Now, when we look at the challenges here we can see policymakers in major capitals, in D.C. and Beijing, looking to try to encourage more localization, more internalization of supply chains. And that's putting some pressure, but also creating incentives for companies to add new capacity into the U.S., and we're seeing capacity coming into the Japanese market as well. So the challenge and opportunity I think for these leading companies is to try to manage those pressure points and protect return on invested capital as much as possible in the face of the need to strengthen and secure additional capacity in supply chains. The other element, which is important in terms of the challenges for semis, is more cyclical and we have seen a surge in demand, we've seen a build up of margins in the industry as it has benefited from this pull forward, from the work from home spending. And on the other side of that, we are going to see a downturn which is potentially exacerbated by the inventory buildup that has happened across the board in semis. Some semiconductor components are still in acute supply, but there are many that are not so disrupted, and when we look at the outlook we have seen inventory build up across the board. The risk is in the downturn, we start to see deeper order cuts because the inventory in aggregate is actually higher than what we've seen historically. 


Michael Zezas: Now shifting towards some macro level takeaways. The dynamic between the U.S. and China could be challenging, but is also creating potential opportunities for other countries such as Vietnam, India and Indonesia. Can you walk us through the tailwinds as well as the headwinds for these countries and what they're doing to take advantage of the situation? 


Daniel Blake: Yes, in Asia-Pacific, we have seen Vietnam already playing an important role for corporates as a complement to Chinese supply chains. It's smaller, but it's a natural extension of existing production facilities in China. But we've also seen policy and corporate momentum, the reform story, improving most notably in India, but also improving in Indonesia. And both markets have enacted quite deep and broad reform programs to lower corporate tax rates, to liberalize foreign direct investment rules, to invest in infrastructure and generally to make their market more attractive for multinational corporates as they're reassessing their supply chain strategy and looking to diversify. In terms of our preferences we are currently overweight Indonesia right now in our Asia Pacific, ex-Japan and Emerging Markets rankings. It benefits from strong commodity export dynamics and we also see long term opportunities coming through in terms of supply chain investments in Indonesia. But India has a very attractive long run story. If we can see continued execution, this market will present both domestic and export opportunities, and the production linked incentives being offered have been taken up by corporates and are helping to drive this foreign direct investment cycle. 


Michael Zezas: Daniel, thanks for taking the time to talk. It was great to have you here in person. 


Daniel Blake: Great speaking with you, Michael. 


Michael Zezas: And thanks for listening. For a look inside some of the human impacts of the recent supply chain disruptions, and how people are trying to resolve them, check out the latest season of Morgan Stanley's podcast "Now, What's Next?" on your podcast app of choice. If you enjoyed this show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

May 25, 2022
Sheena Shah: What is Causing the Crypto Downturn?
00:03:55

So far this year cryptocurrencies have been on a swift downturn, increasingly in line with equity market moves. What's behind this correlation? And what should investors watch out for next?


Digital assets, sometimes known as cryptocurrency, are a digital representation of a value that function as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, or a store of value, but generally do not have legal tender status. Digital assets have no intrinsic value and there is no investment underlying digital assets. The value of digital assets is derived by market forces of supply and demand, and is therefore more volatile than traditional currencies’ value. Investing in digital assets is risky, and transacting in digital assets carries various risks, including but not limited to fraud, theft, market volatility, market manipulation, and cybersecurity failures—such as the risk of hacking, theft, programming bugs, and accidental loss. Additionally, there is no guarantee that any entity that currently accepts digital assets as payment will do so in the future. The volatility and unpredictability of the price of digital assets may lead to significant and immediate losses. It may not be possible to liquidate a digital assets position in a timely manner at a reasonable price.


Regulation of digital assets continues to develop globally and, as such, federal, state, or foreign governments may restrict the use and exchange of any or all digital assets, further contributing to their volatility. Digital assets stored online are not insured and do not have the same protections or safeguards of bank deposits in the US or other jurisdictions. Digital assets can be exchanged for US dollars or other currencies, but are not generally backed nor supported by any government or central bank.


Before purchasing, investors should note that risks applicable to one digital asset may not be the same risks applicable to other forms of digital assets. Markets and exchanges for digital assets are not currently regulated in the same manner and do not provide the customer protections available in equities, fixed income, options, futures, commodities or foreign exchange markets.


Morgan Stanley and its affiliates do business that may relate to some of the digital assets or other related products discussed in Morgan Stanley Research. These could include market making, providing liquidity, fund management, commercial banking, extension of credit, investment services and investment banking.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Sheena Shah, Lead Cryptocurrency Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I will be talking about the crypto bear market. It's Tuesday, May 24th, at 2 p.m. in London. 


Bitcoin is down 55% from its November 2021 high, and currently trades at around $30,000. Over that same period, crypto market capitalization has lost over $1 trillion. All the while, Bitcoin's correlation with the equity markets has risen to new highs. So what is going on? Who is selling and what should we watch out for next? 


In 2018, retail investors were dominant in crypto markets, participating in 80% of trading volumes on Coinbase, the large crypto exchange. Today, the story couldn't be more different, with only 1/4 of trading volumes on Coinbase being with retail investors. Institutions, and more specifically crypto institutions, appear to have taken over, many of which are simply trading with each other. We think retail investors are more likely to buy and hold, but institutional investors are willing to both buy and sell crypto, if it means they can make a return. And because institutional investors are sensitive to the availability of capital and therefore interest rates, they trade crypto somewhat in sympathy with the way equities are traded. This shift in the type of market participant is key to understanding why crypto markets are selling off at the same time as the equity markets are experiencing a downturn. 


Cryptocurrency prices rose rapidly in 2020 and 2021, attracting a new set of investors. Bitcoin rose 10x from March 2020 to its first peak in April 2021. Ether, the second largest crypto, rose even more, over 40x in a similar period. The stimulus provided by central banks and governments throughout the pandemic was the key driver of the crypto bull market. As the Federal Reserve indicated late last year that it plans to raise interest rates and reduce the size of its balance sheet, crypto markets began to weaken. 


The downturn is now starting to have a broader impact on the crypto ecosystem. In mid-May a stablecoin called Terra Dollar, or UST, lost its peg to the U.S. dollar, which meant it was no longer trading at $1 USD and instead trades closer to $0 USD. UST lost its peg as it was backed by cryptocurrencies, which themselves were losing value, and because market makers no longer trusted the ability of the stablecoin to retain its dollar peg. There was a negative spillover into Bitcoin and other cryptos, with the largest stablecoin called Tether briefly losing its dollar peg intraday. Tether is the other side of half of all bitcoin traded on exchanges, so its stability is extremely important for the broader crypto market. The dollar asset reserves that backed Tether will continue to be scrutinized and questioned by market participants. Stablecoins are used to create leverage in decentralized finance crypto systems, and that leverage is now falling as crypto traders, that may have bought Bitcoin or other cryptos, have faced margin calls. 


In general, the elevated prices were traded on speculation, with limited real user demand. NFT and digital land prices are next areas to watch. Of course, many are looking for signs of a market turnaround. The retail investors may have been outnumbered by institutions, but they haven't gone away. The downturn may continue if central banks persist in their policy of tightening, but the strong hands of these retail investors have historically served as a support to falling prices. 


Thank you for listening. If you enjoy thoughts on the market, share this and other episodes with a friend or colleague today. 

May 24, 2022
Mike Wilson: 2022 Mid-Year Takeaways
00:03:38

As we enter the second half of 2022, the market is signaling a continued de-rating of equities, lingering challenges for consumers, and an increased bearishness among equity investors.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, May 23rd at 9 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


As we’ve discussed our mid-year outlook the past few weeks, I'd like to share some key takeaways on today's podcast. First, the de-rating of equities is no longer up for debate. However, there is disagreement on how low price earnings multiple should fall. We believe the S&P 500 price earnings multiple will fall towards 14x, ahead of the oncoming downward earnings revisions, which is how we arrive at our near-term overshoot of fair value of 3400 for the S&P 500. 


Second, the consumer is still a significant battleground. While COVID has been a terrible period in history, many U.S. consumers, like companies, benefited financially from the pandemic. Our view coming into 2022 was that this tailwind would end for most households, as we anniversaried the stimulus, asset prices de-rated and inflation in non discretionary items like shelter, food and energy ate into savings. Consumer confidence readings for the past six months support our view. Yet many investors have continued to argue the consumer is likely to surprise on the upside with spending, as they use excess savings to maintain a permanently higher plateau of consumption. 


Third, technology bulls are getting more concerned on growth. This is new and in stark contrast to the first quarter when tech bulls argued work from home benefited only a few select companies, while most would continue to see very strong growth from positive secular trends for technology spend. Some bulls have even argued technology spending is no longer cyclical but structural and non-discretionary, especially in a world where costs are rising so much. We disagree with that view and argue technology spending would follow corporate cash flow growth and sentiment. 


We have found many technology investors are now on our page and more worried about companies missing forecasts. While some may view this as bullish from a sentiment standpoint, we think it's a bearish sign as formerly dedicated tech investors will be more hesitant to buy the dip. In short, we believe technology spending is likely to go through a cyclical downturn this year, and it could extend to even the more durable areas like software. 


Finally, energy is the one sector where a majority of investors are consistently bullish now. This is not necessarily a contrarian signal in our view, but we are a bit more concerned about the recent crowding as energy remains the only sector other than utilities that is up on the year. With oil and gasoline prices so high, there is a growing risk we have reached a level of demand destruction. We remain neutral on energy with a positive bias for the more defensive names that pay a solid dividend.


Bottom line, equity clients are bearish overall and not that optimistic about a quick rebound. While this is a necessary condition for a sustainable low in equity prices, we don't think it's a sufficient one. While our 12 month target for the S&P 500 is 3900, we expect an overshoot to the downside this summer that could come sooner rather than later. We think 3400 is a level that more accurately reflects the earnings risk in front of us, and expect that level to be achieved by the end of the second quarter earnings season, if not sooner. Vicious bear market rallies will continue to appear until then, and we would use them to lighten up on stocks most vulnerable to the oncoming earnings reset. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people to find the show.

May 23, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Finding Order in Market Chaos
00:02:58

2022 is off to a rocky start for markets, but there is an organization to this downturn that is unlike recent episodes of market weakness, meaning investors can use tried-and-true strategies to bring order to the chaos.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, May 20th, at 3 p.m. in London. 


There are a lot of ways to describe the market at the moment. One that I'm increasingly fond of is "organized chaos". 


Chaos because, well, the year is off to a historically bad start. Year to date, the S&P 500 is down about 20%. The U.S. aggregate bond index is down about 9%. And almost every asset class that isn't commodities has posted negative returns. This weakness has been both large and relentless. For the stock market, it's been seven straight weeks of losses. 


Yet all of this weakness has also been surprisingly organized. The worst performing parts of the stock market have been the most expensive, least profitable parts of it. After being unusually low for a long time, bond yields and credit spreads have risen. After outperforming to an extreme degree, growth stocks and U.S. equities are now lagging. Indeed, if you don't know how a particular asset class has done this year, "moving closer to its long run valuation average" is a pretty good guess. 


So as difficult as 2022 has been, many tried and true strategies are working. Rules based approaches, also known as systematic strategies, have in some cases been performing quite well. Relative value strategies, which trade within an asset class based on relative valuation, yield, momentum or fundamentals, have been working unusually well. 


That's different from four prior episodes that saw similar or greater weakness than we see today. Those episodes being the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2009, the European sovereign crisis of 2011 and 2012, the volatility shocks of 2018 and Covid's emergence in 2020. Each of these four instances were notable for being disorganized, stressed, with very unusual movements below the market surface. 


Why does this matter? First, it suggests that investors should move toward relative value in this environment, which has been working, rather than taking large directional positions. 


Second, it suggests that this downturn is different from those that we've known since 2008. It is still difficult, but it is more gradual, less stressed, and more about specific debates around growth and risk premiums, than existential questions such as whether the banking system or the European Union will survive. While that difference has many potential implications, one specific one is that it’s less problematic for high quality credit, which did unusually poorly during these more recent crises, but which we think will do better this time around. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

May 20, 2022
Mid-Year Outlook: European Energy & Growth Challenges
00:09:36

With rising prices already on the minds of investors and consumers, the outlook in Europe remains challenged across supply chains, inflation rates and energy markets. Chief European Economist Jens Eisenschmidt and Global Oil Strategist and Head of the European Energy Team Martijn Rats discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Jens Eisenschmidt: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jens Eisenschmidt, Morgan Stanley's Chief European Economist. 


Martijn Rats: And I'm Martijn Rats, Morgan Stanley's Global Commodity Strategist and Head of the European Energy Research Team. 


Jens Eisenschmidt: And today on the podcast, we will be talking about the outlook for the European economy for the next 12 months in the very challenging context of rising energy prices and sustained inflationary pressure. It's Thursday, May 19, at 4 p.m. in London. 


Jens Eisenschmidt: So, Martin, I wanted to talk with you today about some burning issues that seem to be topmost on everybody's mind these days, namely rising energy prices and inflation. These challenges are affecting literally everyone. And Europe, in particular, is acutely feeling the impact from the war in Ukraine. Let's maybe pick up with a topic you discussed on this podcast back in January. So even prior to the war in Ukraine, you talked about five enduring tailwinds boosting commodities. So far in 22, commodities are on track to outperform equities for the second consecutive year. Now that we are approaching the mid-year mark, what's your outlook for the second half of 22 in terms of commodities and which ones are likely to outperform the most in the current environment? 


Martijn Rats: Some things have changed, but also a lot of things are still the same when it comes to the outlook for commodities. Commodities move in long cycles. The last decade was, on the whole, more challenging, but we think that we're still in the relatively early innings of what could be a long cycle ahead. You already mentioned the five enduring tailwinds that we've previously written about and discussed on podcasts like this. First of all, is inflation. Commodities often do well in inflationary periods, and the inflationary pressures are still there, that's one. Secondly, geopolitical risk. Thirdly, there's the energy transition. For a broad range of commodities the energy transition is a demand tailwind, but for a lot of others, it's basically a red flag not to invest in supply. Then fourthly, a lot of commodities have gone through a long period of very little investment. That sets up a tighter supply outlook. And then finally there's reopening. A lot of reopening has already played out, but there are still important pockets of reopening that have yet to fully materialize. A lot of that thesis is still the same. And I would expect that this will carry the commodity asset class for some time. Now, in terms of how things have changed at the start of the year, we were more optimistic about demand for a lot of commodities, and those expectations have come down a little bit because the economic slowdown, because of China. But we were also more optimistic about the supply for those commodities. We've seen a lot of headwinds in terms of the supply of a broad range of commodities, particularly because of the war in the Ukraine. So net net our balances are broadly still equally tight, if not slightly tighter, and that's to still set up the commodity asset class quite well. Also for the second half, the ones that we prefer the most, it's mostly the energy commodities. We think they'll do better than the metals. That is already happening as we speak, but there is more to come in that relative trade in the second half as well. 


Jens Eisenschmidt: Let's talk a little bit about oil. You've said that you continue to see upside to oil prices, even though the nature of your thesis has changed since the start of the year. Could you walk us through your thinking specifically around oil? 


Martijn Rats: Yes. At the start of the year, we were thinking that oil demand could grow this year by something like 3.5 to 4 million barrels a day, year over year compared to 2021. And that expectation had turned out to be too optimistic. There are basically two reasons for that. First of all, is China. The Zero-Covid policies in China and the stringent lockdowns that have come with that means that at the moment we're probably losing something like 1.5 to 2 million barrels a day of oil demand in China right now. Now, that might not last the entire year, but there is a material effect. And then also economic growth expectations have come down. And as a result, we also had to moderate our oil demand forecasts. But then on the supply side, we had to make even bigger changes. Russian production has fallen by broadly a million barrels a day already, and we think that that will continue to fall by another million barrels a day in the second half of the year. So when you add it all up, I'm sure our demand expectations have fallen, but they are already at a level that I would say is reflective of the current situation while there's still meaningful supply risks and when you put those two things combined, actually our balances are even slightly tighter than they were at the start of the year. Hence the call, as we've had it for a while, for $130 brent by the third quarter. 


Jens Eisenschmidt: Turning to the European gas markets. Gas prices in Europe are roughly five times as high as in the U.S., reflecting the increased risk to Russian supply created by the war in Ukraine. What are your expectations in terms of Europe following through on its intent to phase out Russian gas? And what potential scenarios do you see playing out here? 


Martijn Rats: The story about European gas is is quite a bit different from what it is to oil. There is clearly heightened risk in the European gas market right now that is reflected in price. As a result, the price is well above historical levels, is well above the levels that prevail in the United States. But that also means that a lot of the world's seaborne gas, a lot of those cargoes of LNG at the moment are ending up in Europe. At the same time. Russian flows of natural gas into Europe are low, but they by and large continue. And when you put all of that together, actually, judging by, you know, the normal fundamental metrics that we look at, the European gas market right here, right now today is actually relatively soft. But all of that is, of course, drowned out by the risk that Russian supplies may be impacted. Now, that remains very difficult to call in the short run. That's also the reason why you see European gas prices being so volatile. What does strike us to be the case is that Europe will wean itself off Russian gas over the next sort of 5, 6, 7 years towards the end of the decade. That will require a lot of LNG to come to Europe and also a fair amount of demand erosion. Neither of these things will happen with low prices. We have low conviction on what happens to European natural gas prices in the short run, admittedly, but we have high conviction that gas prices will need to stay high, if not very high by historical standards for several years to come to allow the European gas markets to move away from Russian supplies.


Jens Eisenschmidt: Maybe one last word on metals. What are your expectations for metals, especially vis a vis what you just said about energy? 


Martijn Rats: If you look at metals for most of the metals, practically all of them, China is a huge factor in setting the demand outlook. So where would we be cautious at the moment is in the precise trajectory of the demand recovery in China. At the same time, we are quite concerned about the supply outlook, particularly as of Russia. So if you put all of that together, the metals suffer much more from weak Chinese demand, whilst the energy commodities are much more impacted by tight supply because of the Russian situation. So our preference over the last couple of months, for some time already, to be honest, has been to prefer the energy commodities. Whilst we think that the metals will probably stay a little weaker for some time to come because of their dominant exposure to Chinese demands factors. So there is a strong story to be told about many of the metals over the next sort of 5, 6, 7 years around energy transition. But right here, right now, we're biding our time a little bit with the metals. Jens, the 1Q GDP and inflation numbers confirms that supply shocks are hitting hard on the European economy, even after its strong post-COVID recovery in 2021. In your mid-year outlook, you refer to the set of challenges facing Europe as a perfect storm. Tell us why the situation looks so challenging from where you stand. 


Jens Eisenschmidt: Yes, you're right, Martin. It's very difficult in these days to get very optimistic about the growth outlook. I mean, we started the year actually on a much brighter note with a growth outlook of 3.9% for 22 for the euro area and had to revise it consecutively down to 3 to 2.7 and now to 2.6. And this is all on the back of as you mentioned, supply side shocks. First of all, we would have, of course, a huge hit to disposable income through inflation. Also, as we don't really see the wage developments catching quite up to that number. We are facing here a shock to confidence that we have seen emanating from both the war, but also from more generally the developments surrounding us. We have recently seen news from increased chances for more supply chain issues coming our way, for instance, out of China. Plus, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Federal Reserve has started to aggressively rein into their inflation that has significant domestic demand component to it. Overall, it's very difficult to see really bright spots here. That's why we have arrived at 2.6% in our forecast, that is despite significant dynamics coming out from the reopening and fiscal stimulus being on the road. So overall, it's a very challenging environment we are in. 


Jens Eisenschmidt: Martijn, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Martijn Rats: Thanks, Jens was great to speak with you. 


Jens Eisenschmidt: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

May 20, 2022
Global Politics: The Opportunity for Mexico
00:05:47

As we continue to track the trends of 'slowbalization' and the shift towards a multipolar world, Mexico stands out as an economy uniquely positioned to benefit from these changes. Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy Michael Zezas and Mexico Equity Strategist Nik Lippmann discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. 


Nik Lippmann: I'm Nik Lippmann, Mexico Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. 


Michael Zezas: And on this episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll be discussing the trend towards slowbalization within a multipolar world, a move that's been accelerated by recent geopolitical events, and in particular, the opportunity for Mexico and global investors. It's Wednesday, May 19th, at 1 p.m. in New York. 


Michael Zezas: So we've talked a lot on this podcast about the trends of slowbalization and the shift to a multipolar world. It's basically the idea that the globe is no longer solely organizing around the same political economy principles. And that, for example, the rise of China as an economic power with a political system that's distinctly different from the West, creates some barriers to economic interconnectedness. And we've talked a lot about how that can create new costs for Western companies and inflationary pressures, as all of a sudden you need to make investments, for example if you're Europe, to build an infrastructure to import natural gas from the U.S. so you don't have to buy it from Russia anymore. But this trend isn't all about creating headwinds and costs for the economy, we think there's opportunity, too. And there's regions that we think stand to benefit from an uptick in investment as American and European companies need to recreate that labor and market access in other parts of the globe. Mexico is one country that stands out to us, and so we want to speak with Nik Lippmann. Nik, can you tell us why you think Mexico is poised to benefit here? 


Nik Lippmann: So I'm sitting down in Mexico watching all this stuff play out from a number of different angles. And it's clear to me that Mexico will play a role. It's right next to the U.S., you have trade tariff protection, and multiple levels of rights are protected by the USMCA. And Mexico has advanced tremendously in terms of advancing the value chain and moving up in terms of complexity. So it's come a long way over the last sort of two decades. And today what we see in Mexico is really a strong ecosystem for electronics and cars and even some aerospace. When I look at this recovery, post-COVID in Mexico, I see kind of an average recovery, to be honest. But right below the headline number, we see something else going on. We see electronics growing 40%. 


Michael Zezas: So you mentioned a lot has changed in Mexico recently that makes this possibility more likely. What is it that changed? Why couldn't this have been a greater opportunity for Mexico earlier? 


Nik Lippmann: I think that after the trade tensions with China, the pandemic, we've just been getting, you know, higher freight costs. We've been getting a number of obstacles to the existing trade framework. So there are certain external policy factors that clearly play in and it's clear that the chip has kind of changed over the course of the beginning of this year and opened the eyes to some of the risks that could be emerging in other parts of the world. It's clear that Mexico's able and fairly high quantities of labor. There will be needs to educate and develop further infrastructure. But Mexico's position and its proven track record in terms of making electronics and cars. I think that can be expanded into other things. And we're seeing the early stages of that on the ground already today.


Michael Zezas: So geopolitics is an obvious catalyst for Mexico to be a beneficiary generally. Specifically, what sectors of the economy in Mexico stand out to you as an opportunity? 


Nik Lippmann: So when we look at what Mexico does today, it makes cars and refrigerators and microwave ovens and stationary computers. It doesn't make laptops, tablets, and I don't think it will ever make tablets, mobile phones. I would imagine that we start seeing ecosystems and I always focus on ecosystems rather than individual companies, that you start having an emergence of some of the low tech health care, aerospace is growing tremendously, even pharma. And I think one of the things that I would expect to happen and it's difficult to have clear evidence today, but I would expect some corporates to at least diversify their existing supply chains rather than just relying on one country. I think Mexico just tends to benefit in that process. 


Michael Zezas: And so as a market strategist, what do you expect to see or how do you expect to see this play out in Mexico's equity markets? 


Nik Lippmann: By and large, I think this is a 3 to 5 year system or thesis or theme that will have a tremendous impact on potentially improving the narrative of Mexico. And it's going to impact a wide range of their corporates that would come on the U.S. side of the border. From the car space to electronics and machinery and what have you. And it doesn't happen from one day to another. But the country's fairly well positioned. I think in terms of the investability impact, clearly a couple of sectors stand out, such as real estate. This is a more than a near-term in theme that would cause us to change the recommendation from here till the year end 22. I think it's a key fact in terms of how we suggest investors to have allocation within Mexico focus on industrials, external sectors and real estate with exposure to the U.S.. And I think for a lot of investors in U.S. corporates, in manufacturing and out of the auto space and other sectors, this is a super important longer term theme that can affect and maybe redevelop to some degree in Mexico investment narrative. 


Michael Zezas: Nik, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Nik Lippmann: Thanks, Mike, for inviting me. 


Michael Zezas: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people find the show. 

May 18, 2022
Mid-Year Economic Outlook: Slowing or Stopping?
00:10:22

As we forecast the remainder of an already uncertain 2022, new questions have emerged around economic data, inflation and the potential for a recession. Chief Cross Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Chief Global Economist Seth Carpenter discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets. Morgan Stanley's Chief Cross-Asset Strategist. 


Seth Carpenter: And I'm Seth Carpenter, Morgan Stanley's Chief Global Economist. 


Andrew Sheets: And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about our outlook for strategy and markets and the challenges they may face over the coming months. It's Tuesday, May 17th, at 4 p.m. in London. 


Seth Carpenter: And it's 11 a.m. in New York. 


Andrew Sheets: So Seth, the global Morgan Stanley Economic and Strategy Team have just completed our mid-year outlook process. And, you know, this is a big collaborative effort where the economists think about what the global economy will look like over the next 12 months, and the strategists think about what that could mean for markets. So as we talk about that outlook, I think the economy is the right place to start. As you're looking across the global economy and thinking about the insights from across your team, how do you think the global economy will look over the next 12 months and how is that going to be different from what we've been seeing? 


Seth Carpenter: So I will say, Andrew, that we titled our piece, the economics piece, slowing or stopping with a question mark, because I think there is a great deal of uncertainty out there about where the economy is going to go over the next six months, over the next 12 months. So what are we looking at as a baseline? Sharp deceleration, but no recession. And I say that with a little bit of trepidation because we also try to put out alternative scenarios, the way things could be better, the way things could be worse. And I have to say, from where I'm sitting right now, I see more ways for the global economy to be worse than the global economy to be better than our baseline scenario. 


Andrew Sheets: So Seth, I want to dig into that a little bit more because we're seeing, you know, more and more people in the market talk about the risk of a slowdown and talk about the risk of a recession. And yet, you know, it's also hard to ignore the fact that a lot of the economic data looks very good. You know, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates that we've seen in the U.S. in some time. Wage growth is high, spending activity all looks quite high and robust. So, what would drive growth to slow enough where people could really start to think that a recession is getting more likely?


Seth Carpenter: So here's how I think about it. We've been coming into this year with a fair amount of momentum, but not a perfectly pristine outlook on the economy. If you take the United States, Q1, GDP was actually negative quarter on quarter. Now, there are a lot of special exceptions there, inventories were a big drag, net exports were a big drag. Underlying domestic spending in the U.S. held up reasonably solidly. But the fact that we had a big drag in the U.S. from net exports tells you a little bit about what's going on around the rest of the world. If you think about what's going on in Europe, we feel that the economy in the eurozone is actually quite precarious. The Russian invasion of Ukraine presents a clear and critical risk to the European economy. I mean, already we've seen a huge jump in energy prices, we've seen a huge jump in food prices and all of that has got to weigh on consumer spending, especially for consumers at the bottom end of the income distribution. And what we see in China is these wave after wave of COVID against the policy of COVID zero means that we're going to have both a hit to demand from China and some disruption to supply. Now, for the moment, we think the disruption to supply is smaller than the hit to demand because there is this closed loop approach to manufacturing. But nevertheless, that shock to China is going to hurt the global economy. 


Andrew Sheets: So Seth, the other major economic question that's out there is inflation, and you know where it's headed and what's driving it. So I was hoping you could talk a little bit about what our forecasts for inflation look like going forward. 


Seth Carpenter: Our view right now is that inflation is peaking or will be peaking soon. I say that again with a fair amount of caution because that's been our view for quite some time, and then we get these additional surprises. It's clear that in many, many economies, a huge amount of the inflation that we are seeing is coming from energy and from food. Now energy prices and food prices are not likely to fall noticeably any time soon. But after prices peak, if they go sideways from there, the inflationary impulse ends up starting to fade away and so we think that's important. We also think, the COVID zero policy in China notwithstanding, that there will be some grudging easing of supply chain frictions globally, and that's going to help bring down goods inflation as well over time. So we think inflation is high, we think inflation will stay high, but we think that it's roughly peaked and over the balance of this year and into next year it should be coming down.


Andrew Sheets: As you think about central bank policy going forward, what do you think it will look like and do you think it can get back to, quote, normal? 


Seth Carpenter: I will say, when it comes to monetary policy, that's a question we want to ask globally. Right now, central banks globally are generically either tight or tightening policy. What do I mean by that? Well, we had a lot of EM central banks in Latin America and Eastern Europe that had already started to hike policy a lot last year, got to restrictive territory. And for those central banks, we actually see them starting to ease policy perhaps sometimes next year. For the rest of EM Asia, they're on the steady grind higher because even though inflation had started out being lower in the rest of EM Asia than in the developed market world, we are starting to see those inflationary pressures now and they're starting to normalize policy. And then we get to the developed market economies. There's hiking going on, there's tightening of policy led by the Fed who's out front. What does that mean about getting back to an economy like we had before COVID? One of the charts that we put in the Outlook document has the path for the level of GDP globally. And you can clearly see the huge drop off in the COVID recession, the rapid rebound that got us most of the way, but not all the way back to where we were before COVID hit. And then the question is, how does that growth look as we get past the worst of the COVID cycle? Six months ago, when we did the same exercise, we thought growth would be able to be strong enough that we would get our way back to that pre-COVID trend. But now, because supply has clearly been constrained because of commodity prices, because of labor market frictions, monetary policy is trying to slow aggregate demand down to align itself with this restricted supply. And so what that means is, in our forecast at least, we just never get back to that pre-COVID trend line. 


Seth Carpenter: All right, Andrew, but I've got a question to throw back at you. So the interplay between economics and markets is really uncertain right now. Where do you think we could be wrong? Could it be that the 3%, ten-year rate that we forecast is too low, is too high? Where do you think the risks are to our asset price forecasts? 


Andrew Sheets: Yeah, let me try to answer your question directly and talk about the interest rate outlook, because we are counting on interest rates consolidating in the U.S. around current levels. And our thinking is partly based on that economic outlook. You know, I think where we could be wrong is there's a lot of uncertainty around, you know, what level of interest rate will slow the economy enough to balance demand and supply, as you just mentioned. And I think a path  where U.S. interest rates for, say, ten year treasuries are 4% rather than 3% like they are today, I think that's an environment where actually the economy is a little bit stronger than we expect and the consumer is less impacted by that higher rate. And it's going to take a higher rate for people to keep more money in savings rather than spending it in the economy and potentially driving that inflation. So I think the path to higher rates and in our view does flow through a more resilient consumer. And those higher rates could mean the economy holds up for longer but markets still struggle somewhat, because those higher discount rates that you can get from safe government bonds mean people will expect, mean people will expect a higher interest rate on a lot of other asset classes. In short, we think the risk reward here for bonds is more balanced. But I think the yield move so far this year has been surprising, it's been historically extreme, and we have to watch out for scenarios where it continues. 


Seth Carpenter: Okay. That's super helpful. But another channel of transmission of monetary policy comes through exchange rates. So the Fed has clearly been hiking, they've already done 75 basis points, they've lined themselves up to do 50 basis points at at least the next two meetings. Whereas the ECB hasn't even finished their QE program, they haven't started to raise interest rates yet. The Bank of Japan, for example, still at a really accommodative level, and we've seen both of those currencies against the dollar move pretty dramatically. Are we in one of those normal cycles where the dollar starts to rally as the Fed begins to hike, but eventually peaks and starts to come off? Or could we be seeing a broader divergence here? 


Andrew Sheets: Yeah. So I think this is to your point about a really interesting interplay between markets and Federal Reserve policy, because what the Fed is trying to do is it's trying to slow demand to bring it back in line with what the supply of things in the economy can provide at at current prices rather than it at higher prices, which would mean more inflation. And there's certainly an important interest rate part to that slowing of demand story. There's a stock market part of the story where if somebody's stock portfolio is lower, maybe they're, again, a little bit less inclined to spend money and that could slow the economy. But the currency is also a really important element of it, because that's another way that financial markets can feed back into the real economy and slow growth. And if you know you're an American company that is an exporter and the dollar is stronger, you likely face tougher competition against overseas sellers. And that acts as another headwind to the economy. So we think the dollar strengthens a little bit, you know, over the next month or two, but ultimately does weaken as the market starts to think enough is priced into the Fed. We're not going to get more Federal Reserve interest rates than are already implied by the market, and that helps tamp down some of the dollar strength that we've been seeing. 


Andrew Sheets: And Seth thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Seth Carpenter: Andrew, it's been great talking to you. 


Andrew Sheets: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

May 18, 2022
Graham Secker: The Mid-Year Outlook for European Markets
00:03:53

The mid-year outlook for European stocks sees markets encountering a variety of challenges to equity performance, but there may still be some interesting opportunities for investors.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the tricky outlook for European stocks for the second half of the year, and where we think the best opportunities lie. It's Monday, May the 16th at 2 p.m. in London. 


Although the global macro backdrop feels particularly complicated just here, we think the outlook for European equities is relatively straightforward... and, unfortunately, still negative. Over the last month or so our European economists have revised their GDP forecast lower, their inflation forecast higher, and brought forward the timing of ECB interest rate hikes - an unappealing combination for risk assets, even before we consider elevated geopolitical risks. Looking into the second half of the year, we think this backdrop will persist, with European economic growth slowing considerably, but with inflation remaining sticky at around 7% and putting considerable pressure on consumer finances. 


As well as the consumer, we think corporates are also going to feel the squeeze from this backdrop of slowing growth and rising prices. So far, Europe's corporate earnings trend has held up remarkably well this year. However, we think this is about to change and that a new downgrade cycle is likely to start in the coming months. This cycle is likely to reflect two drivers. First, weaker top line demand as new orders slows. And second, a squeeze on corporate margins as companies struggle to pass on their own input costs to customers. If we look at the gap between real GDP growth, which is low, and inflation, which is high, then the decline in margins could be really quite severe. 


Historically, the impact on equity performance from a period of weaker earnings is often offset by a rise in the price-to-earnings ratio, as it usually coincides with more dovish central bank policy. However, this is unlikely to be the case this time, given that inflation is so high and central banks were relatively late to start their hiking cycle. Hence now the pace of rate hikes starts to accelerate as earnings starts to slow. 


Of course, some of this difficult backdrop is already priced into markets, given that investor sentiment appears to be low. However, we do not believe that all of the bad news is yet discounted. European equity valuations are now down to a price-to-earnings ratio of 12.5, which is below the long run average. However, equity markets rarely trough on valuation grounds alone, and a further drop down towards 10-11x looks plausible to us over the summer. While we remain cautious on European equities at the headline level, we do see some interesting opportunities for investors to make money within the markets. 


First, at the country level, we continue to like the UK equity market and specifically the FTSE 100, which is the cheapest major global stock market. And it also benefits from having high defensive characteristics, which means it tends to outperform when global stocks are falling. 


Second, from a sector perspective, we prefer defensive names such as healthcare, telecoms, tobacco and utilities. We do expect to turn more positive on cyclicals later in 2022, but for now it is too early. On average, the best time to buy cyclicals is one month before economic leading indicators trough. The problem now is that these indices haven't started to fall yet. 


Lastly, we continue to favor value stocks over growth stocks. While the latter have underperformed quite significantly so far this year, we think valuations and positioning still remain too high and that a broader reset of expectations is needed before they become attractive again. One value strategy we particularly like here is buying stocks with attractive dividends, as we think these stocks offer an appealing alternative to bonds and provide some protection from higher rates and inflation. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

May 16, 2022
Todd Castagno: Should Shareholders Care About Stock-Based Compensation?
00:03:14

Stock-based employment compensation has gained popularity in recent years, and even investors who don’t receive employment compensation in stock should be asking, is SBC potentially dilutive to shareholders?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Todd Castano, Head of Global Valuation, Accounting and Tax within Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the interesting conundrum around stock based compensation. It's Friday, May 13th at 2 p.m. in New York. 


I don't need to tell listeners that 2022 has been rough on equity prices. And while it may be difficult to look at the double digit drop in the S&P or on your 41k, I'm going to share an interesting ripple effect from the market correction. And that's the impact on employee stock based compensation. And while some listeners may be saying, "this doesn't affect me because I don't receive compensation in stock", it doesn't mean it's not having an effect on your portfolio. But let me start at the beginning. 


For those unfamiliar, stock based compensation, often called SBC, is a form of compensation given to employees or other parties like vendors in exchange for their services. It's a very common way for companies to incentivize employees and to align employee and shareholder interest. When a company does well, everyone does well. Stock options, restricted stock, restricted stock units are currently the most common types of stock based compensation. 


Stock based compensation issuance has gained in popularity, particularly with startups and new issuances, allowing companies without much cash on hand to offer competitive total compensation rates and to attract and retain talent. In fact, 2021 marked the largest annual growth percentage in SBC cost at 27% year over year. Primarily because of new entrants to the equity market through initial public offerings and from the recovery from COVID that triggered performance based bonuses. Let's put a number on it. Stock based compensation is now approaching $250 billion annually, mostly concentrated in technology and communication service sectors. 


So here's where it gets interesting. While stock based incentives encourage employees to perform, they also don't require upfront cash payments. It follows that they also dilute the ownership of existing shareholders by increasing the potential number of shares outstanding. 


So now you may see where I'm going with this in terms of shareholders and your portfolio. While companies have been issuing more stock awards to employees, the double digit year to date decline in equity market has put a lot of these awards underwater. In other words, employees are essentially being paid less, meaning stock based compensation could have the opposite effect, lowering morale and sending some employees to the exits. 


To put another number on it, we estimate nearly 40% of Russell 3000 companies currently are trading below their average stock grant values. Healthcare technology firms in particular appear most exposed. And considering we're in a tight labor market, companies may be forced to issue more grants to offset equity value decreases, further diluting ownership to existing shareholders. 


I point all this out because SBC is generally treated as a non-cash expense and ignored from earnings. Market data vendors also often exclude outstanding awards from market capitalization calculations. So investors may underappreciate the potential dilution SBC brings to their shares. With more dilution on the way as companies attempt to right size employee pay. 


For investors, we believe stock compensation is a real economic expense and should be incorporated in valuation. It may not appear so in bull markets, but this correction has eliminated that reality. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

May 13, 2022
Andrew Ruben: Can eCommerce Sustain its Uptrend?
00:04:20

As consumers deal with rising interest rates, persistent inflation, and a desire to get outside in the ever changing COVID environment, the question is, what does this all mean for the future of eCommerce growth?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Rubin, Morgan Stanley's Latin America Retail and eCommerce Analyst. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the outlook for global e-commerce in the years ahead. It's Thursday, May 12th, at 2 p.m. in New York. 


Amid rising interest rates and persistent inflation, we've seen quite a lot of debate about the health of the consumer and the effect on eCommerce. If you couple those factors with consumers' desire to return to in-person experiences as COVID recedes, you can see why we've fielded a lot of questions about what this all means for eCommerce growth. 


To answer this question, Morgan Stanley's Internet, eCommerce and Retail teams around the world drew on both regional and company level data to fashion what we call, the Morgan Stanley Global eCommerce Model. And what we found was that the forward looking picture may be more robust than some might think. 


While stay at home trends from COVID certainly drove outsized eCommerce growth from 2019 to 2021, we found the trend should stay stronger for longer, with eCommerce set to grow from $3.3 trillion currently to $5.4 trillion in 2026, a compound annual growth rate of 10%. 


And there are a few reasons for that. First, the shift toward online retail had already been in place well before the COVID acceleration. To put some numbers behind that, eCommerce volumes represented 21% of overall retail sales globally in 2021. That's excluding autos, restaurants and services. So, while the rise of eCommerce during the first year of COVID in 2020 is easily explained, the fact that growth persisted in 2021, even on a historically difficult comparison, is evidence, in our view, of real behavioral shift to shopping online. 


Another factor that supports our multi year growth thesis is a trend of broad based eCommerce gains, even for the highest penetration countries and categories. As you might expect, China and the U.S. represent a sizable 64% of global eCommerce volumes, and these countries are the top drivers of our consolidated market estimates. 


But we see higher growth rates for lower penetrated regions, such as Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa, as well as categories like grocery and personal care. Interestingly, however, in our findings, no country or vertical represented a single outsized growth driver. Looking at South Korea, which is the global leader in e-commerce, we expect an increase from 37% of retail sales in 2021 to 45% in 2026. For the electronics category worldwide, which leads all other major categories with 38% penetration, we forecast penetration reaching 43% in 2026. And while there are some headwinds due to logistics in certain countries and verticals, we believe these barriers will continue to come down. 


Another encouraging sign is that globally, we have yet to see a ceiling for eCommerce penetration. We identify three fundamental factors that underpin our growth forecasts and combine for what we see as a powerful set of multi-year secular drivers. First, logistics. We see a big push towards shorter delivery times and lower cost or free delivery. The convenience of delivery to the door is a top differentiating factor of eCommerce versus in-store shopping. And faster speeds can unlock new eCommerce categories and purchase occasions. Second, connectivity. Internet usage is shifting to mobile, and smartphones and apps are increasingly the gateway to consumers, particularly in emerging markets. And these consumers, on average, skew younger and over-index for time spent on the mobile internet. And third is Marketplace. We see a continued shift from first party owned inventory to third party marketplace platforms, connecting buyers and sellers. 


For investors, it's important to note that global eCommerce does not appear to be a winner-take-all market. And this implies opportunity for multiple company level beneficiaries. In particular, investors should look at companies with forecast share gains, exposure to higher growth categories, and discounted trading multiples versus history. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

May 12, 2022
Special Encore: Transportation - Untangling the Supply Chain
00:09:47

Original Release on April 26th, 2022: Global supply chains have been under stress from the pandemic, geopolitical tensions, and inflation, and the outlook for transportation in 2022 is a mixed bag so far. Chief U.S. Economist Ellen Zentner and Equity Analyst for North American Transportation Ravi Shanker discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Ellen Zentner: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ellen Zentner, Chief U.S. Economist for Morgan Stanley Research, 


Ravi Shanker: and I'm Ravi Shanker, Equity Analyst covering the North American Transportation Industry for Morgan Stanley Research. 


Ellen Zentner: And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about transportation, specifically the challenges facing freight in light of still tangled supply chains and geopolitics. It's Tuesday, April 26, at 9:00 a.m. in New York. 


Ellen Zentner: So, Ravi, it's really good to have you back on the show. Back in October of last year we had a great discussion about clogged supply chains and the cascading problems stemming from that. And I hoped that we would have a completely different conversation today, but let's try to pick up where we left off. Could we maybe start today by you giving us an update on where we are in terms of shipping - ocean, ground and air? 


Ravi Shanker: So yes, things have materially changed since the last time we spoke, some for the better and some for the worse. The good news is that a lot of the congestion that we saw back then, whether it was ocean or air, a lot of that has eased or abated. We used to have, at a peak, about 110 ships off the Port of L.A. Long Beach, that's now down to about 30 to 40. The other thing that has changed is we just went from new peak to new all time peak on every freight transportation data point that we were tracking over the last two years. Now all of those rates are collapsing at a pace that we have not seen, probably ever. It's still unclear whether this legitimately marks the end of the freight transportation cycle or if it's just an air pocket that's related to the Russia Ukraine conflict or China lockdowns or something else. But yes, the freight transportation worlds in a very different place today, compared to the last time I was on in October. Ellen, I know you wanted to dig a little more deeply into the current challenges facing the shipping and overall transportation industry. But before we get to that, can you maybe help us catch up on how the complicated tangle created by supply chain disruptions has affected some of the key economic metrics that you've been watching over the last six months? That is between the time we last spoke in October and now. 


Ellen Zentner: Sure. So, we created this global supply chain index to try to gauge globally just how clogged supply chains are. And we did that because, what we've uncovered is that it's a good leading indicator for inflation in the U.S. and on the back of creating that index, we could see that the fourth quarter of last year was really the peak tightness in global supply chains, and it has about a six month lead to CPI. Since then, we started to see some areas of goods prices come down. But unfortunately, that supply chain index stalled in February largely on the back of Russia, Ukraine and on the back of China's zero COVID policy, starting to disrupt supply chains again. So the improvement has stalled. There are some encouraging parts of inflation coming down, but it's not yet broad based enough, and we're certainly watching these geopolitical risks closely. So, Ravi, I want to come back to freight here because you talked about how it's been underperforming for a couple of months now and forward expectations have consistently declined as well. You pointed to it as possibly being just an air pocket, but you're pointing, you're watching closely a number of things and anticipate some turbulence in the second half of the year. Can you walk us through all of that? 


Ravi Shanker: What I can tell you is that it's probably a little too soon to definitively tell if this is just an air pocket or if the cycles over. Again, we are not surprised, and we would not be surprised if the cycle is indeed over because in December of last year, we downgraded the freight transportation sector to cautious because we did start to see some of those data points you just cited with some of the other analysts. So we were expecting the cycle to end in the middle of 22 to begin with, but to see the pace and the slope of the decline and a lot of these data points in the month of March, and how that coincides with the Russia-Ukraine conflict and that the lockdowns in China, I think, is a little too much of a coincidence. So we think it could well be a situation where this is an air pocket and there's like one or two innings left in the cycle. But either way, we do think that the cycle does end in the back half of the year and then we'll see what happens beyond that. 


Ellen Zentner: OK, so you're less inclined to say that you see it spilling over into 2023 or 2024? 


Ravi Shanker: I would think so. Like if this is just a normal freight transportation cycle that typically lasts about 9 to 12 months. The interesting thing is that we have seen 9 to 12 months of decline in the last 4 weeks. So there are some investors in my space who think that the downturn is over and we're actually going to start improving from here. I think that's way too optimistic. But if we do see this continuing into 2023 and 2024 I think there's probably a broader macro consumer problem in the U.S. and it's not just a freight transportation inventory destocking type situation. 


Ellen Zentner: So Ravi, I was hoping that you'd give me a more definitive answer that transportation costs have peaked and will be coming down because of course, it's adding to the broad inflationary pressures that we have in the economy. Companies have been passing on those higher input costs and we've been very focused on the low end consumer here, who have been disproportionately burdened by higher food, by higher energy, by all of these pass through inflation that we're seeing from these higher input costs. 


Ravi Shanker: I do think that rates in the back half of the year are going to be lower than in the first half of the year and lower than 2021. Now it may not go down in a straight line from here, and there may be another little bit of a peak before it goes down again. But if we are right and there is a freight transportation downturn in the back of the year, rates will be lower. But, and this is a very important but, this is not being driven by supply. It's being driven by demand and its demand that is coming down, right. So if rates are lower in the back half of the year and going into 23, that means at best you are seeing inventory destocking and at worst, a broad consumer recession. So relief on inflation by itself may not be an incredible tailwind, if you are seeing demand destruction that's actually driving that inflation relief. 


Ellen Zentner: That's a fair point. Another topic I wanted to bring up is the fact that while freight transportation continues to face significant headwinds, airlines seem to be returning to normal levels, with domestic and international travel picking up post-pandemic. Can you talk about this pretty stark disparity? 


Ravi Shanker: Ellen it's absolutely a stark disparity. It's basically a reversal of the trends that you've seen over the last 2 years where freight transportation, I guess inadvertently, became one of the biggest winners during the pandemic with all the restocking we were seeing and the shift of consumer spend away from services into goods. Now we are seeing the reversion of that. So look, honestly, we were a little bit concerned a month ago with, you know, jet fuel going up as much as it did and with potential concerns around the consumer. But the message we've got from the airlines and what we are seeing very clearly in the data, what they're seeing in the numbers is that demand is unprecedented. Their ability to price for it is unprecedented. And because there are unprecedented constraints in their ability to grow capacity in the form of pilot shortages, obviously very high jet fuel prices and other constraints, I guess there's going to be more of an imbalance between demand and supply for the foreseeable future. As long as the U.S. consumer holds up, we think there's a lot more to come here. So Ellen, let me turn back to you and ask you with freight still facing such big challenges and pressure on both sides on the supply chain. What does that bode for the economy in terms of inflation and GDP growth for the rest of this year and going into next year? 


Ellen Zentner: So I think because, as I said, you know, our global supply chain index has stalled since February. I think that does mean that even though we've raised our inflation forecasts higher, we can still see upside risk to those inflation forecasts. The Fed is watching that as well because they are singularly focused on inflation. GDP is quite healthy. We have a net neutral trade balance on energy. So it actually limits the impact on GDP, but has a much greater uplift on inflation. So you're going to have the Fed feeling very confident here to raise rates more aggressively. I think there's strong consensus on the committee that they want to frontload rate hikes because they do need to slow demands to slow the economy. They do almost need that demand destruction that you were talking about. That's actually something the Fed would like to achieve in order to take pressure off of inflation in the U.S.. But we think that the economy is strong enough, and especially the labor market is strong enough, to withstand this kind of policy tightening. It takes actually 4 to 6 quarters for the Fed to create enough slack in the economy to start to bring inflation down more meaningfully. But we're still looking for it to come in, for core inflation, around 2.5% by the fourth quarter of next year. So, Ravi, thanks so much for taking the time to talk. There's much more to cover, and I definitely look forward to having you back on the show in the future. 


Ravi Shanker: Great speaking with you Ellen. Thanks so much for having me and I would love to be back. 


Thanks for listening. If you're interested in learning more about the supply chain, check out the newest season of Morgan Stanley's podcast, Now, What's Next? If you enjoyed this show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

May 11, 2022
Michael Zezas: Supply Chains and the Course for Inflation
00:03:22

U.S. markets and the Federal Reserve have been grappling with high inflation this year, but could changes in global supply chains help make this problem easier?


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Tuesday, May 10th, at 9 a.m. in New York. 


Inflation is perhaps the key to understanding the markets these days. Elevated inflation is what's driving the Fed to raise interest rates at the fastest pace in a generation. And at the risk of oversimplifying, when interest rates are higher, that means it costs more to get money. And when money is no longer cheap, anything that costs money is harder to buy and therefore might have to fall in value to find a buyer. This is the dynamic the Fed believes will eventually dampen price increases throughout the economy, and it's the dynamic that's likely contributed to stock market prices already declining. 


But what if inflation were to start easing without the Fed raising rates? Could the Fed slow its rate hikes and, consequently, help stop the current stock market sell off? It's an intriguing possibility and investors who want to understand if such an outcome is likely need to carefully watch global supply chains. And to be clear, when we're talking about the supply chain, we're talking about whether companies can produce and deliver sufficient goods in a timely manner to meet demand. When they cannot, as became the case during the pandemic when consumers stopped going out and started buying more things than normal for their homes, prices rise as choke points emerge in key markets where demand outstrips supply. By that logic, if goods producers are able to ramp up production or if consumers shift back to normal, balancing consumption of goods and services, inflation would ease, putting less pressure on the Fed to raise rates. 


So what's the state of global supply chains now? Are there any signs of supply chain easing that may make the Fed's job and investors near-term market experience easier? To answer this question my colleague, Asia and Emerging Market Equity Strategist Daniel Blake, formed a team to create a supply chain choke point tracker. What can we learn from this? In short, the picture is mixed. There's several factors that could lengthen global supply chain stress. COVID spread in China, for example, has led to lockdowns affecting about 26% of GDP, hampering their production of goods. And Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and resulting sanctions response by the U.S. and Europe, has crimped the global supply of oil, natural gas and key agricultural goods. But there's some good news too. Many companies are reporting initial investment and progress towards diversifying and, in some cases, reshoring supply chains, which over time should reduce choke points. 


Still, the challenging news for markets is that a mixed supply chain picture means that monetary policymakers are unlikely to see supply chain easing as a reliable outcome, at least in the near term. Unfortunately, that likely means we'll continue to see risk markets struggle with how to price in a Fed that stays on track to fight inflation through higher interest rates. 


Thanks for listening. If you're interested in learning more about the supply chain, check out the newest season of Morgan Stanley's podcast, Now, What's Next? If you enjoyed this show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

May 10, 2022
Energy: European Power Prices Continue to Climb
00:07:12

While the war in Ukraine has had an effect on the current pricing in European energy markets, there is more to the story of why high prices could persist for years to come. Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Head of European Utilities and Clean Energy Research Rob Pulleyn discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Morgan Stanley's Chief Cross-Asset Strategist. 


Rob Pulleyn: And I'm Rob Pulleyn, Head of the European Utilities and Clean Energy Research Team. 


Andrew Sheets: And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about the outlook for European energy supply and demand, in both the near and long term. It's Monday, May 9th, at 4 p.m. in London. 


Andrew Sheets: So, Rob, we talked a lot on this podcast since March about the effect of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on energy in Europe. I want to talk to you today in part because there are some interesting implications over the long term in the European energy and power markets. But just to level set a little bit what's been going on in European power prices. 


Rob Pulleyn: Sure. For context, Andrew, what's been happening is that European power prices versus 12 months ago are up between 150 and over 300%, depending on which country. They're pretty much at all time highs or slightly off them from where we were earlier this year. Now, what does that flow through to customer bills in places like the UK? Year over year customer bills are going up 60% so far, other country's a little bit lower due to some market intervention. But this is the backdrop. 


Andrew Sheets: Now, you've been talking to a lot of global investors around what's been going on in Europe. What's your most likely case? What's your base case? And then what are some realistic scenarios around that? 


Rob Pulleyn: We outlined four scenarios in the new note. The base case is that we get close to the FIT for 55 climate plan from last year, which envisages 65% renewables penetration by the end of the decade. Now, this is a long way short of the Repower EU plan, which would envisage about twice as much again in terms of the renewable capacity and getting to about an 80% penetration by the end of the decade. And so we see significant growth in renewables. We think coal will be phased out more or less by 2030, but with more burn in the next few years, less gas until gas supplies can be diversified. In terms of market intervention, we continue to think this will be relatively benign for utility stocks because effectively governments need to find a way to help the customer, but also ensure that utilities actually invest in the new power system that governments want. 


Andrew Sheets: But Rob, under your central scenario where power prices are significantly higher, isn't there a feedback mechanism there? Aren't people going to look at their sharply higher utility bills and say, I'm going to use less electricity, I'm going to put in double glazing, I'm going to improve my insulation, I'm going to do all these things that mean I use less energy. Which would hopefully mean less energy gets used and the power price impacts would be less significant. How much can energy efficiency influence the story or not? 


Rob Pulleyn: Now you're quite right. Demand destruction, one way or another, is part of the equation here. There's many renovation tools or new technologies which are now significantly more attractive in economic terms, simply because gas prices and power prices are so high. And whilst previously we thought there'd be a slow burn on many of those routes under the guise of decarbonization, now under cold, hard economics, as you highlight these things should all accelerate. And if I was going to point to one area of incremental policy support, I think it's got to be green gasses like hydrogen. I think that's a genuine route to both diversify gas supplies and also decarbonize. 


Andrew Sheets: So Rob, how do you think about the interplay between the economic backdrop and these power prices? Because it's been the energy shock from the conflict in Ukraine that's driven power prices up, but it's also been something that's led people to worry that European growth might slow, which would reduce the demand for power. So how does that play out as you're thinking about these various scenarios? 


Rob Pulleyn: Sure, it's a great question, Andrew. And let's just start by saying that as it stands today, utility bills contribute around about one third to the inflation rate that we have at the moment. And therefore, if these power prices and gas prices will persist as they stand, then that inflation will also be reasonably persistent. Now, of course, there is still upside risk to power price and gas prices in several scenarios, particularly those where supplies are interrupted, which would then create higher inflation on top of the rates we currently have. This would therefore then flow into the bear case that our economists have for GDP growth. And so the economic impact would of course, be there. Ultimately, GDP is sensitive to the input costs and energy is one of the biggest there is. 


Andrew Sheets: Rob, I also want to ask you about where technology fits into all of this. There are both some exciting advances in energy technology. On the renewable side, renewable energy is getting more efficient. We're seeing some interesting advances in battery storage. When you are trying to model European power consumption out over the next decade, how much of a technological impact are you putting in your numbers? 


Rob Pulleyn: Yeah. So the easy one to talk about is renewables, which is currently about 38% of the European stack. The Repower EU would imply something around 80%, which coincidentally is actually also the German target. Fit for 55 has a plan of 65% across the EU by 2030. We're modeling 62%. So significant increase from where we are today. And of course, where we are with power prices at the moment, then investing in European renewables is actually looking very attractive. I mean, very simply put, the offtake price is increasing more than the input cost inflation. That should lead to, you know, the right incentives to build more of these things. We talked about green gasses earlier. Now, whether it be market forces, the gas price, whether it be government support, ultimately we think green gasses is going to be accelerated and that can certainly help the economy beyond the power generation sector. So within European gas demand, power generation is around about 30% of it. The other two thirds, broadly evenly split, are residential heating and industrial heating furnaces and processes. And certainly hydrogen could be, in the long term, a solution for those aspects. Battery storage is a question we get a lot, particularly from the states where actually we're seeing some quite, quite stunning improvements in battery uptake. In Europe that is relatively small scale, but something which could also dramatically increase across the decade. 


Andrew Sheets: So, Rob, with all of this in mind, what should investors be looking at in European utilities and energy? 


Rob Pulleyn: Our preferred beneficiaries within the narrow definition of utilities and clean energy would be to combine the defensive nature of networks with clean energy growth. Right. And I think ultimately that that will be a very powerful combination for what the market's looking for with a macro backdrop. Your benefit for green growth from all the policy support and from the high power prices, at the same time, retaining these defensive qualities that the market increasingly seems to have an appeal for. A slightly more optimistic take would be to try and get that real power price sensitivity through some of the outright power producers, whether that's nuclear, hydro or renewables. Those stocks should benefit from significant earnings upgrades over the next few years. 


Andrew Sheets: Rob, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Rob Pulleyn: Well, has been great speaking to you, Andrew. Thank you very much. 


Andrew Sheets: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

May 09, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Are Oil and Stock Prices Now Disconnected?
00:03:04

While oil prices usually rise and fall with the overall stock market, current prices have broken from this trend and oil may continue to outperform on a cross-asset basis.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, May 6th, at 2 p.m. in London. 


Yesterday, U.S. equities fell more than 3% and U.S. 10 year Treasury bonds fell by more than 1%. This unusual pattern has only occurred 6 other days in the last 40 years. Markets are clearly continuing to struggle with major cross-currents, from a Federal Reserve that's raising interest rates, to mixed economic data, to the war in Ukraine. 


But one asset that's bucking the confusion is oil prices. Oil usually rises and falls with the overall stock market because the prices of both are seen as proxies for economic activity. But that relationship has broken down recently. As stock markets have fallen, oil prices have held up. We think that oil will continue to outperform on a cross-asset basis. 


Part of this story is fundamental. Demand for energy remains high, while energy supply has been slow to grow. The green transition is a big part of this. Consumers are likely to shift towards electric vehicles, but most cars currently on the road still burn fuel. Energy companies, seeing the shift in energy consumption coming, are more reluctant to invest in new production today. This has left the global oil market very tight, without much spare capacity. 


There's also a fundamental difference in the way asset classes discount future risks. Equity and credit markets are very forward looking, and their prices today should reflect how investors discount risks over the next several years. But commodity prices are different; when you need to fill up a car, or a plane, you need that fuel now. 


That distinction in timing doesn't always matter. But if you're in an environment where economic activity is strong right now, but it also might slow in coming years, equity and credit markets can start to weaken even as energy prices hold up. I think that's a pretty decent description of the current backdrop. 


A final part of this story is geopolitical. Oil prices could rise further if the war in Ukraine escalates, a scenario that would likely push prices down in other asset classes. But if geopolitical risk declines, there could be better growth, more economic confidence, and more energy demand, meaning oil might not fall much relative to forward expectations. That positive skew of outcomes should be supportive of oil. 


In the short term, high oil prices could weigh on consumer spending. In the long run, it creates a more powerful incentive to transition towards more energy efficiency and newer, cleaner energy sources. In the meantime, we forecast higher prices for oil, and for oil linked currencies like the Norwegian Krone. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

May 06, 2022
Labor: The Rise of the Multi-Earner Economy
00:08:37

As “The Gig Economy” has evolved to become the Multi-Earner economy, an entire ecosystem reinventing how people earn a living, equity investors will want to take note of the related platforms that are making an impact on the market. European Head of Thematic Research Edward Stanley and U.S. Economist Julian Richers discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Ed Stanley: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Edward Stanley, Head of Thematic Research in Europe. 


Julian Richers: And I'm Julian Richards from Morgan Stanley's U.S. Economics Team. 


Ed Stanley: And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about a paradigm shift in the future of work and the rise of the multi-earner era. It's Thursday, May the 5th at 3 p.m. in London. 


Julian Richers: And 10 a.m. in New York. 


Ed Stanley: So, Julian, I'd wager that most of our listeners have come across news articles or stories or even anecdotes about YouTubers, TikTok stars who've made an eye popping amount of money making videos. But you and I have been doing some research on this trend, and in fact, it appears to be much larger than just people making videos. It's an entire ecosystem that can reinvent how people earn a living. In essence, what we used to call the 'gig economy' has evolved into the multi earning economy—the side hustle. And people tend to be surprised at the sheer extent of side hustles that are out there: from blogging to live streaming, e-commerce, trading platforms, blockchain-enabled gaming. These are just a handful of some of the platforms that are out there that are facilitating this multi-earning era that we talk about. But explain for us and for our listeners why the employment market had such a catalyst moment with COVID. 


Julian Richers: With COVID, really what has fundamentally changed is how we think about the nature of work. So people had new opportunities and new preferences. People really started enjoying working remotely. Lots of people embraced their entrepreneurial spirit. And everything has just gotten a lot faster and more integrated the more we've used technology. And so you add on top of this, this emergence of these new platforms, and it's dramatically lowering the hurdle to go to work for yourself. And that's really how I think about this multi-earn era, right? It's working and earning in and outside of the traditional corporate structure. 


Ed Stanley: And talk to us a little bit about the demographics. Who are these multi-earners we're talking about? 


Julian Richers: So right now in our survey, we basically observe that the younger the better. So really the most prolific multi-earners are really in Gen Z. But it's really not restricted to that generation alone, right? It's pretty clear that Gen Z really desires these nontraditional work environments, you know, the freedom to work for oneself. But the barriers are really lowered for everyone across the board that knows how to use a computer. So, yes, Gen Z and it's definitely going to be a Generation Alpha after this, but it's not limited to that and we see a lot of millennials dipping their toes in there as well. 


Ed Stanley: And how should employers be thinking about this trend in terms of what labor's bargaining power should be and where it is, and the competition for talent, which is something that we hear quite consistently now in the press? 


Julian Richers: My view on this is that we're really seeing a quite dramatic paradigm shift in the labor market when it comes to wages. So for the last two decades, you had long periods of very weak labor markets that have just led to this deterioration in labor bargaining power. Now, the opposite, of course, is true, right? Workers are the scarce resources in the economy, and employers really need to look far and wide for them. And then add on top of this, uh, this multi-earn story. If it's that easy for me to wake up and go to work for myself on my computer, doing things that I enjoy, you'll need to pay me a whole lot more to put on a suit and come back to my corporate job. So Ed, with this background in mind, why should equity investors look at this trend now? 


Ed Stanley: It's a great question, and it's one that we confront a lot in thematic research. And we think about themes and when they become investable. For equity investors, themes tend to work best when we reach or surpass the 20% adoption curve. And that applies for technology and it applies for themes. And after this 20% point, typically investors needn't sacrifice profit for growth, which is a really important dichotomy in the markets, particularly at the moment where inflation is is clearly high and the markets are resetting from a valuation perspective. So this multi-earner theme and it's enabling technologies have hit or surpassed this 20% threshold I've talked about. While this structural trajectory is is incredibly compelling, the stock picking environment is obviously incredibly challenging at the moment. 


Julian Richers: So Ed, at the top, you mentioned that there are actually more of these multi-earn platforms out there than people might think. What's the ecosystem like for 'X-to-earn' and how many platforms and verticals are really out there? 


Ed Stanley: So the way we tried to simplify it, given that it is so broad and sprawling and increasingly so, was to try to bucket them. And we bucketed them into nine verticals with one extra one, which essentially is the facilitators—these are the big recruitment companies who are also trying to navigate this paradigm shift alongside these 'X-to-earners, these multi-earners. And we lay this out from the most mature to the least mature. And in the most mature category, we have content creators. We have the e-commerce platforms. We have delivery, as in grocery and delivery drivers, and then we start to get into the least mature verticals. This is trading as an earnings strategy which has been very volatile and continues to be so. Gig-to-earn, where people are spending time doing small tasks which don't take up large amounts of time typically and can be done on the side of corporate roles. And then right at the most emergent, or least mature, end of the spectrum, we have play-to-earn. And these tend to be based on blockchain platforms where participation is rewarded, in theory, by tokens which are native to that blockchain. So incredibly emerging technology and one that we're, we're looking to watch closely. 


Julian Richers: Yeah. So among those platforms, is there one that you think is particularly worth watching? 


Ed Stanley: Well, I think actually it comes down to that that latter point, I think many of the ones at the more mature end of the spectrum are pretty self-explanatory. A lot of that, I think, is second nature, particularly for younger users who are trying to make money on on these platforms. But it's at that more emerging end of the spectrum, the blockchain enabled solutions, where a lot of this is incredibly new and the innovation is happening at a really quite alarming rate. That blockchain enabled solution essentially is a new challenge to legacy institutions who don't anymore have to compete just with these traditional earning platforms, but they also have to compete with the labor monetization tools that blockchains facilitate. And they'll also have to compete with the lifestyle that these tools offer, which essentially is that freedom to work for yourself and to earn multiplicatively. 


Julian Richers: So, my last question ties back to the question that you had for me about how employers should think about this. What does this trend actually mean for corporates? 


Ed Stanley: So, this is something that certainly seems to be inflationary in the short term and I think we both agree appears to be structurally inflationary in the longer term. The real question both corporates and investors seem to have is, 'what happens to all of this in a recession?' And the recession point is something that is obviously gathering traction in the markets. It's gathering traction in the news. And a lot of this will become potentially untenable as a sustainable earning platform. And so these earning platforms cannot yet be assumed to be stable, sustainable revenue streams, particularly during downturns. And so, these are the kind of debates that are happening. But longer term, through a recession and out the other side, we still believe that the ability to scale, the low upfront costs, the low opportunity costs or perceived low opportunity costs of careers, are really what's driving this, and that is not going to go away just because of a recession. And so with that, Julian, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. 


Julian Richers: Great speaking with you, Ed. 


Ed Stanley: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

May 06, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Having Rules to Follow Helps In Uncertain Times
00:04:09

2022 has presented a complex set of challenges, meaning investors may want to take a step back and consult rules-based indicators and strategies for some clarity.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Wednesday, May 4th, at 2 p.m. in London. 


2022 is complicated. Cross-asset returns are unusually bad and investors still face wide ranging uncertainties, from how fast the Federal Reserve tightens, to whether Europe sees an energy crisis, to how China addresses COVID. 


But step back a bit, and the year is also kind of simple. Valuations were high, policy is tightening and growth is slowing, and prices have fallen. Cheaper stocks are finally outperforming more expensive ones. Bond yields were very low and are finally rising. 


So what should investors do, given a complex set of challenges, but also signs of underlying rationality? This can be a good time to step back and look at what our rules-based indicators are saying. 


Let's start by focusing on what these indicators say about where we are in the cycle, and what that means for an investment strategy. Our cycle indicator looks at a range of economic data and then tries to map this to historical patterns of cross-asset performance. 


Our indicator currently sees the data as significantly above average. We call this 'late cycle', because historically readings that have been sharply above the average have often, but not always, occurred later in an economic expansion. This is not about predicting recession, but rather about thinking probabilistically. If the odds of a slowdown are rising, then it will affect cross-asset performance today, even if a recession ultimately doesn't materialize. 


At present, the 'late cycle' readings of this indicator are consistent with underperformance of high yield credit relative to investment grade credit, the outperformance of defensive equities, a flatter yield curve and being more neutral towards bonds overall. All are also current Morgan Stanley Research Views. 


A second question that comes up a lot in our meetings is whether or not there's enough worry and concern in the market to help it. After all, if most investors are already negative, it can be harder for bad news to push the market lower and easier for any good news to push the market higher. We try to quantify market sentiment and fear in our sentiment indicator. Our sentiment indicator works by trying to look at a wide variety of data, but also paying attention to not just its level but the direction of sentiment. At the moment, sentiment is not extreme and it's also not yet improving. Therefore, our indicator is still neutral. 


Given the swirling mix of storylines and volatility, a third relevant question is what would a fully rules-based strategy do today? For that we turn to CAST, our cross-asset systematic trading strategy. CAST asks a simple question with a rules-based approach; what looks most attractive today, based on what has historically worked for cross-asset performance. 


CAST is dialing back its market exposure, especially in commodities where it has become more negative on copper, although it still likes energy. CAST expects the Renminbi to weaken against the U.S. dollar, and Chinese interest rates to be lower relative to U.S. rates. In stocks, it is positive on Japan and healthcare, and negative on the Nasdaq and the Russell 2000. All of these align with current Morgan Stanley Research fundamental views and forecasts. 


Rules based tools help in markets that are volatile, emotional, and showing more storylines than a reasonable investor can process. For the moment, we think they suggest cross-asset performance continues to follow a late cycle playbook, that sentiment is not yet extreme enough to give a conclusive tactical signal, and that following historical factor-based patterns can help in the current market environment. These tools won't solve everything, but given the challenges of 2022 so far, every little bit helps. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you. 

May 04, 2022
Michael Zezas: What's Next for U.S./China Trade?
00:03:24

As U.S. voters continue to show support for trade policy in regards to China, investors will want to track which actions could have consequences for China equities and currency markets.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michal Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Tuesday, May 3rd, at 2 p.m. in New York. 


You might recall that, for much of 2018 and 2019 financial markets ebbed and flowed on the tensions between the U.S. and China over trade policy that led to escalation of tariffs, export restrictions and other policies that still hinder commerce between the countries today. We remind you of those events because they could echo through markets this year as calls in the U.S. for concrete trade policy action have recently grown louder. The main catalyst for this has been reports showing that China has fallen short of its purchase commitments within the Phase One trade deal signed in February of 2020. And polls show that voters would continue to view U.S. trade protections favorably, which, of course, translates to strong political incentives for lawmakers to pursue 'tough on China' policies. So in light of this, it's worth calling out three potential policy actions and their potential effect on equities and currency markets. 


The first is a trade tool known as a '301 investigation.' I'll spare you the mechanics, but a 301 investigation allows the U.S. to impose tariff or non-tariff actions in response to unfair trade practices. Media reporting has indicated that the Biden administration is considering deployment of a 301 investigation. Should the U.S. adopt non-tariff measures under Section 301 against China, such as further restrictions on the technology supplied to Chinese firms, China may respond with non-tariff measures on specific American goods. For investors, a tariff escalation would likely be a drag on bilateral trade in affected sectors and discourage manufacturing capital expenditures. As a result, broad equity market sentiment in China would likely be dampened, and it could mean further downside to our already cautious view on China equities. 


The second potential action would be passage of the 'Make It In America Act,' which would enhance domestic manufacturing in some key industries and reduce reliance on foreign sources by reinforcing the supply chain in the U.S. The House and Senate have both passed versions of this bill, and we expect a blended version will become law this year. For investors, this event may be largely in the price. Currency markets will likely see it as just a continuation of ongoing competition between the two nations, without an immediate escalation. The effect on equity markets would be similarly mixed. 


Finally, the U.S. could escalate non-tariff barriers in places such as tech exports. This last policy action could be significant, since non-tariff measures negative effects tend to be bigger and more profound than direct tariff hikes. We expect China to respond in kind, perhaps by launching an 'unreliable entity' list, which would mean prohibitions on China-related trade, investment in China and travel and work permits. 


Currency markets would likely react, seeing this as a meaningful escalation, resulting in fresh U.S. dollar strength due to concerns about companies foreign direct investment into China. And for China equities, once again, it would mean further downside to our already cautious view. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

May 03, 2022
Credit: The ‘Income’ is Back in Fixed Income
00:08:26

Credit markets are facing various headwinds, including policy tightening and slowing growth, and credit investors are looking for where they might see the best risk adjusted returns. Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Global Director of Fixed Income Research Vishy Tirupattur discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Morgan Stanley's Chief Cross-Asset Strategist. 


Vishy Tirupattur: And I am Vishy Tirupattur, Global Director of Fixed Income Research. 


Andrew Sheets: And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about the challenges facing credit markets. It's Monday, May 2nd at 1 p.m. in London. 


Vishy Tirupattur: And 8 a.m. in New York. 


Andrew Sheets: So Vishy, it's great to have you back on the show because I really wanted to speak to you about what's been happening in credit markets. There's been a lot of volatility across the whole financial landscape, but that's been particularly acute in fixed income and we've seen some large moves in credit. So maybe before we get into the rest of the discussion, let's just level set with what's been happening year to date across credit. 


Vishy Tirupattur: It's been a really rough ride to credit investors. Investment grade returns are down 12% for the year and for high yield investors are down 6% for the year and leveraged loan markets are up slightly, 1.4% up for the year. So pretty dramatic differences across different segments of the credit markets. Higher quality has significantly underperformed lower quality. 


Andrew Sheets: So Vishy where I think this is also interesting is that investors in other asset classes often really look to credit as both a warning sign potentially to other markets and as an overall indicator in the health of the economy, so when you think about what's been driving the credit weakness, you know, how much of it is a economic concern story? How much of it is an interest rate story? How much of it is other things? 


Vishy Tirupattur: Andrew, we should always remember that the total returns to bond investors come from two parts. There's an interest rate component and there is a credit quality component. And what has driven the markets thus far in the year is really higher interest rates. As you know, Andrew, interest rates have dramatically increased from the beginning of the year to now, and a lot of expectations of future interest rates is already reflected in price. Those higher interest rate expectations have really contributed to the underperformance of the higher quality bonds, which tend to be a lot more interest rate sensitive than the lower quality bonds. The lower quality bonds tend to be a lot more sensitive to perceptions of the quality of the credit, as opposed to the level of interest rates. And that is really what explains the market moment thus far. 


Andrew Sheets: So Vishy, after such a tough start to the year for credit, do you think those challenges persist and do you think we see the same pattern of performance, of investment grade underperforming high yield which is underperforming loans, translate over the rest of the year? 


Vishy Tirupattur: Andrew I think that is a change that is afoot here. A pretty aggressive rate of interest rate hikes is already priced into the interest rate market. Even though investment grade returns have been affected negatively, predominantly by higher level of interest rates, going forward we think that is changing. I think we are going to see changes in the expectations of credit worthiness of bonds, the credit risks in the tail parts of the credit markets taking a greater significance in terms of credit market returns going forward. 


Andrew Sheets: So in essence, Vishy, we've just had a period where higher quality credit has underperformed as interest rates have been the main factor driving bonds. But looking ahead, that interest rate move is, we think, largely done for the time being, whereas the market might start to focus more on the extra risk premium that needs to be applied for economic risk. 


Vishy Tirupattur: Indeed, I think the focus of the credit markets will change from a concern about incrementally higher interest rates to concerns about the quality of the credit markets. So credit concerns are building, the economy is showing signs of downdraft, we saw the negative GDP print. So we think going forward, the market will think about credit quality more than interest rate effects on the total returns. 


Andrew Sheets: And Vishy, if investors are looking at this large downdraft in the investment grade market, where do we see the best risk adjusted return within the investment grade credit market? 


Vishy Tirupattur: So within the investment grade markets, the back up in rates has really created pockets of value in low dollar price bonds. And this is where we think the best opportunity for investors lies. In the high yield world, we think double B's or triple C's is a good trade. 


Andrew Sheets: The final question I'd ask you that comes up a lot is, what is the outlook for defaults? How are you thinking about forecasting defaults, and are there aspects of the fundamental balance sheet trends of companies today that, you know, seem pretty important as we think about that cycle? 


Vishy Tirupattur: I'm glad you asked me that question, Andrew. Even though the economy is weakening a bit and credit concerns are rising a bit, it by no means means we will see a spike in default rates. Default rates are at historically low levels now. Defaults are probably going to rise from here, but not dramatically spike. We expect that defaults will remain below the long term average for some time to come. In fact, if we look at the fundamentals of the credit markets, they have been strongest they have ever been going into a credit cycle. Andrew let me turn it back to you. You know, one can argue that this rise in yields that we have seen from the beginning of the year to now will mean significant changes to fixed income asset allocation. And in fact, makes fixed income asset allocation much more interesting. On your total return focused optimal portfolio, what's the better risk reward proposition in the fixed income markets? 


Andrew Sheets: I think it's pretty interesting. You know, if you've been investing in the markets over the last decade you really feel like a broken record when you say that bond yields are low. I mean, bond yields have been low and then they've often kept going lower. So it's pretty notable that in a relatively short period of time, you know, in the last nine months, the yield picture has really changed. And bond prices going down is the way that yields go up, and we've seen the largest drawdown in bond prices since 1980 in the U.S. So that pain is painful to investors, that that drop in prices has hurt portfolios. If there's a silver lining, it means that the yields now on offer are a lot better. So as you mentioned, you know, U.S. investment grade credit yielding 4-4.25%, well that's a whole lot higher than it's been even recently. I think investors after a long drought of a lack of fixed income options, are going to start to come back to the bond market and say, look, this now has a better place in my portfolio. We've been underweight bonds from July of last year and through April 6th of this year. But we've closed that position and we now think the risk reward for bonds is a lot more balanced and investors who were underweight should start adding back. 


Vishy Tirupattur: So given the increase in rates, income is back into a fixed income, right? 


Andrew Sheets: It exactly is. And again, I think it's also interesting because, you know, investors, I think, no longer have to compromise quite so much between bonds that offer income and bonds that can offer some stability to a portfolio. You know, I think the other thing that's so interesting about the view that that you and our credit strategy team have changed, you know, moving up in quality and credit, moving from a preference of high yield over investment grade to the other way around is, you know, that's a similar signal that we're getting from a lot of our top down cross asset framework tools. When the unemployment rate is this low, when the yield curve is this flat, that tends to be a time when risks to high yield bonds are elevated relative to history. So I think that the bottom up, you know, fundamental view that you and the credit strategy team are talking about fits really well with some of the broader cross asset signals that we're seeing as we look across the global space. 


Andrew Sheets: Vishy, thanks for coming back on the show. It's always great to hear your insights. 


Vishy Tirupattur: Thanks for having me, Andrew. 


Andrew Sheets: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

May 03, 2022
Retail Investing, Pt. 2: ESG and Fixed Income
00:09:01

As investors look to diversify their portfolios, there are two big stories to keep an eye on: the historic rise in bond yields and the increased adoption of ESG strategies. Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Chief Investment Officer for Wealth Management Lisa Shalett discuss.


Lisa Shalett is Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s Chief Investment Officer. She is not a member of Morgan Stanley Research.


----- Transcript -----

Andrew Sheets Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research.


Lisa Shalett And I'm Lisa Shalett, Chief Investment Officer for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.


Andrew Sheets And today on the podcast, we'll be continuing our discussion on retail investing, ESG, and what’s been happening in Fixed income. It's Friday, April 29th at 4:00 p.m. in London.


Lisa Shalett And it's 11:00 a.m. in New York.


Andrew Sheets Lisa, the other enormous story in markets that's really impossible to ignore is the rise in bond yields. U.S. Treasury yields are up almost 100 basis points over the last month, which is a move that's historic. So maybe I'd just start with how are investors dealing with this fixed income move? How do you think that they were positioned going into this bond sell off? And what sort of flows and feedback have you been seeing?


Lisa Shalett I think on the one hand, we've been fortunate in that we've been telegraphing our perspective to be underweight treasuries and particular underweight duration for quite a long time. And it's only been really in the last three or four weeks that we have begun suggesting that people contemplate adding some duration back to their portfolios. So the first thing is I don't think it has been a huge shock to clients that after what has been obviously a 40 plus year bull market in bonds that some rainier days are coming. And many of our clients had moved to short duration, to cash, to ultra-short duration, with the portions of their portfolios that were oriented towards fixed income. I think what has been more perplexing is this idea of folks using the bond sell off as an opportunity to move into stocks under the rationale of, quote unquote, there is no alternative. That's one of the hypotheses or investment themes that we’re finding we have to push up against hard and ask people are they not concerned that this move in rates has relevance for stock valuations? And over the last 13 years, the moves that we have seen in rates have been sufficiently modest as to not have had profound impacts on valuations. These very high above average multiples have been able to hold. And very few investors seem to be blinking an eye when we talk about equity risk premiums collapsing. So, you know, the answer to your question is clients in the private client channel avoided the worst outcomes of exposure to long duration rates, were not shocked, and have actually used some of the selloff in bonds or their short duration positions to actually fund increasing stock exposures. So that's I think how I would describe where they're at.


Andrew Sheets And that's really interesting because there are these two camps related to what's been happening. One is, look at bonds selling off. I want to go to the equity market. But at the same time as bond yields have gone from very low levels to much higher levels, the relative value argument of bonds versus stocks, this so-called equity risk premium, this additional return that in theory you get for investing in more risky equities relative to bonds has really been narrowing as these yields have come up. Lisa, how do you think about the equity risk premium? How do you think about, kind of, the relative value proposition between an investment grade rated corporate bond that now yields 4-4.25% relative to U.S. equities?


Lisa Shalett One of the things that we're trying to remind our clients is they live in an inflation adjusted world and real yields matter. And from where we're sitting, the recent dynamic around real rates and real rates potentially turning positive in the Treasury market is a really important turning point for our clients because today if you just look at the equity risk premium adjusted for inflation, it's very unattractive. And so, that's the conversation we're starting to have with people is you got to want to get paid. Owning stocks is great, as long as you're getting paid to own them. You got to ask yourself the question, would I rather have a 2.8-3% return in a 10-year Treasury today if I think inflation is going to be 2.5% in 10 years or do I want to own a stock that's only yielding an extra premium of 200 basis points.


Andrew Sheets When you think about what would change this dynamic, you mentioned that if anything, yields have gone up and investors seem to be more reticent about buying bonds given the volatility in the market. There's a scenario where people buy bonds once the market calms down, what they're looking for is stability. There's an argument that's about a level, that it's about, you know, U.S. 10-year bond yields reaching 3%, or 3.5%, or some other number that makes people say, OK, this is enough. Or it's that stocks go down and that they no longer feel like this kind of more stable or maybe better inflation protecting asset. Which of those do you think would be the more realistic catalyst or the most powerful catalyst that you see kind of driving a change in behavior?


Lisa Shalett I think it's this idea of inflation protected resilience, right? There is this unbelievable faith that, quite frankly, has been reinforced by recent history that the U.S. stock indices are magically resilient to anything that you could possibly throw at them. And until that paradigm gets cracked a little bit and we see a little bit more damage at the headline level, I mean, we've seen, you know, some of the data that says at least half of the names in some of these indices are down 20, 40%. But until those headline indices really show a little bit more pain and a little bit more volatility, I think it's hard for people to want to take the bet that they're going to go back into bonds.


Andrew Sheets Lisa, another major trend that we've seen in investing over the last several years has been ESG - investing with an eye towards the environmental, social and governance characteristics of a company How strong is the demand for ESG in terms of the flows that you're seeing and how should we think about ESG within the context of other strategies, other secular trends in investing?


Lisa Shalett So ESG, I think, you know, has gone through a transformation really in the last 12 months where it's gone from an overlay strategy, or an option and preference for certain client segments, to something that's really mainstream. Where clients recognize and have come to recognize the relevance of ESG criteria as something that's actually correlated with other aspects of corporate performance that drive excellence. If you're paying this much attention to your carbon footprint as a company or you're paying this much attention to your community governance and your stakeholder outcomes, aren't you likely paying just as much attention to your more basic financial metrics like return on assets? And there's a very high correlation between companies that are great at ESG and companies who are just very high on the quality factor metrics. Now what's interesting is as we've gone through this last six months of inflation and surging energy prices around the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the recovery from COVID, what I think the world has recognized is the importance of investing in energy infrastructure. Now for ESG investors that has meant doubling down on ESG oriented investments in clean and green. For others it may mean investing back in traditional carbon-oriented assets. But ESG, from where we're sitting, has gone mainstream and remains as strong, if not stronger than ever.


Andrew Sheets Lisa, thanks for taking the time to talk. We hope to have you back on soon.


Lisa Shalett Thank you very much, Andrew.


Andrew Sheets And as a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

Apr 29, 2022
Retail Investing, Pt. 1: International Exposure
00:08:45

With questions around equity outperformance, tech overvaluation and currency headwinds in the U.S., retail investors may want to look internationally to diversify their portfolio. Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Chief Investment Officer for Wealth Management Lisa Shalett discuss.


Lisa Shalett is Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s Chief Investment Officer. She is not a member of Morgan Stanley Research.


----- Transcript -----

Andrew Sheets Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research.


Lisa Shalett And I'm Lisa Shalett, Chief Investment Officer for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.


Andrew Sheets And today on the podcast, we'll be discussing the role of international stocks in a well-diversified portfolio. It's Thursday, April 28th at 4:00 p.m. in London.


Lisa Shalett And it's 11:00 a.m. in New York.


Andrew Sheets Lisa, it's so good to talk to you again. There's just an enormous amount going on in this market. But one place I wanted to start was discussing the performance of U.S. assets versus international assets, especially on the equity side. Because you've noticed some interesting trends among our wealth management clients regarding their U.S. versus international exposure.


Lisa Shalett One of the things that we have been attempting to advise clients is to begin to move towards more global diversification. Given the really unprecedented outperformance of U.S. equity assets, really over the last 12 to 13 years, and the relative valuation gaps and most recently, taking into consideration the relative shifts in central bank policies. With obviously, the U.S. central bank, moving towards a very aggressive inflation fighting pivot that, would have them moving, rates as much as, 200-225 basis points over the next 12 months. Whereas other central banks, may have taken their foot off the accelerator, acknowledging both, the complexities of geopolitics as well as, some of the lingering concerns around COVID. And so, having those conversations with clients has proven extraordinarily challenging. Obviously, what's worked for a very long time tends to convince people that it is secular and not a cyclical trend. And you know, we've had to push back against that argument. But U.S. investors also are looking at the crosscurrents in the current environment and are very reticent and quite frankly, nervous about moving into any positions outside the U.S., even if there are valuation advantages and even if there's the potential that in 2023 some of those economies might be accelerating out of their current positions while the U.S. is decelerating.

 

Andrew Sheets It's hard to talk about the U.S. versus the rest of world debate without talking about U.S. mega-cap tech. This is a sector that's really unique to the United States and as you've talked a lot about, is seen as kind of a defensive all-weather solution. How do you think that that tech debate factors into this overall global allocation question?


Lisa Shalett I think it's absolutely central. We have, come to equate mega-cap secular growth tech stocks with U.S. equities. And look, there's factual basis for that. Many of those names have come to dominate in terms of the share of market cap the indices. But as we've tried to articulate, this is not any average cycle. Many of the mega-cap tech companies have already benefited from extraordinary optimism baked into current valuations, have potentially experienced some pull forward in demand just from the compositional dynamics of COVID, where manufactured goods and certain work from home trends tended to dominate the consumption mix versus, historical services. And so it may be that some of these companies are over earning. And the third issue is that, investors seem to have assumed that these companies may be immune to some of the cost and inflation driven dynamics that are plaguing more cyclical sectors when it comes to margins. And we're less convinced that, pricing power for these companies is, perpetual. Our view is that these companies too still need to distribute product, still need to pay energy costs, still need to pay employees and are going to face headwinds to margins.


Andrew Sheets So what's the case for investing overseas now and how do you explain that to clients?


Lisa Shalett] I think it's really about diversification and illustrating that unlike in prior periods where we had synchronous global policy and synchronicity around the trajectory for corporate profit growth, that today we're in a really unique place. Where the events around COVID, the events around central bank policies, the events around sensitivity to commodity-based inflation are all so different and valuations are different. And so, taking each of these regions case by case and looking at what is the potential going forward, what's discounted in that market? One of the pieces of logic that we bring to our clients in having this debate really focuses on, the divergence we’ve seen with currencies. The U.S. Dollar has kind of reached multiyear extreme valuations versus, the yen, and the euro and the pound. And currencies tend to be self-correcting through the trade channels, and translation channels. And we don’t know that American investors are thinking that all through.


Andrew Sheets Well, I'm so glad you brought up the currency angle because that is a really fascinating part of the U.S. versus rest of world story for equities. If we take a market like Japan in yen, the Nikkei equity index is down about 4% for this year, which is better than the S&P 500. But in dollars, as you mentioned the yen has weakened a lot relative to the dollar, the Nikkei is down almost 14% because the yen has lost about 10% of its value year to date. So, when you're a investor investing in a market in a different currency, how do you think about that from a risk management standpoint? How do you think about some of these questions around taking the currency exposure versus hedging the currency exposure?


Lisa Shalett Well, for the vast majority of our clients who may be, owning their exposures through a managed solution, through a mutual fund, through an ETF, currency hedging is fraught. And so very often, we try to encourage people to just, play the megatrend. Don't overthink this. Don't try to think that you're going to be able to hedge your currency exposures. Just really ask yourself, do you think over the next year or two the dollar's going to be higher or lower? We think odds are pretty good that the dollar is going to be lower and other currencies are going to be stronger, which creates a tailwind for U.S. investors investing in those markets.


Andrew Sheets I guess taking a step back and thinking about the large amount of assets that we see within Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. What are you think, kind of, the most notable flows and trends that people should be aware of?


Lisa Shalett As we noted, one of the most, structurally inert parts of people's portfolio is in their devotion to US mega-cap tech stocks. I think, disrupting that point of view and convincing folks that while these may be great companies, they perhaps are no longer great stocks is one that that has really been an effort in futility that seems only to get cracked when an individual company faces an idiosyncratic problem. And it's only then when the stock actually goes down that we see investors willing to embrace a new thesis that says, OK, great company. No longer great stock.


Andrew Sheets Tomorrow I’ll be continuing my conversation with Lisa Shalett on retail investing, ESG, and what’s been happening in fixed income.


Andrew Sheets And as a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

Apr 28, 2022
Michael Zezas: Legislation that Matters to Markets
00:03:09

The U.S. Congress has been quietly making progress on a couple of key pieces of legislation, and investors should be aware of which bills will matter to markets.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, April 27th, at 11 a.m. in New York. 


Compared to the Russia Ukraine situation, which rightfully has investors focus when it comes to geopolitics, congressional deliberations in D.C. may seem less important. But this is often where things of consequence to markets happen. So we think investors should keep an eye on Congress this week, where progress is quietly being made on key pieces of legislation that will matter to markets. 


Let's start with legislation directed at boosting energy infrastructure investment. Reports suggest that Democratic senators are seeking to revive the clean energy spending proposed in the build back better plan, and pair it with fresh authorization for traditional energy exploration. The deliberations have momentum for a few reasons. While environment conscious Senate Democrats may have in the past balked about supporting traditional energy investment, they could now see this effort as the last chance to boost clean energy investment for years, given the chance that Democrats lose control of Congress in the midterm elections. Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the resulting need to boost American energy production to aid Europe, may also be persuasive. And while there are several roadblocks to this deal getting done, in particular negotiations about which taxes to increase in order to fund it, investors should pay attention. Such a deal could unlock substantial government energy investments that benefit both the clean tech, and oil and gas sectors of the market. The downside could be that corporate tax increases become its funding source, and if the corporate minimum tax proposal becomes part of the package, that drives margin pressure in banks and telecoms. 


Investors should also keep an eye on the competition and innovation bill that includes about $250 billion of funding for re-shoring semiconductor supply chains, and federal research into new technologies. The bill, known in the Senate as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act and the House as the COMPETES Act, is in part motivated by policymakers view that the U.S. must invest in critical areas to maintain a competitive economic advantage over China. While this kind of industrial policy is uncommon in the mostly laissez faire U.S. economic system, these policy motives make it likely, in our view, to be enacted this year. That should help the semiconductor sector, which has been facing uncertainty about how to cope with the risks to its supply chains from export controls and tariffs enacted by the U.S. This week these two bills move into conference, which means in the coming weeks we should have a better sense as to what the final version will look like, and if our view that it will be enacted this year will be right or wrong. 


So summing it up, don't sleep on Congress. There's slowly but surely working on policies that impact markets. We'll of course track it all, and keep you in the loop. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Apr 27, 2022
Transportation: Untangling the Supply Chain
00:09:31

Global supply chains have been under stress from the pandemic, geopolitical tensions, and inflation, and the outlook for transportation in 2022 is a mixed bag so far. Chief U.S. Economist Ellen Zentner and Equity Analyst for North American Transportation Ravi Shanker discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Ellen Zentner: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ellen Zentner, Chief U.S. Economist for Morgan Stanley Research, 


Ravi Shanker: and I'm Ravi Shanker, Equity Analyst covering the North American Transportation Industry for Morgan Stanley Research. 


Ellen Zentner: And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about transportation, specifically the challenges facing freight in light of still tangled supply chains and geopolitics. It's Tuesday, April 26, at 9:00 a.m. in New York. 


Ellen Zentner: So, Ravi, it's really good to have you back on the show. Back in October of last year we had a great discussion about clogged supply chains and the cascading problems stemming from that. And I hoped that we would have a completely different conversation today, but let's try to pick up where we left off. Could we maybe start today by you giving us an update on where we are in terms of shipping - ocean, ground and air? 


Ravi Shanker: So yes, things have materially changed since the last time we spoke, some for the better and some for the worse. The good news is that a lot of the congestion that we saw back then, whether it was ocean or air, a lot of that has eased or abated. We used to have, at a peak, about 110 ships off the Port of L.A. Long Beach, that's now down to about 30 to 40. The other thing that has changed is we just went from new peak to new all time peak on every freight transportation data point that we were tracking over the last two years. Now all of those rates are collapsing at a pace that we have not seen, probably ever. It's still unclear whether this legitimately marks the end of the freight transportation cycle or if it's just an air pocket that's related to the Russia Ukraine conflict or China lockdowns or something else. But yes, the freight transportation worlds in a very different place today, compared to the last time I was on in October. Ellen, I know you wanted to dig a little more deeply into the current challenges facing the shipping and overall transportation industry. But before we get to that, can you maybe help us catch up on how the complicated tangle created by supply chain disruptions has affected some of the key economic metrics that you've been watching over the last six months? That is between the time we last spoke in October and now. 


Ellen Zentner: Sure. So, we created this global supply chain index to try to gauge globally just how clogged supply chains are. And we did that because, what we've uncovered is that it's a good leading indicator for inflation in the U.S. and on the back of creating that index, we could see that the fourth quarter of last year was really the peak tightness in global supply chains, and it has about a six month lead to CPI. Since then, we started to see some areas of goods prices come down. But unfortunately, that supply chain index stalled in February largely on the back of Russia, Ukraine and on the back of China's zero COVID policy, starting to disrupt supply chains again. So the improvement has stalled. There are some encouraging parts of inflation coming down, but it's not yet broad based enough, and we're certainly watching these geopolitical risks closely. So, Ravi, I want to come back to freight here because you talked about how it's been underperforming for a couple of months now and forward expectations have consistently declined as well. You pointed to it as possibly being just an air pocket, but you're pointing, you're watching closely a number of things and anticipate some turbulence in the second half of the year. Can you walk us through all of that? 


Ravi Shanker: What I can tell you is that it's probably a little too soon to definitively tell if this is just an air pocket or if the cycles over. Again, we are not surprised, and we would not be surprised if the cycle is indeed over because in December of last year, we downgraded the freight transportation sector to cautious because we did start to see some of those data points you just cited with some of the other analysts. So we were expecting the cycle to end in the middle of 22 to begin with, but to see the pace and the slope of the decline and a lot of these data points in the month of March, and how that coincides with the Russia-Ukraine conflict and that the lockdowns in China, I think, is a little too much of a coincidence. So we think it could well be a situation where this is an air pocket and there's like one or two innings left in the cycle. But either way, we do think that the cycle does end in the back half of the year and then we'll see what happens beyond that. 


Ellen Zentner: OK, so you're less inclined to say that you see it spilling over into 2023 or 2024? 


Ravi Shanker: I would think so. Like if this is just a normal freight transportation cycle that typically lasts about 9 to 12 months. The interesting thing is that we have seen 9 to 12 months of decline in the last 4 weeks. So there are some investors in my space who think that the downturn is over and we're actually going to start improving from here. I think that's way too optimistic. But if we do see this continuing into 2023 and 2024 I think there's probably a broader macro consumer problem in the U.S. and it's not just a freight transportation inventory destocking type situation. 


Ellen Zentner: So Ravi, I was hoping that you'd give me a more definitive answer that transportation costs have peaked and will be coming down because of course, it's adding to the broad inflationary pressures that we have in the economy. Companies have been passing on those higher input costs and we've been very focused on the low end consumer here, who have been disproportionately burdened by higher food, by higher energy, by all of these pass through inflation that we're seeing from these higher input costs. 


Ravi Shanker: I do think that rates in the back half of the year are going to be lower than in the first half of the year and lower than 2021. Now it may not go down in a straight line from here, and there may be another little bit of a peak before it goes down again. But if we are right and there is a freight transportation downturn in the back of the year, rates will be lower. But, and this is a very important but, this is not being driven by supply. It's being driven by demand and its demand that is coming down, right. So if rates are lower in the back half of the year and going into 23, that means at best you are seeing inventory destocking and at worst, a broad consumer recession. So relief on inflation by itself may not be an incredible tailwind, if you are seeing demand destruction that's actually driving that inflation relief. 


Ellen Zentner: That's a fair point. Another topic I wanted to bring up is the fact that while freight transportation continues to face significant headwinds, airlines seem to be returning to normal levels, with domestic and international travel picking up post-pandemic. Can you talk about this pretty stark disparity? 


Ravi Shanker: Ellen it's absolutely a stark disparity. It's basically a reversal of the trends that you've seen over the last 2 years where freight transportation, I guess inadvertently, became one of the biggest winners during the pandemic with all the restocking we were seeing and the shift of consumer spend away from services into goods. Now we are seeing the reversion of that. So look, honestly, we were a little bit concerned a month ago with, you know, jet fuel going up as much as it did and with potential concerns around the consumer. But the message we've got from the airlines and what we are seeing very clearly in the data, what they're seeing in the numbers is that demand is unprecedented. Their ability to price for it is unprecedented. And because there are unprecedented constraints in their ability to grow capacity in the form of pilot shortages, obviously very high jet fuel prices and other constraints, I guess there's going to be more of an imbalance between demand and supply for the foreseeable future. As long as the U.S. consumer holds up, we think there's a lot more to come here. So Ellen, let me turn back to you and ask you with freight still facing such big challenges and pressure on both sides on the supply chain. What does that bode for the economy in terms of inflation and GDP growth for the rest of this year and going into next year? 


Ellen Zentner: So I think because, as I said, you know, our global supply chain index has stalled since February. I think that does mean that even though we've raised our inflation forecasts higher, we can still see upside risk to those inflation forecasts. The Fed is watching that as well because they are singularly focused on inflation. GDP is quite healthy. We have a net neutral trade balance on energy. So it actually limits the impact on GDP, but has a much greater uplift on inflation. So you're going to have the Fed feeling very confident here to raise rates more aggressively. I think there's strong consensus on the committee that they want to frontload rate hikes because they do need to slow demands to slow the economy. They do almost need that demand destruction that you were talking about. That's actually something the Fed would like to achieve in order to take pressure off of inflation in the U.S.. But we think that the economy is strong enough, and especially the labor market is strong enough, to withstand this kind of policy tightening. It takes actually 4 to 6 quarters for the Fed to create enough slack in the economy to start to bring inflation down more meaningfully. But we're still looking for it to come in, for core inflation, around 2.5% by the fourth quarter of next year. So, Ravi, thanks so much for taking the time to talk. There's much more to cover, and I definitely look forward to having you back on the show in the future. 


Ravi Shanker: Great speaking with you Ellen. Thanks so much for having me and I would love to be back. 


Ellen Zentner: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

Apr 26, 2022
Mike Wilson: U.S. Stocks and the Oncoming Slowdown
00:03:28

As U.S. equity markets digest higher inflation and a more hawkish Fed, the question is when this will turn into a headwind for earnings growth.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, April 25th and 11:00 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


As equity strategists our primary job is to help clients find the best areas of the market, at the right time. Over the past year our sector and style preferences have worked out very well as the market has gone nowhere. However, the market has been so picked over at this point, it's not clear where the next rotation lies. When that happens, it usually means the overall index is about to fall sharply, with almost all stocks falling in unison. In many ways, this is what we've been waiting for as our fire and ice narrative, a fast tightening Fed into the teeth of a slowdown, comes to its conclusion. While our defensive posture since November has been the right call, we can't argue for absolute upside anymore for these groups given the massive rerating that they've experienced in both absolute and relative terms. In many ways, this is a sign that investors know a slowdown is coming and are bracing for it by hiding in these kinds of stocks. 


In our view, the accelerated negative price action on Thursday and Friday last week may also support the view we are now moving to this much broader sell off phase. Another important signal from the market lately is how poorly materials and energy stocks have traded, particularly the former. To us, this is just another sign the market's realization that we are now entering the ice phase, when growth becomes the primary concern for stocks rather than inflation, the Fed and interest rates. 


On that note, more specifically, we believe inflation and inflation expectations have likely peaked. There's no doubt that a fall in inflation should take pressure off valuations for some stocks. The problem is that falling inflation comes with lower nominal GDP growth and therefore sales and earnings per share grow, too. For many companies, it could be particularly painful if those declines in inflation are swift and sharp. Of course, many will argue that a falling commodity prices will help the consumer. We don't disagree on the surface of that conclusion, but pricing has been a big reason why consumer oriented stocks have done so well. If pricing becomes less secure, the margin pressure we've been expecting to show up this year, may be just around the corner for such stocks, even as the consumer remains active. 


We can't help but think we are at an important inflection point for inflation, the mirror image of our call in April of 2020. At the time, we suggested inflation would be a big part of the next recovery and lead to extremely positive operating leverage and earnings growth. Fast forward to today, and that's where we are. The question now is will that positive tailwind continue? Or will it turn into a headwind for earnings growth? Our view is that it will be more of the latter for many sectors and companies, and this is why we've been positioned defensively and in stocks with high operational efficiency. 


The bottom line is that asset markets have been digesting higher inflation and a more hawkish fed path in reaction to that inflation. However, we are now entering a period when slowing growth will determine how stocks trade from here. Overall, the S&P 500 looks more vulnerable now than the average stock, the mirror image of the past year. We recommend waiting for the index to trade well below 4000 before committing new capital to U.S. equities. 


Thanks for listening! If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people to find the show. 

Apr 25, 2022
Jonathan Garner: Looking for Alternatives to Emerging Markets
00:03:36

Forecasts for China and other Emerging Markets have continued on a downtrend, extending last year’s underperformance, meaning investors might want to look into regions with a more favorable outlook.


Important note regarding economic sanctions. This research references country/ies which are generally the subject of selective sanctions programs administered or enforced by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), the European Union and/or by other countries and multi-national bodies. Users of this report are solely responsible for ensuring that their investment activities in relation to any sanctioned country/ies are carried out in compliance with applicable sanctions.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jonathan Garner, Chief Asia and Emerging Markets Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be talking about the key reasons why we recently reiterated our cautious stance on overall emerging market equities and also China equities. It's Friday, April 22nd at 8:00 p.m. in Hong Kong. 


Now, emerging market equities are underperforming again this year, and that's extending last year's underperformance versus developed market equities. And so indeed are China equities, the largest component of the Emerging Market Equities Index. This is confounding some of the optimism felt by some late last year that a China easing cycle could play its normal role in delivering a trend reversal. 


We have retained our cautious stance for a number of reasons. Firstly, the more aggressive stance from the US Federal Reserve, signaling a rapid move higher in US rates, is leading to a stronger US dollar. This drives up the cost of capital in emerging markets and has a directly negative impact on earnings for the Emerging Markets Index, where around 80% of companies by market capitalization derive their earnings domestically. Secondly, China's own easing cycle is more gradual than prior cycles, and last week's decision not to cut interest rates underscores this point. This decision is driven by the Chinese authorities desire not to start another leverage driven property cycle. Meanwhile, China remains firmly committed to tackling COVID outbreaks through a lockdown strategy, which is also weakening the growth outlook. Our economists have cut the GDP growth forecast for China several times this year as a result. 


Beyond these two factors, there are also other issues at play undermining the case for emerging market equities. Most notably, the strong recovery in services spending in the advanced economies in recent quarters is leading to a weaker environment for earnings growth in some of the other major emerging market index constituents, such as Korea and Taiwan. They have benefited from the surge in work from home spending on goods during the earlier phases of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the geopolitical risks of investing in emerging markets more generally have been highlighted by the Russia Ukraine conflict and Russia's removal from the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. 


So what do we prefer? We continue to like commodity producers such as Australia and Brazil, which are benefiting from high agricultural, energy and metals prices. We also favor Japan, which, unlike emerging markets, has more than half of the index deriving its earnings overseas and therefore benefits from a weaker yen. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

Apr 22, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Can Bonds Once Again Play Defense?
00:03:38

U.S. Treasury bonds have seen significant losses over the last six months, but looking forward investors may be able to use bonds to help balance their cross-asset portfolio in an uncertain market.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Thursday, April 21st at 2pm in London. 


Like any good team, most balanced investment portfolios are built with offense and defense. Stocks are usually tasked to play that proverbial offensive role, producing the majority of inflation adjusted returns over the long run. But because these equity returns come with high volatility, investors count on bonds for defense, asking bonds to provide stability during times of uncertainty with a little bit of income along the way. 


At least that's the idea. And for most of the last 40 years, it's worked pretty well. But lately it really hasn't. The last 6 months have seen the worst total returns for U.S. 10 year Treasury bonds since 1980, with losses of more than 10%. Investors are likely looking at what they thought was the defense in their portfolio, with a mix of frustration and disbelief. 


On April 9th, we closed our long held underweight in U.S. bonds in our asset allocation and moved back up to neutral. Part of our reasoning was, very simply, that significantly higher yields now improved the forward looking return profile for bonds relative to other assets. 


But another part of our thinking is the belief that going forward, bonds will be more effective at providing defense for other parts of the portfolio. We think the path here is twofold. 


First, even as bonds have struggled year to date, the correlation of U.S. Treasuries to the S&P 500 is still roughly zero. That means stocks and bonds are still mostly moving independent of each other on a day to day basis, and supports the idea that bonds can lower overall volatility in a balanced portfolio if yields have now seen their major adjustment. 


Second, if we think about why bonds provide defense, it's that when the economy is poor, earnings and stock prices tend to go down. But a poor economy will also lead central banks to lower interest rates, which generally pushes bond prices up. 


Recently, this dynamic has struggled. Interest rates were so low, with so little in future rate increases expected that it was simply very hard for these rate expectations to decline if there was any bad economic data. 


But that's now changed and in a really big way. As recently as September of last year, markets were expecting just 25 basis points of interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve over the following 12 months. That number is now 275 basis points. If the U.S. economy unexpectedly slows or the recent rise in interest rates badly disrupt the housing market, two developments that the stock market might dislike, markets might start to think the Fed will do less. They will apply fewer rate increases and thus give support to bonds under this negative scenario. That would be a direct way that bonds would once again provide portfolio defense. 


Bonds still face challenges. But after a historically bad run, we are no longer underweight, and think they can once again prove useful within a broader cross asset portfolio. 


Thanks for listening! Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen and leave us to review. We'd love to hear from you.

Apr 21, 2022
Graham Secker: A Cautious View on European Stocks
00:04:26

Although consensus forecasts for European equities continue to trend up, there are a few key risks on the horizon that investors may want to keep an eye on during the upcoming earnings season and year ahead.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the upcoming earnings season here in Europe and why we think corporate margins look set to come under pressure in the coming months. It's Wednesday, April the 20th at 2pm in London. 


This week marks the start of the first quarter earnings season for European companies, and we expect to see another "net beat", with more companies exceeding estimates than missing. However, while this may sound encouraging, we expect the size of this beat to be considerably smaller than recent quarters, which have been some of the best on record. At the same time, we think commentary around future trends is likely to turn more cautious, given triple headwinds from elevated geopolitical risks, an increasingly stagflation like economy and intensifying pressures on corporate margins. And we think this last point is probably the most underappreciated risk to European equities at this time. 


Historically, European margins have been positively correlated to inflation. Which likely reflects the index's sizable exposure to commodity sectors, and also the fact that the presence of inflation itself tends to signal both a strong topline environment and a positive pricing power dynamic for companies. In this regard, we note the consensus sales revisions for European companies are currently close to a 20-year high. 


So far, so good. However, the influence of inflation on the bottom line depends much more on its relative relationship with real GDP growth. Put simply, when inflation is below real GDP growth margins tend to rise, but when inflation is above real GDP growth, as it is now, margins and profitability in general tend to fall. As of today, consensus forecasts for European margins have yet to turn down. However, we have seen earnings revisions turn negative in recent weeks, such as the gap between sales revisions, which are currently positive, and earnings revisions, currently negative, has never been wider. 


In addition to this warning signal on margins from higher input costs, companies are also continuing to deal with challenging supply chain issues, whether related to the conflict in Eastern Europe or to the recent COVID lockdowns in China. A recent survey from the German Chambers of Commerce suggested that 46% of companies supply chains are completely disrupted or severely impacted by the current COVID 19 situation in China. In contrast, just 7% of companies reported no negative impact at all. 


For now, the market appears to be ignoring these warning signs. Consensus 2022 earnings estimates for the MSCI Europe Index are still trending up and have now risen by 5% year to date. This compares to a much smaller 2% upgrade for U.S. earnings and actual downgrades for Japan and emerging markets. While commodity sectors are the main source of this European upgrade, the absence of any offsetting downgrades across other sectors feels unsustainable to us. 


Ahead of every earnings season, we survey our European analysts to gather their views on the credibility of consensus forecasts. This quarter, the survey generally supports our own top down views, with our analysts expecting a small upside beat to consensus numbers in the first quarter, but then seeing downside risks for the full year 2022 estimates. This is the first time in nearly two years that this survey has given us a cautious message. Taking it to the sector level, our analysts see the greatest downside risks to consensus estimates for banks, construction, industrials, insurance, media, retailing and consumer staples. In contrast, our analysts see upside risks to earnings forecasts for brands, chemicals, energy, mining, healthcare and utilities. 


Historically, a move higher in equity valuations often tends to mitigate the impact on market performance from prior periods of earnings downgrades. However, we are skeptical that price to earnings ratios will rise much from here, as long as global central banks remain hawkish. Consequently, we continue to see an unattractive risk reward profile for European stocks just here and suggest investors wait for a better entry point, after economic and earnings expectations have reset lower. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Apr 20, 2022
Robert Rosener: How U.S. Businesses See the Road Ahead
00:04:05

As the U.S. Economy contends with higher inflation, supply chain stress, and rising recession risks, one indicator to keep an eye on is what’s going on at the sector level and how U.S. business conditions may help shape the economic outlook.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Robert Rosener, Senior U.S. Economist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be sharing a read on how industries across the U.S. may be viewing the current economic environment. It's Tuesday, April 19th at noon in New York. 


As we move through the economic recovery and expansion that has been uneven, it's increasingly important to track what's going on at the sector level. And collaboratively with our equity analysts we do exactly that with our Morgan Stanley Business Conditions Index; a monthly survey to track what's going on across industries. With the MSBCI we try to put all of those stories together into one coherent macro signal, from 0 to 100, where 50 is the even mark, above 50 is expansion and below 50 is contraction.


It incorporates a variety of data points on hiring plans, capex plans, advance bookings and how those factors are evolving. Now, amid a more challenging and uncertain economic backdrop with higher inflation, supply chain stress and concerns about rising recession risks, I'd like to dive into a few key findings from our most recent survey to give listeners a picture of how U.S. businesses might be seeing the current environment. 


First, in our April survey the headline measure for the MSBCI fell to a two year low of 44. We saw that decline in the index as driven by a deterioration in sentiment, because it coincided with a sharp pullback in business conditions expectations - so how analysts are seeing the forward trajectory for activity. And that decline in sentiment was particularly concentrated in the manufacturing sector, where we had a sharp decline in the MSBCI manufacturing component, while service sector activity appeared to bounce a little bit but remained at low levels. 


When we look at the underlying details, the fundamental components of the survey were more mixed this month. So downside in our survey was led by business conditions expectations, as well as advance bookings and more strikingly, credit conditions. Now some of this can be noise, and we need to look very carefully through the data to see if we can identify a clear trend. Advance bookings, the decline there may have been more noise, but we are monitoring credit conditions very closely as the Fed tries to tighten financial conditions with its monetary policy stance. 


We also got a bit of insight into supply chain conditions in this report. Responses from analysts in our survey indicated some stalling in the improvement in April, and a pickup in the share of analysts who reported that conditions remained unchanged. Which is broadly consistent with what we've seen in other indicators. Nevertheless, analysts generally expect improvement in supply conditions over the next 3 months.


Finally, there was some good news in the survey on business investment plans, what we call capex, as well as hiring plans. There was some moderation, but the two factors remain bright spots in the report, with upside in capex plans, and hiring plans coming back but holding at a fairly solid level. 


So what does this all tell us about how businesses see the road ahead? First, there's important momentum in hiring and capex. With respect to inflation, the deterioration we saw in supply conditions during the month does point to some upside risk for prices in the near term, and that was also reflected in strong upward pressure in the MSBCI pricing measures during the month. We can also see that businesses are facing increased uncertainty about the outlook. That's clear looking at the deterioration in sentiment, and that's clear looking at the pullback in business conditions expectations. So firms are watching the pace and trajectory of economic activity carefully. So it will continue to be important to watch these stories to judge what's going on at the sector level and how that's all coming together to shape the economic outlook. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.




Apr 20, 2022
Mike Wilson: Inflation Drags on Forward Earnings
00:04:12

While ongoing inflation has had some positive effects, consumers continue to feel its ill effects and we are beginning to see net negatives for earnings growth as Q1 earnings season begins.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, April 18th at 3 p.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Last week, we discussed how stocks were sending different messages about growth than bonds. We laid out our case for why stocks are likely to be the most trusted on this messaging and reiterated our preference for late cycle defensives that we've held since November. This week, we lay out the case for why this earnings season may finally bring the downward revisions to forward earnings forecasts that have remained elusive thus far. 


While we appreciate how inflation can be good for nominal GDP and therefore revenue growth, we think the inflation we are experiencing now is no longer a net positive for earnings growth for several reasons. First, there's a latent impact of inflation on costs that are now showing up in margins. Secondarily, the spike in energy and food costs, which serve as a tax on the consumer that is already struggling with high prices. In other words, we think the positive effects of inflation on earnings growth have reached their peak, and are now more likely to be a headwind to growth, particularly as inflation forces the Fed to be increasingly bearish, which leads to another headwind - significantly higher long term interest rates. More specifically, the average 30 year fixed mortgage rate is now above 5%, which is more than 60% higher since the start of the year, and why mortgage applications are also down more than 60% from their peak last year. This hasn't gone unnoticed by the market, by the way, which has punished housing related stocks to the tune of 40% or more. Given the long tailed effect that housing has on the economy, we think this is a major headwind to economic and earnings growth more broadly. 


Perhaps this explains why the de-rating has been so severe in the economically sensitive areas of the market, while defensive areas have actually seen valuations expand. This suggests the market is worrying about higher rates and slower growth, even as the overall index remains expensive. This is also very much in line with our view for defensives to dominate in this late cycle environment. However, the overall index remains a bit of a mystery, with the price earnings multiple down only 11% in the face of much higher interest rates. We chalk this up to the incredibly strong flows into equities from asset owners, which include retail, pension funds and endowments. These investors seem to have made a decision to abandon bonds in favor of stocks, which are a much better inflation hedge. These flows are keeping the main index more expensive, thereby leaving the real message about growth at the sector level. As already suggested, we think that message is crystal clear and in line with our own view that growth is slowing and likely more than most are forecasting. Especially for 2023, when the risk of a recession is increased. 


With regard to that view, signs are emerging that first quarter earnings season may disappoint, particularly from a guidance and forward earnings standpoint. More specifically, earnings revisions breadth for the S&P 500 has resumed its downward trend over the past 2 weeks, and is once again approaching negative territory. This is largely being driven by declining revisions in cyclical industries where we've been more negative. These include consumer discretionary, industrials, tech hardware and semiconductors. Negative revisions are often an indication that forward earnings estimates are going to flatten out or even fall. When forward earnings fall, it's usually not good for stocks and may even break the pattern of strong inflows to equities, as investors rethink their decision to use stocks at this point as a good hedge against inflation. 


Bottom line, stick with more defensively oriented sectors and stocks as earnings visibility is challenged for the average company. Secondarily, wait for at least one or two rounds of earnings cuts at the S&P level before adding to broader equity risk. 


Thanks for listening! If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people to find the show.

Apr 19, 2022
U.S. Economy: When to Worry About the Yield Curve
00:09:03

While there continues to be a lot of market chatter surrounding recession risks and the U.S. Treasury yield curve, there are several key factors that make the most recent dip into inversion different. Chief Global Economist Seth Carpenter and Head of U.S. Interest Rate Strategy Guneet Dhingra discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Seth Carpenter: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Seth Carpenter, Morgan Stanley's Chief Global Economist, 


Guneet Dhingra: and I'm Guneet Dhingra, Head of U.S. Interest Rate Strategy. 


Seth Carpenter: And on this episode of Thoughts on the Market, we're going to be discussing the sometimes inconsistent signals of economic recession and what investors should be watching. It's Thursday, April 14th at 10 a.m. in New York. 


Seth Carpenter: All right, Guneet, as I think most listeners probably know by now, there's a lot of market chatter about recession risks. However, if you look just at the hard data in the United States, I think it's clear that the U.S. economy right now is actually quite strong. If you look at the last jobs report, we had almost 450,000 new jobs created in the month of March. And between that, the strength of the economy right now and the multi-decade highs in inflation, the Federal Reserve is ready to go, starting to tighten monetary policy by raising short term interest rates and running off its balance sheet. That said, every time short term interest rates start to rise, they rise more than longer term interest rates do, and we get a flattening in the yield curve. The yield curve flattened so much recently that it actually inverted briefly where 2's were higher than 10's in yield. And as we've talked about before on this very podcast, there has been historically a signal from an inverted 2s10s curve to a recession probability, rising and rising and rising. Some of the work you've been doing recently, I think you've argued very eloquently, that this time is different. Can you walk me through why this time is different? 


Guneet Dhingra: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, right now you cannot have a conversation with investors without discussing yield curve inversion and the associated recession risks. So I think the way I've been framing it, this time is different because of two particular reasons that haven't been always true. The first one is the yield curve today is artificially very distorted by a multitude of factors. The number one and the most obvious one is the massive amounts of central bank bond buying from the Fed, from the ECB, from the Bank of Japan over the last few years. And so that puts a lot of flattening pressure on the curve, which makes it appear that the curve is too flat, whereas in practice it's just the residual effect of how central banks have affected the yield curve. On top of that, what's also happening is the Fed is obviously trying to address the inflation risk and they are looking to make policy restrictive in the next couple of years. So take the dot plot for instance, right, at the March meeting the Fed gave us a dot plot where the median participant expects the Fed funds rate to get to close to 3% in 2023, and the neutral rate that they see for the economy is close to 2.5%. So in essence, the Fed is telegraphing a form of inversion and ultimately the markets are mimicking what the Fed is telling them, which naturally leads to some curve inversion. So overall, I would say a combination of artificially flattening forces, a restrictive fed, just means that 2s10s curve today is not the macro signal it used to be. 


Seth Carpenter: Got it, got it, so that helps and that squares things, I think, with the way we on the economics team are looking at it. Because in our baseline forecast, there is not a recession in the US. But if that's right, and if we end up avoiding a recession, you've got a bunch of clients, we've got a bunch of clients who are trying to make trades in a market. What are you telling investors that they should be doing, how do you trade in an environment with an inverted curve? 


Guneet Dhingra: Right. So I think the way I talk to investors about this issue is the 2s10s curve merely inverting is not the signal used to be, which means for the yield curve to be predictive for a recession this time, the level threshold is much lower. So, for instance, you can imagine an economy where 2s10s curve inverting to minus 50 or minus 75 is the real true signal for a slowdown ahead and a recession ahead. And so what I tell investors today is do not get concerned about the yield curve getting to 0 basis points, there's a lot more room for the yield curve to keep inverting. And the target you should have for yield curve flattening trade should be more like minus 50 or minus 75. 

 

Seth Carpenter: Got it. That that's a very big difference, very far away from where we are now. And in fact, as I mentioned earlier, the inversion that we did see was somewhat short lived and we've actually had a bit of a steepening off the back of it. I guess one question, and this is something that you've also written about is, what's driving that tightening? Is it because the Fed is going to be unwinding its balance sheet, doing so-called quantitative tightening. If the quantitative easing that they were doing flattened the curve, are you seeing the quantitative tightening is the thing that's going to be steepening the curve? 


Guneet Dhingra: I think instinctively, many investors think tightening is the opposite of easing, so that must mean quantitative tightening is the opposite of quantitative easing. And that's why I think a big fallacy lies in how people are simplifying the understanding of QT. I think the reality is quantitative tightening is perhaps not the perfect term for what the Fed is going to do next. The main thing to understand here is when the Fed does QE, the Fed chooses which part of the Treasury curve are they going to target, and that ultimately decides whether the curve will steepen or flatten. However, in this case, it's the U.S. Treasury, which is going to decide once the Fed stops reinvesting, how will the U.S. Treasury respond by increasing supply in the front end or the back end? And that decides whether the yield curve should steepen or flatten, quite the opposite from QE where the Fed decides. So the way I sort of summarize this to people is QT is not the opposite of QE, asset sales are. So Seth, you spent 15 years working at the Fed. Do you think the FOMC cares about an inverted curve? 


Seth Carpenter: I would not say that the core of the FOMC cares about an inverted curve the same way that the average market participant does. I think it's undeniable that the Fed is aware of all of the research, all of the history, all of the correlation between an inverted curve and a recession. But I don't think it's a dispositive signal. And by that what I mean is, if we got to the point where the 2s10s curve were pancake flat, it was a zero or even slightly inverted, but if at the same time we were still getting 400-500,000 nonfarm payrolls per month, I think then that signal from the yield curve would get dismissed against the evidence that the economy is very, very strong. So I think an inverted curve is the sort of thing that would cause the Fed to double check their math in some sense. But it's not going to be the signal by itself. And then, going back to what you had said earlier about the dot plot. I think that's very important. What the Fed is trying to do is engineer a so-called soft landing. That is, they are trying to tighten policy so that the economy slows a lot, but not too much. So that the inflationary pressures that we see start to abate. How would they do that? Well, in part, they'd be raising the short term interest rate. They'd be raising it above their own estimate of neutral. And as you pointed out, in their last dot plot they said they'll go up to maybe 3% before eventually coming back down to 2.5%. So achieving that soft landing is almost surely going to end up creating an inverted yield curve anyway. 


Guneet Dhingra: Yeah, so you talk about the Fed engineering a soft landing. Have they successfully done it in the past? And what makes you think that they can do it this time? 


Seth Carpenter: So two very, very important questions. The answer to the first one, have they done it in the past, is a bit in the eye of the beholder. If you listen to Chair Powell a couple of weeks ago, when he gave a speech at the National Association of Business Economists conference, he gave at least three different examples where he says historically the Fed has achieved a soft landing. If I was going to point to a soft landing, I would look at 1994 to 1995. The economy did slow pretty dramatically after the Fed had hiked rates fairly aggressively, and then the Fed paused the hiking and eventually reversed course, and the economic expansion continued. I think you could consider that to be a soft landing. The big difference this time is that this is the first rate hiking cycle since the 1970s where the Fed is actively trying to bring inflation down. Whereas the more recent cycles have been the Fed trying to keep inflation from rising above their target. So bringing it down as opposed to keeping it down are two very different things. So the way I like to think about it is the Fed's got a very difficult job. Can they do it? Yes, I absolutely think they can do it. And part of what gives me hope is the episode in late 2018 to early 2019, the last time the Fed was hiking, running off the balance sheet, raising short term interest rates. We had that period where the economy slowed, risk markets cracked. And what did the Fed do? They reversed course. Chair Powell has taken to using the word nimble a lot recently. I think if they can be that responsive to conditions, it increases the chances that they pull it off. But it's going to be difficult. 


Seth Carpenter: Well Guneet, I think we would both agree that we don't think an inverted yield curve is signaling a recession, but that doesn't mean that one can't happen. The world is an uncertain place, but thanks for joining us and taking the time to talk. 


Guneet Dhingra: Absolutely. Great speaking to you Seth. 


Seth Carpenter: And as a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people to find the show.

Apr 15, 2022
Michael Zezas: An Optimistic Look at Bonds
00:02:40

As investors continue to discuss the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. Treasury market, there may be some good news for bond holders as the year progresses.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. Public Policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, April 13th at 10 a.m. in New York. 


It's been a tough year for bond investors so far. As inflation picked up, the Fed signaled its intent to hike rates rapidly. That pushed market yields for bonds higher and prices lower. And with the latest consumer price index showing prices rose 8.5% over the past year, bond investors could, understandably, be concerned that there's still more poor returns to come. 


But we're a bit more optimistic and see reason to think that bonds could deliver positive returns through year-end and, accordingly, play the volatility dampening role they typically play in one's multi-asset portfolio. Accordingly, our cross-asset team is no longer underweight government bonds. And our interest rate strategy team has said that the recent increase in longer maturity bond yields have put that group in overshoot territory. 


What's the fundamental basis for this thinking? In short, it has to do with something economists typically call demand destruction. Basically, it's the idea that as prices on a product increase, perhaps due to inflation, they reach a point where fewer consumers are willing or able to purchase that product. That in turn crimps economic growth and, accordingly, one would expect that longer maturity bond yields would rise less, or perhaps even decline, to reflect an expectation of lower inflation and economic growth down the road. 


And we're starting to see evidence of that demand destruction. Last week we talked about how the federal government was attempting to reduce the price of oil by selling some of its strategic petroleum reserve. But it's noteworthy that the biggest declines in the price of oil from its recent highs happened before this announcement, suggesting that the price surge at the pump was already crimping demand, resulting in prices having to come back down to put supply and demand in balance. You can also see similar evidence in the market for used cars. For example, used car dealer CarMax reported this week its biggest earnings miss in four years. Management cited car affordability as a key reason that it sold less cars year over year. 


So the bottom line is this: bond investors may have taken some pain this year, but that doesn't mean it's time to run from the asset class. In fact, there's good reason to believe it can deliver on its core goal for many investors, diversification in uncertain markets. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Apr 13, 2022
U.S. Housing: Supply, Demand, and the Yield Curve
00:07:02

In light of the U.S. Treasury yield curve recently inverting, many are asking if home prices will be affected and how the housing market might look going forward. Co-Heads of U.S. Securitized Product Research Jay Bacow and Jim Egan discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Jay Bacow: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jay Bacow, Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research here at Morgan Stanley. 


Jim Egan: And I'm Jim Egan, the other Co-Head of U.S. Securitized Products Research. 


Jay Bacow: And on this edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about the state of the mortgage and housing market, amidst an inverted yield curve. It's Tuesday, April 12th at 11 a.m. in New York. 


Jay Bacow: Now, Jim, lots of people have come on to talk about curve inversion and Thoughts on the Market. But let's talk about the impact to the mortgage and housing market. Now, the big question that everybody wants to know, whether or not they own a home or they're thinking about buying one, is what does an inverted curve mean for home prices? 


Jim Egan: When we look back at the history of, let's use the Case-Shiller home price index, we look back at that into the 80’s, it's turned negative twice over that 35-year period. Both of those times were pretty much immediately preceded by an inverted yield curve. However, there's a lot of other instances where the yield curve has inverted and home prices have climbed right on through, sometimes they've accelerated right on through. So if we're using history as our guide, we can say that an inverted yield curve is necessary but not sufficient to bring home prices down. And the logical next question that follows from that is, well, what's the common denominator? And in our view, there's a very clear answer, and that clear answer is supply. The times when home prices fell, the supply of homes was abundant. The times when home prices kept rising, we really did not have a lot of homes for sale. And when we look at the environment as we stand today, the inventory of homes for sale is at historic lows. 


Jay Bacow: OK, but that's the current inventory. What do you think about supply for the next year? 


Jim Egan: So I think there's two ways we have to think about the 12-month outlook for supply. The first is existing inventory, the second is new inventory, so building homes that come on market. Existing inventory is really driving that total number to historic lows. And we think it's just headed lower from here. One of the big reasons for that is, let's just talk about mortgage rates away from curve inversion. The significant increase we've seen in mortgage rates because of the unique construction of the mortgage market today, we think are going to bring inventories lower. And that's because an overwhelming majority of mortgage borrowers have fixed rate mortgages today, much more than in prior cycles in the past. And what that means is as rates go higher, as affordability deteriorates, which is something we've discussed in previous episodes of this podcast, that's for first time homebuyers. The current homeowner locked into those low fixed rates is not experiencing affordability pressure as mortgage rates go higher. In fact, they're probably less likely to put their home on the market. Selling their home and buying a new home would involve taking out a mortgage that might be 150 to 200 basis points higher. That can be prohibitively expensive in some instances, and so you actually get an environment where supply gets tighter and tighter, which could be supporting home prices. Now the other side of the equation is new homes. If existing inventory is at all-time lows, if prices continue to climb like they have, that should be an environment where we'll see more building. And we do think that inventories are already primed to come on the market over the next year because of the fact that look, we look at building permits, we look at housing starts, we look at completions, those numbers get talked about all the time when they come out monthly and they've been climbing. But they haven't been climbing all that much relative to history. What is up is kind of the interim points between those events, between housing start and completion. Units under construction is back to where we were in kind of late 2004, early 2005. Further up the chain units that have been permitted or authorized but haven't been started yet, that's starting to swell too. Now what’s currently in the pipeline isn't enough to alleviate the tight supply situation we find ourselves in. But it is enough to soften home price growth a little bit. But the real common denominator for home price growth in a curve inverted environment is that existing inventory number, which is at historic lows and continuing to go lower. 


Jay Bacow: All right, Jim. So mortgage rates are a lot higher, causing people to be locked in to their mortgage, and supply is low and you're saying probably going to stay that way. So what does that mean for housing activity going forward? 


Jim Egan: We think sales are going to fall. Housing sales normally fall either while the curve is inverted or shortly after the curve inverts, this time is no different. When we look at the impact that the incredible decrease in affordability that we've seen over the past 6 months, over the past 12 months, that also normally leads to sales volume slowing 6 months forward and 12 months forward. We've already started to see it. Existing home sales are starting to turn negative on a year over year basis, pending home sales are negative, purchase applications have decoupled even more than those statistics. So the ingredients for that decline in sales volumes that typically follow a curve inversion, they're already in place. We think that existing home sales have already peaked for at least the next year. But Jay, if we think existing home sales are going to fall, then that would mean fewer mortgages and fewer mortgages would mean less supply for mortgage-backed securities. Now that would be a good thing, right? 


Jay Bacow: Yeah, look, it's not advanced research to say that less supply is good for a market, and we think that's absolutely the case here. But the other side of the supply is demand, and the biggest source of demand, the largest holder of mortgages, is domestic banks. And domestic banks have a problem in an inverted yield curve that the incremental spread that they pick up to own mortgages versus their deposits is just going to be lower in an inverted yield curve. When we look at the data historically, we see that strong statistical correlation. That as the curve flattens, bank demand goes lower. It's also exacerbated by the fact that a lot of the mortgages that banks own are in their hold to maturity portfolios, over a trillion dollars. And those bonds yield less than where we project fed funds to be at the end of the year. So when we think about the demand for mortgages, the largest source of demand, it's going away. That's going to be a problem for mortgages. 


Jim Egan: OK, so the largest source of demand? Banks, they're going away. Who else is going to buy, if not the banks? 


Jay Bacow: Well, that's when we run into an even bigger problem. The second largest source of demand is the Fed, and the Fed has basically said in the minutes that were released last week, that they're going to be normalizing their mortgage holdings. Taking those two largest sources of demand it's likely to force money managers and overseas to end up buying mortgages, but probably at wider spreads than here. And that's why we're recommending still an underweight agency mortgages, which will cause spreads to go a little wider and maybe mortgage rates to go higher, further impacting the affordability problems that you were discussing earlier in the podcast, Jim. 


Jim Egan: All right Jay. Thanks for taking the time to talk today. 


Jay Bacow: Always great speaking with you, Jim. 


Jim Egan: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people to find the show. 

Apr 12, 2022
Special Encore: Sheena Shah - Is Cryptocurrency Becoming Currency?
00:04:17

Original Release on March 31st, 2022: As interest in using cryptocurrencies for transactions continues to rise for both consumers and businesses, crypto has begun a cycle of increased stability and popularity - but the question is, can this cycle continue? 


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Sheena Shah, Lead Cryptocurrency Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I will be asking the question - are cryptocurrencies currency? It's Thursday, March 31st at 2:00 p.m. in London. 


Did you really buy that house with crypto? Or did you just sell your crypto for dollars and use dollars to buy the house? 


Crypto skeptics think that goods cannot be priced in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, primarily because their price is too volatile. But at some point, if crypto begins to be used for enough purchases of everyday goods and services, prices may begin to stabilize. Increased stability will further entice consumers to use crypto, and the cycle will continue. The question has always been, will this virtuous cycle ever begin? The answer is now clear, it has already begun. Here are some examples. 


Firstly, paying with cryptocurrency needs to be as easy as paying with a credit or debit card today. Over 50 crypto companies and exchanges have issued their own crypto cards, and these are attached to the Visa or MasterCard payments networks, meaning they're accepted all around the world. In the last quarter of 2021, Visa said its crypto related cards handled $2.5 billion worth of payments. Now that may sound small, at less than 1% of all Visa's transactions, but it is growing quickly. The difficulty in increasing crypto adoption is getting the merchant to accept crypto. It needs to be easy and cheap, which is something lots of new crypto companies and products are trying to achieve. 


Secondly, many would argue that something can only be a currency if you can pay your taxes with it. Even that is changing today. Over the past year, local and some national governments have introduced or proposed laws that will allow its residents to use cryptocurrency to pay their taxes. El Salvador famously made bitcoin legal tender in its country in 2021. In the past week, Rio de Janeiro announced it will become the first city in Brazil to allow cryptocurrency payments for taxes starting next year. 


It isn't just emerging economies, though, that are trying to attract global crypto investors. The city of Lugano in Switzerland has teamed up with Tether, the creator of the largest stablecoin - a type of cryptocurrency that's kept stable versus the U.S. dollar, to make bitcoin and two other cryptocurrencies de facto legal tender. In the U.S., Colorado is hoping to become the first state to accept crypto for taxes later in the year, and Florida's governor is investigating the logistics of doing the same. Both these proposals may be difficult to put into law in the end, as the U.S. constitution doesn't allow individual states to create their own legal tender, but it hasn't stopped these proposals and more from coming in. 


In both these examples, the receiver of the crypto typically immediately converts to fiat currency, like U.S. dollars, through an intermediary service provider. So let's come back to our original question - did you really buy that house with crypto? In February, a house in Florida was sold for 210 Ether, the second largest crypto, or the equivalent of over $650,000 dollars. Interestingly, the seller received the ether but didn't liquidate into U.S. dollars soon afterwards due to market volatility, because the value of ether in U.S. dollars fell by around 10%. 


Consumers and businesses are increasingly wanting to transact in cryptocurrency. Maybe most are simply wanting to trade the value of the asset, but as it becomes easier to transact in crypto and legal structures are defined, cryptocurrencies could start to become currency. The question is, will the virtuous cycle continue or be broken? Cryptocurrencies are beginning the long journey of challenging U.S. dollar primacy, and the president's recent executive order on digital assets shows little sign of regulators getting in their way for now. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, share this and other episodes with a friend or colleague today.  

Apr 12, 2022
Andrew Sheets: A New Outlook on U.S. Bonds
00:03:07

Since the Fed’s first rate hike and the inversion of the U.S. Treasury yield curve, the outlook on U.S. government bonds has changed, leading to a new take on U.S. Bonds.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, April 8th at 2:00 p.m. in London. 


We've made a key change in our strategic cross-asset allocations, closing our underweight to government bonds and are overweight in cash. We did this via U.S. Treasuries. This is a big debate among investors, many of whom are underweight bonds and questioning when to buy them back. There are a couple of reasons why we made this change. 


First, U.S. 10 year Treasury yields are now above the 2.6% year-end yield target of Morgan Stanley's U.S. interest rate strategists, meaning our forecast for U.S. bond returns are looking better on a cross asset basis. These forecasts should reflect the impact and the uncertainty of higher inflation, quantitative tightening and the growth outlook. 


Second, another part of our asset allocation framework is asking what economic indicators say about future cross asset performance. On these measures the outlook for U.S. bonds is also improving. For example, bonds tend to do better on a cross asset basis after the yield curve inverts, which recently happened. 


Another reason we were underweight bonds is that they often underperform other asset classes during the expansion phase of our cycle indicator, a tool we've developed within Morgan Stanley research to measure the ebb and flow of the economic cycle. But this underperformance starts to shift and stop when this indicator gets very extended, and on its current measures, well, it's very extended. 


Third, while this change was made with a 12 month horizon in mind, we could see some reasons to take action now rather than wait. Recently, cyclical stocks have been sharply underperforming defensive stocks, and that usually coincides with unusually good bond market performance as investors worry about growth. But recently, bonds have been underperforming, even as defensive stocks have worked. That divergence is unusual, but could normalize. 


We also have an important release of U.S. Consumer Price Inflation next week. While a peak in inflation has so far been elusive, Morgan Stanley's economists believe it may arrive with next week's number. 


Of course, there are many risks to adding back to bonds at the current juncture. One of those risks is that the U.S. Federal Reserve remains hawkish, and committed to a large number of rate hikes over the next 12 months. While that is certainly possible, the market is now expecting a faster rate hiking path, reducing the chance of a Federal Reserve surprise. 


To raise our weight of U.S. bonds back to neutral, we are closing or overweight to cash. Cash has performed well year to date, as many other asset classes have seen price declines. But this outperformance is unusual and warrants a more balanced approach for the time being. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Apr 08, 2022
Europe: Geopolitics and the ECB
00:11:15

As the European Central Bank prepares to meet, the war in Ukraine continues to add to uncertainty, forcing investors in Europe to adjust their expectations for the remainder of the year. Chief Cross Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Chief Europe Economist Jens Eisenschmidt discuss.


Important note regarding economic sanctions. This research references country/ies which are generally the subject of selective sanctions programs administered or enforced by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), the European Union and/or by other countries and multi-national bodies. Any references in this report to entities, debt or equity instruments, projects or persons that may be covered by such sanctions are strictly incidental to general coverage of the issuing entity/sector as germane to its overall financial outlook, and should not be read as recommending or advising as to any investment activities in relation to such entities, instruments or projects. Users of this report are solely responsible for ensuring that their investment activities in relation to any sanctioned country/ies are carried out in compliance with applicable sanctions. 


----- Transcript -----

Andrew Sheets Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Morgan Stanley's Chief Cross Asset Strategist.


Jens Eisenschmidt And I'm Jens Eisenschmidt. Morgan Stanley's Chief Europe Economist.


Andrew Sheets And today on the podcast we'll be talking about the outlook for Europe's economy amid possible rate hikes, business reopenings and the war in Ukraine. It's Thursday, April 7th at 3 p.m. in London.


Andrew Sheets Jens, clearly we're dealing with a lot in Europe right now amid the Ukraine conflict and I want to get into that situation and the impacts on the economy. But given that the European Central Bank is meeting in just a few days and there is speculation about possible rate hikes, let's start there. Maybe you could give a bit of a background on what we expect the ECB is going to do.


Jens Eisenschmidt Thanks a lot, Andrew. First of all, let me say that we don't expect any change at next week's meeting relative to what the ECB has been saying in March at their last meeting. They're essentially keeping all options open. They have started on a gradual exit from their very accommodative monetary policy. They have increased the pace of policy normalization at their last meeting, and we do not expect the ECB to change that roadmap now. Just as a reminder, the roadmap is asset purchases could end in Q3 and any interest rate hike would come sometime thereafter. And any decision on ending asset purchases and rate hikes is highly data dependent. And that really it takes us to the current situation. Inflation continues to surprise to the upside. We just had a 7.5 percentage point print in March, and this undoubtedly does increase the pressure on the ECB to act. At the same time, there are significant downside risks to the outlook for growth in the Euro area stemming essentially from the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and this puts a premium on treading very carefully with any changes to the monetary policy configuration, hence the emphasis on optionality, flexibility and gradualism by the ECB.


Andrew Sheets Jens, when you talk about gradualism, that implies that the inflation that we're seeing in Europe is more temporary, is more transitory, isn't going to get out of hand. Can you talk a little bit about what is different at the moment between inflation in Europe and inflation in the U.S.?


Jens Eisenschmidt I think there are a lot of technical aspects that indeed you could be looking at on that question, but I think it's sufficient for our purposes here really to focus on the key difference. In the U.S. there's a huge internal demand component to inflation. While the same is not true for the euro area, where most of the inflation, you could argue, largest part is imported through energy. Another difference is that the outlook for the economy is slightly different. While you would say that in the U.S., if you're talking about an overheated economy, you have a very tight labor market, it's very difficult to see, you know, some sort of self-correcting forces bringing down inflation, which is why the Fed is embarking on a relatively aggressive tightening cycle. Here in the euro area, there is, of course, growth we see in '22 in our base case but at the same time, we are far away from such an overheating situation and even we are here now relying increasingly on fiscal stimulus to keep the growth momentum going given the high energy prices that are coming, dampening growth. So I think the situation is fundamentally a different one.


Andrew Sheets And so Jens, maybe digging more into that growth outlook. You mentioned this rise in energy prices. There is uncertainty over the war in Ukraine. And yet in your team's base case, we see GDP growth in Europe growing about 3% this year, which would be pretty good by the standards of the last decade. What's behind that overall outlook?


Jens Eisenschmidt You're right. our base case has the euro area economy growing by 3% in '22 on the back of the ongoing recovery from the pandemic, 'reopening' in one word, which has lagged here relative to, say, the U.S., as well as due to the fiscal stimulus. But we see increasing headwinds emerging as you were just also referencing. We had this series of consumer confidence prints clearly affected by high inflation and the ongoing conflict, and we are watching attentively how this develops. Energy prices have skyrocketed. So, while we stick to our base call for now, we think that the balance of risks is slowly migrating to the downside. As for the ECB, the projections presented at their last meeting in March are more optimistic in terms of growth than ours. Now, clearly, if the ECB's view of the world prevails, so growth comes in better than we expect, we think the ECB will start to raise rates as early as September this year. Contrary to that, we think that incoming data will disappoint the ECB and this is why we have the first rate hike only in December. In any case, you can see the ECB is clearly on the path of policy normalization, the need for which is driven by the high inflation regime we are in and even the less favorable growth outlook won't change that fundamentally.


Andrew Sheets Jens, given that we were discussing the ECB, I'd also like to talk about what higher interest rates mean in Europe. How do you think about that debate and do you see a scenario where the ECB might be quicker to take rates from negative to zero, but then pause at zero for a more extended period of time?


Jens Eisenschmidt I think this is a fair question, given that the negative rate experiment, if you want to call it, is really unique in its scope in the Euro area. And there has been a lot of debate about the effect of negative rates on banks, and you can probably argue that revising or returning from negative to zero is a little bit of a different journey than just raising rates in positive territory like what the what the Fed is going to do or is about to do now. So I'd say while there are some merits in the argument that probably, you know, getting rid of negative rates in the front end will help banks and may be good for lending in some sense, I think overall, our assessment would be increasing rates is something that detracts from economic activity.


Andrew Sheets So Jens, you know, you mentioned some of the risks around energy supply, and I think it's safe to say this is the single biggest area of questions for investors who are in Europe or are looking at Europe is, how would the region respond to either cutting off its imports of gas and oil from Russia voluntarily or this disruption happening involuntarily? What would a complete cut off of Russian oil and gas mean for Europe's economy? And how does somebody in your position even go about trying to model that sort of outcome?


Jens Eisenschmidt So we have, of course, tried to get our head around this question and we we have published last week a note on exactly that issue. The typical approaches or the approaches that we have as economists here is really you look at the sectoral dependencies on on these flows of gas and oil, say. You make some assumptions and of course, it gives rise to ranges which are relatively wide. What we can say with certainty is that in a scenario of a complete cut off of Russian supplies in terms of oil and gas, we we are very, very likely in a recession in 22 in the euro area. And we are really talking about a significant recession risk. While only through higher energy prices, so oil going the direction of 150, but you know, other than that supply still flowing, we also see huge dampening impact on the economy with a shallow recession emerging not as bad as we would see in a total cutoff scenario. But I have to admit there's huge uncertainty.


Jens Eisenschmidt But Andrew, I was going to ask you a similar question as a strategist looking at different asset classes around the world. What's your team's view on Europe?


Andrew Sheets Well thanks, Jens. So I think, unfortunately, the outlook for Europe, as you mentioned, has deteriorated since the start of the year. This terrible conflict in Ukraine has introduced additional uncertainty and binary risks to Europe around energy security that are difficult for investors to price and to discount. So, we've lowered our price target for European equities, which now leaves very limited upside versus current prices. And I think the region is now less attractive than something like Japan, for example, where I think you still have some of the same positive arguments that apply to Europe. The valuations are low. The currency is weak. Investors, I do not think are overly positioned in the region, but with less risk around aggressive central bank policy and with less risk around energy security. So for those reasons, we now think Japan is going to be outperforming market on a on a global basis.


Andrew Sheets So Jens, all that said, the war in Ukraine is a wild card for our forecasts. What are the developments or indicators that you and your team are going to be watching?


Jens Eisenschmidt We are really dependent on what's happening in the political sphere, given that the cut off of energy supplies will be either a decision by Russia or by the EU to no longer accept delivery of any gas or oil or coal. And obviously, this is a political process for which you have many ingredients, so you would want to watch these ingredients and some of which are essentially in the conflict itself. So I think we are attentively watching the developments that the conflict is taking. And there for instance, the news flow coming out of potential war crimes that certainly has not helped the case of energy supplies flowing freely. So there is a discussion right now in the European Union to restrict import of coal. And I think it's exactly these sort of developments that you have to be watching. Another space that we attentively watch is energy markets because high energy prices are so detrimental for the growth outlook. And might remind you, we have one scenario, our so-called bear scenario, which sees energy prices almost as high as we have seen them or higher a little bit maybe as we have seen them in early March. That is a scenario which would get us very, very close to recessionary territory. So, in some sense, it's a situation where we have to watch the energy markets as much as we have to watch the political scene and see how this conflict evolves.


Andrew Sheets Well, clearly a lot that we'll need to follow. Jens, thanks for taking the time to talk.


Jens Eisenschmidt Great speaking with you, Andrew.


Andrew Sheets And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

Apr 07, 2022
Michael Zezas: Will Gas Prices Come Down?
00:02:17

As the U.S. government attempts to combat high gas prices by drawing on its oil reserves, investors should pay attention to the impacts on the U.S. economy and consumer behavior.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, April 6th at 10 a.m. in New York.


Last week President Biden announced the largest release of oil reserves in history, about 1 million barrels per day for the next 6 months from the government's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The move is intended to put downward pressure on the price of gasoline by increasing the supply of oil, thereby relieving pressure on the American consumer from higher costs at the pump. Will it work? That remains to be seen, but investors should pay close attention, not just because it impacts their cost of driving, but also because it impacts the outlook for the U.S. economy by affecting how consumers behave.


Our U.S. economics team, led by Ellen Zentner, has done some work worth highlighting here. The big takeaway is this; oil price shocks do dampen consumer activity, but not right away. The jump in oil prices seems to have to sustain itself before having a big impact. For example, consumption in real dollar terms seems to weaken after initial oil price increases, but it's not until 2 to 3 months after that shock that consumers start to buy less of other things in order to have enough money to pay the higher costs of filling up their cars. Looking at this effect on a specific product, for instance automobiles, you can see a similar pattern. Spending on cars doesn't seem to change in the first month after a price shock but drops almost 10% thereafter for 8 months.


So the bottom line is this; the White House's move on releasing oil reserves has some time to play out. But if it doesn't reduce gas prices in the next couple months, then it becomes one cost pressure among several, including labor costs, that could start slowing the U.S. economy from its currently healthy pace. It's one reason our equity strategy team continues to see higher costs creating some pressure in key sectors of the stock market, notably consumer services, apparel and staples.


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Apr 06, 2022
Special Encore: The Fed - Learning From the Last Hiking Cycle
00:06:26

Original Release on March 30th, 2022: As the Fed kicks off a new rate hiking cycle, investors are looking back at the previous hiking cycle to ease their concerns today. Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy Michael Zezas and Global Head of Macro Strategy Matthew Hornbach discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. 


Matthew Hornbach: And I'm Matthew Hornbach, Global Head of Macro Strategy for Morgan Stanley. 


Michael Zezas: And today on the podcast, we'll be discussing the last Fed hiking cycle and what it might mean for investors today. It's Wednesday, March 30th at 11:00 a.m. in New York. 


Michael Zezas: Matt, we've recently entered a new Fed hiking cycle as the Fed deals with inflation. But it seems like clients have been focusing with you of late on the question of what drove the Fed during the last hiking cycle, where they paused their tightening and started to reverse course. Why is that something investors are focusing on right now? 


Matthew Hornbach: Well, Mike, investors are looking for answers about this hiking cycle, and a good place to start is the last cycle. The past week saw U.S. Treasury yields reach new highs and the Treasury curve flattened even more. Markets are now pricing Fed policy to reach a neutral setting this year of around 2.5%. The market also prices Fed policy to reach 3% next year. For context, the Fed was only able to raise its policy rate to 2.5% in the last cycle. So the fact that markets now price a higher policy rate than in the last cycle, after which the Fed ended up cutting interest rates, has people nervous. It's worth noting, though, that a 3% policy rate is still some distance below policy rates in the mid 1990s and the mid 2000s. 


Michael Zezas: Got it. So then, what do you think of the argument that the Fed may have over tightened in the last cycle? 


Matthew Hornbach: Well, instead of telling you what I think, let me tell you what FOMC participants were thinking at the time. I went back and read the minutes from the June 2019 FOMC meeting. That was the meeting before the Fed first cut rates, which they did in July. I chose to focus on that meeting because that's when several FOMC participants first projected lower policy rates. And according to the account of that decision, participants thought that a slowdown in global growth was weighing on the U.S. economy. In fact, evidence from global purchasing manager data showed that growth in emerging market and developed market economies was slowing, and was occurring well before the U.S. economy began to slow. And also, data suggested that global trade volumes were well below trend. So Mike, let me put it back to you then. It seems to me that Fed policy wasn't driving economic weakness back then, but that something else was driving this change in global economic activity. And I think, you know where I'm going with this... 


Michael Zezas: Yes, you're talking about the trade conflict between the U.S. and China, where from 2017 to 2019 there was a slow and then rapidly escalating series of tariff hikes between the two countries. It was a very public pattern of response and counter response, interspersed with negotiations and sharp rhetoric from both sides, eventually resulted in tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in traded goods. Now, those tariffs endure to this day, but the tariff hikes stopped in late 2019 after the two sides made a stopgap agreement. But even though this was just a few years ago and perhaps seems tame in comparison to the global challenges that have come up since, like the pandemic and now the Russia-Ukraine conflict, I think it's important to remember that at the time this was a big deal and created a lot of concern for companies, economists and investors. You have to remember that before 2017, the consensus in the US and most of Europe was that free trade was good, and anything that raised trade barriers was playing with fire for the economy. We'd often hear from clients that raising tariffs was just like Smoot-Hawley, the legislation in the U.S. that hiked tariffs in many textbooks credit as a key cause of the Great Depression. So, as the U.S. and China engage in their tariff escalation and in many ways demonstrate, at least on the U.S. side, that the political consensus no longer viewed low trade barriers as intrinsically good, you have corporations becoming increasingly concerned about the direction of the global economy and starting to take steps to protect themselves, like limiting capital investment to keep cash on hand. And this, of course, concerned investors and economists. 


Matthew Hornbach: Right. So this is more or less what the Fed suggested when it actually moved to cut its policy rate in July of 2019. The opening paragraph of the FOMC statement, in fact, suggested that U.S. labor markets remain strong and that economic activity had been rising at a moderate rate. But to your point, Mike, the statement also said that growth of business fixed investment had been soft. And in describing the motivation to cut rates, the statement pointed to implications from global developments and muted inflation pressures at home. 


Michael Zezas: OK, so then if it wasn't tight Fed policy, it was instead this exogenous shock, the trade conflict between the US and China. What does that tell us about how investors should look at the risks and benefits of the Fed's policy stance today? 


Matthew Hornbach: Well, it first tells us that policy rates near 2.5% shouldn't worry us very much. Of course, a 2.5% policy rate today may not be the same as it was in 2018 at the height of the last hiking cycle. It may be more, or it may be less restrictive, only time will tell. But we know the economy we have today is arguably stronger than it was at the end of the last hiking cycle. The unemployment rate's about the same, but the level of real gross domestic product is higher, its rate of change is higher and inflation is higher as well, both for consumer prices and for wages. All of this suggests that Fed policy could go above 2.5%, like our economists suggest it will, without causing a recession. But as the last hiking cycle shows us, we need to keep our eyes out for other risks on the horizon unrelated to Fed policy. 


Michael Zezas: Well, Matt, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. 


Matthew Hornbach: It was great talking with you, Michael, 


Michael Zezas: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

Apr 05, 2022
Mike Wilson: Revisiting the 2022 Outlook
00:04:22

With the end of the first financial quarter of 2022 the market has begun to price in some of the continuing risks to economic growth, forcing investors to reconsider the trajectory for the rest of the year.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, April 4th, at 11:00 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Given how bad first quarter returns were for both stocks and bonds, most investors were probably happy to see it end. Furthermore, the rally in the second half of March made it considerably better for stocks than it was looking just a few weeks ago. In the end, though, bond returns ranked worse than stocks from a historical perspective, with Treasuries posting the worst quarter in 50 years. 


The tough first quarter was very much in line with our view coming into 2022. To recall, we didn't see many fat pitches given the Fed's resolve to fight the surge in inflation in the face of slowing growth. Whether it was for technical or fundamental reasons, bond and stock markets ignored this risk into year-end. Apparently, they required a more obvious signal, which appeared on January 5th with the minutes of the Fed's December meeting. From that moment, both stocks and bonds made a sharp U-turn and never really looked back for the entire first month of the year. 


In short, headline indices for both stocks and bonds finally adjusted to the fire part of our narrative, a risk that started to price under the surface back in November. With inflation and the Fed the number one concern during the first quarter, it makes sense that bonds would be worse than equities. It also makes sense that stocks more vulnerable to higher interest rates underperformed. As an example, the Nasdaq performance was considerably worse than both the S&P 500 and the small cap Russell 2000, a very rare occurrence over the past few years. And this is after a major rally in the past two weeks that was led by the Nasdaq. Our conclusion is that markets were preoccupied in the first quarter with the Fed's sharp pivot, more than anything else, and it played out in asset prices appropriately. 


Of course, the other major driver for markets in the first quarter was the war in Ukraine. While tensions had been building since late last year, it's fair to say markets had ignored that risk, too. The only difference is that the Fed's pivot was well telegraphed, while Russia's invasion was far from a sure thing and more of an unknown known to most, including us. Obviously, such an event did materially factor into the risk for the first quarter by accentuating the fire and ice by making inflation worse whilst simultaneously dampening growth prospects. It also has rattled confidence for both businesses and consumers, especially in Europe. This was not in our calculus when we made our forecast for 2022. As such, we find ourselves incrementally more negative on growth trends than we were at the end of last year. 


Last fall, we pushed out the timing of the ice part of our narrative to the first half of this year, when we realized that the economy still had plenty of strength left for companies to deliver on earnings growth. But now investors face multiple headwinds to growth that will be harder to ignore. These include the payback in demand from last year's fiscal stimulus, demand destruction from higher prices, food and energy price spikes from the war that serves as a tax and inventory bills that have now caught up to demand. 


While the employment report for March last Monday was strong once again, the Purchasing Managers Survey for Manufacturing showed a sharp deterioration in the orders component. Relative to inventories it looks even worse, with the inventory component of the index now below orders for the first time since the recovery began. Think of this ratio as the book to bill for the broader manufacturing economy. Perhaps this survey is the moment of recognition for the slowdown, much like the Fed's minutes were for inflation and Fed policy. 


The bottom line is that the fundamental outlook for stocks has deteriorated in our view since the end of last year. While markets have reflected some of this deterioration, we think it remains vulnerable to disappointing growth and increased risk of a recession next year. As such, we continue to recommend investors position for this late cycle setup. More specifically, that means favor defensively oriented sectors like Utilities, REITs and Healthcare, while avoiding stocks more vulnerable to a payback in consumer demand. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people to find the show. 

Apr 04, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Markets Look to the Yield Curve
00:03:04

Investors are looking to the U.S. Treasury bond market as concerns rise around what the flattening, and potential inversion, of the yield curve might mean.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, April 1st at 2:00 p.m. in London. 


The so-called flattening and inversion of the U.S. yield curve is a dominant story in financial markets. As rates have risen, short term interest rates have risen more, meaning investors receive about the same yield on a 2 year U.S. Treasury as its 10 year version. This is unusual, and raises big questions for both bond investors and the economic outlook overall. 


Unsurprisingly, investors are usually paid more for investing in longer term bonds because these are generally more volatile. When that's not the case, it often means the market thinks the economy is going to be good in the near term, keeping short term central bank rates high, but possibly weaker in the longer term, which would imply lower future central bank rates and more supportive policy further out. 


And that feels like a pretty decent encapsulation of the current market debate. The U.S. economy is very strong at the moment, with the US unemployment rate recently falling to just 3.6%. But that strength is driving inflation and leading the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates more aggressively, rate increases that investors fear could weaken growth further out in the future. 


With implications like this it's no wonder that a lot of other asset classes, from credit markets, to equity markets, to commodities, really care about what the bond market is doing. And for these investors, we think there are a number of interesting implications. 


Let me start by saying that similar yields on 2 year and 10 year government bonds is not, in itself, a sell signal. Indeed, the last five times these rates were the same, global stocks rose by an average of about 10% over the following year. 


What we do see, however, is that a flat yield curve starts to support the outperformance of higher quality, more defensive assets. I try to explain this by the idea that investors do try to retain some growth in income exposure, given the strong current economic conditions, but try to move away from assets that could be much more vulnerable if growth deteriorates in the future. 


Specifically, when the U.S. 2 year and 10 year yields become similar, investment grade bonds start to outperform high yield bonds. Developed market stocks start to outperform emerging market stocks. And defensive sectors like health care and utilities outperform the broader market over the ensuing 12 months. 


Today, we think all of those strategies make sense. That's not because we necessarily think a recession is likely. Rather, we think it's a prudent reading of history in response to current bond market signals. 


Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Apr 01, 2022
Sheena Shah: Is Cryptocurrency Becoming Currency?
00:04:09

As interest in using cryptocurrencies for transactions continues to rise for both consumers and businesses, crypto has begun a cycle of increased stability and popularity - but the question is, can this cycle continue? 


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Sheena Shah, Lead Cryptocurrency Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I will be asking the question - are cryptocurrencies currency? It's Thursday, March 31st at 2:00 p.m. in London. 


Did you really buy that house with crypto? Or did you just sell your crypto for dollars and use dollars to buy the house? 


Crypto skeptics think that goods cannot be priced in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, primarily because their price is too volatile. But at some point, if crypto begins to be used for enough purchases of everyday goods and services, prices may begin to stabilize. Increased stability will further entice consumers to use crypto, and the cycle will continue. The question has always been, will this virtuous cycle ever begin? The answer is now clear, it has already begun. Here are some examples. 


Firstly, paying with cryptocurrency needs to be as easy as paying with a credit or debit card today. Over 50 crypto companies and exchanges have issued their own crypto cards, and these are attached to the Visa or MasterCard payments networks, meaning they're accepted all around the world. In the last quarter of 2021, Visa said its crypto related cards handled $2.5 billion worth of payments. Now that may sound small, at less than 1% of all Visa's transactions, but it is growing quickly. The difficulty in increasing crypto adoption is getting the merchant to accept crypto. It needs to be easy and cheap, which is something lots of new crypto companies and products are trying to achieve. 


Secondly, many would argue that something can only be a currency if you can pay your taxes with it. Even that is changing today. Over the past year, local and some national governments have introduced or proposed laws that will allow its residents to use cryptocurrency to pay their taxes. El Salvador famously made bitcoin legal tender in its country in 2021. In the past week, Rio de Janeiro announced it will become the first city in Brazil to allow cryptocurrency payments for taxes starting next year. 


It isn't just emerging economies, though, that are trying to attract global crypto investors. The city of Lugano in Switzerland has teamed up with Tether, the creator of the largest stablecoin - a type of cryptocurrency that's kept stable versus the U.S. dollar, to make bitcoin and two other cryptocurrencies de facto legal tender. In the U.S., Colorado is hoping to become the first state to accept crypto for taxes later in the year, and Florida's governor is investigating the logistics of doing the same. Both these proposals may be difficult to put into law in the end, as the U.S. constitution doesn't allow individual states to create their own legal tender, but it hasn't stopped these proposals and more from coming in. 


In both these examples, the receiver of the crypto typically immediately converts to fiat currency, like U.S. dollars, through an intermediary service provider. So let's come back to our original question - did you really buy that house with crypto? In February, a house in Florida was sold for 210 Ether, the second largest crypto, or the equivalent of over $650,000 dollars. Interestingly, the seller received the ether but didn't liquidate into U.S. dollars soon afterwards due to market volatility, because the value of ether in U.S. dollars fell by around 10%. 


Consumers and businesses are increasingly wanting to transact in cryptocurrency. Maybe most are simply wanting to trade the value of the asset, but as it becomes easier to transact in crypto and legal structures are defined, cryptocurrencies could start to become currency. The question is, will the virtuous cycle continue or be broken? Cryptocurrencies are beginning the long journey of challenging U.S. dollar primacy, and the president's recent executive order on digital assets shows little sign of regulators getting in their way for now. 


Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, share this and other episodes with a friend or colleague today.  

Mar 31, 2022
The Fed: Learning From the Last Hiking Cycle
00:06:19

As the Fed kicks off a new rate hiking cycle, investors are looking back at the previous hiking cycle to ease their concerns today. Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy Michael Zezas and Global Head of Macro Strategy Matthew Hornbach discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Head of Public Policy Research and Municipal Strategy for Morgan Stanley. 


Matthew Hornbach: And I'm Matthew Hornbach, Global Head of Macro Strategy for Morgan Stanley. 


Michael Zezas: And today on the podcast, we'll be discussing the last Fed hiking cycle and what it might mean for investors today. It's Wednesday, March 30th at 11:00 a.m. in New York. 


Michael Zezas: Matt, we've recently entered a new Fed hiking cycle as the Fed deals with inflation. But it seems like clients have been focusing with you of late on the question of what drove the Fed during the last hiking cycle, where they paused their tightening and started to reverse course. Why is that something investors are focusing on right now? 


Matthew Hornbach: Well, Mike, investors are looking for answers about this hiking cycle, and a good place to start is the last cycle. The past week saw U.S. Treasury yields reach new highs and the Treasury curve flattened even more. Markets are now pricing Fed policy to reach a neutral setting this year of around 2.5%. The market also prices Fed policy to reach 3% next year. For context, the Fed was only able to raise its policy rate to 2.5% in the last cycle. So the fact that markets now price a higher policy rate than in the last cycle, after which the Fed ended up cutting interest rates, has people nervous. It's worth noting, though, that a 3% policy rate is still some distance below policy rates in the mid 1990s and the mid 2000s. 


Michael Zezas: Got it. So then, what do you think of the argument that the Fed may have over tightened in the last cycle? 


Matthew Hornbach: Well, instead of telling you what I think, let me tell you what FOMC participants were thinking at the time. I went back and read the minutes from the June 2019 FOMC meeting. That was the meeting before the Fed first cut rates, which they did in July. I chose to focus on that meeting because that's when several FOMC participants first projected lower policy rates. And according to the account of that decision, participants thought that a slowdown in global growth was weighing on the U.S. economy. In fact, evidence from global purchasing manager data showed that growth in emerging market and developed market economies was slowing, and was occurring well before the U.S. economy began to slow. And also, data suggested that global trade volumes were well below trend. So Mike, let me put it back to you then. It seems to me that Fed policy wasn't driving economic weakness back then, but that something else was driving this change in global economic activity. And I think, you know where I'm going with this... 


Michael Zezas: Yes, you're talking about the trade conflict between the U.S. and China, where from 2017 to 2019 there was a slow and then rapidly escalating series of tariff hikes between the two countries. It was a very public pattern of response and counter response, interspersed with negotiations and sharp rhetoric from both sides, eventually resulted in tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in traded goods. Now, those tariffs endure to this day, but the tariff hikes stopped in late 2019 after the two sides made a stopgap agreement. But even though this was just a few years ago and perhaps seems tame in comparison to the global challenges that have come up since, like the pandemic and now the Russia-Ukraine conflict, I think it's important to remember that at the time this was a big deal and created a lot of concern for companies, economists and investors. You have to remember that before 2017, the consensus in the US and most of Europe was that free trade was good, and anything that raised trade barriers was playing with fire for the economy. We'd often hear from clients that raising tariffs was just like Smoot-Hawley, the legislation in the U.S. that hiked tariffs in many textbooks credit as a key cause of the Great Depression. So, as the U.S. and China engage in their tariff escalation and in many ways demonstrate, at least on the U.S. side, that the political consensus no longer viewed low trade barriers as intrinsically good, you have corporations becoming increasingly concerned about the direction of the global economy and starting to take steps to protect themselves, like limiting capital investment to keep cash on hand. And this, of course, concerned investors and economists. 


Matthew Hornbach: Right. So this is more or less what the Fed suggested when it actually moved to cut its policy rate in July of 2019. The opening paragraph of the FOMC statement, in fact, suggested that U.S. labor markets remain strong and that economic activity had been rising at a moderate rate. But to your point, Mike, the statement also said that growth of business fixed investment had been soft. And in describing the motivation to cut rates, the statement pointed to implications from global developments and muted inflation pressures at home. 


Michael Zezas: OK, so then if it wasn't tight Fed policy, it was instead this exogenous shock, the trade conflict between the US and China. What does that tell us about how investors should look at the risks and benefits of the Fed's policy stance today? 


Matthew Hornbach: Well, it first tells us that policy rates near 2.5% shouldn't worry us very much. Of course, a 2.5% policy rate today may not be the same as it was in 2018 at the height of the last hiking cycle. It may be more, or it may be less restrictive, only time will tell. But we know the economy we have today is arguably stronger than it was at the end of the last hiking cycle. The unemployment rate's about the same, but the level of real gross domestic product is higher, its rate of change is higher and inflation is higher as well, both for consumer prices and for wages. All of this suggests that Fed policy could go above 2.5%, like our economists suggest it will, without causing a recession. But as the last hiking cycle shows us, we need to keep our eyes out for other risks on the horizon unrelated to Fed policy. 


Michael Zezas: Well, Matt, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. 


Matthew Hornbach: It was great talking with you, Michael, 


Michael Zezas: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. 

Mar 30, 2022
Energy: Oil, Gas and the Clean Energy Transition
00:11:12

As oil and gas prices rise, governments and investors must weigh investment in clean energy initiatives and new capacity in traditional energy commodities. Head of North American Power & Utilities and Clean Energy Research Stephen Byrd and Head of North American Oil and Gas Research Devin McDermott discuss.


Important note regarding economic sanctions. This research references country/ies which are generally the subject of comprehensive or selective sanctions programs administered or enforced by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), the European Union and/or by other countries and multi-national bodies. Any references in this report to entities, debt or equity instruments, projects or persons that may be covered by such sanctions are strictly informational, and should not be read as recommending or advising as to any investment activities in relation to such entities, instruments or projects. Users of this report are solely responsible for ensuring that their investment activities in relation to any sanctioned country/ies are carried out in compliance with applicable sanctions.


-----Transcript-----


Stephen Byrd: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley's Head of North American Power and Utilities, and Clean Energy Research. 


Devin McDermott: And I'm Devin McDermott, Head of Morgan Stanley's North American Oil and Gas Research. 


Stephen Byrd: And today on the podcast, we'll be discussing the key debate around energy security and energy transition amid the Ukraine Russia conflict. It's Tuesday, March 29th, at 9 a.m. in New York. 


Stephen Byrd: So, Devin, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has, among other concerns, really put a spotlight on energy supply and demand. I want to get into this perceived tension between energy security, that is making sure there's enough supply to meet demand, and the transition to clean energy. But first, maybe let's start with the backdrop. There's been a lot of discussion around higher energy prices. This is a world you live in every day, and I wondered if you could paint us a picture of both oil and natural gas supply and demand globally. 


Devin McDermott: Yeah, certainly, Stephen, and it's definitely been a dynamic market here over the last several years, coming out of COVID and the price declines that we saw then and the sharp recovery that we've been in now for about a year and a half across the energy commodity complex. If we start with oil first, we had record demand destruction in the second quarter of 2020 around global lockdowns, industrial activity slowing and along with that, oil prices broke negative for the first time in history. And then coming out of that, we've had the combination of a few factors that drove prices higher. The first has been demand has been on a very strong recovery path since that bottom in the second quarter of 2020, growing alongside people getting out again, aviation starting to pick up, the economy growing on the back of the stimulus that was injected over the past few years around the world, not just in the US. And then constrained supply, and that constrained supply comes from a mix of different factors, but the biggest of which is a reduction in investment around the world. The other factor is decarbonization goals, in particular with the global oil majors, which are big investors in global oil and gas capacity, and they've put their marginal dollar increasingly into low carbon initiatives, New Energy's platforms, renewables, driving decarbonization goals across their global footprint. Now, shifting over to the gas side, gas is a fascinating market. Globally, it's fairly regionally disconnected historically, but we've had this big investment over the past decade in liquefied natural gas or LNG that's really brought these regional markets together into one global picture. And we've been on, up until COVID, a declining path on prices. LNG projects take many years to build, they're expensive, they have long paybacks, and they were first to get chopped when companies cut capital budgets to preserve liquidity back in 2020, but demand was still growing through that timeframe. So it pushed us into this period of supply shortfall and higher prices. And actually, last year, on three separate occasions, we set new all time highs for global non-U.S. natural gas prices, and that recovery path and period of stronger for longer prices has persisted here into 2022. And even prior to Russia Ukraine, it was something that we thought would persist for at least the next several years. 


Stephen Byrd: You know, it's fascinating before the Russia-Ukraine conflict we already had, you know, tight markets, rising pricing. Now we really need to dig into the Russia-Ukraine conflict and all the impacts. Maybe let's just start Devin with, sort of, how big of a player Russia is in terms of oil and gas, and what the impact is of any current or future sanctions against Russia. 


Devin McDermott: Russia is one of the world's largest producers of oil and also one of the world's largest producers of natural gas. And to put some numbers around that, Russia represents about 10% of the world's oil supply, about half of that gets exported to the rest of the world. And they represent about 17% of the world's natural gas supply, about 7 of that gets exported to the rest of the world. These are big numbers. And if you look at Europe specifically, about 30% of their gas needs are coming from Russia on pipeline gas right now. So any disruptions to those flows have significant impacts to the global oil and gas market on top of this already tight backdrop. 


Stephen Byrd: And Devin I guess as we think about Europe, there's tremendous focus, as you point out Russia is a major player in energy and a major exporter. And I wonder if you could just talk to the current situation and what do you think would be feasible in terms of satisfying energy demand as Europe thinks about looking for other sources of energy? 


Devin McDermott: Yeah, it's a good question, Stephen and our European energy team has done a lot of work around this and they think that because of the events that have happened so far, not including any potential incremental sanctions or disruption of supply, that we'll lose about a million barrels a day of Russian oil here over the next several months, starting in April through the balance of this year. And again, just to put that in the context, that's about 10% of Russian supply, about 1% of the world's supply on a normalized pre-COVID basis. Now, some of the disruption in flows to Europe will be bought by other countries. You've seen India and China step in and pick up some of this Russian crude that's no longer going to Europe, but it's not going to fill the entire gap. So it leaves us tighter in the oil market than we were just a few weeks ago. On the natural gas side, it'll be a gradual pivot away from Russian pipeline gas within the European market toward a range of different things, one of which is LNG liquefied natural gas. But, as I mentioned before, that market was already in a shortfall, meaning there was not enough supply to meet demand prior to this. So this transition away from Russian gas is going to require substantial investment and take a long time, 5 to 10 years plus, to carry out. It means that these high prices that we're seeing likely have some sustainability to them. 


Devin McDermott: Stephen, that brings me to a question that I wanted to ask you on the clean energy side. Do you think that we might see a greater policy, and even energy consumer push, to clean energy both in the US and globally on the back of these elevated commodity prices and what's going on in Russia and Ukraine at the moment? 


Stephen Byrd: Yeah, Devin, we've been seeing a lot of interest among investors in exactly what is going to be the policy response both in Europe and the United States and elsewhere. And I'd say the EU has taken action already. The European Commission laid out a repower EU plan that is very aggressive in terms of additional renewables growth, additional growth in green hydrogen. We see quite a few European utilities and clean energy developers benefiting from the EU's increased emphasis and push towards more and more clean energy. And Rob Pulleyn, my colleague who covers European utilities and clean energy developers and is also a commodities strategist with respect to carbon, has been spending a lot of time on this, has laid out a suite of companies that would benefit quite significantly. There does seem to be a really big policy push in Europe. The United States is not clear. The real question is whether some version of build back better legislation will pass. We just don't know. Now, there is a reason to believe that there could be a compromise position in which some elements of a support for fossil fuel production are included, along with the whole suite of clean energy support that we already know is there. That said, it's possible that compromise simply won't be met. And in that case, we won't get any kind of additional support at the federal level. What's fascinating in the United States, though, is frankly, we don't necessarily need to see that support in order to see tremendous growth in clean energy, we are already seeing a big shift. And as we stand today, we think that clean energy in the United States will more than triple between now and 2030. It's one of the fastest growth rates globally. That is driven mostly by economics, in some cases by state policy, but mostly by economics. 


Devin McDermott: So, Stephen, I wanted to go back to this question on the tension between energy security and the energy transition. Is it an either or? 


Stephen Byrd: You know, Devin, we get asked that question a great deal, and I strongly believe the answer is no, those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. And in fact, what we're seeing is both the policy push as well as a business push in both directions. And a good example of that would be the U.S. Utilities that I cover. They are certainly very focused on deploying more renewable energy. And as a group, for example, we see that utilities will decarbonize in the United States by about 75% by 2030 off of 2005 baseline. So very aggressive decarbonization. At the same time, those utilities are very focused on ensuring grid reliability. Now, as we deploy more renewable energy, we're learning quite a few lessons. One lesson is the importance of more energy storage, so demand has been picking up a great deal for that. Another lesson we're learning is the importance of nuclear generation, we're learning that they're critical. They provide both reliability and also zero carbon energy. And in the U.S., we've had a very strong operational track record for our nuclear fleet. So we're learning lessons along the way, but what we're seeing is a push in both directions. Now, as you know, clean energy relative to the world that you live in, oil and gas, is still fairly small. It's going to take many years before clean energy really makes a meaningful impact in terms of global energy consumption. That said, for example, coal generation in places like the United States will decline over time and be replaced with mostly renewable energy, but also with some degree of natural gas generation to ensure reliability. So we're seeing really both ideas play out, and both investment theses are very rational, and we see really good opportunities on both of those ideas. 


Devin McDermott: And let's take it one step further and talk investment opportunities and themes on the back of this. As you think about the different subsets of clean energy and clean tech, where would you be focused for opportunities here? 


Stephen Byrd: You know, it's interesting. One group of stocks that we generally like are clean energy developers. And the reason we like those stocks is essentially this spread between what we're thinking of as inflationary traditional energy like oil and gas, and this deflationary dynamic of clean energy. One example is in places like California, the traditional utility costs to customers are rising very rapidly above 10% a year. If you look in the long term, the cost of our clean energy solutions are dropping anywhere from 5% a year, to 10, 15% per year. That's a tremendous economic wedge, and we think the developers will be able to essentially capture a lot of that spread. On the manufacturers side there are still some supply chain dynamics, which can cause some near-term margin compression that concerns us, in some cases. I would say another area of really interesting growth is green hydrogen, especially in Europe. A number of our companies are focused on that market as well. So those would be a couple of the buckets of opportunity that we see. 


Devin McDermott: Great. Stephen, thanks so much for the time today. It's really a fascinating topic and one that's unfolding right before our eyes today. 


Stephen Byrd: Well, it was great speaking with you, Devin. 


Devin McDermott: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please give us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

Mar 29, 2022
Mike Wilson: Why Are Equity Risk Premiums So Low?
00:03:40