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
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.


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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, 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.


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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

As the Fed continues down a hawkish road for 2022, investors must consider the impact of policy tightening on economic growth and equity risk premiums.


-----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, March 28th at 11:00 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


2022 has been a year of extraordinary hawkishness from the Fed, and it continues to surprise on the upside with both its formal guidance and informal communications. This has led to almost weekly revisions for more Fed rate hikes from just about everyone, including our economists who now expect 50 basis point interest rate hikes in both May and June, and then 25 basis points in every meeting thereafter. The bond market has definitely gotten the message, too, with one of the sharpest rises in short term interest rates ever witnessed. Longer term rates have also adjusted as the expected terminal rate for this cycle has risen to 2.9%. The questions for equity investors now is whether they believe the Fed will actually tighten this much and what will be the impact on the economy from a growth standpoint. 


We have several takeaways from these recent moves. First, the Fed appears to be very committed to reducing inflation. Friday's University of Michigan Consumer Confidence Report for March confirmed that high prices are still the key reason this metric has plummeted to levels usually reserved for recessions. 


Second, 10 year yields are now at a level that takes the equity risk premium to its lowest level since the Great Financial Crisis. As a reminder, equity risk premium is the return and investor receives above and beyond the yield on a Treasury bond. The higher the risk, the greater the equity risk premium. In our view, it makes little sense for the equity risk premium to be so low right now, given the heightened risks to earnings growth from a rise in cost pressures, payback in demand, and a war that has structurally increased the price of food and energy. While stocks are a good hedge from higher inflation, keep in mind that inflation from food and energy is bad for most companies as it acts as a tax on consumers. Only energy and materials companies really benefit from this kind of inflation but they make up a very small slice of the index. Some may argue technology companies are less affected, but we're skeptical as they will feel it too in lower revenues if the consumer spending fades. 


Third, the risk from further exogenous shocks to growth are also elevated given the war in Ukraine, China's real estate stress, and ongoing battle with COVID, to name a few. This is one reason why market volatility remains so high. Importantly for investors, our work suggests the equity risk premium is also understated relative to this high market volatility. In short, equity investors are not being properly compensated for taking equity like risk at current prices. 


Finally, these high valuations are not isolated to just a few sectors. The lower equity risk premium is present across all sectors except energy and materials, and these are the two biggest beneficiaries of high commodity inflation. In some ways, the low equity risk premium for these sectors is simply saying the market does not believe the recent boost to earnings and cash flow is sustainable, due to either demand destruction or the eventual supply response. 


The bottom line is that we remain bearish on the S&P 500 index from a risk reward standpoint, particularly after the recent rally. Our year end base case target of 4400 is 4% below current levels. At the stock level, we continue to recommend investors look for stable cash flow generating companies in defensive sectors like utilities, health care, REITs and consumer staples. 


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. 

Mar 28, 2022
U.S. Economy: Tracking Rate Hike Implications
00:10:34

The new Fed hiking cycle has begun and with it comes expectations for faster rate hikes and quantitative tightening to address inflation, as well as questions around how and when the U.S. economy will be affected. Chief U.S. Economist Ellen Zentner and Senior U.S. Economist Robert Rosener discuss.


-----Transcript-----


Ellen Zentner: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ellen Zentner, Chief U.S. Economist for Morgan Stanley Research. 


Robert Rosener: And I'm Robert Rosner, Morgan Stanley's Senior U.S. Economist. 


Ellen Zentner: On this episode of the podcast, we'll be talking about the outlook for the U.S. economy as the Fed begins a new rate hike cycle. It's Friday, March 25th at 9:00 a.m. in New York. 


Ellen Zentner: So Robert, last week the U.S. Federal Reserve raised the federal funds rate a quarter of a percentage point, which is notable because it's the first interest rate hike in more than two years, and it's likely to be the first of many. Chair Powell has told us that it's unlikely to be like any prior hiking cycle, so maybe you could share our view on the pace of hikes and where and when it might peak for the cycle. 


Robert Rosener: Well, it certainly is starting off unlike any recent policy tightening cycle, and recent remarks from Fed policymakers have really doubled down on the message that policy tightening is likely to be front loaded. And we're now forecasting that we're likely to see an even steeper path for Fed policy tightening this year, and we think that as soon as the May meeting, we could see the Fed pick up the pace and hike interest rates by 50 basis points and follow that in June with yet another 50 basis point increase. We're expecting they'll revert back to a 25 basis point per meeting pace after that, but still that marks 225 basis points of policy tightening that we're expecting this year in our baseline outlook. 


Ellen Zentner: So how does Jay Powell, the chair of the FOMC, fit into this? Do you think he's about in line with this view as well? 


Robert Rosener: He does seem to be generally in line with this view, but he is negotiating the outlook among a committee that has a diversity of views, and we've been hearing from policy makers, a wide range of policy makers, over the last week. What's been notable is that more and more policymakers are starting to get on board the train that a faster pace of policy tightening is likely to be warranted. And that may very well include rate hikes that come in larger increments, such as 50 basis point increments, over the course of the year as policymakers seek to get monetary policy into more of a neutral setting. 


Ellen Zentner: So this is all because of inflation. Inflation's broad based, it's rising. I think it felt like there was a very big shift on the FOMC January/February, when the inflation data was really rocketing to new heights. So in order to bring inflation down when the Fed is hiking, how long does it take for those hikes to flow through into the economy to bring inflation down? 


Robert Rosener: Well, that's a really good question, and certainly that broadening that you mentioned is key. We saw a run up in inflation in the later part of last year that was driven by a few segments, particularly on the goods side. But as we moved into the end of 2021 and early 2022, what we really started to see was a broadening out of inflationary pressures and particularly a broadening into the service sectors of the economy where price pressures began to pick up more notably and began to lead the inflation data higher. Now, as we think about how monetary policy interacts with that, tighter monetary policy needs to slow growth in order to slow inflation. And typically, you would look at monetary policy and not expect it to be really materially affecting the economy for, say, a year out. Something that Chair Powell has stressed is that monetary policy transmits through financial conditions, and financial markets moved to price in a more hawkish Fed outlook as soon as the latter part of last year. Now, as those rate hikes got priced into the market, that acted to tighten financial conditions. So as Chair Powell noted in his press conference, the clock for when rate hikes start to impact the economy doesn't necessarily start on the delivery of those rate hikes. It starts when they affect financial conditions. And so we may start to see that a backdrop of tighter financial conditions begins to reduce some of the steam in the economy and reduce some of the steam in inflation as we move through the course of the year. But with headline CPI currently at around 8%, likely to march higher in the upcoming data, there's a lot of room to bring that down. So we might have to wait some time before we see material relief on inflation. 


Ellen Zentner: So let's talk about the balance sheet because they're not just hiking rates, right? They're going to reduce the size of their balance sheet, what we call quantitative tightening or Q.T. And so run us through our view and how the Fed's thinking about that quantitative tightening process when they're unwinding much of that four and a half trillion in asset purchases that they made during the pandemic. 


Robert Rosener: So the Fed has made it clear they're on track to begin winding down the size of their balance sheet, and that's a decision that we're expecting will come at the May meeting, that in very short order the Fed would begin to reduce the size of its balance sheet with caps on reinvestment and total at about $80 billion per month. And that would set roughly the monthly pace by which the balance sheet would decline, and Chair Powell has indicated that that process may take around three years to bring the balance sheet down to a size that would be consistent with a neutral balance sheet. It's going to act to tighten financial conditions in the same way or similar ways that rate hikes do, but it's a little bit less clear how those effects happen, over what time horizons they happen. So there's some uncertainty there, but it's something that the Fed wants to have running in the background, while they pursue rate hikes. 


Ellen Zentner: So in terms of, you know, if the balance sheet is going to be doing additional tightening, what do we think the Fed funds equivalent of that is, has Chair Powell discussed that?


Robert Rosener: So when we looked at this, we looked at the effects through financial conditions. And in our estimates, the tightening of financial conditions that we would see on the back of the balance sheet reduction that we're expecting, was about the equivalent this year of one additional 25 basis point hike. Now, perhaps coincidentally, Chair Powell in his most recent remarks, also noted that the tightening of the balance sheet or the shrinking of the balance sheet this year would be about the equivalent of one rate hike. So there's some consolidation of views there that it does act to tighten. Again, there's uncertainty bands around that, but it's about the equivalent of one additional hike this year. 


Robert Rosener: So Ellen, we can't really talk about the Fed raising rates without thinking about the broader implications for the yield curve, and more recently the applications for yield curve inversion. For listeners who might not be familiar, that's when shorter term investments in U.S. treasuries, such as the 2-year yield, pay more than longer term treasuries, such as the 10-year yield. Historically, when we've seen that spread inverting, it's been a signal that a recession might be coming. What are you thinking about the risks that the yield curve is telling us now? And does that tell us anything about the risk of a future recession? 


Ellen Zentner: Well, Robert, I think it is clear that the yield curve, if we're talking about just the spread between 2-year treasuries and 10-year treasuries, is going to continue to flatten and invert. And policymakers have made it clear that because of special factors, they shouldn't be concerned this time. And when I look at factors in the economy that are typically what you would look at for signals of recession, you know, jobs, we are still creating jobs, it’s been a very steady run of about 500,000 jobs a month. We are expecting another strong print in the upcoming payroll report, that does not speak to approaching recession. When I look at retail and wholesale sales still growing, industrial production still growing, real disposable income of households still growing. Even though we're dealing with the fading of fiscal stimulus, that labor income has been very strong. So all of those traditional measures would tell you that an inverted yield curve today is not providing you a signal of approaching recession, and I think overall inversion of the yield curve has become less of a recession indicator since we have been trapped so near the zero lower bound over the last cycle and this cycle. 


Robert Rosener: So we talked about the Fed, we talked about the yield curve and financial conditions, but of course, there's a lot of things that the Fed has to take into account as it thinks about the outlook. And of course, we're all watching the terrible events unfolding in Ukraine. And as we think about the ripple effects on the world economy, particularly in Europe, as well as more broadly on energy security and supply and so much more. Clearly, this is an impact that's going to be affecting regions differently. But how should we think about how that's going to be felt here in the U.S. economy? And what does that mean for the Fed? 


Ellen Zentner: So I think first and foremost, it plays back into the inflation story. I think what we've heard from the chair is that typically they do look through food and energy price fluctuations. But in this case, where inflation is already broad based and high, they do have to act and it just puts more fuel behind the need to have a more aggressive tightening cycle. When we look at our own analysis and impact analysis that you've done for us on the team, the impact on inflation from increases in energy prices is four times that of the impact on GDP growth. In the U.S. we're just about energy independent. And so it's become more ambiguous as whether higher energy prices are really a negative for the U.S. economy. But the way I would look at this is, it will slow activity in parts of the economy, we've taken our own growth forecasts down to reflect that forecast for GDP, and it will disproportionately affect lower income households. Where food prices, energy prices and just general inflation impacts them to a much greater degree than upper income households. So overall, aggregate spending will look quite strong in the U.S. economy, but for the lower income groups, I think it's going to be lagging behind. But certainly you mentioned Europe, you know, Europe is facing possible recession if gas supplies are cut off, which is a very real risk. But it's just not going to be as big of an impact to the U.S. economy, where we'll feel it is if other parts of the globe are deteriorating it can hamper financial conditions here, and that's something that the Fed will be watching closely. And so, Robert, you and I will be watching these developments closely as well. We've made it clear and the Fed has made it clear that it's on the path higher for interest rates, but the outlook always comes with risks and we'll be reporting back on those risks in future podcasts. So, thanks for taking the time to talk, Robert. 


Robert Rosener: Great talking with you, Ellen. 


Ellen Zentner: And 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.

Mar 25, 2022
Matthew Hornbach: Easing Yield Curve Concerns
00:03:52

While the possibility of a yield curve inversion in the U.S. has news outlets and investors wondering if a recession is on the way, there’s more to the story that should put minds at ease.


-----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, March 24th at noon in New York. 


For most investors, most of the time, the general level of U.S. Treasury yields is more important than the differences between yields on shorter maturity bonds and those on longer maturity bonds. The most widely quoted Treasury yield is usually the one investors earn by lending their money to the government for 10 years. 


But there are times when the difference between yields on, say, treasuries that mature in 2 years and those that mature in 10 years make the news. And this is one of those times. These yields are tracked over time on a visual representation we call the yield curve. And at some point soon, we expect the yields on 2 year treasuries to be higher than those on 10 year treasuries. This is what we call a 2s10s yield curve inversion. 


The reason why yield curve inversion makes the news is because, in the past, yield curve inversion has preceded recessions in the U.S. economy. 


Still, there are two points to make about the relationship between the yield curve and recessions, both of which should put investors' minds at ease. First, using history as a guide, inverted 2s10s yield curves preceded recessions by almost two years on average. While time flies, two years is plenty of time for people to prepare for harder times ahead. 


Second, despite popular belief, yield curve inversions don't necessarily cause recessions, and neither does significantly tighter fed monetary policy - which also can cause yield curves to invert. In his recent speech, Fed Chair Powell highlighted 1965, 1984, and 1994 as times when the Fed raised the federal funds rate significantly without causing a recession. 


Another important point is that the yield curve can flatten for reasons unrelated to tighter Fed policy. For example, between 2004 and 2006, the yield curve flattened by much more than Fed policy alone would have suggested. The curve flattening during this period baffled the Fed and investors alike. Former Fed Chair Greenspan labeled the episode "a conundrum" at the time. 


So what caused the yield curve to flatten so much during that period? Former Fed Chair Bernanke suggested it was a global savings glut. Overseas investors purchased an increasingly larger share of the Treasury market than they had ever bought before. 


Fast forward to today and the demand from overseas investors has been replaced by demand from the Fed. In fact, the Fed owns almost 30% of outstanding Treasury notes and bonds, which goes some way to explaining how flat the yield curve is today. And, to be clear, fed ownership of those bonds also isn't a reason to think recession is right around the corner. 


Another common concern about a flat yield curve is that it will cause banks to stop lending. And without banks lending into the real economy, recession might loom large. But our U.S. Bank Equity Research Team is less concerned. 


Their work shows that bank loans grew during the prior 11 periods of yield curve inversion since 1969. While they found some moderation in loan growth, it was modest. And this year, despite our forecast for an inverted yield curve. The project loans to grow 7% over the year, after loans shrank last year, when the yield curve was actually much steeper. 


So in the end, while we think the yield curve will invert this year, we don't think investors should worry too much about a looming recession - even if the news does. 


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.

Mar 24, 2022
Michael Zezas: A Framework for ESG Growth in U.S.
00:02:16

While the demand for Environmental, Social, and Governance investing has been growing primarily in Europe, a potential new regulatory policy may drive new interest and opportunity for U.S. investors.


-----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, March 23rd at 10 a.m. in New York. 


Taking a break from specific market impacts for the moment, we want to focus on the growth of a new market for investors - the market for ESG investing, which a new regulatory policy may help nudge into the mainstream in the U.S. 


As you may already know, ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance, three factors that represent a measurement of how socially conscious the investment is. The demand for this style of investing has grown substantially in recent years. For example, per our sustainability research team, there are about 2 trillion dollars of dedicated ESG assets under management globally. But about 85% of that is in Europe, showing how U.S. investors have been relatively slower to adopt such strategies. 


Yet earlier this week, the SEC proposed a new rule that could create new incentives for U.S. investors to adopt ESG strategies. This rule would require companies to provide disclosures about their emissions, as well as governance and strategy for dealing with climate related risks. As our sustainability research team noted in a report this week, having a standard for disclosure can help build the ESG market by giving investors a common template for understanding ESG impacts. That differs from the current state of play, where many companies do disclose on climate related issues, but to different levels and by differing standards, making analytical comparisons difficult. 


We should note, though, that this is just a first step toward a regulation that could boost the size of the ESG market. Regulatory rules tend to take a long time to finalize and implement. According to Government Accountability Office case studies, it can take anywhere from six months to five years, as proposed rules navigate a series of comment periods, judicial challenges and revisions. So we'll track the process here and report back when there's more to know. 


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 23, 2022
Andrew Sheets: The Housing Inflation Puzzle
00:03:18

While the cost of shelter has risen quickly, the measure of housing inflation has been slow to catch up, creating challenges for renters, homeowners and the Fed.


-----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 Tuesday, March 22nd at 2:00 p.m. in London. 


Our base case at Morgan Stanley is that the U.S. economy sees solid growth over the next two years, with inflation moderating but still being somewhat higher than the Federal Reserve would like. We think this means the Fed raises interest rates modestly more than the market expects, flattening the US yield curve. 


But what are the risks to this view? Specifically, what could cause inflation to be much higher, for much longer, putting the Federal Reserve in a more pressing bind? I want to focus here on core inflation as central banks have more leeway to look through volatile food or energy prices. This is a story about shelter. 


The cost of shelter represents about 1/3 of U.S. core consumer price inflation. That makes sense. For most Americans, where you live is your largest expense, whether you rent or pay a mortgage. 


The CPI measure of inflation assumes that the cost of renting has risen 4.5% in the last year. Now, if that sounds low, you're not alone. At the publicly traded apartment companies covered by my colleague Richard Hill, a Morgan Stanley real estate analyst, rents have risen 10% or more year-over-year. There are reasons that the official CPI number is lower. For one, not everyone renews their lease at the same time. But with a strong labor market and limited supply, the case for higher rents going forward looks strong. 


Owner occupied housing is even more interesting. Since 2016, U.S. home prices have risen about 56%. But the cost of a house that goes into the CPI inflation calculation, known as "owners’ equivalent rent", has risen only 21%. That's a 35% gap between actual home prices and where the inflation calculation sits. 


This is a potential problem. Even if home prices stop going up, the official measure of housing inflation could keep rising at a healthy clip to simply catch up to where home prices already are. And given high demand, low supply, and still low interest rates, home prices may keep going up, meaning there's even more catching up to do from the official inflation measure. 


Higher shelter costs are also a challenge because they're very hard for the Federal Reserve to address. Raising interest rates, which is the usual strategy to combat inflation, makes buying a house less attractive relative to renting. Which means even more upward pressure on rental demand and even higher rents. And higher interest rates make building homes more costly to finance, further restricting housing supply and raising home prices.


Housing has long been a very important sector for the economy and financial markets. Over the next 12 months, expect it to be central to the inflation debate as well. 


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. 

Mar 22, 2022
Mike Wilson: Late Cycle Signals
00:03:37

This year is validating our call for a shorter but hotter economic cycle. As the indicators begin to point to a late-cycle environment, here’s how investors can navigate the change.


-----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, March 21st at 1:00 p.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


A year ago, we published a joint note with our Economics and Cross Asset Strategy teams arguing this cycle would run hotter but shorter than the prior three. Our view was based on the speed and strength of the rebound from the 2020 recession, the return of inflation after a multi-decade absence and an earlier than expected pivot to a more hawkish Fed policy. Developments over the past year support this call - US GDP and earnings have surged past prior cycle peaks and are now decelerating sharply, inflation is running at a 40-year high and the Fed has executed the sharpest pivot in policy we've ever witnessed. 


Meanwhile, just 22 months after the end of the last recession, our Cross Asset team's 'U.S. Cycle' model is already approaching prior peaks. This indicator aggregates key cyclical data to help signal where we are in the economic cycle and where headwinds or tailwinds exist for different parts of the market.


With regard to factors that affect U.S. equities the most, earnings, sales and margins have also surged past prior cycle highs. In fact, earnings recovered to the prior cycle peak in just 16 months, the fastest rebound going back 40 years. The early to mid-cycle benefits of positive operating leverage have come and gone, and U.S. corporates now face decelerating sales growth coupled with higher costs. As such, our leading earnings model is pointing to a steep deceleration in earnings growth over the coming months. These negative earnings revisions are being driven by cyclicals and economically sensitive sectors - a setup that looks increasingly late cycle. 


Another key input to the shorter cycle view was our analysis of the 1940s as a good historical parallel. Specifically, excess household savings unleashed on an economy constrained by supply set the stage for breakout inflation both then and now. Developments since we published our report in March of last year continue to support this historical analog. Inflation has surged, forcing the Fed to raise interest rates aggressively in a credible effort to restore price stability. Assuming the comparison holds, the next move would be a slowdown and ultimately a much shorter cycle.


Further analysis of the postwar evolution of the cycle reveals another compelling similarity to the current post-COVID phase - unintended inventory build from over ordering to meet an excessive pull forward of demand. In short, we think the risk of an inventory glut is growing this year in many consumer goods, particularly in areas of the economy that experienced well above trend demand. Consumer discretionary and technology goods stand out in our view. 


Now, with the Fed raising rates this past week and communicating a very hawkish tightening path over the next year, our rate strategists are looking for an inversion of the yield curve in the second quarter. While curve inversion does not guarantee a recession, it does support our view for decelerating earnings growth and would be one more piece of evidence that says it's late cycle. 


In terms of our U.S. strategy recommendations, we continue to lean defensive and focus on companies with operational efficiency with high cash flow generation. This leads us to more defensive names with more durable earnings profiles that are also attractively priced. 


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.

Mar 21, 2022
Andrew Sheets: The Fed has More Work to Do
00:03:19

The U.S. Federal Reserve recently enacted its first interest rate hike in two years, but there is still more work to be done to counteract rising inflation and markets are watching closely.


-----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, March 18th at 2:00 p.m. in London. 


On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time in two years. This is notable because of how much time has passed since the Fed last took action. It's notable because of how low interest rates still are, relative to inflation. And it's notable because rate increases, and decreases, by the Fed tend to lump together. Once the Fed starts raising or lowering rates, history says that it tends to keep doing so. 


Now, one question looming over the Fed's action this week could be paraphrased as, "what took you so long?" Since the Fed cut rates to zero in March of 2020, the U.S. stock market is 77% higher, U.S. home prices are 35% higher, and the U.S. economy has added over 5.7 million new jobs. Core consumer price inflation, excluding volatile food and energy prices, has risen 6.4% in the last year, indicative of demand for goods outpacing the ability of the economy to supply them at current prices, exactly what a hot economy implies. 


The reason the Fed waited was the genuine uncertainty around the impact of COVID on the economy, and the risk that new variants would evade vaccines or dash consumer confidence. But every decision has tradeoffs. Easy Fed policy has helped the U.S. economy recover unusually quickly, but that quick recovery now means the Fed has a lot more to do to catch up. 


Specifically, we think the Fed will need to raise the upper band of its policy rate, currently at 0.5%, to about 2.75% by the end of next year. This is more than the market currently expects, and we think outcomes here are skewed to the upside, with it more likely that rates end up higher than lower. 


My colleagues in U.S. interest rate strategy believe that this should cause U.S. rates to rise further, with 2 year bond yields rising most and ultimately moving higher than 10 year bond yields. It's rare for 2 year bonds to yield more than their 10 year counterpart, a so-called curve inversion. Nevertheless, this is what we expect. 


Now, one counter to this Fed outlook is that the U.S. economy simply can't handle higher rates, and that will force the Fed to stop hiking earlier. But we disagree. With a large share of household debt in the U.S. in the form of 30 year fixed rate mortgages, the impact of higher rates may actually be more muted than in the past, as the cost of servicing this debt won't change even as the Fed raises rates. 


Higher short-term interest rates and an inverted yield curve are one specific implication of these expectations. More broadly, inverted yield curves have historically been key signposts for increased risk of recession. While we think a recession is unlikely, the market could still worry about it, supporting U.S. defensive equities and investment grade over high yield credit. 


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.

Mar 18, 2022
James Lord: Will the U.S. Dollar Still Prevail?
00:04:24

The U.S. and its allies have frozen the Central Bank of Russia’s foreign currency reserves, leading to questions about the safety of FX assets more broadly and the centrality of the U.S. dollar to the international financial system.


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-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm James Lord, Head of FX and EM 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 currency markets. It's Thursday, March 17th at 3:00 p.m. in London. 


Ever since the U.S. and its allies announced their intention to freeze the Central Bank of Russia's foreign exchange, or FX, reserves, market practitioners have been quick to argue that this would likely accelerate a shift away from a U.S. dollar based international financial system. It is easy to understand why. Other central banks may now worry that their FX reserves are not as safe as they once thought, and start to diversify away from the dollar. 


Yet, despite frequent calls for the end of the dollar based international financial system over the last couple of decades, the dollar remains overwhelmingly the world's dominant reserve currency and preeminent safe haven asset. But could sanctioning the currency reserves of a central bank the size of Russia's be a tipping point? Well, let's dig into that. 


The willingness of U.S. authorities to freeze the supposedly liquid, safe and accessible deposits and securities of a foreign state certainly raises many questions for reserve managers, sovereign wealth funds and perhaps even some private investors. One is likely to be: Could my assets be frozen too? 


It's an important question, but we need to remember that the U.S. is not acting alone with these actions. Europe, Canada, the UK and Japan have all joined in freezing the central bank of Russia's reserve assets. So, an equally valid question is: Could any foreign authority potentially freeze my assets? 


If the answer is yes, that likely calls into question the idea of a risk free asset that underpins central bank FX reserves in general, and not just specifically for the dollar and U.S. government backed securities. 


If that's the case, what could be the implications? Let me walk you through three. 


First would be identifying the safest asset. Reserve managers and sovereign wealth fund investors will need to take a view on where they can find the safest assets and not just safe assets, as the concept of the latter may have been seriously impaired. And in fact, the dollar and U.S. Government backed securities may still be the safest assets since the latest sanctions against the central Bank of Russia involve a broad range of government authorities acting in concert. 


A second implication is that political alliances could be key. These sanctions demonstrate that international relations between different states may play an important role in the safety of reserve assets. While the dollar might be a safe asset for strong allies of the U.S., its adversaries could see things differently. To put the dollar's dominance in the international financial system at serious risk, would-be challenges of the system would need to build strategic alliances with other large economies. 


Finally, is the on shoring of foreign exchange assets. Recent sanctions have crystallized the fact that there is a big difference between an FX deposit under the jurisdiction of a foreign government and one that you own on your home ground. While both might be considered cash, they are not equivalent in terms of accessibility or safety. So another upshot might be that reserve managers bring their foreign exchange assets onshore. 


One way of doing this is to buy physical gold and store it safely within the home jurisdiction. The same could be said of other FX assets, as reserve managers will certainly have access to printed U.S. dollars, Euros or Chinese Yuan banknotes if they are stored in vaults at home, though there could be practical challenges in making large transactions in that scenario. Bottom line, though, while these are all important notions to consider, in our view recent actions do not undermine the dollar as the safest global reserve asset, and it's likely to remain the dominant global currency for the foreseeable future. 


Thanks for listening! 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. 

Mar 17, 2022
Michael Zezas: A False Choice for Energy Policy
00:02:28

As oil prices rise across the globe, investors wonder if governments will continue to incentivize clean energy development or pivot to greater investment in traditional fossil fuels.


-----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, March 16th, at 10:00 a.m. in New York. 


With the conflict in Ukraine ongoing, many investors continue to ask questions about the U.S. and European policy response to the rising price of oil. In particular, many ask if governments will continue down the path of incentivizing clean energy development, or pivot to greater exploration of traditional fossil fuels. But as my colleague Stephen Byrd, who heads North America Power Utilities and Clean Energy Research, pointed out in a recent report, this is a false choice, and it's one that many policymakers are likely to reject in favor of embracing an "all of the above" strategy. 


It's important to understand that focusing only on traditional energy sources wouldn't solve the problem in the near term. For example, switching on any dormant U.S. oil production facilities would only replace a fraction of the oil that Russia produces, so fresh explorations ramp up production would be needed, and that could take a few years. The same could be said about natural gas. The U.S. Has the spare capacity to backfill with Europe imports from Russia, but Europe mostly doesn't have the facilities to accept liquefied natural gas shipped overseas from America. Germany has announced plans to build two liquefied natural gas terminals, but that could take years to complete. The point is, focusing on traditional energy sources alone is no quick fix for high energy prices and energy independence, and therefore there's little opportunity cost in also focusing on renewable energy development. For that reason, we think western governments are likely to include both clean energy and traditional investments in their strategy going forward. You see this echoed in the statements of policymakers, such as U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry's recent comments that the US is committed to an "all of the above" energy policy. 


So what does it mean for investors? In short, expect energy companies of all types to have business to do with governments in the coming years. That includes traditional oil exploration companies, but also clean tech companies, as market beneficiaries. 


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 16, 2022
Jonathan Garner: Commodities, Geopolitical Risk and Asia & EM Equities
00:03:37

As global markets face a rise in commodity prices due to geopolitical conflict, investors in Asia and EM equities will want to keep an eye on the divergence between commodity exporters and importers.


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-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jonathan Garner, Chief Asia and Emerging Market Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about geopolitical risk, commodity exposure, and how they affect our views on Asia and EM Equities. It's Tuesday, March the 15th at 8:00 p.m. in Hong Kong. 


The Russia Ukraine conflict is having a profound impact on the investment world in multiple dimensions. In this episode we focus on just two, commodity prices and geopolitical alignment, and what they mean for investors in Asia and emerging market equities. 


The major sanctions imposed by the U.S., U.K., European Union and their allies are focused not only on isolating Russia financially but depriving it, in some instances overnight and in others more gradually, of the ability to export its commodities. And Russia is a major producer of oil, natural gas, food and precious metals and rare minerals. Ukraine is also a major food exporter. In our coverage there's a sharp divergence between economies which are major commodity importers, and are therefore suffering a negative terms of trade shock as commodity prices rise, and those which are exporters and hence benefit. Major importers include Korea, Taiwan, China and India, all with more than a 5% of GDP commodity trade deficit. Meanwhile, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, UAE and South Africa are all significant commodity exporters and stand to benefit. Australia's overall commodity trade surplus is the largest at 12% of GDP, and that is before the recent gains in price for almost everything which Australia produces and exports. 


Meanwhile, on the geopolitical risk front, we've been monitoring the pattern of voting on Russia's actions at the United Nations, where there have been both UN Security Council and General Assembly votes. Although none of the countries we cover actually voted with Russia on either occasion, two major countries, China and India, did abstain twice. South Africa abstained at the General Assembly. The UAE abstained in the Security Council, but then voted with the US and Europe in the General Assembly vote. This pattern of voting, in our mind, may have an impact in raising the equity risk premium, i.e. lowering the valuation, for China and to a lesser extent India in the current environment. 


All taken together, we are shifting exposure further towards commodity exporting markets and in particular those such as Australia, which are also geopolitically aligned with the major sources of global investor flows. We lowered our bear-case scenario values for China further recently and are turning incrementally more cautious on India. 


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. 

Mar 15, 2022
Mike Wilson: Will Slowing Growth Alter the Fed’s Path?
00:03:39

This week the market turns to the Federal Reserve as it eyes challenges to growth while remaining committed to combating high inflation with its first rate hike of the tightening cycle.


-----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, March 14th at 11:00 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


With all eyes on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, markets are likely to turn back towards the Fed this week as it embarks upon the first tightening of the cycle and the first rate hike since 2018. This follows a period of perhaps the most accommodative monetary support ever provided by the Federal Reserve, an extraordinary statement unto itself given the Fed's actions over the past few decades. 


When it comes to measuring how accommodative Fed policy is at the moment, we look at the Fed funds rate minus inflation, or the real short-term borrowing rate. Using this measure tells us that fed accommodation has been in a steady downtrend since the early 1980s. In fact, the real Fed funds rate has been in a remarkably well-defined channel for this entire period. Second, after reaching the low end of the channel in record time during the COVID recession, the real Fed funds rate has turned higher- albeit barely. That low was in November of last year, when Fed Chair Jerome Powell was renominated by President Biden, and he made it clear that the Fed was going to pivot hard on policy. It was no coincidence that this is exactly when expensive growth stocks topped and began what has been one of the largest and most persistent drawdowns in growth stocks ever witnessed. Finally, based on how low the Fed funds rate remains, the Fed has a lot of wood to chop to get this rate back to a more normal level. Furthermore, if Powell is truly committed to making monetary policy restrictive to fight inflation, expensive growth stocks remain vulnerable, in our view. 


Currently, the bond market is pricing in eight 25 basis point hikes over the next 12 months. If the Fed is successful in executing this expected path, it will have achieved the soft landing it seeks. Inflation will come down as the economy remains in expansion. However, we think that's a big if at this point. First, growth is already at risk as we enter 2022 due to the payback in demand lapsing government transfers, generationally high inflation and rising inventories at the wrong time. Now, the conflict in Ukraine is leading to even higher commodity prices, while the growth outlook deteriorates further. While we are likely to avoid an economic recession in the U.S., we can't say the same for earnings. We think the Fed will keep a watchful eye on the data, but air on the side of hawkishness given the state of inflation. This likely means a collision with equity markets this spring, with valuations overshooting to the downside. 


While short-term interest rates are still at zero, longer term treasury yields are now approaching a level that may offer some value for asset owners, even if they are unattractive on a standalone basis. This is especially true if one is now more concerned about growth like we are. Let's assume we're wrong about growth slowing, under such a view it's unlikely the Fed hikes faster than what is already priced into the bond market. Therefore, longer term rates are unlikely to raise much more by the time we know the answer to this growth question. Conversely, if we're right about growth slowing more than expected, longer term rates likely have room to fall and provide a cushion to equity portfolios. High quality investment grade credit may also offer some ballast given the significant correction in both rates and spreads. For equity investments, we continue to favor defensive quality stocks as well as companies with high operational efficiency. Yes, boring is still beautiful. 


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.

Mar 14, 2022
Special Episode: Sanctions, Bonds and Currency Markets
00:08:28

With multiple countries now imposing sanctions, investors in Russian government bonds and currencies will need to consider their options as the risk of default rises.


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-----


James Lord: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm James Lord, Head of FX and EM strategy. 


Simon Waever: And I'm Simon Waever, Global Head of Sovereign Credit Strategy. 


James Lord: And on this special episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll be discussing the impact of recent sanctions on Russia for bonds and currency markets. It's Friday, March 11th at 1:00 p.m. in London. 


Simon Waever: and 8:00 a.m. in New York. 


James Lord: So, Simon, we've all been watching the recent events in Ukraine, which are truly tragic, and I think we've all been very saddened by everything that's happened. And it certainly feels a bit trite to be talking about the market implications of everything. But at the same time, there are huge economic and financial consequences from this invasion, and it has big implications for the whole world. So today, I think it would be great if we can provide a little bit of clarity on the impact for emerging markets. Simon, I want to start with Russia itself. The strong sanctions put in place have really had a big impact and increasing the likelihood that Russia could default on its debt. Can you walk us through where we stand on that debate and what the implications are? 


Simon Waever: That's right, it's had a huge impact already. So Russia's sovereign ratings have been downgraded all the way to Triple C and below, which is only just above default, and that's them having been investment grade just two weeks ago. If you look at the dollar denominated sovereign bonds, they're trading at around 20 cents on the dollar or below. But I think it all makes sense. The economic resilience needed to support an investment grade rating goes away when you remove a large part of the effect reserves, have sanctions on 80% of the banking sector, and with the economy likely to enter into a bigger recession, higher oil prices help, but just not enough. For now, the question is whether upcoming payments on the sovereign dollar bonds will be made. And I think it really comes down to two things. One, whether Russia wants to make the payments, so what we tend to call the willingness. And two whether US sanctions allow it, so the ability. Clarifications from the US Treasury suggests that beyond May 25th, payments cannot be made. So, either a missed payment happens on the first bond repayment after this, which is May 27th or Russia may also decide not to pay as soon as the next payment, which is on March 16th. And of course, the reason for Russia potentially not paying would be that they would want to conserve their foreign exchange. And actually, we've already had some issues on the local currency government bonds, so the ones denominated in Russian ruble. James, do you want to go over what those issues have been? 


James Lord: That's absolutely right. Already, foreigners do not appear to have received interest payments on their holdings of local currency government bonds. There was one due at the beginning of March, and it looks as though, although the Russian government has paid the interest on that bond, the institutions that are then supposed to transfer the interest payments onto the funds of the various bondholders haven't done so for at least the foreign holders of that bond. Does that count as default? Well, I mean, on the one hand, the government can claim to have paid, but at the same time, some bondholders clearly haven't received any money. There's also another interest payment due in the last week of March, so we'll see if anything changes with that payment. But in the end, there isn't a huge amount that bondholders can really do about it, since these are local currency bonds and they're governed under local law. There isn't really much in the way of legal recourse, and there isn't really much insurance that investors can take out to protect themselves. The situation is a bit different for Russian government bonds that are denominated in US dollars, though. So I'd like to dig a little bit more into what happens if Russia defaults on those bonds. For listeners that are unfamiliar, investors will sometimes take out insurance policies called CDSs or credit default swaps just for this type of situation, and they've been quite a lot of headlines around this. So, Simon, I'd be curious if you could walk us through the implications of default there. 


Simon Waever: So it's like two different products, right? So you have the bonds there, it can take a long time to recover some of the lost value. I mean, either you actually get the economic recovery and there's no default or you then go to a debt restructuring or litigation. But then on the other hand, you have the CDS contracts, they're going to pay out within a few weeks of the missed bond payment. But it's not unusual to find disagreement on exactly what that payment will look like. And that payment is, we call it, the recovery value perhaps is a bit like the uncertainty that sometimes happens when standard insurance needs to pay out. But if we start with the facts, if there is a missed payment on any of the upcoming dollar or euro denominated bonds, then CDS will trigger. Local currency bonds do not count and the sovereign rating does not matter either. So far I think it's clear, the uncertainty has been around what bonds can actually be delivered into the contract, as that's what determines the recovery value. As it stands, sanctions do allow secondary trading of the bonds. There have been some issues around settlement, but hopefully that can be resolved by the time an auction comes around. The main question is then where that recovery rate will end up, and I would say that given the amount of selling I think is yet to come I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up being among the lower recovery rates we've seen in E.M sovereign CDS. 


James Lord: Yeah, that makes sense on the recovery rates and the CDs. But I mean, clearly, if Russia defaults, there could be some big implications for the rest of emerging markets as well. And even if they don't default, I mean, there's been a lot of spill over into other asset classes and other emerging markets. How do you think about that? 


Simon Waever: So I try to think of it in two ways, and I would expect both to continue if we do not see a de-escalation in Ukraine. So first, it really impacts those countries physically close to Russia and Ukraine and those then with trade linkages, which mainly comes with agriculture, energy, tourism and remittances. And that points you towards Eastern Europe, Turkey and Egypt, for instance. Secondly, if we also then see this continued weaker risk backdrop, it would then impact those countries where investor positioning is heavier. But enough on sovereign credit, I wanted to cover currencies, too. The Russian central bank was sanctioned. What do you think that means for EM currencies? 


James Lord: Absolutely. The sanctions against the central Bank of Russia were really quite dramatic and have understandably had a very big impact on the Russian exchange rate. The ruble’s really depreciated in value quite significantly in the last couple of weeks. I mean, during periods of market uncertainty, the central Bank of Russia would ordinarily sell its foreign exchange assets to buy Ruble to keep the currency under control. But now that's not really possible. It's led to a whole range of countermeasures from Russia to try and protect the currency, such as lifting interest rates from just under 10% to 20%. There have also been significant restrictions on the ability of local residents to move capital abroad or buy dollars, and on the ability of foreigners that hold assets in Russia to actually sell and take their money home. All of that's designed to protect the exchange rate and keep foreign exchange reserves on home soil. I think the willingness of the US to go down that road, as well as the authorities in Europe and Canada and other jurisdictions, it does raise some important questions about whether or not investors will continue to want to hold dollars and US government bonds as part of their FX reserves. Many reserve asset holders may wonder whether or not similar action could be taken against them. This has become a big debate in the market. Some investors believe that this turn of events could ultimately lead to some long-term weakness in the dollar. But I think it's also important to remember that yes the U.S. is not the only country that has done this, and it's probably the case that actually any country could potentially freeze the foreign assets of another central bank. And if that's the case, then I don't see having a materially negative impact on the dollar over the long term, as many now seem to be suggesting. But I think that's all we have time for today. So let's leave it there. Simon, thanks very much for taking the time to talk. 


Simon Waever: Great speaking with you, James. 


James Lord: 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. 

Mar 11, 2022
Special Episode: Inflation, Energy and the U.S Consumer
00:08:27

As inflation remains a focal point for the U.S. consumer, higher energy costs will dampen discretionary spending for some. But not all are impacted equally and there may be good news in this year’s tax refunds and the labor market.


-----Transcript-----


Ellen Zentner: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ellen Zentner, Morgan Stanley's Chief U.S. Economist. 


Sarah Wolfe: And I'm Sarah Wolfe, also on Morgan Stanley's U.S. Economics Team. 


Ellen Zentner: And today on the podcast, we'll be discussing the outlook for the U.S. consumer during this year's tax season and after, as inflation remains in the driver's seat and new geopolitical realities raise further concerns. It's Thursday, March 10th, at 9:00 a.m. in New York. 


Sarah Wolfe: So, Ellen, I know you want to get into the U.S. consumer, but before we dig in, I think it would be useful to hear your view on the overall U.S. economy, especially given the new geopolitical challenges. 


Ellen Zentner: So, I think it's helpful to think about a rule of thumb for the effects of oil on overall GDP. For every 10% sustained increase in oil prices, it shaves off about one tenth on GDP growth. And so when we take into account the rise in energy prices that we've seen thus far, we took down our growth forecast for GDP this year by three tenths and shaved off an additional tenth when looking further out into 2023. Now, one thing that I think is important for the U.S. outlook versus European and U.K. colleagues is that energy prices are a much bigger factor in an economy like Europe's, and the U.K.'s where they're much more reliant on outside sources, where in the US we've become much more energy independent over the past decade. But I think where I step into your world, Sarah, as we think about higher oil prices, then translate into higher gasoline prices, which hits consumers in their pocketbook. So Sarah, that's a great segue to you on the U.S. consumer because this has been one of your focuses on the team. Consumers don't like higher prices. And, you know, we've been seeing this big divergence between sentiment and confidence. So why aren't those measures moving exactly hand in hand if inflation is the biggest concern there? 


Sarah Wolfe: Definitely. There's a lot of focus on consumer confidence, which comes from the Conference Board and consumer sentiment, which comes from University of Michigan. Both have been trending down, but there's been a record divergence between the two, where Conference Board is sitting about 48 points higher than sentiment. And inflation plays a huge role in this. So just getting down to the methodology of the surveys, the reason there's been such a divergence is because Conference Board places more of a focus on labor market conditions, whereas University of Michigan sentiment focuses more on inflation expectations. And so when you're in an environment like today, where the unemployment is very low, the labor market is very tight, that's very good for income that gets reflected through the confidence surveys. But at the same time, inflation is extremely high, which erodes real income, and that's getting reflected more in the sentiment survey. So, we are seeing this large divergence between the surveys and they're telling us different things, but I think both are very important to take into account. 


Ellen Zentner: So let me dig into inflation a little bit further then specifically and how it affects you when you're thinking about our consumer spending outlook. I mean, some of the changes that we've made to CPI forecast, you know, talk us through that and how you're building that into your estimates for the consumer. 


Sarah Wolfe: So we recently raised our headline forecast for CPI, or Consumer Price Index, inflation for the end of this year by 40 basis points to 4.4%. And we've also lowered our forecasts for real Personal Consumption Expenditure, or PCE, but only about 10 basis points this year to around 2.8%. And the reason that it's not a one for one pass through is, first of all, we're tracking the first quarter spending so much higher than what we had expected, so overall, even though higher gasoline prices will likely hit spending a bit more in the second quarter of 2022, we are already tracking this year much stronger. So on net, the impacts a bit smaller. Also, just because gasoline prices are going up doesn't mean that people spend less. Actually, overall, it tends to mean that people just increase their spending pool. So you have income constrained households at the lower end of the income spectrum, they're gonna pull back their spending on non-gasoline, non-utility expenditures, but on the other end, middle higher income households will just increase their spending pool, you know, gasoline prices go up so they’re just going to be spending a bit more. It doesn't necessarily mean that consumption is going to be lower. If anything, it could add more upside risk to consumer spending.


Ellen Zentner: You know, this is where economists can always sound a bit dispassionate because we oftentimes look at things in the aggregate and you've been writing about, how different income levels deal with higher gas prices. Talk about some of the work that you've put out with the retail teams that might be affected by that lower income consumer pulling back. 


Sarah Wolfe: Yeah. So just to start off with when we look at what this is going to cost households at higher gas prices, we estimate that on an annualized basis, it's going to cost households roughly $1600 dollars more on gasoline and utilities a year. So that's if higher prices that are where they are today last for the entire year. In terms of the hit by income group that could raise spending on energy by about 2% of disposable income for the highest income group, but by about 7% for the lowest income group, so that basically can equate to a 7% hit on non-gasoline and utility spending for lower income households. And so that feeds through mostly into discretionary spending for the lowest income group. And we did work with our retail teams describing this and talking about how very strong job growth and positive real wages are a tailwind for lower end consumers. But it's not enough to outpace the headwinds of stimulus rolling off on top of higher energy prices, which act as a tax to households. 


Ellen Zentner: Yeah, so it'll be a little bit more of a struggle for them until we get some alleviation from this price burden. I want to walk you through, though something else that we're in the midst of now. Tax refund season is upon us, and I think the refund season started a few weeks ago. And so, you track this on a weekly basis once those tax refunds start getting sent out, where are we tracking? 


Sarah Wolfe: Yeah, so you are right, refund season started in late January, and it's going to end in mid-April, so it's about a month earlier than last year. There's also a lot more going on with tax refunds because of all the COVID emergency programs. There's a lot more refund programs that lower middle income households could file for. You had the child tax credit, you have childcare refunds, elderly care refunds, so there was a lot of uncertainty on how refunds were going to come in this year. Through the week ending February 25th, the average refund size was roughly $3500 dollars per person, which is well above the average refund amount during the same week in previous years. So it's about $1500 higher than in 2020 and about $800 to $900 than 2019. So it's really quite significantly higher, and I think this is really important because when we talk about the low end consumer it could really provide this extra cushion that they need. We're already seeing in the auto sub-prime space and credit sub-prime space that delinquencies are starting to pick up. But I do think that this tax refund season could really help alleviate some of these pressures and bring delinquencies back down as more refunds get distributed. 


Ellen Zentner: So if I tie a bow around all of this, we still have a constructive outlook on the consumer. You've written about excess savings, you're now tracking the tax refund season, at the end of the day, right, you've talked about how the fundamentals drive the consumer and the fundamentals are income and strong labor market. We've got above average job gains, we've got above average wage growth, that creates this income proxy for the consumer that looks quite strong. So I think there's a lot more room to absorb the impact of higher prices today in the U.S. and especially when you compare it to some of our other major trading partners. So, Sarah, thanks for taking the time to talk. 


Sarah Wolfe: As always, it was great to speak with you, Ellen. 


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.

Mar 10, 2022
Michael Zezas: The Macro Impacts of Oil Prices
00:02:46

With the rising cost of oil comes concerns around economic growth, but the distinction between the impact in Europe and the US is important, presenting both challenges and opportunities for investors.


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-----

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, March 9th at 1:00 PM in New York.

 

This week, the United States closed its markets to imports of Russian oil as another measure in its response to the invasion of Ukraine. In anticipation of this announcement, the price of oil increased to as high as $129 per barrel, leading the average gas price in the United States to reach $4.25. Understandably, this has created a new burden for consumers and also has investors concerned about the macroeconomic impacts of higher fuel prices. Here’s the latest thinking from our economists.


We expect the downside to economic growth to be felt more in Europe than the United States. Unlike the US, Europe is a net importer of energy, which means when fuel prices go up they have to pay the price but don’t earn the extra income from selling fuel at a higher price. Accordingly, our European economics team has revised down their expectations for GDP growth by nearly 1% for 2022. The impact in the US should be more muted, with our colleagues dropping their growth forecast by 30 basis points to 4.3%. Again, this is because the US enjoys substantial domestic energy production. So while higher prices at the pump might interfere with some consumer purchases, the income from those fuel purchases will drive consumption elsewhere in the economy.

 

But these views aside, we have to acknowledge these conditions of elevated fuel and commodities prices drive uncertainty around the future economic and monetary impacts that markets will consider. Increasingly, clients want to discuss and debate the idea of stagflation, which is the combination of slowing growth and rising inflation, in both the US and Europe. And that sentiment could persist for some time, as our commodities research team thinks swings in the price of oil between $100 and $150 are possible in the near term.  

 

We’ll have a lot more on that in future podcasts, but for now wanted to point out one tangible takeaway for investors: potential upside for equities in the energy exploration and production sector. Higher prices at the pump means potential for more revenue, yet the sector is valued at a discount to the S&P 500 when accounting for its prices relative to the cash flow of companies in that sector. 

 

Bottom line, the global economy is changing quickly, presenting both challenges and opportunities. We’ll be keeping you in the loop on both.

 

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 09, 2022
Graham Secker: Stagflation Pressure Meets Pricing Power
00:03:43

As European markets price in slowing growth, increased inflation and geopolitical tensions, pricing power is a potential focus for European investors looking to weather the storm.


-----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 impacts of recent geopolitical developments on European markets and why rising stagflation pressures point towards owning companies with good pricing power. It's Tuesday, March the 8th at 1:00 pm in London.


Since our last podcast on European equities, the backdrop has changed considerably, with an escalation in geopolitical tensions putting upward pressure on inflation, downward pressure on growth and generally raising European risk premia as uncertainty spikes. Last week my colleague Jens Eisenschmidt, our Chief European Economist, cut his forecasts for European GDP growth for this year and next, while also raising his projections for inflation on the back of higher energy costs. While Jens is not predicting a European recession at this time, investors are becoming incrementally more worried about this possibility as geopolitical tensions extend and oil and gas prices continue to rise. 


Even if Europe does manage to avoid falling into an outright recession, the stagflationary conditions that are building in the region, namely slowing growth and rising inflation, have important implications for investors. Across the broader market it points to a more challenging backdrop for corporate profits as slowing top line momentum coincides with growing margin pressures from higher input costs. At the same time, heightened geopolitical uncertainty is putting downward pressure on equity valuations as investors rotate out of the region, thereby lowering the price to earnings ratio at the same time as profit expectations retrench. 


After a near 20% decline from their January highs, it's fair to say that European stocks are pricing in quite a lot of bad news here, with equity valuations now below long run averages and close to record lows vs. U.S. stocks. While we think this provides an attractive entry point for longer term investors, European markets will likely remain tricky in the short term as investor sentiment oscillates between hope and fear. Our experience suggests that markets rarely trough on valuation grounds alone, instead requiring a backdrop of broad capitulation, coupled with a more positive turn in the news flow - conditions that have not yet fallen into place. 


In many respects stagflation is the worst environment for asset allocators, as slow growth weighs on stocks at the same time as high inflation potentially undermines the case for bonds. Thankfully such an environment has been rare over the last 50 years, however we can still construct a ‘stagflation playbook’ for equity markets when it comes to picking stocks and sectors. Specifically, we identify prior periods when inflation was rising at the same time as growth indicators were falling. We then analyze performance trends over those periods. When we do this, we find that a stagflationary backdrop tends to favor commodity and defensive oriented stocks at the expense of cyclical and financial companies - a trend that has repeated itself over the last month here in Europe. 


An alternative strategy is to focus on companies that have strong pricing power, as they should have more ability to raise prices to offset higher input costs than other stocks. In a European context, sectors that are currently raising prices to expand their margins, even in the face of rising input costs, include airlines, brands, hotels, metals and mining companies, telecoms and tobacco. To be clear, not every stock in these sectors will enjoy superior pricing power, but we think these areas are a good place to start the search. 


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. 

Mar 08, 2022
Mike Wilson: A More Bearish View for 2022
00:03:55

The year of the stock picker is in full swing as investors look towards a future of Fed tightening and geopolitical uncertainty, where some individual stocks will fare better than others.


-----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, March 7th at 11:00 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


Since publishing our 2022 outlook in November, we've taken a more bearish view of stocks for reasons that are now more appreciated, if not fully. First was the Fed's pivot last fall, something most suggested would be a small nuisance that stocks would easily navigate. Part of this complacency was understandable due to the fact that the Fed had never really administered tough medicine in the past 20 years. Furthermore, when things got rough in the markets, they often pivoted back - the proverbial Fed “Put”, or the safety net for markets. We argued this time was different, just like we argued back in April 2020 that this quantitative easing program was different than the one that followed the Great Financial Crisis, or GFC. In short, printing money after the GFC didn't lead to the inflation many predicted, because it was simply filling the holes created on bank and consumer balance sheets that were left over from the housing collapse. However, this time the money printing was used to massively expand the balance sheets of consumers and businesses, who would then spend it. We called it helicopter money at the time. In short, the primary difference between the post GFC Fed money printing and the one that followed the COVID lockdown, is that the money actually made it into the real economy this time and drove demand well above supply. 


This imbalance is what triggered the Fed to pivot so aggressively on policy. In fact, Chair Powell has admitted that one of the Fed's miscalculations was thinking supply, including labor, would be able to adjust to the higher levels of demand making this inflation transitory. This has not been the case, and now the Fed must be resolute in its determination to reduce money supply growth. Nowhere was this resolve more clear than during Chair Powell's congressional testimony last week, when he was asked if he would be willing to take draconian steps, as Paul Volcker did in the early 1980s to fight inflation. Powell confidently answered, "Yes". To us this suggests the Fed "Put" on stocks is well below current levels, and investors should consider this when pricing risk assets. 


The other reason most investors and strategists have remained more bullish than us is due to the path of earnings. So far, this positive view has been correct. Earnings have come through, and it's the primary reason why the S&P 500 has held up better than the average stock. Therefore, the key question continues to be whether earnings growth can continue to offset the valuation compression that is now in full swing. We think it can for some individual stocks, which is why the title of our outlook was the year of the stock picker. As regular listeners know, we have been focused on factors like earnings, stability and operational efficiency when looking for stocks to own. Growth stocks might be able to do a little better as earnings take center stage from interest rates, but only if the valuations have come down far enough and they can really deliver on growth that meets the still high expectations. 


The bottom line is that the terribly unfortunate events in Ukraine make an already deteriorating situation worse. If we achieve some kind of cease fire or settlement that both Russia and the West can live with, equity markets are likely to rally sharply. We would use such rallies to lighten up on equity positions, however, especially those that are vulnerable to the earnings disappointment we were expecting before this conflict escalated. More specifically, that would be consumer discretionary stocks and the more cyclical parts of technology that are vulnerable to the payback in demand experienced over the past 18 months. Another area to be careful with now is energy, with crude oil now approaching levels of demand destruction. On the positive side, stick with more defensively oriented sectors like REITs, healthcare and consumer staples. 


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.

Mar 07, 2022
Andrew Sheets: A Different Story for Global Markets
00:02:58

While the U.S. continues to see high valuations, rising inflation, and slow policy tightening, the story is quite different for many markets outside the U.S.


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. 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 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, March 4th at 3 p.m. in London. 


While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has implications for financial markets, it has  bigger implications for people. Hundreds of thousands have already been displaced, numbers which are likely to grow in the coming weeks. These refugees deserve our compassion, and support. To those impacted by this tragedy, you have our sympathies. And to those helping them, our admiration.


Our expertise, however, is in financial markets, and so that’s where we’ll be focusing today. For those that are most negative on the market right now, the refrain is pretty simple and pretty straightforward. Assets are still expensive relative to historical valuations. Inflation is still high and it's still rising. And central banks are still behind the curve, so to speak, with lots of interest rate increases needed to bring monetary policy back in line with the broader economy. 


What I want to discuss today, however, was how different some of these concerns can look when you move beyond the United States. 


Let's start with the idea that assets are expensive. Now, this clearly applies to some markets, but less to others. Stocks in Germany, for example, trade at less than 12 times next year's earnings, Korean stocks trade at 10 times next year's earnings, Brazil, it's 8 times. And many currencies trade at historically low valuations relative to the U.S. dollar. 


Next up is inflation. While inflation is high in the U.S. and Europe, it's low in Asia, a region that does account for roughly 1/3 of the entire global economy. What do I mean by low? U.S. consumer prices have increased 7.5% Relative to a year ago. Consumer prices in China and Japan, in contrast, are up less than 1%. 


My colleague Chetan Ahya, Morgan Stanley's Chief Asia Economist, notes that these differences aren’t just some mathematical illusion, but rather reflect real differences in Asia's economy and policy response. 


Finally, there's the idea that central banks are behind the curve, so to speak. Now, the hindsight here is a little tricky, as the Federal Reserve and the ECB were dealing with enormous uncertainty around the scope of the pandemic for much of last year. But what's notable is that not all central banks took that path. Central banks in Chile, Brazil, Poland and Hungary, just to name a few, have been raising interest rates aggressively for the better part of the last 12 months. 


In times of crisis, markets often try to simplify the story. But the challenges facing global markets, from valuations, to inflation, to monetary policy, really are different. As events unfold, it will be important to keep these distinctions in mind.


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.

Mar 04, 2022
Special Episode: How Fed Policy Impacts Housing
00:06:01

As the Fed continues to signal coming rate hikes this year, the housing market will face implications across home sales, mortgage rates, and fundamentals.


-----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 changes in the Fed policy and what the possible implications are for mortgages and the housing market more broadly. It's Thursday, March 3rd at 11:00 a.m. in New York. 


Jim Egan: Okay, Jay, we've talked about affordability pressures as mortgage rates have moved higher a couple of other times in the past on this podcast, and we would encourage listeners to go back and listen to those prior podcasts for a deeper dive on affordability. But Jay Powell just testified this week that he'll support a 25 basis point hike in March. Furthermore, if inflation pressures are persistent, then he's gonna raise Fed funds by more than 25 basis points at later meetings. The markets priced in six hikes this year. What does that mean for mortgage rates going forward? When I think about affordability, am I gonna have to think of another 150 basis point increase in mortgage rates? 


Jay Bacow: No. So you saying the market has priced in six hikes is really important, because mortgage rates are based on generally sort of the belly of the Treasury curve. And the belly of the Treasury curve is effectively a function of what the market's expecting the Fed to do, along with how much risk premium there is. And if the market's expecting the Fed to hike six times this year, then if the Fed hikes six times this year and there's no change in risk premium, then mortgage rates aren't really going to move very much from where they are right now. Now, Powell said that he's worried about inflation and so if inflation comes in higher than expected or the market changes their demand for risk premium, then mortgage rates are gonna move. 


Jay Bacow: But Jim, mortgage rates have already moved a lot, they've gone up 100 basis points this year in just two months. What does this mean for affordability? 


Jim Egan: From the affordability perspective, it's a problem. But that also really depends on how we define what a problem is. The housing market's been doing very, very well. But when we think about this kind of move in mortgage rates, existing home sales, transaction volumes, they're going to have to fall. 


Jay Bacow: But haven't existing home sales gone up a lot already? 


Jim Egan: Yes, and that's where we think it's important to really look at historical experiences during times like this. If we look back to mortgage rates to 1990 we have five other instances of this kind of increase in mortgage rates. Now, one of those was during the housing crisis, so we're going to remove the experience there, but if I look at the other four instances existing home sales climbed very sharply during that first 6 month period, while mortgage rates were climbing by 100 basis points. That's where we are right now, we're seeing that climb. The 12 months after, the subsequent year, which we're going to start to enter March of this year going forward, that's where existing home sales tend to plateau and in a lot of instances come down. And they tend to come down further if mortgage rates continue to climb during that year, which is what we just discussed. So we think it's very likely, and if historical precedent holds, then we've already seen the peak of existing home sales for at least the next 12 months. 


Jay Bacow: What about home prices? Powell was asked if he thinks that home prices are going to fall and go back to pre-COVID levels, and he said he thought that raising mortgage rates would just slow down home prices, and he doesn't want to see home prices fall. What do we think? 


Jim Egan: Well, I'd like to believe he's reading our research because that's very much in line with how we think about things right now. We think that home price appreciation at a 19% rate right now is going to have to slow. And as we've said on this podcast before, affordability pressures are really one of, if not the key reason that the rate of HPA has to come down. Simply put, potential homebuyers cannot continue to afford to buy homes, at prices that would allow HPA to continue to climb at almost 20% year over year levels. However, if we think about the other factors that would come into play to bring home prices from a positive level to a negative level, we just do not see those characteristics in the market right now. Supply conditions are very constrained. We think they'll be alleviated somewhat this year, but that's not enough for there to be an overhang of supply that would weigh on home prices. We think that the credit availability in the market has been very conservative. We don't think we're at a risk of increased defaults and foreclosures. What we think happens is that transaction volumes fall, as we've stated, as home buyers aren't willing to pay the prices that home sellers want to sell at. But those sellers are not forced. And so you end up with a market that kind of doesn't trade, home price growth slows and we see it bottoming out kind of in a positive 5-6% percent range from here. So, long story short, we agree with that assessment from Jay Powell. 


Jim Egan: Now, the other side of the equation, mortgages. With rates backing up by that much, Jay, what do we think about the mortgage market here? 


Jay Bacow: So rates backing up means that there's going to be less people refinancing. And you said that there's going to be a slowdown in existing home sales as well. But, we're still worried about the supply to the agency mortgage market. And that's because the supply that we care about the most is the new supply coming from new home sales. And the thing about new home sales is that it's about an 8-month period from the time that the homebuilder gets the permit to start building the house, to when it actually gets sold. So we're going to have about 6 more months of supply from people that started to build their house when mortgage rates were a lot lower. And that's going to weigh on the market, particularly given that Powell said during his testimony that they're going to start balance sheet normalization in the coming months. So, we've got supply coming and we've got the biggest buyer stepping away from the market. Now, mortgage rates have gone up and mortgage spreads have widened, but we think there's a little bit more room for mortgages to underperform given the supply that's coming, and the lack of demand coming from the Fed. 


Jim Egan: Certainly interesting times. 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. 

Mar 03, 2022
Michael Zezas: Key Questions Amidst Geopolitical Tensions
00:03:04

The recent crisis in Ukraine has caused a great deal of uncertainty in the economy and markets. To cut through the noise, we take a look at the three key questions we are hearing from investors.


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-----


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, bring you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the intersection between U.S. public policy and financial markets. It's Wednesday, March 2nd at 3pm in New York. 


As an analyst focusing on the interaction between geopolitical events and financial markets, I'm accustomed to dealing with uncertainties evolving at a rapid pace. But even by those standards, nothing in my career compares to the events of the past two weeks: the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions response by the US, the UK and Europe. To help cut through the noise, here's answers to the three most frequently asked questions by our investor clients. 


First, do sanctions mean higher energy costs? In the short term, the answer is likely yes. While sanctions on Russian banks currently permit payments for various energy commodities, there's still restrictions on, and disruptions to, their transportation. With Russia being a key producer of several commodities, including 10% of the world's oil, it's not surprising that global oil inventories have declined and the price of a barrel of oil is sitting above $100. 


This dovetails with the second question. Should we expect the Fed will shy away from hiking rates? In short, we don't think so, at least at the Fed's March meeting, but it certainly creates substantial uncertainty in the outlook. This conflict seems to be affecting both parts of the Fed's dual mandate in opposite directions. It risks dampening economic growth, but for the reasons we just described, it can also boost inflation. Accounting for both, our economists still expect the Fed to hike 0.25% in March but the conflict adds another layer to an already unprecedented level of complexity for the Fed. This is actually the key point for fixed income markets, in our view, where investors should prepare for ongoing volatility in Treasury and credit markets as the Fed may have to regularly tinker with their own assessment of growth and inflation. 


Finally, what are the long-term implications for investors? To answer this question, we refer you back to our framework for 'Slowbalization,' or the idea that companies will have to, in certain industries, spend more to adjust supply chains and exit certain businesses as governments create policies that prioritize economic and national security over short term profits. You can see how this trend may already be accelerating after the onset of the Ukraine crisis, with several multinational companies announcing they'll sell stakes in, exit joint projects with or pause sales to Russian companies. But some equity sectors may see upside. Defense and software, for example, could see bigger spending as governments reorient their budgets towards these efforts, most notably Germany announcing it will boost its defense spending to 2% of GDP. 


Of course, the situation remains fluid, and we'll continue to track it and keep you in the loop on what it means for the economy and 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. 

Mar 03, 2022
Martijn Rats: Uncertainty for Oil and Gas
00:03:11

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues to unfold, implications for the oil and gas sector in Europe are beginning to take shape.


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-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Martijn Rats, Global Commodity Strategist and Head of the European Energy Research Team for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a global perspective, I'll be talking about developments in the oil and gas sector amidst geopolitical tensions. It's Tuesday, March 1st at 2:00 p.m. in London. 


As the situation between Russia and the Ukraine continues to develop, implications for commodity markets are beginning to take shape. Russia is a major commodity producer, playing in an especially important role in providing energy for Europe through oil and natural gas imports. With a new round of sanctions announced over the weekend, the precise impact on prices remains to be seen, but we can begin to forecast the direction. 


First, there is no sign at this stage that, at least at the aggregate level, the flow of commodities has been impacted yet. All of the pipeline and tanker tracking data that we've seen suggests that they continue to be shipped. That shouldn't be too surprising, it's still early days and the sanctions that have been announced so far have been carefully crafted to reduce the impacts on energy flows from Russia. 


Second, trade patterns will nevertheless likely shift. We can already see this in the oil markets. European refiners are traditionally big buyers of Russian crudes, and even though technically they have continued to be able to buy these grades, they are increasingly reluctant to do so. There have been indications that ship owners are reluctant to send vessels to Russian ports, and that European buyers are uncertain about where sanctions will ultimately go. This is requiring increasingly large discounts. As many buyers already move away from Russian crudes, this also creates more demand for others, including North Sea crudes, which therefore drives up the price of Brent. 


Third, all of this is happening against the backdrop of tightness in both global oil markets and the European gas markets. We are seeing low and falling inventories, low and falling spare capacity and low levels of investment across both. At the same time, there is a healthy demand recovery ongoing as the world emerges from COVID. Given this tightness, even a modest disruption can have large price impacts. Now, with that in mind, risks to oil and gas prices are still firmly skewed higher, at least in the short term. 


Finally, I want to point at the growing tension in Europe between diversification and decarbonization. Several key politicians have said over the last several days that Europe should reduce its dependance on Russian oil and gas, and diversify its sources of supply. At the same time, Europe has set ambitious targets to decarbonize. Diversification requires investment in new supply, while decarbonization then requires that those supplies, in the end, will not be used. How that tension will be resolved is hard to know, but this is an issue that at some point will need to be addressed. 


Bottom line, there is still a lot of uncertainty for commodity markets in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you posted, of course, as new developments take shape. 


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. 

Mar 02, 2022
Vishy Tirupattur: Corporate Credit Faces New Challenges
00:03:12

Like many markets, Corporate Credit has faced a rocky start to 2022. For investors, understanding the difference between default and duration risk will be key to positioning for the rest of the year.


-----Transcript-----


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I am Vishy Tirupattur, Global Director of Fixed Income Research. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about corporate credit markets against the background of policy tightening and heightened geopolitical tensions. It's Monday, February 28th at 10 a.m. in New York. 


It's been a rough start for the year for the markets. Central banks' hawkish shift towards removing policy accommodation, the significant flattening of yield curves that followed, rising geopolitical tensions, fading prospects for fiscal support, and growing concerns about stretched valuations have all combined to spawn jitters in financial markets. Corporate credit has been no exception. After two years of abundant inflows, the narrative has turned outflows from credit funds in conjunction with negative total returns. These outflows conjure up painful memories of 2018, the last time the credit markets had to deal with substantial policy tightening. 


Let us focus on the source - sharply higher interest rates and duration versus credit quality and default concerns. Consider leverage loans, floating rate instruments that have credit ratings comparable to high yield bonds which are fixed rate instruments. 


Since the beginning of the year, high yield bond spreads have widened almost three and half times more than leverage loan spreads. If you limit the comparison just to fixed rate bonds, the longer duration investment grade bonds have significantly underperformed the lower quality high yield bonds. Clearly, it is duration and not a fear of a spike in defaults that is at the heart of credit investor angst. 


My credit strategy colleagues, Srikanth Sankaran and Taylor Twamley, have analyzed the impact of rate hikes on interest coverage ratios for leveraged loan borrowers. This ratio is a measure of a company's ability to make interest payments on its debt, calculated by dividing company earnings by interest on debt expenses during a given year. The key takeaway from their work is this - What matters more for interest coverage is the point at which higher rates become a headwind for earnings growth. Loan interest coverage ratios have historically improved early in the hiking cycle as interest expenses are offset by growth in earnings. 


I draw comfort from the evidence that as long as earnings growth holds up and does not turn negative, corporate credit fundamentals measured in interest coverage ratios are positioned well enough to withstand our economists base case of six 25 basis point rate hikes in this year. 


While credit fundamentals look fine, valuations are not. Since the beginning of the year, we have seen spread widening, the pace of which has picked up in the last couple of weeks. So, we still prefer taking default risk over duration and spread risk. The risk to this view has increased in the last few weeks. Specifically, if central bank reaction to the heightened geopolitical risk is to control inflation at the expense of growth, lower quality credit may be more exposed. 


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.

Feb 28, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Geopolitics, Inflation and Central Banks
00:03:04

As markets react to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, price moves for corn, wheat, oil and metals may mean new inflationary pressures for central banks to contend with in the coming months.


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. 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.

This recording references actual or potential sanctions, which may prohibit U.S. persons from buying certain securities, making certain investments and/or engaging in other activities in or pertaining to Russia.

The content of this recording is for informational purposes and does not represent Morgan Stanley’s view as to whether or not any of the Persons, instruments or investments discussed are or will become subject to sanctions. Any references in this presentation to entities, debt or equity instruments that may be covered by such sanctions should not be read as recommending or advising as to any investment activities in relation to such entities or instruments. Audience members are solely responsible for ensuring that their investment activities in relation to any sanctioned entities and/or securities are carried out in compliance with applicable sanctions.


-----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, February 25th at 3 p.m. in London. 


Russia's invasion of Ukraine has grabbed the headlines. There are other commentators and podcasts that are far more knowledgeable and better placed to comment on that conflict. Rather than offer assessment on geopolitics, I want to try to address one small tangent of these developments- the potential impact on prices and inflation. 


Russia and Ukraine are both major commodity producers. Russia produces about 10% of the world's oil, and Russia and Ukraine together account for 1/3 of the world's wheat and 1/5 of the world's corn production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So, if one is wondering why the price of wheat is up about 18% since the end of January, look no further. 


These commodities are traded around the world, but specific exposure can be even more acute. Morgan Stanley analysts estimate that Russia supplies roughly 1/3 of Europe's natural gas, while analysis by the Financial Times estimates that Ukraine supplies roughly 1/3 of China's corn. 


There are also second order linkages. Russia produces about 40% of the world's palladium, a key component for catalytic converters, and about 6% of the world's aluminum. But because Russia also provides the energy for a good portion of Europe's aluminum production, the impact could be even larger on aluminum prices than Russia's market share would indicate. 


Central banks will need to look at these changing prices and weigh how much they should factor into their medium term inflation outlook, which ultimately determines their monetary policy. For now, we think three elements will guide central bank thinking, especially at the U.S. Federal Reserve. 


First, higher policy rates are still necessary, despite international developments, given how low interest rates in the U.S. and Europe still are relative to the health of these economies. Slowing demand, which is the point of interest rate hikes, is still important to contain medium term inflationary pressures. 


Second, these developments may reduce the odds of an aggressive start to central bank action. A few weeks ago, markets implied that the Fed would begin with a large .5% interest rate increase. Our economists did not think that was likely, and continue to believe that the Fed will hike by a smaller .25% at its March meeting. 


Third and finally, the duration and scale of these commodity price impacts are uncertain. Indeed, I haven't even mentioned the prospect of further sanctions or other interventions that could further impact commodity prices. In the view of my colleagues who forecast interest rates, that should mean higher risk premiums, and therefore higher interest rates on government bonds in the U.S. and Europe. 


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. 

Feb 26, 2022
Special Episode: Changing Tides - Water Scarcity
00:08:38

Water scarcity brings unique challenges in the path to a more sustainable future. Solving for them will mean both risk and opportunity for governments, corporates, and investors.


-----Transcript-----

Jessica Alsford Obviously, everyone's minds today are rightly on news out of Europe. We will have an episode to cover this in the coming days, but today we are thinking more long term on sustainability. 


Jessica Alsford Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jessica Alsford, Global Head of Sustainability Research at Morgan Stanley, 


Connor Lynagh And I'm Connor Lynagh, an equity analyst covering energy and industrials here at Morgan Stanley. 


Jessica Alsford And on this episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing one of the leading sustainability challenges of the near future, water scarcity, as well as potential solutions that are likely to emerge. It's Thursday, February, the 24th at 3 p.m. in London, 


Connor Lynagh and it's 10:00 am in New York. 


Connor Lynagh So Jess, we recently collaborated on the report, 'Changing Tides, Investing for Future Water Access.' Maybe the best place to start here is the big picture. Can you walk us through the demand picture and how challenges are expected to change in the industry? 


Jessica Alsford So the key issue really is that water is a critical but finite resource, and there's already huge inequality in access to water globally. So over the last century, we've seen water use rising about six fold, and yet there are still around 2 billion people without access to safely managed drinking water and around 3.6 billion without safely managed sanitation. Then add to this the fact that demand is likely to increase by around another 30% by 2050, about 70% of total demand comes from agriculture withdrawals, and clearly we need to increase the amount of food we're producing due to growing population, and there's also going to be incremental water needs from industry and municipalities. A third element to also think about is that this is all happening at the same time that climate change is going to alter the hydrological cycle. And so, this is going to increase the risk of floods in some areas and drought in others. Eight of the 10 largest economies actually have either the same or higher water risk scores than the global average. And so clearly what is already a challenge in terms of providing access to water is only going to become more complicated going forward. 


Connor Lynagh So Jess, water is pretty unique when you look at the different challenges that the sustainability community is facing. What do you think is particularly unique and noteworthy about the challenge we're facing here? 


Jessica Alsford So the three really big sustainability megatrends that we look at our climate, food and then water. They're all interrelated and they're all really tricky to solve for. But I think there are some unique characteristics about water that do add some complexities to it. First of all, it is finite. So, in theory, we can produce more food, but it's very difficult to make more water. In addition, it's incredibly difficult and costly to transport water around. So, if you think about energy and food, these can be moved over pretty large distances, but water is really a regionally specific commodity. And then the third element really is that water is underpriced if you compare to the actual cost of providing it. There aren't any free markets really to set prices according to supply and demand and because water is essential to life, it's really not straightforward when it comes to thinking about pricing. 


Jessica Alsford So Connor, from your perspective, covering some of the stocks exposed to the water theme, what are your thoughts on how water might be priced going forward? 


Connor Lynagh Yeah, I mean, I think you really hit on a lot of the big issues, which is that pricing is very heavily regulated relative to a lot of commodities out there. You know, a lot of utilities are not really able to cover their costs without subsidies from the government. And so, you know, I think as a base case, there does need to be an increase in pricing to solve for some of this shortfall that we see out there. But that has to be done delicately. We can't disadvantage members of society that are already struggling. And so, I think what we're going to need to see is some sort of market-based pricing, but in select instances. So, Australia already has a relatively well-developed water market. You're seeing some moves in that direction in California as well. But I think as a first step, I think there's going to be increased focus on larger industrial users paying more than their share and allowing consumers to have a relatively advantaged position on the cost structure. 


Jessica Alsford So pricing is clearly one issue, but we also need to see huge investment in global water infrastructure. What are your thoughts on how this develops over the next few years? 


Connor Lynagh It’s interesting if you look at a cross-section of countries globally, we tend to spend about 1% of GDP on our water resources. So, I think it's a fair starting point to say that water spending is going to grow in line with GDP. But, as we look at the world today and as you've covered previously, the spending is already not sufficient. It's probably hard to quantify exactly how much we, quote, 'should' spend. But I'll point out a couple of data points here. So globally, we spend about $300 billion per year on water capex. In order to get global water access to those that currently don't have it, this would cost an incremental $115 billion a year. And even in countries like the U.S., where our infrastructure is relatively well developed, we are currently facing a spending shortfall of about $40 billion per year. So, we do think this is going to need to rise significantly. 


Jessica Alsford So if we look at climate, for example, we have seen a really big step up in terms of regulation and policy support to really try to drive investment into green infrastructure. And so just picking up on that, for investors who are looking at this theme, where can capital be deployed to help solve this issue? 


Connor Lynagh I think that there's obviously just a major infrastructure investment need, but I think that absent major changes in policy, there's a few areas that we still think are relative areas of excess spending growth, if you will, within the sector. So, the first is emerging markets. As countries climb the wealth curve, we do think that their investment is going to increase significantly. I'd point to areas like India and China as areas of significant growth over the next few years. Wastewater management globally I really think that there is going to be increasing regulation and corporate-level focus on this. And then the final thing is applying digital technologies. So, as it stands right now, only about 70% of water globally is connected to a meter. So first and foremost, we need to get a better sense of how we're using our water, where we're using our water. But we can also use cellular technology, digital technologies to better monitor who's using this water in real time, and I think that's going to be a major area of investment, particularly in the US and Europe. 


Connor Lynagh So, Jess, obviously there's opportunities for companies that can offer solutions to the water industry, but water access is also a risk for many companies around the world. How should investors think about this? 


Jessica Alsford Absolutely. Energy and power generation are the most water intensive sectors. But actually, what's really critical with this theme is access to water on a local level. So actually, our analysis has shown that companies across a wide variety of sectors can really be impacted, whether that be datacenters, pharmaceuticals, apparel or beverages. One of the sectors most at risk is actually copper. So copper is a very water intensive commodity, and a lot of copper just happens to be mined in Chile, which is a country unfortunately already suffering from water scarcity. Now, desalination plants are becoming the norm in Chile as there are competing demands for water between copper mines and also the local population. If we look ahead, we actually think that demand for copper could increase by around 25% per annum. And this is due to the vital role that it's playing in the energy transition, whether it be for renewables or EVs, for example. And with this incremental demand for copper comes incremental demands for water. I'd also point to hydrogen, again, a key piece of the decarbonization puzzle. So, water is needed for hydrogen, whether for cooling, for gray or blue hydrogen, or for the electrolysis process with green hydrogen. And our analysis suggests that almost 60% of future hydrogen projects are located in countries with water stress. So again, this is going to require inventive solutions to ensure that there really is sufficient access to water for all users. 


Connor Lynagh Jess, thanks for taking the time to talk.


Jessica Alsford Great speaking with you too Connor. 


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

Feb 25, 2022
Mike Wilson: The Prospect of a Continued Correction
00:03:14

While geopolitical tensions currently weigh on markets, investors should look to the fundamentals in order to anticipate the depth and duration of the ongoing correction.


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. 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 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 Wednesday, February 23rd at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 


This past week tensions around Russia/Ukraine dominated the headlines. When unpredictable events like this occur, it's easy to simply throw up one's arms and blame all price action on it. However, we're not so sure that's a good idea, particularly in the current environment of Fed tightening and slowing growth. 


From here, though, the depth and duration of the ongoing correction will be determined primarily by the magnitude of the slowdown in the first half of 2022. While the Russia/Ukraine situation obviously can make this slowdown even worse, ultimately, we think that preexisting fundamental risks we've been focused on for months will be the primary drivers, particularly as geopolitical concerns are now very much priced. 


While most economic and earnings forecasts do reflect the slowdown from last year's torrid pace, we think there's a growing risk of greater disappointment in both. We've staked our case primarily on slowing consumer demand as confidence remains low thanks to the generationally high inflation in just about everything the consumer needs and wants. Many investors we speak with remain more convinced the consumer will hold up better than the confidence surveys suggest. After all, high frequency data like retail sales and credit card data remain robust, while many consumer facing companies continue to indicate no slowdown in demand, at least not yet. However, most of our leading indicators suggest that the risk of consumer slowdown remains higher than normal. Secondarily, but perhaps just as importantly, is the fact that supply is now rising. While this will alleviate some of the supply shortages, it could also lead to a return of price discounting for many goods where inflationary pressures have been the greatest. That's potentially a problem for margins. It's also a risk to demand, in our view, if the improved supply reveals a much greater level of double ordering than what is currently anticipated. In short, the order books - i.e. the demand picture - may not be as robust as people believe. 


Overall, the technical picture is mixed also within U.S. equities. Rarely have we witnessed such weak breath and havoc under the surface when the S&P 500 is down less than 10%. In our experience, when such a divergence like this happens, it typically ends with the primary index catching down to the average stock. In short, this correction looks incomplete to us. Nevertheless, we also appreciate that equity markets are very oversold and sentiment is bearish even if positioning is not. With the Russia Ukraine situation now weighing heavily on equity markets, relief would likely lead to a tactical rally, but we acknowledge that uncertainty remains extremely high. 


The bottom line for us is that we really don't have a strong view on the Russia/Ukraine situation as it relates to the equity markets. However, we think a lot of bad news is priced at this point. Therefore, we would look to sell strength into the end of the month if markets rally on the geopolitical risk failing to escalate further. 


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.



Feb 24, 2022
Special Episode, Pt. 2: Inflation Around the World
00:08:57

The challenges of inflation can be felt around the world, but understanding the regional differences is key to an effective 2022 for both central banks and investors.


----- Transcript -----

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 Chief Global Economist.


Andrew Sheets And on part 2 of this special episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll be continuing our discussion on central banks, inflation, and the outlook for markets. It's Tuesday, February 22nd at 1:00 p.m. in London.


Seth Carpenter And 8:00 a.m. in New York.


Andrew Sheets So Seth, you lay out the challenge that central banks face because they are being pulled in two directions. If they raise rates too quickly, the economy could slow too quickly. That means real people lose their jobs, real businesses have trouble getting loans. On the other hand, if they don't raise rates quickly enough, there's a risk that inflation would be higher and that has a real impact on the economy and people's lives. When it comes to, kind of, which side of caution to air on, how do you think central banks are thinking about that at the moment? And what would you be watching to indicate which side of that debate they're starting to come down on?


Seth Carpenter I think if we're looking at the developed market, central banks, the Fed, the ECB, the Bank of England right now, I think they have a high conviction that the current stance of policy is just too accommodative given the state of the real economy and where inflation is. So I think right now all of them believe they need to get going, that starting now is fine. That mindset I don't think though will last too terribly long because over time we will start to see some outright tightening. So for the Fed, where does that point change? I think once they start to run off their balance sheet, probably sometime around the middle of this year, they're going to start to get much more cautious, they're going to look at markets and say how much of this tightening is being transmitted first through financial markets and then to the economy. So they'll be looking at credit spreads, they'll be looking at risk markets to ask, are we getting some traction? We think, especially if we're right and a bunch of the inflation that we're seeing now is this frictional inflation, that comes down in the latter half of the year. We think that hiking cycle is going to slow down over time. And so much like the Bank of England's forecast based on market pricing, we think there's probably a bit too much that's baked into markets in terms of how much hiking they do. They start off reasonably swiftly, knowing that they were too far away, knowing that they were being very accommodative. But in the latter half of the year, the pace of tightening starts to slow down.


Andrew Sheets Seth, another question that I get quite a bit is at what point will market volatility cause the Fed or another central bank to change their policy? There's an idea in the market that if stocks drop or if credit spreads widen, or if there's higher volatility, then central banks would look at that and respond to that. From a central bank standpoint, how do you think central banks think about market volatility? And what are some important ways that you think investors either correctly or kind of incorrectly think about that reaction function?


Seth Carpenter I can say over the 15 years that I spent at the Fed drafting policy documents, briefing the committee on policy options, thinking about how markets are affecting the economy, I can tell you the following. The market tends to have an overdeveloped sense of how sensitive central banks are to equity market reactions in particular. Equity market changes are important, it can be a very high frequency signal that there is cause to investigate what's going on in the economy. But they give many, many, many false signals as well, and so I would say that a sharp drop in equity prices would be the sort of thing that would get the attention of central bankers but would not force their hand to make a change. Instead, there would be further investigation. In addition, the whole point of tightening monetary policy is to tighten financial conditions and thereby slow the economy. So, it is not a question of are we getting credit spread widening? Are we getting softer asset prices? The answer to that is that's part of the plan. I think the real question is how large is the move in asset prices and how quick is the move in asset prices? If we have a very orderly tightening of financial conditions that plays out over several months, I don't think that's the sort of thing that causes the central bank to reverse course. If instead, over the course of a month you get a very sharp and disruptive widening and spreads, I think that really does cause a substantial reconsideration of the plan.


Andrew Sheets So, Seth, I think it's fair to say one of the challenges of your job at Morgan Stanley is you only have the entire global economy to look after. This is an inflation story that does look similar in some ways around the world, but also looks different. Your global economics team has done some interesting research recently on Asia and how Asia, which is an enormous economy in its own right, is seeing quite different, you know, inflation dynamics and labor market dynamics. I was hoping you could touch a little bit on that and how the regional differences can actually be pretty significant.


Seth Carpenter Absolutely. And I think Asia is very much the counterpoint to what we've seen in the rest of the globe in terms of the inflationary process. So inflation in Asia has been quite subdued, and I think there's some very clear reasons for that. First, when we think about food and energy inflation in Asia, many of the countries there have much more direct government intervention in those markets, and that has been helping to keep those inflation rates low. Second, when it comes to core consumer spending, there's been a bigger lag in consumer spending recovery in a lot of Asian economies than there have been in the developed market economies, which I think reflects two issues. One, aggressive COVID response, and second, much less fiscal transfers to the household sector, that is in the United States and in some other countries really helped to support consumer spending, especially on goods. And finally, in many Asian economies, there's been a bit less in the way of supply chain disruptions for the local market. So there really has been a big difference. I'll go you one further, when we think about the central bank's response, not only do we have the large developed market economy central bank starting to hike, the PBOC is going in exactly the opposite direction. The Chinese economy slowed aggressively for reasons that we can get into on another podcast, but the PBOC has eased. So, it is very much a differential outlook for both inflation and central banking in Asia versus the rest of the world.


Seth Carpenter But I have to say, Andrew, let me turn it around to you because inflation is clearly the key story this year. The change in developed market, central banks towards hiking is huge this year. How is all of this debate affecting your views on strategy as it markets across assets across the globe?


Andrew Sheets So I think there are a couple of important elements that are driving the way we're thinking about markets. The first is one key output of higher inflation is higher interest rates, or certainly investor concern around higher interest rates, if we look at how the market has historically performed as interest rates go up, what really matters, maybe simplistically, is how good the economy is. If interest rates are going up, but the underlying economy is still ultimately solid and strong, a lot of assets end up doing OK. And so if I think about, you know, the base case that you and the Morgan Stanley Global Economic Team have laid out where we have some maybe growth softness in the first quarter of this year, but overall 2022 is a pretty solid year for growth. I think that still means that overall, markets can avoid some of the more negative scenarios that would otherwise come with higher rates. But the second issue here that I think is important, and I think this dovetails nicely with your discussion on Asia relative to say the U.S., is that the challenges around inflation and rate hikes also have a lot of global differences. The more expensive your market is, the higher your rate of inflation, the less your central bank has done to this point. Which describes the U.S. pretty accurately, it's a more expensive market, the inflation rate is higher, the Fed has not made its first rate hike yet. I think that's a market where there's more uncertainty and where my colleague Mike Wilson, our Chief U.S. Equity Strategist, is forecasting a more difficult year for returns. You know, in contrast, in Europe the valuations aren't as expensive, the inflation rate isn't as high. I actually think it's OK for investors to kind of have different views on the impact of inflation, different views for 2022, because these trends are very different globally. And I think we're going to see a market that has much more diverse performance, it's going to be less one direction, it's going to be less unified. And I think that's OK, I think that would reflect a global backdrop for inflation and monetary policy and valuations that is quite different depending on where you look.

 

Seth Carpenter Great. Well, you know, as the saying goes, forecasting is hard, especially about the future. But I have very high conviction in the following forecast: you and I are going to have a lot to talk about over the balance of this year. It's been great talking to you, Andrew.


Andrew Sheets It's been great talking to you, Seth. 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.

Feb 23, 2022
Special Episode, Pt. 1: Two Kinds of Inflation
00:08:07

Inflation has reached levels not seen in years, but there is an important distinction to be made between frictional and cyclical inflation, one that has big implications for central banks this year.


----- Transcript -----

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 Chief Global Economist.


Andrew Sheets And on this episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll be discussing inflation, central banks and the outlook for rate hikes ahead. It's Friday, February 18th at 1:00 p.m. in London


Seth Carpenter and 8:00 a.m. in New York.


Andrew Sheets So, Seth, it's safe to say there's focus on inflation at the moment in markets because we're seeing some of the highest inflation rates in 30 or 40 years. When we think about inflation, though, it's really two stories. There is inflation being driven by more temporary supply chain and COVID related disruptions. And then there is a different type of inflation, the more permanent stickier type of traditional inflation you get as the economy recovers and there's more demand than supply can meet. How important is this distinction at the moment and how do you see these two sides of inflation playing out?


Seth Carpenter Andrew, I think you've laid out that framework extraordinarily well, and I think the distinction between the two types of inflation is absolutely critical for central banks and for how the global economy is likely to evolve from here. My take is that for the US, for the Euro area, for the UK, most of the excess inflation that we're seeing is in fact, COVID-related and frictional. And so, what we can see in the data is that we have an easing now in supply chain disruptions. Supply chain disruptions are still at a very high level, but they're coming down and they're getting better. Similarly, in the US and to some degree in the UK, there have been some labor market frictions because of COVID that have meant that some of the services inflation has also been higher than it might be otherwise. I don't want to diminish completely the idea that there's some good old fashioned cyclical macroeconomic inflation there, because that's also very important. But I think the majority of it is in the frictional type of COVID-related inflation. The key reason why that matters is what has to get done to bring that inflation back down to central bank targets. If the majority of this excess inflation is standard macro cyclical inflation, central banks are going to have to engage in sufficiently tight policy to slow the economy to create slack and bring down inflation. Now, the estimates are always imprecise, but estimates in the United States for, say, the Phillips curve, and when I say the Phillips curve, I mean either the relationship between the unemployment rate and inflation or more generally, the relationship between where the economy is relative to its potential to produce and how much there's currently aggregate demand in the economy. If we have three percentage points of excess inflation that has to be dealt with by creating slack, you're probably going to have to either cause a recession or wait many, many years to gradually chip away things to bring it down over time. It's just too large of an amount of excess inflation if it is truly that standard macro cyclical inflation.


Andrew Sheets So, Seth, it's been a while since we've had to deal with rate hikes in the market. And as you just laid out, there are estimates of how much the Fed would have to raise interest rates to address inflation, these so-called Phillips Curve models and other models. But there's a lot of uncertainty around these things. How much uncertainty do you think there is around how rate hikes will act with inflation? And how do you think central banks think about that uncertainty?


Seth Carpenter So I would completely agree there's uncertainty right now, and I think there are at least two important chains in that transmission mechanism, the first one that we're just talking about is how much of the inflation is cyclical and as a result, how much is going to respond to a slower economy. But the main part that I think you're getting at is also how do rate hikes - or any sort of monetary policy tightening - how does that affect the real economy? How much does that slow the economy? And I think there, it's a very open question. What we know is that over the past several decades there has been a long run downward trend in real interest rates and nominal interest rates. As a result, there's going to be a real tension for central banks trying to find just that sweet spot. How much do you need to raise interest rates to slow the economy without raising it so much that you actually tip things over into a recession? I think it's going to be difficult. And central bankers justifiably then take things very cautiously. Take the Fed as a particular example, they're tightening with two policy tools right now. They are going to both start raising interest rates and they're going to let their balance sheet runoff. We saw in 2018 that that was a tricky proposition, initially that everything went smoothly but by the time we got into late 2018, risk markets cracked, the economy slowed. Part of that was because of monetary policy tightening, and we saw the Federal Reserve in fact reverse course with those rate hikes. So it's going to be a very delicate proposition for central banks globally.


Andrew Sheets So, Seth, you talked about some of the uncertainty central banks are dealing with, how do they calibrate the level of interest rates with the effect it's going to have on the economy and maybe how that's changed relative to history. And there's another question obviously around timing. If you take a step back and kind of think about those challenges that the Fed or the ECB or the Bank of England are facing. how much into the future are they trying to aim with the monetary policy decisions they make today?


Seth Carpenter We're really talking about at least a year between monetary policy tightening and the effect it's going to have on that fundamental cyclical type of inflation. As a result, central bankers have to do forecasts, central bankers do forecasts all the time. And part of the judgment then will get back to that uncertainty that I mentioned before. How much of this inflation is temporary/frictional, how much of it is underlying, truly cyclical inflation? If all of this inflation that we're seeing is truly underlying cyclical inflation, then not only are they behind the curve, they're not going to be able to have any material effect on inflation until the beginning of next year. That's a really important distinction.


Andrew Sheets Well, and I think, you know, I think your answers there Seth raise such an interesting question and debate that's going on in markets that the market believes that the Federal Reserve won't be able to raise interest rates for very long before they'll have to stop raising rates next year. But then you also mention that the impacts of the rate increases they'll make today may not be felt for some time. These are really interesting kind of pushes and pulls. And I'm wondering if you think back through different monetary policy cycles, do you think there's a good historical precedent to help guide investors as they think about what these central banks are about to start doing?


Seth Carpenter I do, I do. And as you are comparing what central bankers may do to how the market is pricing things, I think there's a very interesting set of observations to make here. First, the last Bank of England report, where they provide their forecasts for inflation predicated on current market pricing. Under those forecasts the bank put out, the market has priced in so many rate hikes that it would cause inflation to be too low and go below their target. That's a reflection of the Bank of England's judgment that maybe the market has too much tightening baked into the outlook. But to your specific question about a previous historical precedent, I would look for the 1990s in the United States. During the 1990s hiking cycle, or should I say, just over the whole of the 1990s because it wasn't just one hiking cycle and that for me is the key historical precedent to look for. We saw hikes start in the early 90s, was not at a consistent pace. There was a time where the hikes were bigger, they were smaller, then the hiking cycle paused for a while. We got a reversal, we got a pause, we got more rate hikes and then we got a pause again and it came back down. That sort of very reactive policy is exactly what I think we're going to be seeing this time around in the United States, in the U.K., in the developed market economies where we have high inflation and central bankers are trying to sort out how much of that inflation is cyclical, how much of it is temporary.

 

Andrew Sheets Thanks for listening. We’ll be back in your feed soon for part two of my conversation with Seth Carpenter on central banks, inflation, and the outlook for markets. 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.

Feb 18, 2022
Special Episode: All Eyes on Ukraine
00:09:22

The ongoing situation around Ukraine has captivated headlines and investors alike. While the resolution remains unclear, we can begin to predict how markets would react to possible outcomes.


This presentation references actual or potential sanctions, which may prohibit U.S. persons from buying certain securities, making certain investments and/or engaging in other activities in or pertaining to Russia. The content of this presentation is for informational purposes and does not represent Morgan Stanley’s view as to whether or not any of the Persons, instruments or investments discussed are or will become subject to sanctions. Any references in this presentation to entities, debt or equity instruments that may be covered by such sanctions should not be read as recommending or advising as to any investment activities in relation to such entities or instruments. Audience members are solely responsible for ensuring that their investment activities in relation to any sanctioned entities and/or securities are carried out in compliance with applicable sanctions.


----- 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.


Marina Zavolock And I'm Marina Zavalock, Head of Emerging Europe, Middle East, and Africa Equity Strategy at Morgan Stanley.


Michael Zezas And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be discussing ongoing developments around Ukraine and how markets might react to various outcomes. It's Thursday, February 17th at 9:00 a.m. in New York.


Marina Zavolock And it's 2:00 p.m. in London.


Michael Zezas So, Marina, we've spent a lot of time in recent weeks tracking developments in the ongoing situation around Ukraine, on whose border Russia's amassed a substantial military presence and there are warnings of a potential invasion. This would be no small event, potentially the largest military action in Europe since World War Two, with great risk to many people. Recent news has all sides continuing to express hope for a diplomatic solution, and let's hope that can be achieved. But for this podcast, we want to focus narrowly on the market's impact because this situation has been a key driver of recent moves in many global markets. So, let's keep it simple to start, which markets are most vulnerable to a military confrontation and why?


Marina Zavolock So, of course, we see Ukrainian and Russian markets as most directly vulnerable. Ukraine is directly exposed from an economic perspective, and the Ukrainian market has more downside risks due to this direct fundamental exposure and the country's reliance on external financing as well. The risk for Russian markets are more related to sanctions, given the strong economic backdrop. There are various sanctions under discussion aimed firstly at deterring a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Should Russia invade, we would expect the U.S. and Europe to act quickly to impose new sanctions, both to impact Russia’s decision making and ability to sustain any invasion, while at the same time limiting the impact on global commodities and supply chains to the extent possible.


Marina Zavolock The situation is, of course, very fluid, as you described. Sanctions have not yet been finalized, but I'll mention three of the material sanctions that are reportedly under discussion. First, SDN list sanctions on a number of Russian banks and possibly other Russian companies. This would mean US persons would be prohibited from dealing with these companies, be it in business transactions or trading of securities. Second, Export controls restricting the export of technology products containing U.S. made components or software to Russia. Third, New sovereign debt sanctions on the secondary market – adding to the primary market sanctions already in place – this could mean exclusion from large fixed income indices in a worst case. Overall, from a Russian stock market perspective, we see the Russian banking sector as potentially most exposed, given a number of banks appear targeted by SDN list sanctions, and would also be affected meaningfully by any ban on U.S. technology.

 

Michael Zezas So those outcomes seem pretty substantial here in terms of their impact. So obviously the outcome of this confrontation matters quite a bit. How do you think the stock markets you're tracking are set up to react to various outcomes, whether it be de-escalation from here or some form of further escalation?


Marina Zavolock So to assess the risk reward for different Russian and Ukraine related assets and commodities, we published a framework earlier this year to outline these scenarios: de-escalation, limbo (where uncertainty persists), partial escalation, and material escalation. For Russian equities in particular, we use two key variables that investors tend to focus on: the market's implied cost of equity and dividend yield. On implied cost of equity, Russia currently trades at 19%, which is about in line with the peak seen around many prior escalation periods in geopolitics, such as during the 2018 probe into U.S. election interference. But it is below the 26% level reached following Crimea annexation in 2014. On dividend yield, Russia trades at extraordinary levels of 16% at current commodity prices. We've never seen such levels before for any major country, or Russia, historically.

 

Marina Zavolock So coming back to the scenarios. Using these two variables I outlined, analyzing historical geopolitical escalation periods for Russia, we see about 50% potential upside to Russian stocks in a de-escalation scenario and at least 30% downside in the event of material escalation. Russian equities are currently trading roughly in line with our 'limbo' scenario, meaning the market is assuming continued talks and uncertainty without a breakthrough agreement. It's also worth noting here that although Russian equities are down about 20% from their pre-geopolitical escalation highs in October, they have also recovered 20% from their recent lows. And at the lows, the Russian market was already pricing in a partial escalation in Ukraine.


Michael Zezas So those are some pretty substantial differences based on different outcomes. What are some of the signposts or signals that you're watching for that might tell us what direction we're headed in?


Marina Zavolock So for the de-escalation scenario to become evident, the key signpost we're watching for is a meaningful reduction in Russian troops on Ukraine's border. Earlier this week, Russia’s defense ministry announced that Russia would start a pullback of some ot its forces after completing military drills – we are watching whether troops are actually being withdrawn, and to what extent. The reason we're watching troop movements particularly closely is that when there was a related buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine's borders last spring, it was Russia's announcement of a meaningful troop removal and the subsequent move of troops that allowed the market to recover by about 40% over the following months.


Marina Zavolock As for the escalation scenarios, of course, a further buildup of troops, any movement of troops across the border, any breakdown of ongoing talks with the West, these are all key signposts we're watching. We're also watching both local and international key government official commentary and news flow, which cover the situation differently. I'd also note that for those that aren't following all of these signposts very closely, the Russian equities market is rapidly reacting to developments, we think a step ahead of global markets, which have only recently begun to react to these risks.


Michael Zezas And Marina, outside of Russian equities, are there other markets you're watching that could experience spillover effects?


Marina Zavolock From a broader perspective, Russia is a key global exporter of various commodities. It's not just the well-known oil and European gas, but Russia also produces 37% of the world's palladium, which is essential for global autos manufacturing. It's a meaningful producer of nickel, aluminum, and a dozen other commodities. Many of these commodities recently started to rally, pricing in some risk premium on the back of the rise in global focus on these geopolitical risks. Our European equity strategist, Graham Secker, also anticipates European equities may be vulnerable to mid-single digit underperformance versus global equities in the case of escalation. That said, as I mentioned before, we see a low probability of spillover to these markets from a fundamental perspective. So, the impact is likely to be short term and more market sentiment driven in the case of escalation.


Michael Zezas Alright so, even if we assume that perhaps the diplomatic solution takes hold. What are the risks that this could repeat itself again as an escalation and then de-escalation cycle? And what would that mean for your coverage universe?


Marina Zavolock Even in a de-escalation scenario, long-term geopolitical risk to Russia will remain. I don't think the market will price these risks out quickly, and we've had increases in geopolitical risk and then de-escalation many times before since the 2014 Crimea invasion, and even before that. Regular investors in Russian markets have grown accustomed to these geopolitical risks. And there have been, over recent years, windows when Russian equities can have material returns, followed by sell offs on the back of increases in geopolitical tensions and incremental sanctions. That said, from 2014 lows to the recent peak in Russian equities, the Russian Equities Index has outperformed emerging markets by about 13% per year and returned 15% total, including dividends, per year. This is on the back of many structural drivers, like a tripling in dividend payout ratios over this time. In fact, recently, the Russian stock market has seen record levels of buybacks, dividend levels, and retail inflows.


Michael Zezas Marina, thank you. This has been really insightful. Thank you for taking the time to talk.


Marina Zavolock Thank you, Michael.


Michael Zezas And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please be sure to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

Feb 17, 2022
Special Encore: Consider the Muni Market
00:02:37

Original Release on February 2nd, 2022: The Federal Reserve continues to face a host of uncertainties, leading to volatility in the Treasuries market. This trend may lead some investors to reconsider the municipal bond market.


----- 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, February 2nd at 10 a.m. in New York.

 

A couple weeks back, we focused on the tough job ahead for the Federal Reserve. It's grappling with an uncertain inflation outlook driven by unprecedented circumstances, including the trajectory of the pandemic, and the still unanswered questions about whether supply chain bottlenecks and swelling demand by U.S. consumers for goods over services have become a persistent economic challenge. Against that backdrop, it's understandable that keeping open the possibility of continued revisions to monetary policy is part of the Fed's strategy. Not surprisingly, that uncertainty has translated to volatility in the Treasury market and, as expected, some fresh opportunity for bond investors.


For that, we looked in the market for municipal bonds, which are issued by state and local governments, as well as nonprofits. Credit quality is good for munis as the combination of substantial COVID aid to municipal entities and a strong economic recovery have likely locked in credit stability for 2022. But until recently, the price of munis was quite rich, in part reflecting this credit outlook, an expectation of higher taxes that would improve the benefit of munis tax exempt coupon, and a recent track record of low market volatility. But the bond market's reaction to the Fed undermined that last pillar, resulting in muni mutual fund outflows and, as a result, a move lower in relative prices for muni versus other types of bonds.


While this adjustment in valuations doesn't exactly make munis cheap, for individuals in higher tax brackets, they're now looking more reasonably priced. And, as a general rule of thumb, when the fundamentals of an investment remain good, but prices adjust for purely technical reasons, that's a good signal to pay attention.


So what does this mean for investors? Well, that fed driven volatility isn't going away, so munis could certainly still underperform some more from here. But for a certain type of investor, we wouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you're in a higher tax bracket and need to replenish the fixed income portion of your portfolio, it could be time to curb your caution and start adding back some muni exposure.


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.

Feb 16, 2022
Mike Wilson: Unpacking the Latest CPI
00:03:44

As the Fed grapples with new data from last week's Consumer Price Index report, markets are pricing a move away from the dovish policy of the past and investors should pay attention.


----- 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, February 15th at 10 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.


While there are many moving parts in any market environment, investors often become infatuated with one in particular. In our view, going into last Thursday's consumer price index report was one of those times. For the days leading into it every conversation with investors, traders, and the media obsessed over the report and whether markets were appropriately priced. For the inflation bulls the release did not disappoint, coming in significantly stronger than expected with the components of the report just as hot.


Immediately after its release, both short- and longer-term interest rates surged. Additional policy hawkishness was quickly priced too, as markets concluded the Fed was falling even further behind the curve. Market chatter of an emergency Fed meeting made the rounds, indicating the possibility of immediate cessation of quantitative easing or even an intra-meeting rate hike. By the end of the day on Thursday markets had priced in a 90% chance of a 50 basis point hike at the March meeting, and six to seven 25 basis points worth of hikes by the end of the year. Balance sheet runoff, or quantitative tightening, is also expected to begin by the middle of this year at the rate of $80 billion a month.


When we first started talking about ‘Fire and Ice’ last September, our view that the Fed would have to go faster than expected to fight the building inflationary pressure was met with quite a bit of skepticism, and for a good part of the fall markets disagreed too. Some of this was due to the fact that most investors in markets like to see the hard data before positioning for it. The other reason is likely due to how the Fed and other central banks have behaved since the financial crisis, with their dovish policy bias. Fast forward to today and the data is irrefutable. Doves are quickly going extinct, and it's become almost a competition as who can have the most hawkish forecasts at this point.


While we don't doubt the Fed and other central banks resolve to try and get inflation back under control, the market is now all in on the idea that they will do their job to fight inflation. However, we find ourselves a bit more skeptical that they will be able to get as much policy tightening done as is now expected and priced. Furthermore, when something is this obvious and consensus, it's usually time to start focusing on something else.


As noted in the past several weeks, we think the equity markets will now begin to focus on growth or the lack thereof. In short, one should begin to worry about the ‘ice,’ now that ‘fire’ is finally appreciated. One of the reasons we are skeptical of the Fed and other central banks will be able to deliver on the policy tightening now expected, is the fact that growth is already slowing. An unusual circumstance at the beginning of any monetary policy tightening cycle, particularly one that is so ambitious. Whether it's the pay back in demand, or the sharp decline in real personal disposable income, we think the rate of consumption is likely to disappoint expectations in the first half of 2022. Furthermore, this weaker consumption is arriving just as supply chains are finally loosening up, something that is likely to be aided by the end of Omicron and the labor shortages it has created in the transportation and logistics industries. In that regard, Friday's consumer confidence survey release looks to be the more important macro data point of the week, not the CPI.


Bottom line, this correction started six months ago with the sharp rise in inflation and the Fed's pivot to address it. It will likely end when growth expectations are reset to more realistic levels sometime this spring. Until then, remain defensively biased with equity allocations.


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.

Feb 15, 2022
Jonathan Garner: Welcome to the Year of the Tiger
00:03:21

As investors face the multitude of risks ahead, one may need to think like the Tiger and use the rotation towards value stocks, and away from growth, to leap over higher hurdle rates this year. 


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jonathan Garner, Chief Asia and Emerging Market Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about Asia and emerging market equities in the year ahead. It's Monday, February the 14th at 8:30 p.m. in Hong Kong.


Welcome to the Year of the Tiger from the Morgan Stanley team in Asia. Ferocious, brave, and intelligent, the tiger inspires us to navigate the multitude of risks which confront investors today. For us in Asia, we're at first sight on the sidelines of the action as expectations build for a sea-change this year in monetary policy in the US and Europe.


Indeed, we have a degree of sympathy with the argument that the different phase of the monetary and fiscal cycle in China, in essence a moderate easing, is a key reason to be more constructive on Asian markets performance this year in both absolute and relative terms.


However, divergent policy cycles are only part of the story. North Asia has already benefited substantially from the major shift towards good spending and away from services, which has been such a unique feature of the COVID driven recession and recovery. Now, as that starts to reverse, given the reopening trend in the US and Europe, we may see earnings growth in markets like Korea and Taiwan slow. Moreover, significant challenges in relation to COVID management still beset the region, most notably in Hong Kong, which is experiencing its largest surge in cases since the pandemic began.


A key call that Morgan Stanley's equity strategy team made three months ago, in our year ahead outlook, was that investors on a worldwide basis should rotate away from growth stocks. That is, stocks with high expected earnings growth and high valuations towards value stocks. That is those with lower valuations, more dividend yield support, and lower anticipated earnings growth, not least due to the fact that many businesses in the value style category tend to be more established than growth stocks.


This rotation has indeed taken place, as evidenced not just by Nasdaq's underperformance in the US, but also the underperformance of growth stocks in Asia and emerging markets. This has been reflected in indices like Kosdaq in Korea or the TSE Mothers Index in Japan. In fact, in Japan banks and insurers, stocks which investors have not focused on for a long time, are leading in performance in 2022. Whilst in China, bank stocks have been outperforming internet stocks for some time now.


For those of us who worked through the 1999 to 2002 cycle in global equities, things seem very familiar. History rhymes rather than repeats, but the catalyst for growth stock underperformance then, as now, was a sudden repricing of interest rate hike expectations with a shift higher in nominal and real interest rates. That higher hurdle rate depresses valuations for equities generally, but particularly for higher multiple growth stocks, further motivation for the rotation towards value stocks.


So. investors may need to start thinking like the tiger in order to leap over that hurdle and land safely on the other side.


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.

Feb 14, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Where is Inflation Headed?
00:03:39

Headlines today are focused on US Consumer Price Inflation rising 7.5% versus 1 year ago. The question on the minds of consumers and investors alike is, where will it go from here?


----- 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, February 11th at 2 p.m. in London.


This week for the ninth month in the last 10, U.S. consumer price inflation was higher than expected, rising 7.5% Versus a year ago. Investors are currently having a very lively discussion around where inflation is headed, but also how much it matters. And I wanted to share a few of our thoughts.


One important thing about these rising prices is they aren't all rising for the same reason. COVID related disruptions are still impacting the production of everything from meat to automobiles. And say, with fewer new cars being built that means the cost of used cars has risen almost 50%. Now cars aren't a large share of the so-called inflation basket, the collection of goods and services that is used to determine how much overall prices are rising or falling. But if a small share of something rises 50%, the overall number can still rise quite a bit.


Then there are rising prices that we see today, but where the story has been building for some time. The assumed cost of shelter, for example, should be linked to the price of housing. But due to how this data is measured, there can be some pretty significant lags.


Consider the following. From the start of 2017, so about five years ago, U.S. home prices have risen 50%. But the assumed rise in the cost of shelter, that goes into the inflation calculation, suggests that the cost of shelter has risen just 16% over that same period. As this gap closes and shelter costs catch up to where home prices already are, that will get reported as a lot of additional inflation, even if home prices have stopped rising.


Another part of this story is the narrative and the timing of it. Per a quick check of the headlines this morning, Thursday’s inflation data was the top story for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.


Yet, based on Morgan Stanley's current forecasts, U.S. inflation is actually peaking right about now. We think the direction of data matters enormously in terms of how it's interpreted because there's a very human tendency to extrapolate whichever direction it happens to be heading. Today, the rate of inflation's been heading up, creating fears that it will continue to move higher. But if we're right that inflation peaks in the next month or two, April or May could feel very different.


Unfortunately, we're not quite there yet. The inflation rate is still rising, creating uncertainty about what central banks will do and how they'll respond. That uncertainty is driving volatility and should warrant lower prices for things that are very central bank sensitive. We think yields for government bonds in the U.S., the U.K., and the Eurozone will continue to move higher, and that spreads on mortgages, sovereign bonds, and corporates can move modestly wider.


On the other hand, we feel better about assets that are less sensitive to this inflation uncertainty, including the less expensive stock markets outside the U.S. Stocks in the United Kingdom which my colleague Graham Secker, Morgan Stanley's Chief European Equity Strategist, discussed on this program recently are one such example.


Finally, keep in mind that the inflation debate could feel very different in just a month or two. If the inflation data peaks soon, as our economists expect, it could provide some relief as we look ahead to April or May.


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.

Feb 11, 2022
Special Encore: Tax-Efficient Strategies
00:08:45

Original Release on January 25th, 2022: With inflation on the minds of consumers and the Fed reacting with a sharp turn towards tightening, 2022 may be a year for investors to focus on incorporating tax-efficient strategies into their portfolios. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s Chief Investment Officer Lisa Shalett and Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets 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 today on the podcast, we'll be discussing the importance of tax efficiency as a pillar of portfolio construction. It's Tuesday, January 25th at three p.m. in London.


Lisa Shalett And it's 10:00 a.m. here in New York.


Andrew Sheets Lisa, welcome back to the podcast! Now, as members of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management's Global Investment Committee, we both agree that the current portfolio construction backdrop is increasingly complicated and constrained. But tax considerations are also important, and this is something you and your team have written a lot on recently. So I'd really like to talk to you about both of these issues, both the challenges of portfolio construction and some of the unique considerations around tax that can really make a difference to the bottom line of investment returns. So Lisa, let's start with that current environment. Can you highlight why we believe that standard stock bond portfolios face a number of challenges going forward?


Lisa Shalett We've been through an extraordinary period over the last 13 years where both stocks and bonds have benefited profoundly from Federal Reserve policy, just to put it bluntly, and, you know, the direction of overall interest rates. And so, our observation has been that, you know, over the last 13 years, U.S. stocks have compounded at close to 15% per year, U.S. bonds have compounded at 9% per year. Both of those are well above long run averages. And so we're now at a point where both stocks and bonds are quite expensive. They are both correlated to each other, and they are both correlated to a large extent with Federal Reserve policy. And as we know, Federal Reserve policy by dint of what appears to be inflation that is not as transitory as the Fed originally thought is causing the Fed to have to accelerate their shift in policy. And I think, as we noted over the last three to six weeks, you know, the Fed's position has gone from, you know, we're going to taper and have three hikes to we're going to taper be done by March. We may have as many as four or five hikes and we're going to consider a balance sheet runoff. That's an awful lot for both stocks and bonds to digest at the same time, especially when they're correlated with one another.


Andrew Sheets And Lisa, you know, if I can just dive into this a little bit more, how do you think about portfolio diversification in that environment you just described, where both stocks and bonds seem increasingly linked to a single common factor, this this direction of Federal Reserve policy?


Lisa Shalett One of the things that we've been emphasizing is to take a step back and to recognize that diversification can happen beyond the simple passive betas of stocks and bonds, which we would, you know, typically represent by, you know, exposures to things like the S&P 500 or a Barclays aggregate. And so what we're saying is, within stocks, you've got to really make an effort to move away from the indexes to higher active managers who tend to take a diversified approach by sector, by style, by market cap. And within fixed income, you know, we're encouraging, clients to hire what we've described as non-core managers. These are managers who may have the ability to navigate the yield curve and navigate the credit environment by using, perhaps what are nontraditional type products. They may employ strategies that include things like preferred shares or covered call strategies, or own asset backed securities. These are all more esoteric instruments that that hiring a manager can give our clients sources of income. And last, you know, we're obviously thinking about generating income and diversification using real assets and alternatives as well.


Andrew Sheets And so, Lisa, one other thing you know, related to that portfolio construction challenge, I also just want to ask you about was how you think about inflation protection. I mean, obviously, I think a lot of investors are trying to achieve the highest return relative to the overall level of prices relative to inflation. You know, how do you think from a portfolio context, investors can try to add some inflation protection here in a smart, you know, intelligent way?


Lisa Shalett So you know what we've tried to say is let's take a step back and think about, you know, our forecast for, you know, whether inflation is going to accelerate from here or decelerate. And you know, I think our position has broadly been that that we do think we're probably at a rate of change turning point for inflation, that we're not headed for a 1970s style level of inflation and that, you know, current readings are probably, you know, closer to peak than not and that we're probably going to mean revert to something closer to the, you know, two and a half to three and a half percent range sooner rather than later. And so in the short term, you know, we've tried to take an approach that says, not only do you want to think about real assets, these are things like real estate, like commodities like gold, like energy infrastructure linked assets that have historically provided some protection to inflation but really go back to those tried and true quality oriented stocks where there is pricing power. Because, you know, 2.5-3.5% Inflation is the type of inflation environment where companies who do have very strong brands who do have very moored competitive positions tend to be able to navigate, you know, better than others and pass some of that the cost increases on to consumers.


Andrew Sheets So, Lisa, that takes me to the next thing I want to talk to you about. You know, investors also care about their return after the effects of tax, and the effects of tax can be quite complex and quite varied. So, you know, as you think about that challenge from a portfolio construction standpoint, why do you think it's critical that investors incorporate tax efficient investing strategies into their portfolios?


Lisa Shalett Well, look, you know, managing, tax and what we call tax drag is always important. And the reason is it's that invisible levy, if you will, on performance. Most of our clients are savvy enough to suss out, you know, the fees that they're paying and understand how the returns are, you know, gross returns are diluted by high fees. But what is less obvious is that some of the investment structures that clients routinely use-- things like mutual funds, things like limited partnership stakes-- very often in both public and private settings, are highly tax inefficient where, you know, taxable gain pass throughs are highly unpredictable, and clients tend to get hit with them. And so that's, you know, part of what we try to do year in, year out is be attentive to making sure that the clients are in tax efficient strategies. That having been said, what we also want to do is minimize tax drag over time. But in a year like 2022, where you know, we're potentially looking at low single digit or even negative returns for some of these asset classes, saving money in taxes can make the difference between, you know, an account that that is at a loss for the full year or at a gain. So there's work to be done. There's this unique window of opportunity right now in the beginning of 2022 to do it. And happily, we have, you know, some of these tools to speed the implementation of that type of an approach.


Andrew Sheets So Lisa, let's wrap this up with how investors can implement this advice with their investments. You know, what strategies could they consider? And I'm also just wondering, you know, if there's any way to just kind of put some numbers around, you know, what are kind of the upper limits of how much these kind of tax drags, you know, can have on performance?


Lisa Shalett Yeah. So that's a great question. So over time, through the studies that we've done, we believe that tax optimization in any given year can add, you know, somewhere between 200 and 300 full basis points to portfolio performance, literally by reducing that tax bill through intelligent tax loss harvesting, intelligent product selection, you know, choosing products that are more tax efficient, et cetera.


Andrew Sheets Well, Lisa, I think that's a great place to end it. Thanks for taking the time to talk. We hope to have you back soon.


Lisa Shalett Absolutely, Andrew. Happy New Year!


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.

Feb 10, 2022
Michael Zezas: Fiscal Policy Takes a Back Seat
00:02:58

Many investors are asking when Congress will withdraw its fiscal policy support. Our answer? It already has, and 2022 could be a year where fiscal policy becomes a non-factor in the economic outlook.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome the Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas as 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, February 9th at 10 a.m. in New York.


As the Fed keeps signaling its intent to withdraw its extraordinary monetary support for the economy, a common question we're hearing is when will Congress do the same with fiscal policy support? Our answer is simple: it already has.


Now, we're usually getting this question from investors concerned that COVID relief aid is continuing to create inflation pressure in the economy. But the last tranche of aid was approved over a year ago, and direct aid to support households from that program have largely expired, including the child tax credit, supplemental unemployment benefits, and renter and mortgage protections.


But what about all those infrastructure and social spending plans President Biden proposed? Even here there's no sizable fiscal expansion in sight. The bipartisan infrastructure framework was mostly offset by new revenues. And on the Build Back Better plan, Senator Joe Manchin appears to have made deficit neutrality a condition for his support for it. So any legislative comeback for that plan likely won't result in more fiscal support for the economy.


For investors, this is a throwback to periods where fiscal policy was an afterthought. In many recent years, like 2018, 2020 and 2021, fiscal policy was a key variable to the U.S. economic outlook. This year, it looks like a non-factor. That syncs with our framework for forecasting U.S. fiscal policy outcomes, which currently points to the U.S. having moved from a phase of proactive fiscal expansion, to one of stability. That's because legislative decisions by Congress that expand the deficit are typically a function of motive and opportunity. The motive is strong when there's perceived political value to the short-term economic boost that comes with the deficit expansion. The opportunity is there when one party controls Congress and the White House. Both these conditions were met after the 2020 election, resulting in another round of substantial COVID aid. But with inflation on the rise and issue polls showing it's beginning to bother voters, that motive is waning. As a result, expect U.S. fiscal policy to remain neutral until an election or an economic downturn opens a path for it.


But while fiscal policy might not be a macro factor, it could still drive some sector outcomes. For example, a deficit neutral build back better plan could still feature a corporate minimum tax, creating headwinds for financials and telecom. But it could also include substantial spending on carbon reduction, potentially directing a lot of fresh capital to the clean tech sector. And of course, it's important to remember 2022 is an election year, so expect the fiscal conversation to evolve.


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.

Feb 09, 2022
Graham Secker: Feeling Positive About UK Equities
00:04:18

Despite having been one of the worst performing stock markets over the last 5 years, the UK is seeing a dramatic turnaround reflected in the FTSE100 index. Investors may want to take a closer 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 our positive view on U.K. equities and why we think the FTSE 100 offers a compelling opportunity here. It's Tuesday, February the 8th at 3 p.m. in London.


Having been one of the worst performing stock markets over the last five years, the UK has seen a dramatic turnaround in 2022, with the headline FTSE 100 index, which is the UK equivalent of the S&P 500, outperforming the S&P by around 8% or so, so far, and posting the second-best return of any major global stock market after the Hang Seng in Hong Kong. Looking forward, we think the reversal of fortunes for UK equities can continue for three reasons.


First, we think the Footsie 100 index offers a good blend of offense and defense. On the latter, we note the defensive sectors account for 37% of UK market capitalization, which is higher than any other major country or region. Reflecting this, the UK index has outperformed the wider European market two thirds of the time during periods when global equities are falling.


When it comes to offense, we know that the UK market is a key relative beneficiary of rising real bond yields, to the extent that a move up in US real yields to our target of minus 10 basis points by year end would imply UK stocks outperforming the rest of the European market by as much as 12% this year. The reason behind the UK's positive correlation to real yields is again down to its sector mix. As well as being quite defensive, the index also has a significant weight in value stocks, such as commodities and financials. These are sectors that tend to perform best when real yields are rising, and investors are becoming more valuation sensitive.


While the UK has always had something of a value bias, this relationship is currently even stronger than normal and this leads me to the second driver behind our positive view on the FTSE 100 here, namely that the index is cheap. So cheap, in fact, that you have to go back to the 1970s to find the last time UK equities were this undervalued versus their global peers. To provide some context to this narrative, the FTSE 100 is on a 12-month forward price to earnings ratio of 12.5 versus Europe on 15 times, and the S&P closer to 20 times. As well as a low PE, the UK also offers a healthy dividend yield of 3.6%, which is around twice that on offer from global indices.


The third and final support to our positive view on UK equities is that consensus earnings expectations are very low, thereby creating a backdrop for subsequent upgrades that should support price outperformance. For example, consensus forecasts less than 3% earnings growth over each of the next two years, which represents the lowest growth forecast in over 30 years. We think this is too pessimistic and note the consensus expectations for the equivalent Eurozone index are much closer to normal at around 8 percent. The most likely source of upgrade risk around UK earnings comes from our positive view on the oil price, given the energy stocks accounted for 25% of all UK profits last year. With our oil team expecting the Brant oil price to rise to $100 later this year, we see scope for material profit upgrades for individual oil stocks and the broader FTSE 100 index too.


One last point a positive view on the UK is primarily focused on the headline Large Cap FTSE 100 index. We are less constructive on UK mid-caps, as this part of the market is more expensive and hence gets less of a benefit from rising real yields. The more domestic nature of the mid-cap index also means it's more exposed to the growing pressure on UK households from rising energy bills, food prices, and tax increases. In contrast, the FTSE 100 is a very international index, with around 70% of revenues coming from outside the UK. This makes it less sensitive to domestic economic matters and also a beneficiary if we see any renewed weakness in the sterling currency. To conclude, we think international investors should take a closer look at the UK as we think there's a good chance it ends up being one of the best performing global stock markets in 2022.


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.

Feb 08, 2022
Mike Wilson: Six More Weeks of Slow Growth
00:03:48

As we head towards the final weeks of winter, we are predicting a period of continued slow growth. As evidence we look not to our shadow but at earnings estimates and inventories.


----- 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 colleague bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, February 7th at 11:30 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.


In the United States, February 2nd is known as Groundhog Day. A 135-year-old tradition of taking a groundhog out of his cage to determine if he can see his shadow. In short, a sunny February 2nd means six more weeks of winter, while a cloudy day suggests an early spring. Well, last week the most famous groundhog, who lives in Pennsylvania, saw his shadow informing us to expect more cold weather for six more weeks.

 

While this tradition lives on, its track record is pretty spotty with a 50% hit rate. Flipping a coin sounds a lot easier. However, it does jive with our market forecast for at least six more weeks of winter, and ice, as growth slows further into the spring. Signs of weakness are starting to appear, and we think they go beyond Omicron. While we remain optimistic that this could be the final major wave of the pandemic, we're not so sure growth will rebound and accelerate as many others are suggesting.


First, fourth quarter earnings beat rates are back to 5%, which is the long-term average. However, this is well below the beat rates of 15-20% observed over the past 18 months, a period of over earning in our view. The key question now is whether we are going to return to normal, or will we experience a period of under earning first, or payback? We've long held the view that payback was coming in the first half of 2022 as the extraordinary fiscal stimulus faded, monetary policy tightened, and supply caught up with demand in many end markets. Over the past few weeks several leading companies that weren't supposed to see this payback have disappointed with weaker than expected guidance on earnings. These stocks sold off sharply, and we think there are likely more disappointments to come as consumption falls short of expectations. Consumer confidence remains very soft due to higher prices, with our recent proprietary surveys suggesting consumers are expecting to spend more on staples categories over the next six months, versus the last six months. Spending on durables, consumer electronics and travel/leisure is expected to decline for lower income cohorts in particular.


Second, inventories are now building fast and driving strong economic growth. However, the timing of this couldn't be worse if demand is fading more than expected. As noted in prior research, we think it could also reveal the high amounts of double ordering across many different industries. If that's correct, we are likely to see order cancelations, and that will only exacerbate the already weakening demand. In short, this supports a period of under-earning by companies as a mirror image to the past 18 months when inventories were lean and pricing power was rampant.


Of course, the good news is that this likely means inflation pressures will ebb as companies lose pricing power. Eventually, this will lead to a more sustainable situation for the consumer and the economy. However, we think this could take several quarters before it's finally reflected in either earnings growth forecasts, valuations, or both. What this means for the broader market is probably six more weeks of downward bias. We continue to target sub-4000 on the S&P 500 before we would get more interested in trying to call an end to this ongoing correction. In the meantime, favor a defensive positioning. We've taken a more defensive posture in our recommendation since publishing our year ahead outlook in mid-November. Since then, it's paid off, although it hasn't been consistent. With last week's modest rally in cyclicals relative to defensives, we think it's a good time to fade the former and by the latter, since we still feel confident in our forecast for slowing growth even if the groundhog's track record isn't great.


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.

Feb 07, 2022
Special Episode: The Improving Case for Commodities
00:10:18

For only the second time in the last decade, commodities outperformed equities in 2021. Looking ahead at 2022, what challenges and opportunities are on the horizon for this asset class?


----- Transcript -----

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


Martijn Rats And I'm Martijn Rats, Morgan Stanley's Global Commodity Strategist.


Andrew Sheets And today in the podcast we'll be talking about tailwinds driving commodities broadly, as well as the path ahead for global energy markets. It's Friday, February 4th at 3p.m. in London. 


Andrew Sheets So, Martijn, there were a number of reasons why I wanted to talk to you today, but one of them was that, for only the second time in the last decade, commodities outperformed equities in 2021. There are a number of drivers behind this, and you and your team have done some good work recently talking about those drivers and how they might continue. But one of them has certainly been the focus on inflation, which has been a major investment topic at the end of last year and continues to be a major topic into this year. Why are commodities and the inflation debate so interlinked and why do you think they're important for commodity performance?


Martijn Rats Well, look, commodities tend to maintain their value in real terms. So when there is broad inflation, the cost of producing commodities tends to go up. And when that happens, then the price of commodities tends to follow that. So at the same time, if you have a rising inflation, then also ends up in having an impact on interest rates. Interest rates start to rise. That tends to be a headwind for a lot of financial assets. So when inflation expectations all of a sudden pick up, then then all of a sudden it weighs on the valuation of an awful lot of other things, whilst actually commodities are often somewhat insulated of that. There aren't that many sectors that that really benefit from inflation. So all of a sudden then from an investment perspective, investment demand for commodities goes up. The allocation to commodities is still small, and when you put those things together, that explains why in the past and again over the last 12, 18 months, commodities really come into their own in these periods where inflation expectations are picking up and are high, commodities tend to do well in those environments.


Andrew Sheets So another thing about commodities is that you can't ignore is that this is a really diverse set of things. You know, we're talking about everything from, you know, wheat, to coffee, to aluminum, to crude oil. So it's hard to generalize what's driving commodities as a whole, but something I think is quite interesting in your research is that one theme that actually strikes out across a lot of different commodities from aluminum to oil, is the energy transition, which is affecting both demand for certain commodities and the supply of certain commodities. Could you go into that in a little bit more detail how you see the energy transition impacting this space? You know, really over the next decade?


Martijn Rats Yeah, it broadly splits in two and there are a range of commodities for which the energy transition is basically demand positive. So if you look at a lot of renewable projects, you know, wind power or solar power or hydrogen projects, electric vehicles, all of those types of assets require tremendous demand amounts of, basically of metals, copper, lithium, cobalt, nickel, aluminum. In those areas, it simply demands positive. But then there are other areas where the energy transition creates a lot of uncertainty about the long-term outlook for demand. This is particularly true, of course, for the fossil fuels, for oil and gas. And what is currently going on is that the energy transition is starting to become such a red flag not to invest in new productive capacity in those areas, that it's that it's already weighing on capex, and that there is an element of it constraining the supply of those fossil fuels even before demand is materially impacted. And we're seeing that at play at the moment. Oil and gas demand continues to recover quite strongly coming out of COVID, and there are actually very little signs that demand for those fossil fuels is rolling over anytime soon. But the energy transition makes the demand outlook over the long run into the 2030s very uncertain. And the way that we read the market at the moment is that the demand uncertainty is already impacting investment now. If you don't invest for the 2030s, there's a certain amount of oil and gas you also don't have over the next couple of years. So whether it's through the supply side or through the demand side, our conclusion would be that on the whole the energy transition contributes to the tightness of commodity markets in a relatively broad sense.


Andrew Sheets So Martijn, drilling down a little bit further into the oil story. You know, you and your team have identified what you call a triple deficit in oil markets that would drive a triple digit oil price estimate. You and your team think oil could hit $100 a barrel this year. Now what is that triple deficit and what's driving it?


Martijn Rats The triple deficit refers to the idea or the expectation that three things will be low in the oil markets simultaneously, broadly around the middle of this year as we go into the second half. The first one is inventories, the second one is spare capacity, and a third one is investment levels. Already read last year we have seen very strong draws in global oil inventories. The oil market was under supplied by about two million barrels a day last year, which is historically very high. The way that we model supply demands, that rate of inventory draws that does slow down in 2022, but we end up with inventory draws nonetheless, and we will end 2022 on our balances with inventories that are still lower than at the end of last year. So, the first point low and falling levels of inventory. The second point relates to spare capacity. The world's spare capacity to produce oil in emergency situations when it's needed completely sits within OPEC. There is no spare capacity outside of OPEC now. OPEC is growing production this year, but they're not adding an awful lot of capacity. Our reading of the situation is that by the middle of the year OPEC's spare capacity, which at the moment stands probably somewhere around three and a half million barrels a day, will fall below two million barrels a day. And typically, when spare capacity falls to such low levels, it becomes supportive for prices. So that's the second of the triple deficit that we talk about, low and falling levels of spare capacity. And finally, there is investment. Investment has been on a sliding trend already since 2014, took an enormous nosedive in 2020, did not rebound in 2021, and is only modestly creeping higher this year. Investment levels relative to current consumption we would characterize as very low. And that is not changing anytime soon. So if you add these three things up low inventories, low spare capacity, low levels of investment, you're really looking at the oil market that is very tight. And ultimately, we think that that will support this $100 oil price forecast.

 

Andrew Sheets So Martijn, the last thing I want to ask you about was this question of geopolitical uncertainty. When I talked to investors, there are some who think that the only reason that the oil price has gone up a lot this year is because of increasing geopolitical tension. There are others who say, no, it's gone up mostly because of the supply and demand imbalance that you just highlighted how do you how do you as a commodities analyst in your team try to address questions of how much of a driver is fundamental and how much of it is risk premium around event uncertainty?

 

Martijn Rats It depends a little bit market by market, but in most markets we have price indicators other than simply the spot price of the commodity that will tell us something about the underlying dynamics of the market. In particular, price forward curves tell us a lot, and particularly the slope of the forward curve tells us a lot. So if a market is fundamentally tight, quite often that is associated with downward sloping forward curves. Downward sloping forward curves, incentivize holders of inventory to release commodities from inventory, and the market only creates those structures when extra supply from inventory is needed. So at the moment, particularly in the oil markets, that is exactly that what we're seeing. We're seeing very steeply downward sloping forward curves. And that would be consistent with a scenario in which oil prices simply rise because of the tightness in supply demand, not because of speculative reasons. If you have purely speculative reasons, geopolitical risk building, the price can still rise, but the forward curve would not be so steeply downward sloping. And for that reason, we would be of the school of thought that actually says that particularly the rise in the price of oil recently is not related to geopolitical risk at this stage. Maybe at some point that will become more important, but that is not what's going on. So far, the price of oil is mostly supported by simply the fundamentals of supply and demand.

 

Martijn Rats That's typically how we go about it, but Andrew perhaps let me ask you. We look at commodities from a pure fundamentals perspective, supply and demand, inventories, those factors, but you often put it in a broader cross asset context. From a cross asset perspective, how do you look at the asset class?


Andrew Sheets So there are two factors here that I think are really important. The first is that I think commodities are really unique in that they are maybe the asset class where buying the index, kind of quote unquote, has actually potentially the most problematic. Some of the broadest, most widely recognized commodity indices have not performed particularly well over time, and some of that's due to the nature of the commodity markets you just highlighted. These markets can be inefficient, they can have structural inefficiencies. That's one thing I think investors should keep in mind is that the performance of commodities relative to some of the indices one might see can be quite different. The second element is around the inflation debate. I think that's really important. As we've discussed on this program before, I'm kind of skeptical that gold will be a particularly good inflation hedge in this environment. Whereas I'm a lot more optimistic that oil can work in that manner that energy related commodities can and I think there are some interesting dynamics there related not just to the to your team's fundamental views, your team has a much more bullish forecast for oil than it does for gold, as well as some of the more quantitative tools that we run that that oil yields a lot more to hold it than gold does, that oil has much better momentum, price momentum, than gold does. And generally speaking, in commodities, investors have been rewarded for going with the momentum. It tends to be a very cycle-based trending asset class. So, you know, I think that the case for commodities overall is strong in our cross asset allocation. We're running a modest overweight to commodities. That was a view we went out with in our 2022 outlook back in November. But you know, these nuances are really important, both between different commodities and then how one implements them going forward.


Andrew Sheets So with that, Martijn, thanks for taking the time to talk.


Martijn Rats My pleasure. Thank 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.

Feb 05, 2022
Matt Hornbach: What Moves Real Yields?
00:02:37

Yields on Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, or TIPS, are set to rise but, beyond inflation, what other factors will drive moves in real yields for these bonds in the coming year?


----- 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, February 3rd at noon in New York.

 

Last week, I talked about our expectation for the yields on Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities to keep rising. Those bonds are known as TIPS, and their yields are called real yields. Today, I want to tell you about what I think moves real yields up and down, and how the current macro environment influences our view on their next move.

 

First, let's suppose demand for TIPS increases because investors think inflation is going to rise. If nothing else changes in the market, then TIPS prices will rise and the real yields they offer will fall. But, more often than not, something else changes.

 

For example, the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve. An important part of the Fed's mandate is to stabilize prices. The Fed has defined this to be an average inflation rate of 2% over time.

 

So, when inflation is above 2% and on the rise, like today, the Fed's approach to monetary policy becomes more hawkish. That means the Fed is looking to tighten monetary conditions and, more broadly, financial conditions. This tends to put upward pressure on real yields. So, even if inflation is high and rising, the effect of a hawkish Fed tends to dominate.

 

But what if inflation is rising from a rate below 2%? In this case, the Fed might favor a more dovish policy stance because it wants to encourage inflation to return to its goal from below. Therefore, we would expect downward pressure on real yields.

 

Another important factor driving inflation is aggregate demand in the economy. When investors expect demand to strengthen, that puts upward pressure on real yields. Said differently, when economic activity accelerates and real GDP is set to grow more quickly, real yields tend to rise.

 

The opposite also holds true. If investors expect a deceleration in economic activity or, in the worst case, a recession, then real yields tend to fall.

 

But what do these relationships mean for the direction of real yields in 2022? Bottom line, our economists expect the Fed to be more hawkish this year, tightening monetary policy in light of improved economic growth. Both of these factors should push real yields higher, even as inflation eventually cools later this year.

 

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.

Feb 03, 2022
Michael Zezas: Consider the Muni Market
00:02:31

The Federal Reserve continues to face a host of uncertainties, leading to volatility in the Treasuries market. This trend may lead some investors to reconsider the municipal bond market.


----- 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, February 2nd at 10 a.m. in New York.

 

A couple weeks back, we focused on the tough job ahead for the Federal Reserve. It's grappling with an uncertain inflation outlook driven by unprecedented circumstances, including the trajectory of the pandemic, and the still unanswered questions about whether supply chain bottlenecks and swelling demand by U.S. consumers for goods over services have become a persistent economic challenge. Against that backdrop, it's understandable that keeping open the possibility of continued revisions to monetary policy is part of the Fed's strategy. Not surprisingly, that uncertainty has translated to volatility in the Treasury market and, as expected, some fresh opportunity for bond investors.


For that, we looked in the market for municipal bonds, which are issued by state and local governments, as well as nonprofits. Credit quality is good for munis as the combination of substantial COVID aid to municipal entities and a strong economic recovery have likely locked in credit stability for 2022. But until recently, the price of munis was quite rich, in part reflecting this credit outlook, an expectation of higher taxes that would improve the benefit of munis tax exempt coupon, and a recent track record of low market volatility. But the bond market's reaction to the Fed undermined that last pillar, resulting in muni mutual fund outflows and, as a result, a move lower in relative prices for muni versus other types of bonds.


While this adjustment in valuations doesn't exactly make munis cheap, for individuals in higher tax brackets, they're now looking more reasonably priced. And, as a general rule of thumb, when the fundamentals of an investment remain good, but prices adjust for purely technical reasons, that's a good signal to pay attention.


So what does this mean for investors? Well, that fed driven volatility isn't going away, so munis could certainly still underperform some more from here. But for a certain type of investor, we wouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you're in a higher tax bracket and need to replenish the fixed income portion of your portfolio, it could be time to curb your caution and start adding back some muni exposure.


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.

Feb 02, 2022
Reza Moghadam: Is The ECB Behind The Curve?
00:04:21

The European Central Bank has indicated it would not raise rates this year, but markets are not fully convinced as shifts in inflation, gas prices and labor could force the ECB to reconsider.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I am Reza Moghadam, Morgan Stanley's chief economic adviser. Along with my colleagues, we bring you a variety of market perspectives. Today I'll be talking about the European Central Bank and whether it is likely to follow the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England in raising interest rates this year. It is Tuesday, February 1st at 2:00 p.m. in London.

 

The European Central Bank, or the ECB, has long said it would not raise interest rates until it has concluded its bond purchase program. Since the ECB only recently announced that its taper would take at least till the end of this year to complete, this in theory rules out rate increases in 2022. The ECB president, Madame Lagarde, has reiterated that rate increases this year are "highly unlikely."

 

However, the market is not fully convinced and is pricing some modest rate hikes. Many investors are also concerned that inflation could prove higher and more persistent than the ECB is projecting and could force it to follow the Fed and the Bank of England in tightening policy.

 

We should start by recognizing that euro area inflation is nowhere near as high as in the United States, and expectations of longer-term inflation are below 2% - unlike in the US. Labor market conditions are easier, with low and stable wage growth.

 

But even if the case for tightening is not as clear cut, this does not preclude a preemptive move by the ECB. Whether it does so will hinge on the continued viability of the ECB's inflation projections, which see inflation falling below its 2% target by the end of the year.

 

It is too early to conclude that this inflation path has become too optimistic. Certainly, the second-round effects of recent high inflation outcomes - on wages and long-term inflation expectations - has so far been moderate.

 

But this could change, and we would keep an eye on three triggers that might force a reconsideration.

 

First, long-term inflation expectations. If perceptions start to drift up in the face of chronic supply shortages and higher gas prices, the process risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and un-anchoring inflation expectations. The ECB will want to nip this in the bud.

 

Second, gas prices have jumped in the face of supply shortages and geopolitical tensions in Ukraine. Normally, the ECB looks through energy prices - not only because they are usually temporary, but also because, even when permanent, they imply a higher price level - not permanently higher inflation. But evidence of energy prices finding their way into long term inflation expectations could force action.

 

Third, the current benign labor market situation could tighten. In that case, the ECB would want to react before the process goes too far.

 

So if the ECB decides to tighten policy, what would that look like, and when could we expect it? A faster taper is the most likely vehicle for tightening monetary policy. Still, if inflation proves more resilient than currently projected, rate hikes while tapering cannot be definitively ruled out.

 

We see limited risk of a policy shift at the ECB meeting later this week. There could be some action in March, but we expect this to be more likely in June, when there will be a fresh forecast and some hard data to base decisions on. So stay tuned.

 

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

Feb 02, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Systematic vs. Subjective Investing
00:03:29

Investing strategies can be categorized into two broad categories: subjective and systematic. While some prefer one over the other, the best outcomes are realized when they are used together.


----- 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 Monday, January 31st at 2:00 p.m. in London.


There are as many different approaches to investing as there are investors. These can generally be divided into two camps. In one, which I'll call ‘subjective,’ the investor ultimately uses their own judgment and expertise to decide what inputs to look at, and what those inputs mean.


Reasonable people often disagree, what variables matter and what they're telling us, which is why at this very moment you can find plenty of very smart, very experienced investors in complete disagreement over practically any investment debate you can think of.


A lot of the research that myself and my colleagues at Morgan Stanley do fall into this more subjective camp. We're constantly in the process of trying to decide which variables matter and what we think these mean. But there's another approach which I'll call ‘systematic.’ Systematic investing is about writing down very strict rules and then following them over and over again, no matter what, with no leeway. Think of it a bit like computer code, if A happens - I will do B.


The advantage of this systematic approach is that it isn't swayed by fear, or greed, or any other weaknesses in human psychology. The drawbacks are that very strict rules may not be flexible enough to adjust for genuine changes in the economy, in markets, or large, unforeseen shocks like a global pandemic. Think about it this way: Autopilot has been a great technological innovation in commercial aviation, but we all still feel much better knowing that there is a human at the controls that can take over if needed.


I mention all this because alongside our normal subjective research, we also run a systematic approach called our Cross Assets Systematic Trading Strategy, or CAST. CAST looks at what data has historically been most meaningful to market returns, and then makes rule-based recommendations on where that data sits today.


For example, if the key to investing in commodities historically has been favoring those with lower valuations, higher yields, and stronger recent price performance, CAST will look at current commodities and favor those with lower valuations, higher yields, and stronger recent price performance. And it will dislike commodities with the opposite characteristics. CAST then applies this thinking across lots of different asset classes and lots of different characteristics of those asset classes. It looks at equities, currencies, interest rates, credit and, of course, commodities.


At the moment there are a number of areas where our systematic approach CAST and are more subjective strategy work, are in agreement. Both approaches see US assets underperforming those in the rest of the world. Both expect European stocks to outperform European bonds to a large degree. Both see higher energy prices, and both see underperformance in mortgages and investment grade credit spreads.


When thinking about systematic versus subjective investment strategy, there's no right answer. But like our pilot analogy, we think things can work best when human and automated approaches can complement each other and work with each other.


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.

Jan 31, 2022
Special Episode: New Challenges for The US Consumer
00:10:15

Consumer prices reached an all-time high this past December, and a new year brings new challenges across inflation, wage growth and interest rates.


----- Transcript -----

Ellen Zentner Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ellen Zentner, Chief U.S. Economist for Morgan Stanley Research.

 

Sarah Wolfe And I'm Sarah Wolfe, also on Morgan Stanley's U.S. Economics team.

 

Ellen Zentner And on this episode of the podcast, we'll be talking about the outlook for consumer spending in the face of inflation, Omicron, rising interest rates and other headwinds. It's Friday, January 28th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

Ellen Zentner So Sarah, as most listeners have observed since the Fall, inflation is on everyone's mind, with consumer prices reaching a 39-year high in December, and we're forecasting inflation to recede throughout this year from about 7% now down to 2.9% by the fourth quarter. But let's talk about right now.

 

Ellen Zentner So, you've got your finger on the pulse of the consumer. You're a consumer specialist on the team. And so, I want to ask, how quickly have consumers adjusted their spending over the past few months because of inflation? What evidence have we seen?

 

Sarah Wolfe The consumer buying power has been very resilient in the face of high inflation. This week we got the fourth quarter GDP data and we saw the real PCE expanded by 3.3%. So that is another very strong quarter for consumer spending. And that brings spending to nearly 8% year over year in 2021, so very elevated. However, we are beginning to see that consumers may be reaching the upper echelon of their price tolerance in December. We got the retail sales report a couple of weeks ago for December, and we saw a very large contraction in consumer spending declined by more than 3%, and the decline was pretty broad based across all categories that have seen very high inflation, and this is largely reflective of goods spending. So, this is a pretty clear signal to us that while Omicron may be weighing on spending, inflation is largely at play here. And we still expect inflation to be peaking in January and February, so we likely will see some deterioration in consumer spending as we enter the first quarter of 2022.

 

Ellen Zentner How weak could consumer spending be this quarter?

 

Sarah Wolfe Right now, we just started our tracking for the first quarter of 2022 at 1.5% GDP growth, but within that, we have 1-2% contraction in real PCE. I will note that inflation's high so nominal PCE is still tracking positive, but it's not looking very good as we enter the first quarter.

 

Ellen Zentner Yeah, it seems clear that inflation is taking a bite. And remind me, we have this great consumer pulse survey that we've been putting out, and I think it was back in November, right? That the people were actually saying, "Look, I'm more worried about inflation than Omicron or than COVID 19". And that's incredible. I mean, that's a pandemic that's been weighing on people's minds and yet inflation usurped.

 

Sarah Wolfe We're also seeing it in the consumer sentiment surveys. The University of Michigan surveys inflation expectations each month. Near term inflation expectations have reached all-time highs. They're at 4.9%, and we're starting to see longer term expectations also start to tick up. In January, they hit 3.1%, which is a high since 2011. So, it's definitely being felt by consumers and causing a lot of uncertainty among them as well.

 

Ellen Zentner But now, because we have this forecast that inflation is going to peak in February, which is data we have in hand in March, if we're right on that, can that give us a lot of confidence that at least households can see that there's light at the end of the tunnel and start to breathe a sigh of relief?

 

Sarah Wolfe Yeah. As you mentioned, there are few headwinds facing the consumer right now. We think most of them are going to recede by the end of the first quarter.

 

Ellen Zentner Another big change for the consumer versus last year, that you've been writing about is the roll off of government stimulus for a lot of Americans. That had really helped bolster consumer spending, getting us to that big growth rate in 2021 that you mentioned. But now that that's rolling off, what impact might it have on spending this year?

 

Sarah Wolfe So, the big impact to spending is going to be felt this quarter in the beginning of 2022. And that's for two reasons. The first is that the child tax credits have come to an end. That did not get extended because the Build Back Better plan was not passed in time. and the child tax credits were boosting income for lower, middle-income households by $15B a month. And that included $300-360 payments per child per month. A lot of that was going straight into spending, food, other essential items, school supplies. So, we're going to get a level shift down in income and spending in January alone just because of the expiration. So, the other reason that first quarter is going to be hard for consumers is because a lot of the stimulus came through one year ago in 1Q21. That's when we got the $600 checks per person, then the $1400 checks and then also the supplemental $300 unemployment insurance benefit. So, when you're looking at income and spending year over year, especially for lower middle-income households, this is going to be a tough quarter.

 

Ellen Zentner All right. So that's a lot of stimulus that came in, not just over 2020, but all the way into early 2021. So, does that mean that they spent all of that money that they got? Because you've been writing a lot about this idea of an excess savings. So, what do you mean by that? How do we define excess savings? Who's holding that excess savings, and can it make its way into the economy?

 

Sarah Wolfe So, to define what excess savings is, it's basically cumulative savings above the pre-COVID savings trend. And how does that compare to the savings rate? The savings rate is just a monthly snapshot of income and spending, but excess savings is looking at how much is building up over time. And so excess savings, as many have heard this number, was over $2T throughout 2020 and 2021. We have data that shows that some of it was held all the way across the income distribution, but 80% of that was held among the top 20%. And so, a lot of that excess savings is still sitting with the wealthiest people.

 

Sarah Wolfe What about the excess savings for lower income people? It's a smaller dollar amount, and for that reason, it just does not go as far. We have been dealing with, I mentioned, with six to eight months of high inflation. We've seen consumer spending throughout all of this high inflation. And part of that was likely driven by the drawdown in excess savings for lower income households. And so, when I think about spending for 2022, excess savings is not the main driver.

 

Ellen Zentner So in this battle that households have with inflation, right? You got excess savings. There's a lot of uncertainty around how and when that might filter into the economy. And so, it seems that in the face of higher inflation then it makes labor income all that much more important. So, when you're looking at income or prices, how do you weigh that tug of war?

 

Sarah Wolfe So it's OK if prices are going up as long as wages are going up by more. And so, people continue to spend. What we're seeing in the data right now is that, on net, real wages are negative. I mean, we're dealing with 7% inflation. However, and this is very important, real wages for the lowest income group are actually positive. They're the group that's seen the strongest wage growth and it actually is outpacing inflation. I say this is really important because of all we have discussed. The rolling off of fiscal stimulus - this is a group that gets hurt the most by that. Inflation - this is also the group that gets hurt the most by that. When we think about the spending bucket of lower middle-income households, most of their spending goes to essential items like food, energy and shelter. Energy prices alone have increased by over 8% in the last three months.

 

Sarah Wolfe So, seeing real wage growth is very important, and we expect real wages to enter a positive territory for middle- and higher-income households as well as we enter mid 2022, and inflation comes down to about 4% or so.

 

Ellen Zentner Yeah, so for those of you not able to see us, Sarah rolls her eyeballs when she says "come down to 4%" because that's still such a high rate of inflation. But it is quite a few percentage points lower than where we've peaked. So, it's really about the direction. Households can start to breathe a sigh of relief that indeed this is not some sort of permanently higher inflation and ultimately just that labor market improvement, remains the most important piece of the consumer spending outlook. Would you agree?

 

Sarah Wolfe I would agree. Fundamentally, income is what drives spending and a large chunk of income is labor compensation. So as long as we're seeing job gains and wage growth outpacing inflation, we should continue to see spending as we move through a tough first quarter.

 

Ellen Zentner But importantly, we've got to be right on those inflation forecasts. You know, finally, let me just say a couple of things about the Fed's meeting here. So, we do believe that the Fed has laid the groundwork to start raising rates in March, and so higher interest rates are meant to slow activity and specifically through the credit channel, right? They're going to raise the cost of access to credit this year. But in terms of, sort of what contributes most to, say, downturns when the Fed is tightening is the interest expense on the household balance sheet, right? All that debt we carry, which is a tremendous amount, that interest expense rises. So, should we be worried about household balance sheets in this environment because the Fed is going to be raising rates?

 

Sarah Wolfe Yeah, I mean, households are carrying over $14T in debt, but things are not as bad as they sound. 70% of household debt is in mortgages and another 10% is in auto debt. And luckily, those are largely locked in at fixed rates. 90% of mortgages are at fixed rates, so that alone is 68% of the household balance sheet.

 

Sarah Wolfe So, the picture looks better on net for households. Obviously, you need to be a homeowner for it to be in that fixed rate. So, there are non-homeowners that are more susceptible to changing rates. So, people that are holding more credit card debt, that's more lower income people. So that is the group that's going to be the most affected by a raising rates environment.

 

Ellen Zentner Right. Good point. And so, it's even more important that we keep the labor market strong and wage growth strong for those lower income cohorts.

 

Ellen Zentner So we've talked a lot about the consumer, Sarah, but I could do this all day long. So, thanks for taking the time today.

 

Sarah Wolfe It was great talking with you, Ellen. Thanks for having me on.

 

Ellen Zentner And 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.

Jan 28, 2022
Matt Hornbach: Getting Real on Yields for TIPS
00:04:07

Despite two good years for Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, or TIPS, a dramatic rise in real yields may be cause for investors to reexamine their potential for 2022.


----- 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, January 27th at noon in New York.

 

Today, I want to talk about the Treasury market, and I want to get real. Yields on Treasury notes and bonds have risen dramatically to start the year, but real yields have risen more. What are "real yields"? Let me start by assuring you that yields on regular Treasury notes and bonds aren't fake. They are very real, but not in the same way as yields on Treasury inflation-protected securities.

 

Those inflation-protected bonds, known as TIPS, offer investors an inflation-adjusted yield. You can think about an inflation-adjusted yield as having two parts. The first part is a yield without an inflation adjustment. That's what we call the real yield. And the second part is a yield that adjusts for inflation. So, if the rate of inflation is positive, you get more than just the real yield.

 

Last year, a lot of investors bought TIPS because inflation was high and rising. The news media covered the topic of inflation like never before in my career. So, buying a security that offered inflation protection would have made sense last year. Consumer prices rose 7% over the year, and the TIPS index returned almost 6%. So that investment strategy worked out.

 

But, did you know that TIPS returned almost 11% in 2020, when consumer prices only rose 1.4%? That's right. TIPS were a much better investment in 2020, when there was less inflation than there was in 2021. How could that be?

 

Well, remember the real yield that TIPS offer investors? That yield can be a very important contributor to the total return of TIPS. And, at times, it can be even more important than the yield that adjusts for inflation.

 

Over the past couple of years, the real yields that TIPS have offered investors have been negative. So, imagine if there hadn't been any inflation over these past two years. An investment in TIPS might have been a bad one because investors would have been left with nothing but a negative yielding bond.

 

Of course, the yield on a bond is just one factor in driving the total return that investors receive. The other is capital gain - or loss. And the change in yields over time drive capital gains or losses. If bond yields fall, bond prices rise and that improves total returns. But if bond yields rise, well, falling prices hurt total returns.

 

And the same applies to the real yield on TIPS. Rising real yields hurts the total return of TIPS and can do so even during periods of high inflation, like today. The period since last Thanksgiving is a perfect example: inflation continued to surprise to the upside, but the real yield on 10-year maturity TIPS rose by over half a percentage point. As a result, TIPS delivered a negative total return of 3.5% during this period.

 

This should be a valuable lesson for TIPS investors. TIPS aren't just about inflation protection, although they do offer more inflation protection than most other bonds. TIPS perform best when inflation is high and rising, and real yields are stable or they're falling. We saw that environment in 2020 and through most of 2021.

 

But things have started to change. We expect real yields to keep rising this year and our economists expect inflation to fall. That means investors should get less yield that adjusts for inflation while having to cope with capital losses from rising real yields. It would be the worst combination for TIPS performance and stand in quite a contrast to the past two years.

 

So our advice is to stop thinking about TIPS as just protecting against inflation. Instead, investors should think about how TIPS performance could be impacted by higher real yields. And as the Fed raises interest rates this year, real yields should rise and hurt the performance of TIPS.

 

Thanks for listening. And 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.

Jan 27, 2022
Michael Zezas: U.S. & China - Unfinished Business
00:02:56

2022 is likely to bring fresh challenges for the U.S.-China dynamic. Investors can expect an increase in non-tariff barriers and continued commitment to re- and near-shoring of supply chains in the US.


----- 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, January 26th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

While the ongoing situation between the Ukraine and Russia remains an obvious geopolitical risk to pay attention to, we shouldn't lose sight of the ongoing developments in the relationship between the U.S. and China. There's plenty of reason to expect that, in 2022, the two countries’ economic relationship - perhaps the most consequential in the world - will face fresh challenges.

 

From the US's perspective, there's unfinished business. For example, the 'phase one' trade deal, signed back in January of 2020, expired at the end of 2021, and the results fell short of the agreement. Per data from the Peterson Institute, China only purchased 62% of the manufactured products, 76% of the agricultural products and 47% of the energy products it had committed to. These stats likely won't change the perception of the American voter, where issue polls show a bipartisan consensus that the U.S. relationship with China continues to be a problematic one. And since 2022 is a midterm election year, don't expect U.S. policymakers to stand pat on the issue.

 

So what can we expect? We've covered before how the U.S. has, and likely will continue, to raise non-tariff barriers with China - things like export controls around sensitive technologies and investment restrictions. These deployments will continue to make for a more challenging environment for U.S. companies seeking easy access to China's markets, either to sell or produce goods.

 

But one thing you can also expect is fresh legislative action to invest in the US's capabilities in key industries and supply chains that have been declared essential for economic and national security purposes. For example, news broke this week that the U.S. House of Representatives was starting its work to advance the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, or USICA. The bill passed the Senate last year with substantial bipartisan support and would spend over $200B on research in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biotechnology, in addition to cultivating local supply chain sources for key tech needs, like rare earths.

 

This dynamic underscores a trend we've been focused on for many years. The slow but steady re and near shoring of supply chains for U.S. companies. It's a key reason our colleagues in equity research continue to see an opportunity in the capital goods sector, calling for a 'generational capex cycle over the next several years, driven by supply chain investment'.

 

So stay tuned. We'll keep tracking this trend 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.

Jan 27, 2022
Special Episode: Tax-Efficient Strategies
00:08:38

With inflation on the minds of consumers and the Fed reacting with a sharp turn towards tightening, 2022 may be a year for investors to focus on incorporating tax-efficient strategies into their portfolios. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s Chief Investment Officer Lisa Shalett and Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets 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 today on the podcast, we'll be discussing the importance of tax efficiency as a pillar of portfolio construction. It's Tuesday, January 25th at three p.m. in London.


Lisa Shalett And it's 10:00 a.m. here in New York.


Andrew Sheets Lisa, welcome back to the podcast! Now, as members of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management's Global Investment Committee, we both agree that the current portfolio construction backdrop is increasingly complicated and constrained. But tax considerations are also important, and this is something you and your team have written a lot on recently. So I'd really like to talk to you about both of these issues, both the challenges of portfolio construction and some of the unique considerations around tax that can really make a difference to the bottom line of investment returns. So Lisa, let's start with that current environment. Can you highlight why we believe that standard stock bond portfolios face a number of challenges going forward?


Lisa Shalett We've been through an extraordinary period over the last 13 years where both stocks and bonds have benefited profoundly from Federal Reserve policy, just to put it bluntly, and, you know, the direction of overall interest rates. And so, our observation has been that, you know, over the last 13 years, U.S. stocks have compounded at close to 15% per year, U.S. bonds have compounded at 9% per year. Both of those are well above long run averages. And so we're now at a point where both stocks and bonds are quite expensive. They are both correlated to each other, and they are both correlated to a large extent with Federal Reserve policy. And as we know, Federal Reserve policy by dint of what appears to be inflation that is not as transitory as the Fed originally thought is causing the Fed to have to accelerate their shift in policy. And I think, as we noted over the last three to six weeks, you know, the Fed's position has gone from, you know, we're going to taper and have three hikes to we're going to taper be done by March. We may have as many as four or five hikes and we're going to consider a balance sheet runoff. That's an awful lot for both stocks and bonds to digest at the same time, especially when they're correlated with one another.


Andrew Sheets And Lisa, you know, if I can just dive into this a little bit more, how do you think about portfolio diversification in that environment you just described, where both stocks and bonds seem increasingly linked to a single common factor, this this direction of Federal Reserve policy?


Lisa Shalett One of the things that we've been emphasizing is to take a step back and to recognize that diversification can happen beyond the simple passive betas of stocks and bonds, which we would, you know, typically represent by, you know, exposures to things like the S&P 500 or a Barclays aggregate. And so what we're saying is, within stocks, you've got to really make an effort to move away from the indexes to higher active managers who tend to take a diversified approach by sector, by style, by market cap. And within fixed income, you know, we're encouraging, clients to hire what we've described as non-core managers. These are managers who may have the ability to navigate the yield curve and navigate the credit environment by using, perhaps what are nontraditional type products. They may employ strategies that include things like preferred shares or covered call strategies, or own asset backed securities. These are all more esoteric instruments that that hiring a manager can give our clients sources of income. And last, you know, we're obviously thinking about generating income and diversification using real assets and alternatives as well.


Andrew Sheets And so, Lisa, one other thing you know, related to that portfolio construction challenge, I also just want to ask you about was how you think about inflation protection. I mean, obviously, I think a lot of investors are trying to achieve the highest return relative to the overall level of prices relative to inflation. You know, how do you think from a portfolio context, investors can try to add some inflation protection here in a smart, you know, intelligent way?


Lisa Shalett So you know what we've tried to say is let's take a step back and think about, you know, our forecast for, you know, whether inflation is going to accelerate from here or decelerate. And you know, I think our position has broadly been that that we do think we're probably at a rate of change turning point for inflation, that we're not headed for a 1970s style level of inflation and that, you know, current readings are probably, you know, closer to peak than not and that we're probably going to mean revert to something closer to the, you know, two and a half to three and a half percent range sooner rather than later. And so in the short term, you know, we've tried to take an approach that says, not only do you want to think about real assets, these are things like real estate, like commodities like gold, like energy infrastructure linked assets that have historically provided some protection to inflation but really go back to those tried and true quality oriented stocks where there is pricing power. Because, you know, 2.5-3.5% Inflation is the type of inflation environment where companies who do have very strong brands who do have very moored competitive positions tend to be able to navigate, you know, better than others and pass some of that the cost increases on to consumers.


Andrew Sheets So, Lisa, that takes me to the next thing I want to talk to you about. You know, investors also care about their return after the effects of tax, and the effects of tax can be quite complex and quite varied. So, you know, as you think about that challenge from a portfolio construction standpoint, why do you think it's critical that investors incorporate tax efficient investing strategies into their portfolios?


Lisa Shalett Well, look, you know, managing, tax and what we call tax drag is always important. And the reason is it's that invisible levy, if you will, on performance. Most of our clients are savvy enough to suss out, you know, the fees that they're paying and understand how the returns are, you know, gross returns are diluted by high fees. But what is less obvious is that some of the investment structures that clients routinely use-- things like mutual funds, things like limited partnership stakes-- very often in both public and private settings, are highly tax inefficient where, you know, taxable gain pass throughs are highly unpredictable, and clients tend to get hit with them. And so that's, you know, part of what we try to do year in, year out is be attentive to making sure that the clients are in tax efficient strategies. That having been said, what we also want to do is minimize tax drag over time. But in a year like 2022, where you know, we're potentially looking at low single digit or even negative returns for some of these asset classes, saving money in taxes can make the difference between, you know, an account that that is at a loss for the full year or at a gain. So there's work to be done. There's this unique window of opportunity right now in the beginning of 2022 to do it. And happily, we have, you know, some of these tools to speed the implementation of that type of an approach.


Andrew Sheets So Lisa, let's wrap this up with how investors can implement this advice with their investments. You know, what strategies could they consider? And I'm also just wondering, you know, if there's any way to just kind of put some numbers around, you know, what are kind of the upper limits of how much these kind of tax drags, you know, can have on performance?


Lisa Shalett Yeah. So that's a great question. So over time, through the studies that we've done, we believe that tax optimization in any given year can add, you know, somewhere between 200 and 300 full basis points to portfolio performance, literally by reducing that tax bill through intelligent tax loss harvesting, intelligent product selection, you know, choosing products that are more tax efficient, et cetera.


Andrew Sheets Well, Lisa, I think that's a great place to end it. Thanks for taking the time to talk. We hope to have you back soon.


Lisa Shalett Absolutely, Andrew. Happy New Year!


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.

Jan 26, 2022
Mike Wilson: Fixation on the Fed
00:03:49

All eyes are on the Fed as they implement a sharp pivot to account for higher inflation being felt by consumers and businesses alike. With these shifts we turn our attention to the ‘Ice’ portion of our ‘Fire & Ice’ narrative: slowing growth.


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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, January 24th at 11:30 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.

 

Investors have recently become fixated on the Fed's every move. That makes sense, with the Fed pivoting so aggressively on policy over the past few months. It also fits nicely with the first part of our well-established "Fire and Ice" narrative and our view that equity valuations are vulnerable. The reason for the Fed's sharp pivot is obvious, as inflation has overshot its goals - leading to problems for the real economy, not to mention the White House. When the Fed first announced its inflation targeting policy in the summer of 2020, it was appropriate given the deflationary effects of the pandemic. Therefore, it's now just as appropriate for the Fed to tighten at an accelerated pace to fight the inflation overshoot. However, this is a big change for a Fed that has been fighting the risk of deflation for 20+ years, and it has market implications.

 

Importantly, consumers are truly starting to feel the impacts of inflation, with the University of Michigan Confidence Survey currently at levels typically observed only in recessions. Small businesses are also feeling the pain, as demonstrated by their difficulty finding employees and the prices that they are paying for supply and logistics. In short, the Fed is serious about fighting inflation, and it's unlikely they will be turning dovish anytime soon, given the seriousness of these economic threats and the political cover to take action.

 

The good news is that markets have been digesting this tightening for months. Despite the fact that major U.S. large cap equity indices are only down 10-15% from their highs, the damage under the surface has been much worse for many individual stocks. Expensive, unprofitable companies are down 30-50%. This is appropriate, in our view, not just because the Fed is pivoting, but because these kinds of valuations don't make sense in any kind of investment environment. In short, the froth is coming out of an equity market that simply got too extended on valuation - the key part of our 2022 outlook published in November.

 

But attention should now turn to the Ice part of our narrative - slowing growth. As we've been writing for months, we view the current deceleration in growth as more about the natural ebbing of the cycle than the latest variant of COVID. In fact, there are reasons to believe that we are closer to the end than the beginning of this pandemic. However, that also means the end of extraordinary stimulus, both monetary and fiscal. It also means looser supply chains as restrictions ease and people fully return back to work. Better supply is good for fighting inflation, but it may also reveal the degree to which demand has been supported and overstated by double ordering.

 

This would fit nicely with the 1940s analogy that we have also detailed in our 2022 outlook. In brief, the end of the Second World War freed pent up savings and unleashed demand into an economy unable to supply it. Double digit inflation ensued, which led to the first Fed rate hike in over a decade and the beginning of the end of financial repression. Sound familiar? Shortly thereafter, inflation plummeted as demand normalized, but the Fed never returned to the zero bound on interest rates. Instead, we began a new era of shorter booms and busts as the world adjusted to the higher levels of demand, as well as cost of capital and labor.

 

The end of secular stagnation and financial repression has arrived, in our view, but it won't be a smooth ride. In the near term, hunker down for a few more months of winter as slowing growth overtakes the Fed as the primary concern for markets. In such a world, we continue to favor value over growth, but with a defensive rather than cyclical bias.

 

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Jan 24, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Protecting Against Inflation
00:02:45

Higher levels of inflation have made it a hot topic among investors. While inflation’s effects cannot be avoided completely, there are some strategies that can help protect against the worst of them.


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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, January 21st at 2:00 p.m. in London.

 

One question we get a lot at the moment is “how can I protect my investments against inflation?”. While Morgan Stanley's economists do expect inflation to moderate this year - actually starting this quarter - the high current readings on inflation have made it a hot topic.

 

One of the biggest investing challenges with inflation is that when it's truly high and persistent - the kind of inflation that we saw in, say, the 1970s - it's simply bad for everything. That decade saw stocks, bonds and real estate all perform poorly. There was simply nowhere to hide. Still, investors do look at specific strategies to try to hedge inflation. Unfortunately, some of these, we think, have challenges.

 

One place that investors look to protect against the effects of inflation is precious metals, like gold. But while gold has a very impressive track record of maintaining value throughout thousands of years of human history, its day to day and month to month relationship with inflation is kind of shaky. Gold can actually do worse when interest rates rise because gold, which doesn't provide any income, starts to look worse relative to bonds, which do. And note that over the last six months, when inflation has been elevated, gold hasn't performed particularly well.

 

Another popular strategy is owning treasury inflation protected securities, or TIPS, which have a payout linked to inflation. I mean, the inflation protection is in the name. Yet if you look at the actual performance of these securities, that inflation protection isn't always so simple. TIPS performed well in 2020, a year when inflation was low, and they performed poorly in 2018 and over the last three months, when inflation was higher. The reason for this is that TIPS are also sensitive to the overall level of interest rates - and if those are going up, they can see their performance suffer.

 

These two examples are part of the reason that, when we think about protecting portfolios against elevated inflation, what we're often trying to do is to avoid sensitivity to real interest rates, which, at the moment, we think will continue to rise. We think this favors keeping lighter exposure overall, favoring energy over metals and commodities, favoring stocks in Europe and Japan over those in the U.S. and emerging markets, and being underweight real interest rates directly in government bonds.

 

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Jan 21, 2022
2022 US Housing Outlook: Strong Foundations but Reduced Affordability
00:07:19

The foundation for the housing market remains healthy in 2022, with responsible lending standards and a tight supply environment, but, as the year continues, affordability challenges and a more hawkish Fed will likely slow appreciation and dampen housing activity.


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James Egan Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm James 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. Securitized Products Research.

 

James Egan And on this edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about the 2022 outlook for the U.S. housing market. It's Thursday, January 20th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

James Egan All right, Jay. Now, since we published the outlook for 2022, the market has already priced in a much more hawkish Fed and Fed board members really haven't been pushing back. We've now priced in 100 basis points of hikes in 2022 in addition to quantitative tightening. How does this change how you're thinking about the mortgage market?

 

Jay Bacow When we went into the year, we thought that mortgage spreads looked pretty tight and thought they were going to go wider, and that was in a world where we just thought the Fed was going to be tapering and stop buying mortgages, but still reinvesting. Now that they're pricing in that the Fed is going to be hiking rates and normalizing their balance sheet, mortgage spreads have widened about 20 basis points this year, but we think they have further room to go. This is because a normalizing Fed is going to mean that the supply to the market in conjunction with the net issuance is going to be the highest that the private market has ever had to digest. So, we think that could push spreads about 10 or 15 basis points wider, which is going to weigh on mortgage rates, but mortgage rates have already been going up. They are about 3/8 of a point higher just over the last month. And when we forecast mortgage spreads and interest rates to go higher over the next year, we think this could end up with about a full point rise in mortgage rates this year.

 

Jay Bacow So, Jim, a point move higher in mortgage rates. What does that do to affordability?

 

James Egan The short answer is they don't help affordability. For people who've been listening to our podcast before, affordability largely has three main components: home prices, mortgage rates and incomes. And so, if we're talking about mortgage rates, a full 100 basis points higher, that's going to be bad for affordability. But look, this just reinforces what we're thinking about affordability with respect to the housing market as we look ahead to 2022. In our outlook, we described affordability as the chief headwind to home prices and housing activity this year. Looking back to the end of 2021, home prices were climbing at a record pace of growth. And one of the good things about this climb is we think it's been healthier than the prior times that HPA even approached these levels. We got to almost 20% year over year growth because of the fact that we had an historically tight supply environment, and we had a lot of demand, and that demand was not being stimulated by easing lending standards. Lending standards themselves remained very responsible.

 

James Egan But just because the foundation of the housing market today is healthy, and we believe it is, that doesn't mean it can't be too expensive. As home prices were climbing, mortgage rates continued to fall to record lows, and that really acted as a release valve with respect to affordability in the market. That release valve has already been turned off. Mortgage rates climbed throughout 2021. We expected them to climb in 2022. Yes, we now see them climbing faster than we anticipated, but that release Valve, as I mentioned, was already turned off. Affordability was already a substantial headwind in our call.

 

Jay Bacow All right, Jim. So, we've talked about affordability. Can you remind us where do home prices currently stand? Haven't they started to come down a little bit?

 

James Egan Yes. Home prices have been slowing for two months now. And it's becoming more pervasive geographically.

 

James Egan As recently as July, 100 of the top 100 metro areas in the country, were not only seeing home prices grow year over year, but that pace of growth was accelerating. Five months later, the most recent data we have there is November, it's fallen from 100 out of 100 to 38 out of 100 metro areas, still seeing acceleration. The other 62? They're still climbing. But the pace of that growth has slowed.

 

Jay Bacow All right, so home price growth is slowing. Does this mean that it just continues to slow and home prices actually go negative this year?

 

James Egan We do think that home price growth will continue to slow, but we definitively think it will remain positive. We do not see home price growth going negative on a year over year basis. One of the biggest reasons there: healthy lending standards that we mentioned earlier. That kind of responsible underwriting we think keeps distressed transactions, so delinquencies - really foreclosures. It keeps those distressed transactions limited, and you really need an increase in the concentration of distressed transactions to see home price growth turn negative, or to see home prices turn negative.

 

James Egan One of the other things we talked about affordability that we do think is playing a role in the housing market is supply. The supply market is at historical tights right now. That contributes to the healthy foundation that we see the housing market sitting on. We do think we are going to start to see a supply increase on the margins next year. Existing inventories continue to fall, but new inventories have been up over 30% year over year each of the past four months. While single unit starts might not be climbing at the same pace today as they were early in 2021, if we look at the number of single unit homes under construction today, that's surpassed the number of multi-unit homes under construction for the first time since 2013. We do think that will mean more supply coming on the market next year.

 

James Egan The overall environment will be tight. But we will no longer be able to say historically tight. We will see positive year over year changes. That also weighs on the pace of home price growth, which is why we see it slowing to 5% by 2022.

 

Jay Bacow OK, but Jim, you talked about supply and how that's been picking up recently, but that was based off of a period when mortgage rates are lower than they are today. What is this forecasted rise in mortgage rates mean for your expectations for housing activity going forward for the rest of 2022?

 

James Egan So I think there's a few ways that this rise in mortgage rates can impact housing activity. The I think most straightforward way to think about it is on the affordability spectrum that we've been talking about. It's going to make the carrying cost, the debt service of housing those mortgage payments more expensive for households. And that affordability problem is going to weigh on purchase decisions that, as I mentioned earlier, reinforces what we were already thinking about the housing market this year. It also contributes to a lock in effect - borrowers that have homes at lower mortgage rates, it now increases their opportunity costs to move. They'd have to take on a larger mortgage if they were to move their home, and so it weighs on supply as well.

 

James Egan We see it leading to a decrease in existing home sales. So home prices will slow, but they'll remain positive. We do think that home sales are going to fall. Throughout the totality of 2022 we see existing home sales coming in about 5% below where they'll finish 2021.

 

Jay Bacow All right. So basically, a more hawkish Fed has meant that mortgage spreads have widened out and mortgage rates are heading higher. This has led to reduced affordability, which is also going to cause a bit of a slowdown in home sale activity and a slowdown in home price appreciation. But home prices will still near higher than where they are now. I got that right?

 

James Egan Absolutely.

 

James Egan Jay, thanks for taking the time to chat.

 

Jay Bacow Always a pleasure, Jim.

 

James 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 find the show.

Jan 20, 2022
2022 Global Currency Outlook: The Trick is in The Timing
00:03:22

In 2021, many expected the US dollar to face significant challenges yet the year ended with strong levels coming off a mid-year rally. As we look out at 2022, how much more can the dollar rise and where do other currency opportunities lie?


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Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm James Lord, Global Head of Foreign Exchange and Emerging Market Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the outlook for the US dollar and global currency markets. It's Wednesday, January 19th at 2:00 p.m. in London.

 

This time last year, many strategists on Wall Street were expecting 2021 to turn out badly for the US dollar. But as we now know, the dollar ended the year much differently. The dollar troughed on January 6th, spent the first half of the year moving sideways, then began a pretty strong rally mid-year and finished the year around the strongest levels since July of 2020. And the question we've all been asking ourselves recently is - how much more can the dollar rise in 2022?

 

Well, this year, most analysts and investors expect the dollar to continue to rise. But if last year's track record of prediction is anything to go by, this probably means that the dollar could instead head lower over the next 12 months. Our team at Morgan Stanley believes that the US dollar could be close to peaking. In fact, we've just changed our dollar call to neutral, which means we think it will just go sideways from here - after being bullish the dollar since June last year.

 

Here's why: the Federal Reserve has indicated it may be close to raising interest rates, and we think that the Fed starting an interest rate hiking cycle could be a signal that the dollar's rise is close to finished. This may seem counterintuitive, since rising interest rates tend to strengthen currencies. But the US dollar has actually already gone up on the back of rising interest rates. A year ago, the market wasn't expecting any rate hikes for the year ahead. Now, the market is expecting nearly four hikes and for lift off to potentially begin as soon as March.

 

If we look back at the last five cycles where the Fed has hiked interest rates, we can see the same pattern every time. The US dollar tends to rise in the months before liftoff, but fall in the months afterwards. This is a great example of buying the rumor and selling the fact.

 

And if the market is right and the Fed hikes rates as soon as March, the peak of the US dollar for this cycle may not be too far away.

 

We also need to remember that the dollar doesn't stand in isolation. Currencies are always a relative game and are valued against the currencies of other economies. Because of that, what happens in other parts of the world also affects the value of the US dollar. And what we've seen recently is that other central banks are also starting to think about tightening policy and raising interest rates, which will, to some extent, offset Fed hikes - reducing their impact on the dollar.

 

We think this may be a good time for investors to start to reduce their dollar long positions, not add to them.

 

What does the future hold for emerging market currencies? The consensus view is very negative on emerging markets, and that is the polar opposite of this time last year when everybody loved them. Like last year, though, we suspect the consensus view will probably be wrong by the time we close the year. Valuations on emerging market currencies and local currency bonds are cheap. If inflation peaks over the next few months, as Morgan Stanley economists expect, then investors may well take another look at emerging market bonds and any inflows would strengthen their currencies.

 

Bottom line: the dollar has probably peaked for the year, but the future for emerging market currencies is brighter than most people think. As ever, the trick is in the timing. Stay tuned.

 

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.

Jan 19, 2022
Mike Wilson: Pricing a More Hawkish Fed
00:03:52

While our outlook for 2022 already called for a hawkish Fed, recent signals from the central bank of more aggressive tightening have given cause to reexamine some of our calls while remaining steadfast in key aspects of our narrative for the year.


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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, January 18th at 11:30 a.m. in New York. So, let's get after it.

 

Last week, our economics team adjusted its forecast on Fed policy, given the more hawkish tone in the most recent Fed minutes and commentary from Chair Powell and other governors. We now expect the Fed to fully exit its asset purchase program known as quantitative easing by April. We also expect the Fed to increase rates by 25 basis points 4 times this year and begin balance sheet normalization by July. That's a lot of tightening, and fits with our general outlook for 2022 that we published back in November. To recall, our Fire and Ice narrative assumed the Fed was behind the curve and would need to catch up in a hurry, given the dramatic move in inflation that we've experienced during this pandemic. Public outcry and consumer confidence measures suggest inflation is the number one concern right now - making this a political issue as much as an economic one. Expect the Fed to keep pushing until financial conditions tighten.

 

What that means for equity markets is that valuations should come down this year via a combination of higher long term interest rates and higher equity risk premiums. The changes to our Fed forecast simply mean it's likely to happen faster now, making the hand-off between lower valuations and higher earnings more challenging. This is the classic finishing move to the mid-cycle transition we've been anticipating for months, and it appears we've finally arrived.

 

Our outlook for 2022 incorporated a fairly hawkish Fed, and while that hawkishness has increased since we published in mid-November, it doesn't change our year-end targets, which are already well below the consensus. Specifically, our base case year-end target for the S&P 500 is 4400. This compares to the median forecast of approximately 4900. Our target assumes a meaningfully lower Price Earnings multiple of 18x the forward 12-month earnings. This would be a 15% drop from the current Price Earnings multiple of 21x. Our EPS forecast is largely in line with consensus. In short, our view differs with consensus mainly on valuation rather than growth.

 

The faster ending to QE and more aggressive rate hikes simply brings this valuation risk forward to the first half of the year. Furthermore, given the Fed's new guidance it will try to shrink its balance sheet, means valuations could even overshoot to the downside of what we think is fair value. Bottom line, the bringing forward of tapering and rate hikes is likely to lead to a 10-20% correction in the first half of this year for the S&P 500, in our view.

 

The good news is that markets have been adjusting for months to this new reality, with 40% of the Nasdaq having corrected by 50% or more. As we've noted many times, the breadth of the market remains poor as it goes through the classic rolling correction under the surface as the index grinds higher. This phenomenon is largely due to the relentless inflows from retail investors into equities. On one hand, this rotation from bonds to stocks by asset owners makes perfect sense in a world of rising prices. After all, stocks are a decent hedge against inflation, unlike bonds. However, certain stocks fit that billing better than others. In its simplest form, it means value over growth stocks or short duration over long - think dividend growth stocks. In addition, we would favor defensively oriented value stocks relative to cyclicals, given our view growth may slow a bit more in the near term before re-accelerating in the second half. Bottom line, don't fight the Fed and be patient with new capital deployments until later this Spring.

 

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.

Jan 18, 2022
Andrew Sheets: Adjusting to a New Fed Tone
00:02:53

After two years of support and accommodation from the Fed, 2022 is seeing a shift in tone towards the strength of the economy and risks of inflation, meaning investors may need to reassess expectations for the year.


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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, January 14th at 2:00 p.m. in London.

 

Sometimes in investing, if you're lucky, you make a forecast that holds up for a long time. Other times, the facts change, and your assumptions need to change with them. We've just made some significant shifts to our assumptions for what the Federal Reserve will do this year. I want to discuss these new expectations and how we got there.

 

The U.S. Federal Reserve influences interest rates through two main policy tools. First, it sets a target rate of interest for very short-term borrowing, which influences a lot of other interest rates. And second, it can buy government bonds and mortgages directly - influencing the rate that these bonds offer.

 

When COVID struck, the Federal Reserve pulled hard on both of these levers, cutting its target interest rate to its lowest ever level of zero and buying trillions of government bonds and mortgages to support these markets.

 

But now, almost two years removed from those actions, the tone from the Fed is changing, and quickly. For much of 2021, its message focused on erring on the side of caution and continuing to provide extraordinary support, even as the U.S. economy was clearly recovering.

 

But now, that improvement is clear. The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen all the way to 3.9%, lower than where it was in January of 2018. The number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits is the lowest since 1973. And meanwhile, inflation has been elevated - with the U.S. consumer prices up 7% over the last year.

 

All of this helps explain the sharp shift we've seen recently in the Fed's tone, which is now focusing much more on the strength of the economy, the risks of inflation and the need to dial back some of its policy support. It's this change of rhetoric, as well as that underlying data that's driven our economists to change their forecasts for the Federal Reserve.

 

We now expect the Fed to raise interest rates 4 times this year, by a total of 1%. Just as important, we think they not only stop buying bonds in March, but start reducing their bond holdings later in the year - moving from quantitative easing, or QE, to so-called quantitative tightening, or QT. The result should help push U.S. 10-year yields higher up to 2.2%, in our view, by the middle of the year.

 

For markets, we think this should continue to drive a bumpy first quarter for U.S. and emerging market assets. We think European stocks and financial stocks, which are both less sensitive to changes in interest rates, should outperform.

 

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.

Jan 14, 2022
Michael Zezas: The Fed’s Tough Job Ahead
00:03:07

Confirmation hearings for Fed Chair Powell’s second term highlighted the challenges for the year ahead. Inflation concerns fueled by high demand and disrupted supply chains, a tight labor market and the trajectory of the ongoing pandemic will make guessing the Fed’s next moves difficult in 2022.


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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 Thursday, January 13th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

A key focus in D.C. this week is the Senate confirmation hearings for Fed Chair Jay Powell, who's been nominated for another term at the helm of the Federal Reserve. Whenever the Fed chair speaks, it's must-see TV for bond investors. And this remains as true as ever this week.

 

See, the Fed has a really tough job ahead of them. The economy is humming, and it's nearing time to tighten monetary policy and rein in inflation. We know from their most recent meeting minutes that the Fed sees it this way. But how quickly to do it, and by what method to do it, well, that's more up for debate. That's because, in fairness to the Fed, there's no real template for the challenge that's ahead of them. The pandemic and the economic recovery from it have presented an unusual and hard to gauge set of inputs to monetary policy decision making. Take inflation, for example. There's no shortage of potential overlapping causes for the currently high inflation reads: supply chain bottlenecks; an unprecedented rapid rebound in demand for goods, both in absolute terms and relative to services; a sluggish labor force participation rate; and, influencing each of these variables, the trajectory of a global pandemic. The Fed's job, of course, is to assess to what degree these factors are temporary or enduring, and calibrate monetary policy accordingly to bring inflation to target. But to state the obvious, this is complicated.

 

So it's not surprising that the recent Fed minutes showed they're considering a wide range of monetary tightening options. A lot is on the table around the number of rate hikes, pace of rate hikes and pace of balance sheet normalization. We expect Chair Powell will be further underscoring this desire for optionality in monetary policy in his forthcoming statements.

 

Of course, another phrase for optionality might be policy uncertainty, and this is exactly the point we think bond investors should focus on. Precisely guessing the Fed's every move is likely less important than understanding the Fed has, and can continue, to change its approach to monetary tightening as it collects more data and better understands the current inflation dynamic. This is the genesis of the recent uptick in bond market volatility, which we expect will be an enduring feature of 2022.

 

But volatility can mean opportunity, particularly for credit investors, in our view. Corporate and municipal bond credit quality is very strong, but both markets have a history of underperforming during moments of Treasury market volatility. That's why my colleagues and I are recommending for both asset classes to start the year with portfolios positioned cautiously, allowing you to take advantage of better valuations when they present themselves. In this way, like the Fed, you too will have options to deal with uncertainty.

 

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.

Jan 13, 2022
Special Episode, Pt. 2: Long-Term Supply Chain Restructuring
00:08:24

As the acute bottlenecks in supply chains resolve in the long-term, some structural issues may remain, creating both opportunities and challenges for policymakers, industry leaders, and investors.


----- 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, equity strategist covering Asia and emerging markets.


Michael Zezas And on part two of this special edition of the podcast. We'll be assessing the long term restructuring of global supply chains and how this transition may impact investors. It's Wednesday, January 12th at 9 a.m. in New York.


Daniel Blake And it's 10:00 p.m. in Hong Kong.


Michael Zezas So, Daniel, we discussed the short and medium term for supply chains, but as we broaden out our horizon, which challenges are temporary and which are more structural?


Daniel Blake We do think there are structural challenges that are emerging and have been present for some time, but have been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and by this surge in demand that we're seeing and a panic about ordering. So we are seeing them most acute in areas of transportation where we don't expect a return to pre-COVID levels of freight rates or indeed lead times. We also see more acute pressures persisting in parts of the leading edge supply chain in semiconductors, as well as in areas of restructuring around decarbonization, for example, in EV materials and the battery supply chain. But more temporary areas are those that have been subject to short-term production shortfalls and areas where we are seeing demand that has been pulled forward in some regards and where we are also seeing the channel being restocked in areas that were not necessarily production disrupted. And so this in the tech space, for example, is more acute in some consumer electronics categories as opposed to autos, where we do have very lean inventory positions and it will take longer to rebuild.


Daniel Blake But in the short run, we do think what will be important to watch will be the development of new COVID variants and the responses from policymakers and public health officials to those and the extent to which production and distribution can be managed in the context of those challenges. So really, I think a lot comes back to the public policy decision. So what are you seeing and tracking most closely from here?


Michael Zezas Yeah, I think it's important to focus on the choices made by policymakers globally. You and I have talked about and reported on this concept of a multi-polar world. This idea that there are multiple economic power poles and that each of them might be pursuing somewhat different strategies when it comes to trade rules, tech standards, supply chain standards, et cetera. So I think the US-China dynamic is a great example of this. Obviously, over the last several years, the U.S. and China have shifted to a model where they define for themselves what they think is in their best economic and national security interest and in order to promote those interests, adopt a set of policies that are both defensive and offensive. So with the U.S., for example, there were tariff increases in 2018 and 2019. Since then, they have mostly shifted to raising non-tariff barriers like export restriction controls and increasingly over the last year have also been pivoting towards offensive tactics. So promoting legislation to invest in reshoring like the US ICA. So what this means then is that companies that had been benefiting from globalization and access to end markets and production processes in the U.S. and China now may need to recalibrate and take on new costs when they're transitioning their value chain for these conditions of kind of new barriers, new frictions in commerce between the U.S. and China.


Daniel Blake And take us through the corporate perspective. What are you seeing and how should we think about the corporate response to these supply chain challenges?


Michael Zezas A conceptual framework we laid out was to put different types of corporate sectors into categories based on how much their production processes or end markets were subject to increasing trade and transportation friction and or subject to labor shortages. And we came up with four different categories using these two axes. The first category is bottlenecks, where you have tight labor conditions and increasing trade and transportation friction, leaves these industries little choice but to pass through higher costs. Reshorers is another category where you're potentially facing further production cost hikes from trade and transportation friction but these firms are increasingly interested in domestic investment that can steady their supply chain challenges. There's also global diversifiers where trade and transportation frictions may be steady, but labor scarcity and disruption risk creates margin pressure. So that pushes sectors like these to invest in geographical supply chain diversification so they can access new labor pools and automation technology that increases their productivity. And the last category is new globalizers. So this is a relatively capital intensive industry or an industry that's able to source labor globally, given limited impact from trade and transportation frictions. It really means that these business models might be able to pursue the status quo and not have to change much at all.


Michael Zezas So, Daniel, do you have some examples of industries that might fit into these categories and how that might presents either an opportunity or a challenge for investors?


Daniel Blake We have looked at this at the sector and company level for major companies impacted by this theme of supply chain restructuring. And what I would highlight is that semiconductors are the classic bottleneck industries. They have been the acute choke points in the global economy. They have seen rising pricing power. They have seen a significant investment going in, and that has been benefiting the semiconductor capital equipment names. In terms of the reshorers, we think naturally to the US capital goods cycle. And here, our analysts has highlighted more vertical integration and really securing more of the parts supply chain, really a shortening of supply chains that is a response to these supply chain uncertainties that have emerged. And then on global diversifier, this category here, we think, is quite relevant to a lot of the tech hardware space. So semiconductors is more higher tech and more capital intensive. And in contrast, the tech hardware space tends to be more associated with assembly, distribution, marketing. And here we do think that there is potential for more diversification to broaden out exposure across supply chains and labor pools going forward. And finally, on new globalizers, overall, the key categories we have looked at in this report, we didn't see falling into this bucket. But we do think there are sectors that will continue to be new globalizers, and we see them more in the consumer and services oriented spaces of the of the global economy.



Michael Zezas So our framework represents a view of how things will settle globally over the medium to long term in a bit of a mixed picture where some sectors benefit, others have to transition through higher costs. But are there alternative cases, Daniel, where things could be better for the global economy or worse for the global economy than is envisioned in this framework we laid out?


Daniel Blake If we turn to the bull case for the global economy, what we're really looking at is a scenario where demand remains manageable and supported. But we're seeing additional supply come through and an easing of supply chain tensions. So there we would look first to the demand side of the equation, given supply takes longer to ramp up. And for us, a bull case would see a recovery of consumption skewed towards services spending that has been held back by the pandemic, and that helps keep the jobs and earnings recovery moving. But it eases some of the stress on the goods supply chain that may also be alleviated by the acute bottlenecks that we talk about in our base case, resolving and taking some more anxiety out of purchasing managers equation into 2022. In contrast, the bear case is quite clear the acute risk at this point is around new COVID variants, the impact on production and transport, as we saw just recently. So the potential for a rerun of these restrictions is very much in front of us as we're seeing selective lockdowns at time of recording starting to come through in some cities in China. At this point not impacting production materially but that is something we are watching closely. And that means we do think there is potential for demand destruction. The policy response may not be as forthcoming with the scale of stimulus that we saw through 2020 and 2021.


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


Daniel Blake Great speaking with you, Michael.


Michael Zezas And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please be sure to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.


Jan 13, 2022
Special Episode, Pt. 1: Near-Term Supply Chain Restructuring
00:06:43

Supply chain delays are on the minds of not only investors, policymakers and business owners, but the average consumer as well. How will recent challenges to supply chains be resolved in the near-term and will this create opportunity for investors?


----- 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, equity strategist covering Asia and emerging markets,


Michael Zezas And on part one of this special edition of the podcast. We'll be assessing the near-term restructuring of global supply chains and how this transition may impact investors. It's Tuesday, January 11th at 9 a.m. in New York.


Daniel Blake And it's 10:00 p.m. in Hong Kong.


Michael Zezas So, Daniel, we recently collaborated on a report, "Global Supply Chains, Repair, Restructuring and investment Implications." In it, we take a look at the story for supply chains over the short, medium and long term. Now, obviously supply chains are on the minds of not only investors and policymakers, but the average consumer as well. So I think the best place to start is, how did we get here?


Daniel Blake Thanks, Mike. What we're seeing actually is a surge in demand for goods, particularly coming out of the US economy. As we're seeing accommodation of a record stimulus program post-World War Two, combined with a share in spending that has shifted from services towards goods that has been unprecedented. For example, to put this in context, we're seeing U.S. consumer spending on goods increased by 40% in the two years between October 2019, pre-COVID, to October 2021. And that compares with 28% increase that we saw in the entire 11 years following the financial crisis. And so what we're seeing is a sharp fall in services being more than made up for with an increase in spending on goods. And that's put enormous stress on supply chains, production levels, capacity of transportation. And in conjunction with the surge in demand that was seen, we've also seen some acute difficulties emerge in parts of supply chains impacted by COVID. For example, in South Southeast Asia, we've seen semiconductor fabrication, we've seen assembly, and we're seeing components being impacted by staffing issues as a result of COVID health precautions. And this has all been made worse by the uncertainty about sourcing products and lead times. So what we're seeing is manufacturers, we're seeing suppliers, distributors and the and the end corporates that are facing the consumer, putting in additional orders, whether that component is in short supply or not. And so that's increased the stress in the system and created uncertainty about where underlying demand sits


Daniel Blake And so, Mike, amidst this uncertainty, policymakers have really taken note of the issues, not least because of the inflation that's been generated. What reactions are you seeing from the administration, from Congress and from the Fed?


Michael Zezas This is obviously unprecedented volatility in the behavior of the American consumer. And so not surprisingly, in the U.S., policymakers don't have the types of tools immediately at their disposal to deal with this. So you've actually seen the administration pull the levers that they can, but they're relatively limited. They've made certain moneys available, for example, for overtime work for port workers and transportation workers to help speed along the process of inventory accumulating at different ports of entry in the US. But there aren't really any comprehensive tools beyond that that are being used.


Michael Zezas Daniel, what about policymakers in Asia and emerging markets? How are they reacting?


Daniel Blake Yeah. In the short run, we're seeing a combination of tightening of monetary policy. For example, over 70% of emerging markets have been hiking rates by the fourth quarter of 2021. But we're also seeing competition for investment in global supply chains as they are being diversified by OEMs and as we're seeing some restructuring taking place. So we're seeing overall this competition happening across the value chain from battery materials like lithium and nickel in markets like Indonesia all the way through to leading edge 3D semiconductor manufacturing, where companies in Japan are partnering with industry leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation to try to pursue leading edge technology. So we are seeing this competition being a key feature of medium term trends.


Michael Zezas So, Daniel, clearly a challenge in the near term to supply chains in the economy. What's our view on how this resolves itself?


Daniel Blake Yeah, we have identified in conjunction with the global research team the most acute choke points, the primary choke points. And the short answer is we are seeing improvement in these in these areas. For example, in semiconductors, manufacturing capacity in in the backend foundry that was seen in Southeast Asia, we are seeing production come back in towards full capacity. And so we are seeing a real easing in the most acute bottlenecks. That should be good news for overall production levels and the most severe shortages. But at the same time, we do have some more persistent challenges, including rising costs and delays in transportation, as it will take some investment and multiple years likely to resolve the issues that we're seeing in labor shortages in areas like US trucking, in port capacity, intermodal capacity in the US. And as we see some persistent areas of demand really pushing for more investment, for example, in EV materials and the battery supply chain.


Michael Zezas OK, so the most acute stresses we see resolving in the near term, and that's one of the reason, for example, our economists expect that inflation pressures will start to ease this quarter and into next. And as a consequence, the Fed will hike rates this year, but not necessarily according to the more aggressive schedule that they previously laid out. Daniel, what do you think are some of the more micro investment implications, sectoral investment implications, that we should pay attention to here?


Daniel Blake Yeah, we are tracking very closely these key bottleneck segments in the global economy because we have seen companies producing those products have been sharp outperformers. And the challenge is obviously recognizing where these shortages will persist and where we see sustained pricing power. We do see that in some areas the semiconductors are continuing, we are still seeing investment channels in EV materials being a key source of demand. But on the flip side, we're also seeing an outlook for a reprieve in supply chains. As we mentioned some of the more acute challenges, for example, in auto production that may actually be a negative for some major semi companies, as they've benefited from these stronger margins. And so as that pricing pressure diminishes, we think investor consensus is somewhat too optimistic on this shortage and backlog persisting longer into 2022. In terms of implications, then that should be more of a positive for volume league players, for example, auto parts makers that have been held up in terms of their shipments as a result of shortages in other parts of the value chain. And the longer term, another favored investment theme coming out of the report is the likely strength of the US capex cycle in response to these challenges that we're seeing for supply chains.


Michael Zezas Thanks for listening. We'll be back in your feed soon with part two of my conversation with Daniel Blake on the restructuring of global supply chains. As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please make sure to rate and review us on. The Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

Jan 12, 2022
Mike Wilson: Will 2022 be a 2013 ‘Taper Tantrum’ Redux?
00:03:54

As the year gets underway, we are seeing an aggressive rotation from growth to value stocks, triggered by Fed tapering. Will 2022 follow the patterns of the ‘taper tantrum’ of 2013?


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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, January 10th at 11:30 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.

 

2022 is off to a blazing start with one of the most aggressive rotations from growth to value stocks we've ever seen. However, much of this rotation in the equity markets began back in November, with the Fed's more aggressive pivot on monetary policy. More specifically, the most expensive stocks in the market were down almost 30% in the last two months of 2021. Year to date, this cohort is down another 10%, leaving 40% of the Nasdaq stocks down more than 50% from their highs. Is the correction over in these expensive stocks yet?

 

What has changed since the turning of the calendar is that longer term interest rates have moved up significantly. In fact, the move in 10-year real rates is one of the sharpest on record and looks similar to the original taper tantrum in 2013. However, as already mentioned, equity markets have been discounting this inevitable move in rates for months. Perhaps the real question is, why is the rates market suddenly waking up to the reality of higher inflation and the Fed's response to it - something it has telegraphed for months? We think it has to do with several tactical supports that are now being lifted. First, the Fed itself likely increased its liquidity provisions at year-end to support the typical constraints in the banking system. Meanwhile, many macro speculators and trading desks likely shut down their books in December, despite their fundamental view to be short bonds. This combination is now reversed and simply added fuel to a fire that had been burning for months under the surface. Based on the move in 2013, it looks like real rates still have further to run, potentially much further. Our rates strategists believe real rates are headed back to negative 50 basis points, which is another 25 basis points higher. From our perspective, real rates are unreasonably negative given the very strong GDP growth. Therefore, the Fed is correct to be trying to get them higher. It's also why tapering may not be tightening for the economy, even though it's the epitome of tightening financial conditions for markets.

 

We have discussed this comparison to 2013 in prior research and made the following observations as it relates to equity markets. First, the taper tantrum in 2013 was the first of its kind and something for which the markets had not been prepared. Therefore, the move in real rates was much more severe and swift than what we would expect this time around. Second, valuations were much more attractive in 2013 based on both price/earnings multiples and the equity risk premiums, which adjust for absolute levels of rates, which are much lower today. Listeners may find it surprising to learn that the price/earnings multiple for the S&P 500 is actually higher today than when the Fed first announced its plan to taper asset purchases back in September. In other words, valuations have actually increased as the tapering has begun, at least for the broader S&P 500 index.

 

This is also similar to what happened in 2013 and makes sense. After all, Fed tightening is a good sign for growth and evidence that its policy has been successful. However, this time the starting point on valuations is much higher as already noted. More importantly, growth is decelerating, whereas in 2013 it was accelerating. This applies to both economic and earnings growth. In this kind of an environment, the most expensive parts of the market remain the most vulnerable. This argues for value to outperform growth stocks. However, given the deceleration in growth, we favor the more defensive parts of value rather than the cyclicals like we did during the first quarter of 2021. This means Healthcare, Staples, REITs and Utilities. And some financials for a little offense to offset that portfolio.

 

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.

Jan 10, 2022
Andrew Sheets: New Wrinkles for the 2022 Story
00:03:27

The start of 2022 has brought a surge in COVID cases, new payroll data, increased geopolitical risks, and shifts from the Fed. Despite these new developments, we think the themes from our 2022 outlook still apply.


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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, January 7th at 2:00 p.m. in London.

 

Right out of the gates, 2022 is greeting us with a surge of COVID cases, a US unemployment rate below 4%, geopolitical risk and new hawkish Fed communication.

 

Amidst all these issues, the question waiting for investors is whether the thinking of late last year still holds. We think the main themes of our 2022 outlook still apply - solid growth and tighter policy within an accelerated economic cycle. But clearly, there are now a lot more moving parts.

 

One of those moving parts is the growth outlook. Our 2022 expectation was that global growth remains above trend, aided by a healthy consumer, robust business investment and healing supply chains. But can that still hold given a new, more contagious COVID variant?

 

For the moment, we think it can. Our economists note that global growth has become less sensitive to each subsequent COVID wave as vaccination rates have risen, treatment options have improved and the appetite for restrictions has declined. Modeling from Morgan Stanley's US Biotechnology team suggests that cases in Europe and the US could peak within 3-6 weeks, meaning most of this year will play out beyond that peak. Having already factored in a winter wave of some form in our original economic forecast, we don't think, for now, the main story has changed.

 

There are, however, some wrinkles. Because China is pursuing a different zero COVID policy from other countries, its near-term growth may be more impacted than other regions. And the emergence of this variant likely reinforces another prior expectation: that developed market growth actually exceeds emerging market growth in 2022.

 

A second moving part is a shift by the Federal Reserve. Last January, the market assumed that the first Fed rate hike would be in April of 2024. Last August? The market thought it would be in April of 2023. And today, pricing implies that the first rate hike will be this March.

 

An update from the minutes of the Federal Reserve's December meeting, released this week, only further reinforced this idea that the Fed is getting closer and closer to removing support. The Fed discussed raising rates sooner, raising them faster and reducing the amount of securities that they hold.

 

Indeed, it would seem for the moment that central banks in a lot of countries are increasingly comfortable pushing a more hawkish line until something pushes back. And so far, nothing has. Equity markets are steady, credit spreads are steady and yield curves have steepening over the last month. The opposite of what we would expect if the markets were afraid of a policy mistake.

 

As such, why should they stop now?

 

For markets, therefore, our strategy is based on the idea of less central bank support to start the year. Our Foreign Exchange team expects further US dollar appreciation, while our US interest rate strategists think that yields will move higher, especially relative to inflation. We think that combination should be negative for gold but supportive for financial stocks both in the US and around the world.

 

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.

Jan 07, 2022
Graham Secker: Will Europe Be Derailed By Omicron?
00:03:49

Despite last year’s strong showing for European equities, will the recent spread of the Omicron variant derail our positive outlook for the region in 2022?


----- 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 recent rise in Omicron cases and whether this could derail our constructive view on European equities for 2022. It's Thursday, January the 6th at 2:00 p.m. in London.

 

Before touching on Omicron and the case for European stocks in 2022, I want to start by looking back at last year, which ended up being a very good one for the region. True European equities did lag US stocks again in 2021, however, this is hard to avoid when global markets are led higher by technology shares given Europe has fewer large cap companies in this space. More impressive was Europe's performance against other regions such as Japan, Asia and emerging markets. In fact, when we measure the performance of MSCI Europe against the MSCI All Countries World Index, excluding U.S. stocks, then we find that Europe enjoyed its best year of outperformance since 1998 which, to provide some context, was the year before the euro came into existence.

 

As ever, past performance is not necessarily a good guide to future returns. However, in this instance, we do expect another year of positive returns for European stocks in 2022, with 7% upside to our index target in price terms, which rises to 10% once dividends are included. This is considerably better than our Chief US Equity Strategist, Mike Wilson, expects for the S&P, while Jonathan Garner, our Chief Asian Equity Strategist, also remains cautious on Asian and emerging markets at this time.

 

While we think the underlying assumptions behind that positive view on European stocks are actually quite conservative - we model 10% EPS growth and a modest PE de-rating - equity investors are likely to have to navigate greater volatility going forward, given scope for higher uncertainty around COVID, inflation, and the impact of tighter monetary policy on asset markets. The first of these factors was arguably the most important for markets through November and December, however, recent evidence that emerged very late in the year - that Omicron is indeed considerably less severe than prior mutations - has boosted risk appetite across the region, helping push bond yields and equity prices higher. From a more fundamental perspective, we are also encouraged that the sharp rise in COVID cases across Europe over the last couple of months does not appear to be having a significant impact on the economy. Yes, we did see quite a sharp drop in business surveys in Germany through December, however, this doesn't appear to be replicated elsewhere with the PMI services data in France and consumer confidence data in Italy staying strong for now.

 

Going forward, we expect the driver of volatility and uncertainty to shift from COVID to central banks and the impact of tighter monetary policy on asset markets. While this issue will be relevant across all global markets, Europe should be less negatively impacted than elsewhere given the European Central Bank is unlikely to raise interest rates through 2022. In addition, the European equity market's greater exposure to the more value-oriented sectors such as commodities and financials, should make it a relative beneficiary of rising bond yields, especially if - as our Macro Strategy team forecast - this is accompanied by rising real yields (which should weigh most on the more expensive stocks in the US) or a stronger US dollar (which is more of a headwind for emerging markets).

 

Consistent with this outlook, we maintain a strong bias for value over growth here in Europe, with a particular focus on banks, commodity stocks and auto manufacturers. While all three of these sectors outperformed last year, we think they are still cheap and hence offer more upside from here.

 

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.

Jan 06, 2022
Michael Zezas: Why are Markets Unfazed by Omicron?
00:02:39

As 2022 gets underway, investors are concerned about the Omicron variant of COVID-19, yet markets are taking developments in stride, with higher stock prices and bond yields. Is this economic confidence misplaced?


----- 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, January 5th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

As we settle in for 2022, the early line of questioning from clients regards the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID 19. It's been shattering records for infections globally and in the US, disrupting air travel as workers stay home sick. So why then are markets so far this week taking this in stride? Higher stock prices and bond yields reflect more economic confidence than concern. Is that confidence misplaced?

 

Not necessarily, in our view. That's because while Omicron is clearly a serious public health risk, the data suggests it may not trigger the level of public policy response that sustainably crimps economic activity, such as indoor capacity restrictions on service establishments or stay at home orders. Since the pandemic's onset, such responses have largely been dictated by state and local governments, and as we pointed out in this podcast a month ago, in most cases where restrictions were tightened, rising COVID hospitalizations and lack of bed capacity were cited as the culprit. So far, the data suggests hospital capacity may not be a problem with Omicron.

 

Consider studies from the UK and South Africa, which have shown that Omicron is substantially less likely than the previously dominant Delta variant to land people in the hospital. This likelihood is lessened even more if an infected person was previously vaccinated. So even as case counts soar above those prior waves, it's not surprising to see that measures of hospital capacity stress across the US are yet to exceed those of prior waves. Further, as our colleagues in the Biotech Research team point out, the contagiousness of Omicron and subsequent protection against reinfection that the infected develop, at least for a time, has led to bigger but shorter infection waves in places like South Africa. This is why US government officials point out that Omicron could peak and fall quickly sometime this month.

 

In short, the wave and any attendant economic risk could be over quickly, and this may be why investors are looking through it. Hence, we expect markets will refocus on inflation and Fed policy as key drivers for 2022, continuing to push bond yields higher this year in line with our team's forecast.

 

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.

Jan 05, 2022
Jonathan Garner: Omicron Impacts Across Asia
00:03:44

As the Omicron variant spreads across Asia, renewed lockdowns and other earnings outlook disruptions have investors on alert, reinforcing our approach of cautious patience in the region.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jonathan Garner, Chief Asia and Emerging Market Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the impact of Omicron on China and Emerging Market Equities. It's Tuesday, January the 4th at 7:30 a.m. in Hong Kong.

 

As 2022 begins, our approach to Asia and EM equities remains one of cautious patience. Although these markets underperformed their peers in the U.S. and Europe last year, simple arguments of performance mean reversion in 2022 are not strong enough to warrant anything more aggressive at this juncture.

 

We hear a lot these days about a turn in the Chinese policy cycle as a catalyst. And it's fair to say that historically one would have been more optimistic at this juncture of the monetary and fiscal cycle for the outlook for domestic demand in China. This demand is crucial both for China's own growth outlook to stabilize, as well as to give a boost to most other markets in Asia and EM. But this is not a normal cycle.

 

China's ‘zero COVID’ approach must now face off against Omicron. As this episode is being recorded, Xian - a major Chinese city with a population of over 13 million - is in its 12th day of a lockdown, which is now more severe in terms of restrictions on normal daily life than any seen in China since the original lockdown of Wuhan at the start of the pandemic.

 

Two global companies with major semiconductor plants in the city have recently warned of production problems. And though there's no formal national policy to curtail celebration of Chinese New Year at the end of this month, domestic media is already beginning to broadcast a message of staying at home and avoiding long distance travel. In China, as in EM, we're continuing to track earnings estimates that are declining, which undermines the case for valuations - now roughly in line with long run averages - being sufficiently attractive to reengage. The situation is slightly better in Japan, where estimates are tracking sideways and individual markets - notably India and parts of Asean and Eastern Europe, Mid East and Africa - have been doing better than the EM overall.

 

However, disruption caused by Omicron could change individual economic and hence earnings outlooks over the short to medium term. For example, India's most recent COVID case count was up 35% day-on-day, with Omicron now present in 23 of 28 states. Maharashtra, Delhi and Tamil Nadu have reimposed restrictions on visits to public parks, beaches and other public spaces. Indeed, most of the countries we cover that had moved to a "living with COVID" approach are now having to reverse course. Take South Korea, which in mid-December, as ICU usage rose significantly, reimposed early closing restrictions on nightlife and a rule limiting public gatherings to no more than four fully vaccinated persons.

 

Finally, our weekly track of flows to dedicated Asia and EM equity funds is now showing steady and persistent redemptions, as some of the very large inflows from this time a year ago start to reverse course. Those flows were driven by the notion that a strong, synchronized upswing was underway globally, which it was argued would lead to outperformance by Asia and EM, whose economies generally perform strongly in a global economic upswing. We argued at the time that 2021 would not be like 2006/07 and 2016/17 when that narrative did hold true. As 2022 begins, the global and local economic outlook is clearly weakening again, and hence our mantra of continued cautious patience.

 

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.

Jan 04, 2022
Michael Wilson: New Year, New Opportunities
00:03:51

With a new calendar year, the narrative in markets may not be shifting but there are still opportunities for investors to consider as growth rates, policy proposals, and interest rates shift in the coming year.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market and Happy New Year! 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, January 3rd at 11:30 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.

 

A new year brings new investment opportunities, even if the narrative isn't changing. More specifically, tightening monetary policy and decelerating growth supports our large cap defensive quality bias - a strategy that has worked well since we first started recommending it back in mid-November. On the first score, the Fed and other central banks appear to be determined to remove monetary accommodation in the face of higher inflation. Not only is inflation turning out to be an economic issue, but it's quickly becoming a political one given this is a midterm election year. What this means is the Fed will likely turn out to be more hawkish than investors expect, and that hawkishness is likely to be front-end loaded so markets have time to recover by November.

 

As for the second part of the narrative, we think growth will decelerate this year as most of our leading indicators point to that outcome. Furthermore, this dynamic should be supportive of defensives outperforming cyclicals amid large cap quality leadership. This week, we expand our analysis to the industry level and illustrate that within defensives, Health Care, REITS and Consumer Staples tend to be the best performers in a decelerating but positive growth regime.

 

As we reflect on 2021's strong performance from large cap U.S. equity indices last year, it's hard to get too excited about any remaining upside this year. Having said that, most individual stocks have gone nowhere since March, with many in a deep bear market. In many ways, 2021 looked a lot like 2018 - a year of rolling corrections and rotations as investors continually sought out higher ground in the high-quality S&P 500 index. As we enter 2022, the key question for investors is to decide if they want to stay with the relative winners, or is it time to go bottom fishing? New calendar years tend to support the latter strategy as the pressure of keeping up with the index eases. Hence, the new opportunities for investors.

 

While we continue to favor the large cap defensive tilt that has been working, we recommend creating a barbell with stocks that have already corrected but still offer good prospects at a reasonable valuation. Over the past nine months, the quality bias has driven more and more money into a handful of large cap growth stocks - further highlighting the importance of favoring large over small since March. But as we already noted, this crowding has left many smaller stocks behind. A few areas we think make sense to consider include consumer services and other businesses with pent up demand. In the more growth-y segments, we think biotech and China Internet are good bottom fishing candidates. Meanwhile, we would still be careful with very expensive tech stocks that remain unprofitable.

 

One final development to watch closely is long term interest rates. With a significant move higher in inflation and the Fed's pivot on policy, we think long term interest rates look too low. The sharp move higher today looks like the beginning of something more meaningful, and it could lead to new 52-week highs in short order if our technical view is correct. As such, we remain positive on financials as our sole cyclical overweight. A backup in rates is the reason, and that could be happening now.

 

Bottom line, stick with a large cap defensive quality bias as we enter 2022, but balance it with financials and small mid-cap value stocks, particularly with the Fed and other central banks tightening policy faster than investors expect and rates likely back up.

 

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.

Jan 03, 2022
End-of-Year Encore: Space Investing
00:04:29

Original Release on August 24th, 2021: Recent developments in space travel may be setting the stage for a striking new era of tech investment. Are investors paying attention?


----- Transcript -----

Andrew Sheets This week we are bringing you 4 encores of deep dives into different kinds of investing we consider at Morgan Stanley. Thanks to all our listeners for a great year and happy holidays!

 

Adam Jonas Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Adam Jonas, Head of Morgan Stanley's Space and Global Auto & Shared Mobility teams. With the help of my research colleagues across asset classes and regions, I try to connect ideas and relationships across the Morgan Stanley platform to bring you insights that help you think outside the screen. Today, I'll be talking about the Apollo Effect and the arrival of a new space race. It's Tuesday, August 24th, at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

In May of 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced America's plan to send a man to the moon and bring him back safely to Earth before the end of the decade. This audacious goal set in motion one of the most explosive periods of technological innovation in history. The achievements transcended the politics and Cold War machinations of the time and represented what many still see today as a defining milestone of human achievement. In its wake, millions of second graders wanted to become astronauts, our math and science programs flourished, and almost every example of advanced technology today can trace its roots in some way back to those lunar missions. The ultimate innovation catalyst: the Apollo Effect.

 

60 years after JFK's famous proclamation, we once again need to draw on the spirit of Apollo to address today's formidable global challenges and to deliver the solutions that improve our world for generations to come. The first space race had clear underpinnings of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Today's space race is getting increased visibility due to a confluence of profound technological change, accelerated capital formation - fueled by the SPAC phenomenon - and private space flight missions from the likes of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. We think space tourism is the ultimate advertisement for the realities and the possibilities of Space livestreamed to the broadest audience.

 

The message to our listeners is: get ready. This stuff is really happening. Talking about Space before the rollout of the SpaceX Starship mated to a Super Heavy booster is akin to talking about the Internet before Google Search, or talking about the auto industry before the Model T.

 

We are entering an exciting new era of space exploration, one that involves the hand of government and private enterprises - from traditional aerospace companies to audacious new startups. This race is driven by commerce and national rivalry. And the relevance for markets and investors, while seemingly nuanced at first, will become increasingly clear to a wide range of industries and enterprises.

 

The Morgan Stanley Space team divides the space economy into 3 principal domains: communications, transportation and earth observation. Our team forecasts the global space economy to surpass $1T by the year 2040. And at the rate things are going, it may eclipse this level far earlier.

 

When I first started publishing on the future of the global space economy with my Morgan Stanley research colleagues back in 2017, very few people seemed to care, and even fewer thought it was material for the stock market. I would regularly ask my clients "on a scale of 0 to 10, how important is space to your investment process?" And by far the most common answer I received was 0 out of 10. A lot of folks said 0.0 out of 10, just to make the point. Not even four years later and, oh my goodness, how things have changed. The investment community and the general public are rapidly embracing the genre and becoming aware of its importance economically and strategically.

 

So whatever your own area of market expertise, this next era of space exploration and the innovation and commerce that spawn from it, will matter to your work, and to your life. But beyond the national competition, the triumph, the glory, the failures and the many hundreds of billions of dollars that'll be spent on launches, missions and infrastructure - is a reminder of something far bigger that we learned over a half a century ago during the Apollo era - that Space is one of the greatest monuments of human achievement, and a unifying force for the planet.

 

Thanks for listening. And remember, 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.

Dec 30, 2021
End-of-Year Encore: Retail Investing
00:10:02

Original Release on September 30th, 2021: Lisa Shalett, Chief Investment Officer for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, discusses the new shape of retail investing and the impact on markets.


----- Transcript -----

Andrew Sheets This week we are bringing you 4 encores of deep dives into different kinds of investing we consider at Morgan Stanley. Thanks to all our listeners for a great year and happy holidays!


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 retail investing landscape and the impact on markets. It's Thursday, September 30th, at 2p.m. in London.


Lisa Shalett And it's 9:00 a.m. here in New York City.


Andrew Sheets Lisa, I wanted to have you on today because the advice from our wealth management division is geared towards individual investors, what we often call retail clients instead of institutional investors. You tend to take a longer-term perspective. As chief investment officer, you're juggling the roles of market analyst, client adviser and team manager ultimately to help clients with their asset allocation and portfolio construction.


Andrew Sheets Just to take a step back here, can you just give us some context of the level of assets that Morgan Stanley Wealth Management manages and what insight that gives you potentially into different markets?


Lisa Shalett Sure. The wealth management business, especially after the most recent acquisition of E-Trade, oversees more than four trillion dollars in assets under management, which gives us a really extraordinary view over the private wealth landscape.


Andrew Sheets That’s a pretty significant stock of the market there we have to look at. I'd love to start with what you're hearing right now. How are private investors repositioning portfolios and thinking about current market conditions?


Lisa Shalett The individual investor has been important in terms of the role that they're playing in markets over the last several years as we've come out of the pandemic. What we've seen is actually pretty enthusiastic participation in markets over the last 18 months with folks, you know, moving, towards their maximum weightings in equities. Really, I think over the last two to three months, we've begun to see some profit taking. And that motivation for some of that profit taking has kind of come in two forms. One is folks beginning to become concerned that valuations are frothy, that perhaps the Federal Reserve's level of accommodation is going to wane and, quite frankly, that markets are up a lot. The second motivation is obviously concern about potential changes in the U.S. tax code. Our clients, the vast majority of whom manage their wealth in taxable accounts, even though there is a lot of retirement savings, many of them are pretty aggressive about managing their annual tax bill. And so, with uncertainty about whether or not cap gains taxes are going to go up in in 2022, we have seen some tax management activity that has made them a little bit more defensive in their positioning, you know, reducing some equity weights over the last couple of weeks. Importantly, our clients, I think, are different and have moved in a different direction than what we might call overall retail flow where flows into ETFs and mutual funds, as you and your team have noted, has continued to be quite robust over, you know, the last three months.

 

Andrew Sheets So, Lisa, that's something I'd actually like to dig into in more detail, because I think one of the biggest debates we're having in the market right now is the debate over whether it's more accurate to say there's a lot of cash on the sidelines, so to speak, that investors are still overly cautious, they have money that can be put into the market. You know, kind of versus this idea that markets are up a lot, a lot of money has already flowed in and actually investors are pretty fully invested. So, you know, as you think of the backdrop, how do you think about that debate and how do you think people should be thinking about some of the statistics they might be hearing?


Lisa Shalett So our perspective is, and we do monitor this on a month-to-month basis has been that, you know, somewhere in the June/July time frame, you know, we saw, our clients kind of at maximum exposures to the equity market. We saw overall cash levels, had really come down. And it's only been in the last two to three weeks that we've begun to see, cash levels rebuilding. I do think that that's somewhat at odds with this thesis that there's so much more cash on the sidelines. I mean, one piece of data that we have been monitoring is margin debt and among retail individual investors, we've started to see margin debt, you know, start to creep up. And that's another indication to us that perhaps this idea that there's tons of cash on the sidelines may, in fact, not be the case, that people are, "all in and then some," you know, may be something worth exploring in the data because we're starting to see that.


Andrew Sheets So, Lisa, the other thing you mentioned at the onset was a focus on the tax environment, and that's the next thing I wanted to ask you about. You know, I imagine this is an issue that's at the top of minds of many investors. And your thoughts on both what sort of reactions we might get to different tax changes and also your advice to how individuals and family offices should navigate this environment.


Lisa Shalett Yeah, so that's a fantastic question, because in virtually every meeting, you know, that I'm doing right now, this question, comes up of, you know, what should we be doing? And we usually talk to clients on two levels. One is on it in terms of their personal strategies. And what we always talk about is that they should not be making changes in anticipation of changes in the law unless they're really in need of cash over the next year or two. It's really a 12-to-18-month window. In which case we would say, you know, consult with your accountant or your tax advisor. But typically, what we say is, you know, the changes in the tax law come and go. And unless you have an imminent, you know, cash flow need, you should not be making changes simply based on tax law. The second thing that we often talk about is this idea or this mythology among our client base that changes in the tax law, you know, cause market volatility. And historically that there's just no evidence for that. And so, like so many other things there's, you know, headline risk in the days around particular news announcements. But when you really look at things on a 3-month, 6-month, you know, 12- and 24-month, trailing basis on some of these things, they end up not really being the thing that drives markets.


Andrew Sheets Lisa, one of the biggest questions—well, you know, certainly I'm getting but I imagine you're getting as well—is how to think about the ratio of stocks and bonds together within a portfolio. You know, there's this old rule of thumb, kind of the 60/40, 60% stocks, 40% bonds in portfolio construction. Do you think that's an outdated concept, given where yields are, given what's happening in the stock market? And how do you think investors should think about managing risk maybe differently to how they did in the past?


Lisa Shalett That's a fantastic question. And it's one that we are confronted with, you know, virtually every day. And what we've really tried to do is take a step back and, make a couple of points. Number one, talk about, goals and objectives and really ascertain, you know, what kinds of returns are necessary over what periods of time and what portion of that return, you know, needs to be in current cash flow, you know, annualized income. And try to make the point that perhaps generating that combination of capital appreciation and income needs to be constructed, if you will, above and beyond the more traditional categories of cash, stocks and bonds given where we are in terms of overall valuations and how rich the valuations are in both stocks and bonds, where we are in terms of cash returns after inflation, and with regards to whether or not stocks and bonds at the current moment are actually behaving in a way that, you know, you're optimizing your diversification.


Lisa Shalett So with all those considerations in mind, what we have found ourselves doing is speaking to the stock portion of returns as being comprised not only of, you know, the more traditional long-only strategies that we diversify by sector and by, you know, global regions. But we're including thinking about, you know, hedged vehicles and hedge fund vehicles as part of those equity exposures and how to manage risk. When it comes to the fixed income portion of portfolios, there's a need to be a little bit more creative in hiring managers who have a mandate that can allow them to use things like preferred shares, like bank loans, like convertible shares, like some asset backs, and maybe even including some dividend paying stocks in, their income generating portion of the portfolio. And what that has really meant to your point about the 60-40 portfolio is it’s meant that we're kind of recrafting portfolio construction across new asset class lines, really. Where we're saying, OK, what portion of your portfolio and what products and vehicles can we rely on for some equity like capital appreciation and what portion of the portfolio and what strategies can generate income. So, it's a lot more mixing and matching to actually get at goals.


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.

Dec 29, 2021
End-of-Year Encore: Thematic Investing
00:07:13

Original Release on August 12th, 2021: Investor interest in thematic equity products such as ETFs has rapidly surged, particularly among tech themes. Why the momentum may only grow.


----- Transcript -----

Andrew Sheets This week we are bringing you 4 encores of deep dives into different kinds of investing we consider at Morgan Stanley. Thanks to all our listeners for a great year and happy holidays!


Graham Secker Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Head of the European and UK Equity Strategy Team.


Ed Stanley And I'm Ed Stanley, Head of European Thematic Research.


Graham Secker And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about the continued interest in thematic investing in Europe. It's Thursday, August the 12th, at 3 p.m. in London.


Graham Secker So, Ed, I really wanted to talk to you today because investor appetite for thematic related equity products such as ETFs, mutual funds and the like has grown to the point that thematics has actually been carved out from our traditional sector research at Morgan Stanley. So as head of the European Thematic Investing team, can you walk us through what's behind the increased interest in this area and how you see the thematic landscape evolving over the next couple of years?


Ed Stanley Thanks, Graham. To understand thematics, first you have to look at the geographies. And when you do that, it's really a two-horse race. Of the $450 billion in global thematic mutual funds in June this year, 60% of that was in Europe. So the lion's share. And then there's the U.S., which is the second largest geography for thematic investing, but growing very quickly indeed. If you look in the US year to date, for example, there have been over 100 thematic ETF launches-- comfortably double the run rate of thematic starts in 2020. Once you've looked at geography, then you have to look at the landscape by theme. And this is where thematic investing gets really interesting. The breadth of and growth in thematic strategies is truly extraordinary. Fund starts are compounding over 40% over the last three years and inflows for those funds have seen high double digit, and even triple digit growth, so far this year. Most obviously, themes like genomics and eSports fall into that high growth category. We even saw a dedicated ETF launch in June this year, particularly trying to gain exposure to the metaverse, which is the first of its kind. So while we don't make explicit forecasts on where we think thematic investing is going to be in a one year view, the momentum is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, quite the opposite.


Graham Secker So with any number of themes to choose from, the world really is your oyster, I think. So how do you whittle down or cherry pick where you spend your time?


Ed Stanley It's a great question and that's really my number one challenge. While we're never short of ideas, determining which theme is the zeitgeist of the day is absolutely critical. And to do that, our thematic research really hinges on two streams of analysis. On the one hand, demographic change and on the other, disruptive innovation. We believe that these two groupings and the subthemes therein hold the key to shifting future consumption patterns, which ultimately all investors need to be conscious of. But with that said, for most investors to be interested in a theme, it needs to be actionable within at least three to five years. Consequently, for a theme to work, investors need a relatively near-term catalyst. So when we're looking within disruptive innovation, for example, we need to think what's the catalyst to make investors care about this theme? Be that a product launch, start-up funding, falling technology costs, regulation or government policy. When you can twin up an interesting thematic idea with a catalyst, that's really where we focus our attention.


Graham Secker Another question I want to ask is, how do you test the pulse of the market to determine what is a live thematic debate and where you think investors may be too early or late to a theme?


Ed Stanley Well, I suppose this really narrows down the previous point. So we now have our theme, so to speak. We have to ask ourselves, does the market already care about this theme or will the market care in the not-too-distant future? And this is where we think we've come up with a relatively interesting and novel solution to screen for that. Through a combination of four things: patent analysis, capital spending patterns by companies, the velocity of comments made by company management teams and finally, using Google Trends momentum data, we believe that we can relatively accurately pick which themes are either gathering momentum or, on the flip side, those that may have been past their initial peak of excitement.


Graham Secker Okay. And on that point, what are some of the key themes you're watching right now?


Ed Stanley Well, I suppose one that we can't ignore, particularly given my previous comments, is hydrogen. On all of the metrics I just mentioned, it's flashing green. Whether that's pattern analysis, company transcripts, CapEx intensity. It's a hotly debated theme as investors try to grapple with this long-term potential for the fuel. But even more simply, if we take a step back, one really only needs to look at the fund startups to see where the really exciting themes are. If we look back to January 2018, for example, there are only a handful of fintech funds around the world. Today, there are nearly 200 that we're keeping track of. Part of my role is to predict what is going to be the next fintech when it comes to themes. And the themes that are most likely to tick those boxes are, in my view, the near-term ones, electric vehicles, cybersecurity, 5G; the medium term, which encompasses augmented, virtual reality as well as eSports; and then longer term, you have space, quantum computing are all beginning to show telltale signs of thematic focus areas.


Graham Secker Thanks, Ed. And finally, I want to ask you about concerns over a thematic bubble. There's been an exponential rise in the number of thematic products being set up recently. There's also been a high degree of attrition for thematic ETFs. So to what degree do you think the ongoing growth in thematic investing is here to stay? And how vulnerable do you think it could be to a prolonged technology bear market, for example?


Ed Stanley You're absolutely right. Plenty of thematic ETFs, particularly in the US, have come and gone. That will likely continue to happen, particularly in themes where hopes exceed reality. What happens in a prolonged downturn remains to be seen in all honesty. We don't have enough back history from a wide enough variety or sample of these thematic funds, to be sure. But the test case of covid highlighted the early signs of structural growth in this market. There are more thematic funds post-covid than pre-. So my view is that this is absolutely a structural rather than a cyclical phenomenon, particularly as younger marginal investors increasingly want exposure to themes rather than sectors and geographies. But while I believe that thematic investing is a structural trend, no doubt it clearly leans towards tech-heavy equities and growth as a factor, particularly. So the bigger existential threat perhaps isn't so much a bear market, but instead persistently high interest rate environments, which remains to be seen. But for now, at the very least, the future looks pretty bright for thematics in our view.


Graham Secker Very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to talk today, Ed.


Ed Stanley Great speaking with you, Graham.


Graham Secker 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.

Dec 28, 2021
End-of-Year Encore: Factor Investing
00:07:59

Original Release on August 26th, 2021: Equity investors have applied factor-driven strategies for years, but the approach has seen slow adoption in bond markets. Here’s why that may be changing.


----- Transcript -----

Andrew Sheets This week we are bringing you 4 encores of deep dives into different kinds of investing we consider at Morgan Stanley. Thanks to all our listeners for a great year and happy holidays!

 

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

 

Vishy Tirupattur And I am Vishy Tirupattur, Head of Fixed Income Research at Morgan Stanley.

 

Andrew Sheets And on this special edition. And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about factor investing strategies and liquidity in corporate credit markets. It's Thursday, August 26th, at 3:00 p.m. in London

 

Vishy Tirupattur And 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

Andrew Sheets So Vishy, before we start talking about factor investing and credit, we should probably talk about what is factor investing and why are we talking about it. So, what is this concept and why is it important?

 

Vishy Tirupattur Factor investing whose intellectual roots are from a seminal paper from two University of Chicago professors in the early 90s, Eugene Fama and Ken French. It effectively is a way of identifying companies to invest using rules based systematic investing strategies, be it identifying quality, identifying value, identifying momentum or volatility or risk adjusted carry. A bunch of these strategies involve setting up a set of rules and systematically in following those rules to build a portfolio. And we've seen that these strategies in the context of equities have substantially outperformed more discretionary strategies.

 

Andrew Sheets So you can kind of think about it as the Moneyball approach to investing, that you think over time doing certain types of things in certain situations over and over again systematically is going to ultimately deliver a better long run result.

 

Vishy Tirupattur Exactly right.

 

Andrew Sheets So you mentioned that this has been a strategy that's been around a long time in equity markets. Why hasn't it been around in credit? And what's changing there?

 

Vishy Tirupattur The key for systematical rules-based investing strategies or factor investing is being an abundance of liquidity in the market. And the complexity of credit markets means that this has been a big challenge to implementing these types of strategies. For example, you know, S&P 500, not surprisingly, has 500 stocks. And underlying those 500 stocks are literally thousands of bonds that underlie those 500 stocks, that weigh in maturity, in coupon, in rating, in seniority, etc... Each of these introduces an element of complexity that just complicates the challenge associated with factor investing.

 

Andrew Sheets So Vishy, that's a great point, because if I want to buy a stock, there's one stock, but if I want to buy a bond of that same company, there might be many of them with different maturities and different coupons. They're just not interchangeable, and that does introduce complexity.

 

Vishy Tirupattur So one big thing that's happened is the advent of electronic trading. Electronic trading today accounts for almost a third of all trading in investment grade corporate credit and in over 20% of all trading in high yield corporate credit. This has made a significant difference and enables factor investing possible in the context of credit.

 

Andrew Sheets So more electronic trading, more portfolio trading is improved liquidity and made certain types of factors, systematic strategies possible in credit. Are ETFs a part of this story? Obviously, those represent a portfolio of credit. We're seeing rising volumes within the credit market of exchange traded funds. How do you see that playing into this trend? And what do you think is the outlook there?

 

Vishy Tirupattur Absolutely. ETFs constitute portfolio trades and portfolio trading indeed has become a very, very big part of trading here. Even five years ago, ETFs accounted for about 5% of all the traded volumes in investment grade and maybe about 20% in high yield. Today, they account for 16% of all traded volumes investment grade and 50% of all the traded volumes in high yield. So, ETF and portfolio trading in general has enabled not only greater liquidity, but smaller issue sizes and smaller issuers, and that's an important distinction.

 

Andrew Sheets So how would this actually work in practice? You know, I could go out and I could just buy a credit fund that owns all the bonds in a particular market. Or I could try one of these factor strategies. What would the factory strategy actually be doing? I mean, what are the characteristics that our research suggests credit investors should be trying to favor versus avoid?

 

Vishy Tirupattur Let me talk about two strategies. First is a risk adjusted carry strategy. So, you take the spread of the bond over Treasuries, so that gets the credit risk premium, divided by the volatility of excess returns of that particular bond over the last 12 months. Group all these bonds, sort them, and invest in the top decile that has the best risk adjusted return. And then rinse and repeat every month. And we have shown that using this strategy in investment grade, you can consistently beat the benchmark corporate bond index. So that's one strategy.

 

Vishy Tirupattur The other one is a momentum strategy. Momentum can be both from the bond returns as well as from the underlying stock returns. Our research has shown that by combining equity momentum signals and corporate bond momentum signals, we can also achieve substantial outperformance over the benchmark indices both in investment grade and high yield, even though in high yield the outperformance is even more significant.

 

Andrew Sheets So Vishy, why do you think that works? Because it would seem really obvious that, you know, investors wouldn't want to own bonds with a good return versus their volatility, that investors would want to own things that are going up and avoid things that are going down. So why would doing those things, why would following those rules, do you think, still deliver risk premium, still deliver return? Why do you think the market is kind of leaving those nickels kind of lying on the street for lack of a better word, for investors to pick up?

 

Vishy Tirupattur Andrew, in the past this kind of a strategy that would involve, say, a monthly rebalancing, would mean very substantial transaction costs. What we would measure through the bid offer spreads in the bond market. So, 10 years ago, in plain vanilla investment grade bonds, the bid offer spreads, the spread in the difference between the spread of buying and selling bonds, was as high as 12 basis points. And today that number is 2-3 basis points. So, this means that transaction costs, thanks to the electronification, thanks to portfolio trading and ETF volumes, has meant very substantially lower transaction costs that makes these returns possible. And since factor investing is still at the very early stages of practice in credit markets, there are still large, unharvested risk premia in the credit markets for these types of strategies.

 

Andrew Sheets And Vishy, my final question for you is, what are the risks here? If investors are going to look at the market from a systematic, more rules-based approach, what sort of questions should they be asking?

 

Vishy Tirupattur I think key question to ask is how much dependencies there are on liquidity and how long will liquidity continue to be there in the markets. I think looking at this kind of analysis over multiple credit cycles, the four cycles, lower liquidity, higher liquidity periods, which is what we have done, those are the kinds of analyzes one would need to do to start paying greater attention to systematic investing strategies in credit.

 

Andrew Sheets Vishy. Thanks for taking the time to talk.

 

Vishy Tirupattur Andrew, always fun to talk 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.

Dec 27, 2021
Michael Zezas: A More Flexible Fed
00:02:55

Recent signals from the Fed are indicative of a willingness to change its mind quickly. While bond investors may be wary of the volatility this could bring, it may also create opportunities in the new year.


----- 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, December 22nd at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

While investors may be focused on the gridlock on the Build Back Better fiscal plan, we think it makes sense to shift our focus from Capitol Hill to the Federal Reserve, which just made a big move, and one that arguably matters more to markets in the near term than developments out of Congress. Last week, the Fed announced a more aggressive tapering of asset purchases. Perhaps more importantly, it signaled an expectation of hiking interest rates three times next year, rather than the two times most forecasters expected. In the press conference following the announcement, Chair Powell repeatedly signaled his intent was to demonstrate both that the Fed takes seriously the risk posed by a recent uptick in inflation, as well as the flexibility of the Fed's monetary policy, by discussing his willingness to adjust the taper and rate hike outlooks as data comes in.

 

This last point is an important one for bond markets. In dealing with substantial uncertainty around the inflation outlook, you have a Fed that elected a pragmatic approach - a willingness to change its mind quickly as it sees fit. That's not a novel approach, but it may be fresh to many investors today who may be more accustomed to the slower, more deliberate approach that economic conditions pressed the Fed to take under its previous two chairs. But such an approach means it's harder to predict with confidence what will happen next to monetary rates. That uncertainty means more disagreement among investors, which in turn means more sustained volatility in the Treasury market.

 

That's not necessarily bad news for investors, though. In our view, it actually may lead to some interesting opportunities in 2022 for credit investors. In the muni market, for example, elevated rates volatility has, more often than not, caused market weakness as investors shy away from price uncertainty in an asset class they generally want to own for reasons of capital preservation and asset allocation. But muni credit quality, in our view, is likely to remain quite strong in 2022, with continued strong economic growth allowing municipal entities to lock in their credit gains from government aid and a sharp GDP recovery in 2020 and 2021. So, if volatility leads to price weakness, we're likely to see this as an opportunity to add good credit, just at a cheaper valuation.

 

So, beware the Fed and volatility, but don't fear it. We'll keep you updated here for the opportunities it may create.

 

Happy holidays from all of us here at Thoughts on the Market. We'll be back in the new year with more episodes.

 

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.

Dec 22, 2021
Chetan Ahya: China’s 2022 Policy Shifts
00:03:56

With shifting focus across regulatory, monetary and fiscal policy, there is renewed confidence in the growth and recovery outlook for China in 2022.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Chetan Ahya, Chief Asia Economist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives. I'll be talking about the prospects for China's recovery amid regulatory, monetary and fiscal policy easing. It's Tuesday, December 21st at 7:00 p.m. in Hong Kong.

 

China's policy stance is clearly shifting from over-tightening to easing, and with it, we think the cycle is also turning from a mini downturn to an upswing. We are more bullish than the consensus and see GDP growth accelerating to 5.5% in 2022.

 

Over the years, China has experienced a number of mini cycles. These mini cycles in growth tend to follow the policy cycles. While tightening starts out as countercyclical, it eventually becomes pro-cyclical, and sometimes because external demand conditions deteriorate - for example, the onset of trade tensions in mid-2018. Once growth decelerates beyond policymakers' comfort zone, their priorities shift to stabilizing growth and preventing an adverse spillover impact into the labor market.

 

In the current cycle, with sharp pick-up in external demand, policymakers stuck to their playbook and tightened macro policies to slow infrastructure and property spending. But from the summer of this year, as Delta wave-led restrictions weighed further on consumption growth, continued policy tightening pushed growth lower than policymakers' comfort zone.

 

This time around, policy tightening was unusually aggressive, leading to a 10 percentage point drop in debt to GDP in 2021. Indeed, we have not seen this magnitude of debt to GDP reduction in a year since 2003-07 cycle. Moreover, the rapid succession of regulatory tightening actions related to the tech sector and decarbonization has taken markets by surprise, adding uncertainty and keeping market concerns on the boil.

 

Now, with GDP growth decelerating to just 3.3% on a year-on-year basis in 4Q21, which would be 4.9% adjusted for high base effect, policymakers have hit pause on deleveraging and began to ease both monetary and fiscal policy a few weeks ago. Bank reserve requirement ratio cuts were coupled with guidance to banks to allocate more credit to priority sectors. At the same time, local government bond issuance has increased significantly, which in turn will translate into stronger infrastructure spending. And several local governments have also lifted property purchase restrictions.

 

Two Fridays ago, policymakers convened at the Central Economic Working Conference - an annual meeting that sets the agenda for the economy in the year ahead - and the resulting statement suggested to us that there is a clear shift in policy stance, and they will continue to take action in a number of areas to stem the downturn, increasing our confidence in China's recovery.

 

These policy easing measures will complement the sustained strength in exports and a pickup in private capex, driving the recovery.

 

And in terms of market implications, our China Equity Strategy team continues to prefer A-shares rather than offshore markets, and our China Property and Asia Credit Strategy analysts are optimistic on the China property sector as well as China high yield property.

 

The key risk to our call in the near-term is the Omicron variant. The effectiveness of China's containment and tracing capabilities has improved over time, such that each successive wave of COVID outbreaks has had a smaller impact on mobility and growth. However, Omicron's greater transmissibility suggests to us that it will keep China's COVID zero policy in place for longer and potentially force China to impose more selective lockdowns than during the Delta wave.

 

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.

Dec 21, 2021
Mike Wilson: Fire & Ice Continues Into Year-end
00:03:25

Our narrative of tightening monetary policy and decelerating growth continues to play out amidst developments in Omicron, failed legislation and signals from the Fed.


----- 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, December 20th at 11:30 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.

 

Our Fire and Ice narrative for tightening monetary policy and decelerating growth is playing out, with the central banks taking aggressive steps to deal with the higher-than-expected inflation. Meanwhile, Omicron and the failure to pass President Biden's Build Back Better bill have awakened investors to the risk of slower growth that we think is as much about the ongoing cyclical downturn as these external shocks. In short, stay defensive with your equity positioning.

 

First, with the Fed preparing investors over the past four months for what could be a very long process of removing monetary accommodation from markets that have become dependent on it, the most expensive and speculative stocks have already been hit exceptionally hard. Furthermore, the quality trade has taken on a more defensive posture. Both of these shifts are very much in line with our 2022 outlook - be wary of high valuations and focus on earnings stability. In other words, favor large cap defensive quality.

 

Second, with the market and the Fed now fully appreciating that inflation is not going to be transitory, investors must contend with the Ice part of our narrative. How much further will growth decelerate, and how much is due to Omicron versus the ongoing cyclical downturn that began in April? As noted in prior episodes of this podcast, we remain optimistic that this latest wave will prove to be the last notable one. Meanwhile, the peak rate of change in the recovery was way back in April of this year. Since then, we've seen a steady deceleration in growth that has little to do with COVID, in our view. Instead, this is the natural ebb of the business cycle and mid-cycle transition, which is not yet complete. Of course, this latest variant will be a drag on certain parts of the economy and perhaps bring forward the end of the mid-cycle transition more quickly. Finally, this past weekend Senator Manchin effectively put an end to the president's latest fiscal stimulus plan - another negative for growth in the near term.

 

All of these developments fit nicely with our year ahead outlook for U.S. equities. Therefore, we continue to think most stocks will see valuations come down as central banks remove monetary accommodation and growth slows more than investors expect. Favor defensively oriented stocks over cyclical ones. This includes Healthcare, REITs and Consumer Staples. Meanwhile, consumer discretionary and certain technology stocks look to be the most vulnerable as we experience a payback in demand from this year's overconsumption. While other cyclical areas like energy, materials and industrials could also underperform, ownership of these sectors is not nearly as extreme as the discretionary and tech, nor are they as expensive.

 

Finally, while major U.S. equity indices remain vulnerable, in our view, many individual stocks have been in a bear market for most of the year. As a reminder, almost 80% of all stocks in the Russell 2000 have seen a 20% drawdown during 2021. For the Nasdaq, it's close to 60%, while 40% of the S&P 500 has corrected by 20% or more. In our view, it makes sense to look for new investments in stocks that have already corrected, rather than the ones that have held up the best. We would recommend a barbell of these kinds of stocks with the more classic large cap defensive names that fit our current macro view.

 

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.

Dec 21, 2021
Welcome to Thoughts on the Market
00:00:46

A quick preview of what you'll hear on the Thoughts On The Market podcast, which features short, thoughtful and regular takes on recent events in the markets from a variety of perspectives and voices within Morgan Stanley.

Dec 20, 2021
Andrew Sheets: Challenges to the 2022 Story Emerge
00:03:21

With recent signals from the Federal Reserve and new data on the Omicron variant, there’s a lot that could impact the shape of 2022, but for now the core of our outlook remains unchanged.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bring 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, December 17th, at 2 p.m. in London.


Every year, the economists and strategists at Morgan Stanley come together and try to forecast what the next year could look like. And then, as always seems to be the case, something happens. The world, after all, is an unpredictable place.


This year, these 'somethings' have come thick and fast. As my colleague Matthew Harrison, U.S. biotechnology analyst, and I discussed on this program last week, the Omicron variant appears to be highly contagious and likely to lead to a large wave of winter infections.


At almost the same time, the US Federal Reserve, arguably the world's most important central bank, has been sounding less tolerant of inflation, leading Morgan Stanley's economists to now expect a quicker end to the central bank's bond purchases and also a larger, faster increase in Federal Reserve interest rates relative to what we thought just a month ago.


Both are major developments. But while they change some of our investment strategy around the edges, we don't think, for now, they change the main story for 2022.


To understand why, let's start with the Federal Reserve. Yes, the Fed is now likely to end bond purchases and raise interest rates sooner than we had previously assumed. But from an investment perspective, we always thought the central bank would signal an intent to be less supportive to start the new year, hoping to convince markets that they were taking inflation seriously. We had previously thought that this 'tough talk' might shift in the spring, when inflation data would come down, and the Fed wouldn't ultimately follow through on interest rate hikes. But now, it looks like they will.


But in either scenario, the strategy for investors should be to position for a central bank that is indicating it wants to be less supportive. As such, we expect interest rates to move higher, especially around five-year maturities, the dollar to appreciate and U.S. and emerging markets stocks to underperform those in Europe and Japan, where the central banks are going to be more accommodating for longer. We think financials outperform as an equity sector, seeing them as a beneficiary of less central bank accommodation.


The other development, of course, is Omicron, while the new variant appears to be highly contagious. Our economists at Morgan Stanley had always assumed some form of a 'winter wave' of COVID in their growth numbers, given the virus's seasonal characteristics. Economic data, for the moment, has actually held up quite well and global activity has been less impacted by each incremental COVID wave. And we also need to consider the entire year, not just what could be a very difficult month or two of high COVID cases. All of these together are why our base case remains for strong global growth in the next year, despite the currently worrying headlines.


Both new developments, however, require close observation. The Fed looks much more willing to shift in either direction than it has before, while the full impact of Omicron may not be seen for several more weeks. For now, however, we think a backdrop of good global growth and less central bank support remains the outlook for 2022.


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.

Dec 17, 2021
Matthew Harrison: COVID-19 - Omicron Updates
00:03:31

The last week brought new evidence regarding the transmissibility, immune evasion and disease severity of Omicron, and with it, more clarity on the coming weeks and months.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Matthew Harrison, Biotechnology Analyst. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be discussing our updated thoughts on the COVID 19 pandemic and the impact of Omicron. It's Thursday, December 16th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

Since Omicron was first discovered, we've been using the framework of transmissibility, immune evasion and disease severity to think about its impact. Over the last week, the level of evidence on all three topics has increased significantly.

 

So first, on transmissibility. The ability of Omicron to outcompete the prior dominant variant, Delta, now appears clear. We have evidence in South Africa, the UK and Denmark, with Omicron now dominant in central London and set to be the dominant variant in the UK over the next few days. The US is a few weeks behind Europe in terms of spread, but we would expect a similar pattern. Cases are now rising globally, driven by Omicron's transmissibility. This is a combination of factors driven by one, its innate transmissibility, and second, its immune evasion properties, which have dramatically increased the percentage of the population susceptible to infection.

 

We now have multiple studies, which generally come to a similar conclusion. Two doses of vaccination or a single prior infection provide little to no barrier against infection. Two doses of vaccination do, however, provide protection against severe outcomes like hospitalization or death. This is around a 70% relative reduction versus those who are not vaccinated based on preliminary data. Three doses of vaccination or two doses of vaccination and a prior infection provide a greater barrier against infection. Preliminary data here suggests a 75% relative reduction to those without three doses or two doses and a prior infection. Importantly, since a limited proportion of the population has been boosted - we estimate at about mid-teens percentage of the total US population - the vast majority of the population is again susceptible to an infection with Omicron.

 

And finally, on disease severity. The data out of South Africa continue to suggest the percentage of patients with severe outcomes is lower relative to the prior Delta wave. This means that there are less people in the ICU and less people on a ventilator as a proportion of the total people infected compared with Delta. That said, it's important to remember that even with a lower proportion of people having severe disease, if Omicron drives a wave of infections that is much higher than Delta, the overall disease burden could still be very high.

 

So this leads us to what is our outlook on infections and the ultimate impact of Omicron. The variant is likely to be dominant quickly, and we would expect to be in the steeper part of the exponential rise in cases here in the US in the next two to three weeks. We believe it is possible that the Omicron wave could have a peak in terms of total number of infections that is somewhere between 2 and 3 times higher than the prior Delta wave. However importantly, vaccination should help protect against severe outcomes.

 

For more on Omicron, we also recently sat down for an interview with the Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel to discuss his views on that topic and more. You can see the full interview on MorganStanley.com.

 

Thanks for listening! We hope you have a safe and enjoyable holiday season. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please be sure to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people find the show.

Dec 16, 2021
Michael Zezas: Supply Chain Woes Also Create Opportunities
00:03:06

While many are hopeful for an easing of supply chain delays in 2022, the resolution of these issues may lead to new challenges and opportunities in key stock sectors investors should be watching.


----- 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, December 15th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

Inflation is a hot topic in Washington, D.C. The president talks about it regularly in his Twitter feed and on camera. It's also a favorite concern of Senator Manchin, who openly ponders whether inflation concerns will keep him from casting the deciding vote on the Build Back Better plan. Yet for investors, inflation has always been a necessary obsession, as its presence or lack thereof, typically drives impacts in the bond and foreign exchange markets. But today we want to focus not on the potential effects of inflation, but one of its causes - namely supply chain issues and how the resolution creates challenges and opportunities in some key stock sectors.

 

But let's start with the why of supply chain issues. Why are the reports of shortages, ships waiting at ports to deliver goods, and rising prices because of the scarcity it creates? In short, it has to do with the extraordinary impact of the pandemic. Social distancing initially drove sharp but short-lived declines in consumer demand and companies' consumer demand expectations. But substantial fiscal aid to the economy led to a rebound in economic activity. Yet this was mostly focused on goods over services as COVID concerns continued to crimp the demand for activities, like eating out. This led to some abnormal and astonishing data. For example, personal consumption of durable goods declined 20% in the early days of the pandemic, more than 10x the decline from the prior recession. Yet by this past October, consumption of durable goods was 40% higher than pre-COVID. It's no wonder that container shipping rates from Shanghai to Los Angeles are 5x their normal run rate.

 

Yet our colleagues see these pressures starting to abate in the US. Vaccines appear to have eased concerns among the population in consuming services in public spaces and service consumption is now rising sharply, whereas goods consumption growth has leveled off. Our economists expect this will help ease the pace of inflation starting in the first quarter of next year.

 

While this would be good news for the economy overall, the story could be more mixed across stock sectors. Our tech hardware team, for example, sees a period of weaker orders for semiconductors after customers receive their currently delayed orders. This dynamic could open the door for earnings disappointment. On the other hand, our Capital Goods team sees opportunity, as the current bottleneck may have persuaded a variety of industries that they need to invest in reinventing their supply chains and potentially engage in some re or near shoring, which would require substantial equipment and materials investment.

 

So as we head into the end of the year, supply chain delays are likely to continue to raise concerns around inflation, but the first half of 2022 will be telling. We'll keep you updated as the story develops.

 

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.

Dec 15, 2021
Sheena Shah: The Financialization of Cryptocurrency
00:03:26

Cryptocurrency companies have begun to act as banks in the US, and while regulators have expressed concerns over interest rates and the primacy of the dollar, this interplay has only just begun.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Sheena Shah, Lead Cryptocurrency Analyst for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the escalating financialization of cryptocurrency markets. It's Tuesday, December 14th at 2:00 p.m. in London.

 

BYOB - Be Your Own Bank. This has been the clarion call of Bitcoin evangelists since its very inception. But in an ironic turn of events, crypto companies Avanti, Anchorage and Kraken have all become banks in the US. Not in the sense espoused by bitcoin maximalists, but in the fiat - that is to say, government regulated sense.

 

And regulators have shone much of their spotlight on the conspicuously outsized interest rates on offer to depositors through crypto lending. On the 10th of December, you could deposit a cryptocurrency called USDC with a company called BlockFi and receive an interest rate of 9%.

 

Concern has arisen from the fact that the issuers of USDC aim to control its value, such that a single USDC should, in theory at least, always fetch a value of approximately one U.S. dollar. The disparity between a 9% rate on what is essentially a proxy for the dollar and the historically low rates on actual dollar deposits at retail banks, has regulators concerned about the emergence of a parallel banking system.

 

The irony here is that it was preexisting banking regulation itself that played a hand in creating this high rate. Traditional banks have turned down crypto traders due to regulatory risk, and so these traders were forced to borrow from the crypto markets and offer lenders higher rates of return.

 

Nevertheless, US regulators appear to be taking measures to limit competition with the dollar banking system. New Jersey regulators have ordered BlockFi to stop offering high interest crypto deposit accounts from February next year. And in September, the Securities and Exchange Commission sent Coinbase a Wells notice, following which Coinbase aborted a plan to offer 4% interest on USDC deposits.

 

Ultimately, regulators will have to decide how aggressively they want to safeguard the primacy of the dollar. They could stymie much of the industry to be sure or hope the dollar stands up to scrutiny in order to allow the crypto industry to grow. The longer they wait, the higher the risk. Following multi-trillion stimulus packages and over a decade of quantitative easing, the dollar has been left as open to competitors as it has been since the Bretton Woods agreement in 1944. Investors should keep an eye on the direction that regulators take in the face of this and the broad spectrum of outcomes those regulations might portend for crypto valuations, ranging anywhere from new highs to the old lows of bygone price cycles.

 

The meeting of crypto culture and traditional banking regulation is a seminal moment for the crypto industry. I, for one, am excited to see how this interplay evolves. Crypto companies are becoming more like banks, just as traditional banks have themselves begun to offer crypto products.

 

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

Dec 14, 2021
2022 U.S. Equities Outlook: Still Favoring the Base Case
00:04:36

Our 2022 outlook presented a wider than normal range of potential paths. While our base case still appears likely, shifts in supply and Fed policy could cause a change in course.


----- 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, December 13th at 11:30 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.

 

In writing our year ahead outlook, we were faced with what we think is a wider than normal range of potential economic and policy outcomes. This higher "uncertainty" was one of the inputs to our key conclusion - that valuations for U.S. equity markets were likely to come down over the next 3-6 months. In our discussions with hundreds of clients since publishing our outlook, the conversations have centered on these three potential outcomes and how to handicap them.

 

First is Goldilocks. When we published our outlook on November 15th, this was the prevailing view by most clients. In this outcome, supply picks up in Q1 to meet the excess demand companies are having a hard time fulfilling. Inflation has a relatively fast but soft landing towards 2-3%, which allows for growth to remain strong and multiples to remain high. The S&P 500 reaches 5000 by year end 2022. And this was our bull case in our outlook with a 20% probability.

 

In the second outcome, inflation remains hot and the Fed responds more aggressively. Under this outcome, inflation proves to be stickier as supply chains and labor shortages remain difficult to fix in the short term. The Fed is forced to taper faster and even raise rates on a more aggressive path. This was our base case, as it essentially lined up with our hotter but shorter cycle view we first wrote about back in March. At the same time, operating leverage fades as costs increase more in line with revenues. This leaves market breadth narrow in the near-term as valuations fully normalize in line with the typical mid-cycle transition. While there is some debate around how much P/Es need to fall, we believe 18x is the right number to use for year-end 2022. When combined with 10% earnings growth, that gives us a slight downside to the index from current prices, or 4400 on the S&P 500. We put a 60% probability on this outcome.

 

The third outcome assumes supply ticks up, but demand fades. Under this scenario, we assume supply comes too late to meet what has been an unsustainable level of consumption for many goods. It's also too expensive for customers who have become wary of higher prices, which leads to demand destruction for many areas of the economy. While services should fare better and keep the economy growing, goods producing companies suffer. Under this scenario, the Fed may back off on their more aggressive tightening path. Rates fall, but not enough to offset the negative impact on margins and earnings, which will end up disappointing. This is essentially the "Ice" part of our Fire and Ice narrative turning out to be chillier. Equity risk premiums soar and multiples fall more than under our base case. This was our bear case with a 20% probability.

 

Since publishing, we feel more confident about our base case being the most likely outcome. Inflation data continues to come in hot and companies are having little problem passing it along, for now. While this will likely lead to another good quarter of earnings, we suspect there will be more casualties too, as execution risk is increasing. This will leave dispersion high and leadership inconsistent - two more conclusions in our outlook. Stock picking will be difficult, but a necessary condition to generate meaningful returns in 2022 as the market index is flat to down over the next 12 months.

 

This is a big week on policy outcomes, with the Fed likely to announce a more aggressive timeline for tapering its asset purchases. In short, we expect the Fed to tell us that they will end its asset purchase program by March 31st. While our base case always assumed the Fed would respond appropriately to higher inflation, this is a more aggressive pivot than what we expected a month ago. Importantly, the Fed is now suggesting stable prices are important to achieving its primary goal of full employment, which means inflation is taking center stage until it's under control. Finally, we think Jay Powell and the Fed will be under much less pressure from the White House versus the last time they were aggressively removing monetary accommodation in late 2018. Part of this is due to the fact that inflation is a much bigger problem today than it was in 2018, and part of it is due to the observation that the White House today is not as preoccupied with the stock market. Bottom line, the Fed is determined to bring down inflation, and falling stock prices are unlikely to stop them from trying.

 

In this kind of an environment, we continue to favor companies with earnings stability and reasonable valuations. That means large cap defensive quality stocks. In short, boring can be beautiful.

 

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.

Dec 13, 2021
2022 Rates & Currency Outlook: What’s Changed?
00:04:27

With recent central bank action raising questions on monetary policy, Global Head of Macro Strategy Matthew Hornbach takes us through the implications for the trajectory of rates and currency markets in the year ahead.


----- 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 the 2022 outlook for rates and currency markets. It's Friday, December 10th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

Every November my colleagues within research come together to discuss the year ahead outlook. And almost every year something happens in the month after we publish our forecast that changes one or more of our views. This year, several Morgan Stanley economists have changed their calls on central bank policies given higher than expected inflation and shifting central bank reaction functions.

 

Our monetary policy projections have become more hawkish for central banks in emerging markets, mostly. But earlier this week, our projection for Federal Reserve policy became more hawkish as well. Our economists now see the Fed raising rates twice next year, whereas before they didn't see the Fed raising rates at all.

 

Does this change alter our view on how macro markets will move next year?

 

Well, it doesn't change our view on the direction of markets. We still think U.S. Treasury yields will rise and the U.S. dollar will strengthen in the first half of the year. But now we see a flatter U.S. yield curve and the U.S. dollar performing better than before.

 

What hasn't changed in our outlook? We still see macro markets dealing with variable central bank policies in 2022. Some policies will be aimed at outright tightening financial conditions, such as in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and now the U.S. Other central banks will attempt to ease financial conditions further, albeit at a slower pace than before, like the European Central Bank. And some will aim to maintain accommodative financial conditions like the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Bank of Japan.

 

For rates markets, we expect yields around the developed world to move higher over the forecast horizon, but only moderately so. And while we see real yields leading the charge, we don't foresee a tantrum occurring next year. We forecast 10-year Treasury yields will end 2022 just above 2%. That would represent a similar increase to what we saw in 2021.

 

As for the US dollar, we see two primary factors lifting it higher next year. First, we see a continued divergence between U.S. and European economic data. Recent U.S. economic strength should continue into the first half of the year. And expectations for future growth should stay elevated, assuming additional fiscal stimulus measures are approved by the U.S. Congress, in line with the Morgan Stanley base case.

 

At the same time, our economists have been expecting data in Europe to weaken. In addition, the worrying surge in COVID cases and the government responses across Europe pose additional downside risks. To be clear, we expect eurozone growth to be strong over the full year of 2022, yet it is likely that the economic divergence between the U.S. and Europe continues for a while longer.

 

This should keep the U.S. dollar appreciating against low yielding G10 currencies, such as the euro. We also expect further upside for the US dollar against the Japanese yen, driven by higher U.S. Treasury yields.

 

The second factor arguing for a stronger US dollar is central bank policy divergence. The Fed could strike a more upbeat and hawkish tone throughout next year, just as it has done more recently. On the other hand, the risk for the ECB is that its more hawkish members adjust their views in a more dovish direction, and then the ECB delivers more accommodation than expected, not less. If the upcoming Fed and ECB meetings this December go as we expect, they would set up the dollar for additional strength in the first half of next year.

 

As for higher yielding riskier currencies, we think four factors will support them. First, our economists forecast robust global growth next year. Second, they also forecast inflation will moderate from unusually high levels. Third, they see central banks maintaining abundant pools of global liquidity. And finally, we think this leads to only a moderate rise in real yields.

 

As a result, we have constructive views on the risk sensitive G10 currencies. In particular, we expect the Canadian dollar and the Norwegian krona to outperform the US dollar and lead the G10 pack. We see buoyant energy prices and hawkish central bank policies keeping these currencies running ahead of the U.S. dollar and far ahead of the euro and the yen.

 

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.

Dec 10, 2021
2022 US Economic Outlook: Gauging Inflation, Labor & The Fed
00:06:53

The US economy is in a unique moment of uncertainty but headed into 2022, shifts in inflation, the labor market and Fed policy tell a constructive story.


----- Transcript -----

Ellen Zentner Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ellen Zentner, Chief U.S. Economist for Morgan Stanley Research.


Robert Rosener And I'm Robert Rosener, Senior U.S. Economist.


Ellen Zentner And on this episode of the podcast, we'll be talking about the 2022 outlook for the U.S. economy. It's Thursday, December 9th at noon in New York.


Robert Rosener So, Ellen, we're headed into 2022. We're in a pretty unique moment for the U.S. economy. We see rising inflation, supply chain issues and uncertainty about Fed policy. Of course, we also had disappointing job growth in the month of November, but unemployment that is now not far from pre-COVID lows. So we've got a lot of different indicators sending very different messages right now. How should listeners be thinking about the U.S. economy right now and what that means for the outlook into 2022?


Ellen Zentner Yeah. So we're pretty constructive on the U.S. economy, and it may be surprising with all the uncertainties that you noted. You know, consumers are in very good shape. We've been talking about excess savings for a long time on these podcasts. Excess savings is still there as a cushion. Look, inflation is rising and continues to rise, but it's rising because demand is still strong. At the same time, we don't have enough goods of what people want to buy. So I don't think we're out of the woods yet for rising inflation. I think we're going to get some more prints here that are even higher. But we already are getting indications from our equity analysts that their companies are saying that their supply chains are easing. So I think, within just a matter of months, we should start to see inflation come down. And while households are telling us in our surveys that inflation worries them even more so than COVID, they're still spending. And we expect that as we move into next year, we're going to recoup some of that deferred demand from goods that are going to be available that weren't there before.


Ellen Zentner But the other thing that's really important for consumer spending is the jobs numbers, and you mentioned that, Robert, explained to people-- because this was the number one question we got after that jobs report: how is it that you get a headline number? That's so disappointing, but unemployment rate is that low? I mean, is it good? Is it bad?


Robert Rosener Yeah, it's a really mixed picture and a lot of different indicators pointing in a lot of different directions. So of course, we got our latest read on the labor market that showed a slower than anticipated rise in jobs. In the month of November, we created 210,000 jobs. That was less than half of what was expected, but overall, the report still had a solid tone. And one of the reasons why there are still solid indications coming from the labor market is that we're seeing continued healing from some of the biggest effects of the pandemic and that came through, most notably in November in labor force participation. One of the biggest shortfalls in the labor market has been the number of individuals who are actually actively participating in the labor force. We saw the labor force participation rate, in total, rise 20 basis points in November to 61.8%. That's still well below the 63.4% peak we saw pre-COVID, but it's notably out of the very sticky range it's been in since the summer. So we're seeing continued healing there. We're expecting that healing is going to continue, and that's going to be a very important part of this labor market recovery.


Ellen Zentner So what are you telling clients then that are worried about wage pressures and where those might go? Because participation, rising participation, does matter there. So what's our message?


Robert Rosener Well, much like the inflation backdrop, we're moving through a period of more elevated wage growth. There's been a significant amount of disruption in the labor market and alongside it, wage pressures have risen. But labor supply opening back up is a very important way that we're going to see supply and demand come back into balance in the labor market. We just got data on job openings, which showed that aggregate job openings in the economy are in excess of 11 million. There's one and a half open jobs for every unemployed individual in the labor market. If we boost the number of people who are actively participating in the labor market, it's going to bring those supply and demand metrics in better balance, and it should help to ease wage pressures alongside that.


Ellen Zentner OK, that's interesting because, you know, one conversation that we have with our equity investors quite a bit is, you know, how should companies be looking at higher wage pressures? And of course, if you talk to economists and academics, right, we love to see higher nominal wages because that means stronger backdrop for aggregate demand. But the other reason why I really like higher nominal wages, they precede capital deepening. So if companies want to offset a higher wage bill, then you've got to find efficiencies and to find efficiencies, you've got to invest. So we're seeing companies invest in IT and equipment. We are calling it 'the global COVID capex cycle.' And that's really a bright spot in the economy for next year's outlook as well. So we would expect that to continue.


Robert Rosener So, Ellen, we talked about a lot there. We've got elevated inflation now, some of which may be passing as supply chain disruptions ease. We have labor markets that, on the one hand, look tight, on the other hand, look like they have scope for further recovery. What does this mean for Fed policymakers and how do they put together the puzzle of what's going on in the economy when they're thinking about normalizing monetary policy?


Ellen Zentner Yeah, it's not an easy job, is it? But Chair Powell is going to continue that job, as we've learned, and it's not going to be an easy backdrop for him. The Fed is concerned about what looks like more persistent inflationary pressures than they had previously thought. So no doubt, you know, you and I can sit down and pick apart the data and easily point to areas of inflation that are clearly temporary. But we've just not seen evidence of it as early as expected. And markets are starting to pressure the Fed on really giving more weight to price stability. And so we have seen a shift from the Fed. Last week, we heard Chair Powell say that price stability is important and only price stability would then beget maximum employment. And so really putting a lot more pressure on the price stability side of things. So we think at this upcoming FOMC meeting next week that we're going to see quite a hawkish shift from the Fed, both in their message around how quickly they are reducing the pace of their purchases. We think that they'll end that early. And then we'll see their so-called dot plot show an indication that they're going to start rate hikes earlier than expected, probably two quarters earlier than expected. And so I think that's a really important shift. And what it means is that going forward, our forecast that inflation will eventually start slowing in the first quarter will be very important in determining when the Fed actually does start increasing rate hikes.


Ellen Zentner So that was a lot to unpack about the outlook. There's many more details, and we'll pick out interesting parts for folks as we go along. A new podcast to come. And Robert. Thanks for taking the time to talk.


Robert Rosener Great speaking with you, as always, Ellen.


Ellen Zentner 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.

Dec 10, 2021
Michael Zezas: Congress Eyes Tech Regulation in 2022
00:03:22

Headed into next year, ‘Build Back Better’ legislation remains a work in progress, but Congress may find common ground in both parties’ concerns around one issue: tech regulation.


----- 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 US public policy and financial markets. It's Thursday, December 9th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

 

Congress continued to check things off its year end to do list this week, following up its funding deal to avoid a shutdown with an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. The Build Back Better plan, which features new spending on environmental and social issues backed by new taxes, remains a work in progress. So, this week we want to look ahead a little to an issue which could feature heavily in congressional debate next year: regulation of the tech industry.

 

Now, to be clear, we think the prospects for congressional action ahead of the midterms are quite low. But major legislation that drives sea changes in policy often is a multi-year process and you can learn a lot by paying attention to that process. Republicans spent a decade crafting the tax reform that would drive their actions in 2018. The same for Democrats with the years preceding the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank reforms of the banking industry. And this coming year could be a particularly educational one in terms of how DC wants to tackle the tech industry. That's because the industry could continue to be a popular issue for both Republicans and Democrats. Both parties share concerns about content moderation, data privacy and company size, though they differ on the approach to dealing with these issues. Crucially, they also share a political motivation, with a recent poll showing the tech industry's approval rating with the American public at 11%, one of the few institutions with a lower approval rating than Congress.

 

So what do we think we'll learn as Congress focuses on this issue? Policymakers are likely to update existing templates for regulating traditional broadcast media. That's because there are already institutions in place to do this, and it's easier for voters to understand the process.

 

A bear case for what this could look like comes from overseas. The United Kingdom's Online Safety Bill and the European Union's Digital Markets Act spell out some big and potentially costly regulatory challenges for social media companies. This includes requirements to allow users to easily move their data, disallowing product tie-ins and preferential product placement, and potentially, legal and financial liability for harmful content. If such measures were adopted in the US, our colleague and coauthor Brian Nowak estimates this could meaningfully crimp social media companies’ ad revenue, leading to underperformance of the sector.

 

But for now, we expect next year will reveal the U.S. is likely headed in a more moderate direction. Early legislative proposals tend to gravitate toward codifying data transparency, portability rights and content moderation. Here, our colleague Brian Nowak notes that internet companies have already begun investing heavily to develop internal infrastructure that deals with these types of regulations, potentially limiting the cost impact of new laws. That's a key reason he still sees value in this stock sector. But of course, that also means if we've read the policy direction in the US incorrectly, there's downside for the sector. So, we'll be watching carefully in 2022 to see if the U.S. continues to forge its own path or follows Europe in its approach to tech regulation.

 

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.

Dec 09, 2021
Special Episode: Early Vaccine Data on Omicron
00:05:41

With early data in on the Omicron variant, biotechnology analyst Matthew Harrison takes us through where we stand on vaccine efficacy headed into the winter.


----- Transcript -----

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

 

Matthew Harrison And I'm Matthew Harrison, Biotechnology Analyst.

 

Andrew Sheets And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about updates on the Omicron variant and vaccine efficacy. It's Wednesday, December 8th at 4:00 p.m. in London.

 

Matthew Harrison And it's 11:00 a.m. in New York.

 

Andrew Sheets So, Matt, it's great to talk to you again. We've had a lot of small pieces of data come out recently on the Omicron variant and its ability or not to evade vaccines. What's the latest and what do we know?

 

Matthew Harrison So, we've had three studies published so far. I would caution that the samples are small, and we have to take them as that, but we do have some interesting trends developing. So, the first one is: most of the data has demonstrated a substantial drop in what are called 'neutralizing titers' against two doses of the vaccine. And so that unfortunately means that protection against symptomatic infection for people that have had two doses of the vaccine is quite limited. We don't know exactly what, but it's definitely below or at 50%. What we've also learned is that a third dose can help restore some of that protection. We don't know the durability of that dose and we don't know how much protection it restores, but it does restore some protection. I think importantly, though, one of the things to remember is that most of the globe has only had two doses. And as we run through this potential spread of Omicron over the next few months, most of the globe will continue to only have two doses. So that data on two doses does suggest that there can be substantial reinfection risk for those that have had the vaccine.

 

Andrew Sheets So Matthew, you know, when we're thinking about these numbers and we think about vaccine efficacy, maybe dropping to 50%, what does that mean in terms of the risks versus current variants and then the risks if you're not vaccinated at all?

 

Matthew Harrison Right. So, I think there are two important things that I would say. So, the first is, what we're talking about here is symptomatic infection. Some of the other data that's come out has been on T cells. T cells are the second component of your immune system. They help kill virus once it's already infected in cells, and the T cell data looks like there remains substantial protection driven by T cells. And so, I think what that says is even though we're seeing substantial drops in protection against symptomatic infection, my hope continues to be based on these data and other data we've looked at, that protection against severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death could remain quite high.

 

Andrew Sheets So that seems quite important for both the public health outcomes. And then, as would follow the impact in the economy, is that it might be more likely that somebody with two shots of a vaccination regime would get some form of COVID, would show symptoms, but it might be still much less likely that they would end up in the hospital with severe cases, as the vaccines would still help the body protect against those more extreme outcomes.

 

Matthew Harrison That is my hope and based on the data that we're seeing so far, I would note, as we talked about at the beginning, that all of these studies that we're seeing come out right now are preliminary. You know, my hope is over the course of the next week or so, we're going to have a lot broader data set available to answer many of the questions we're talking about. And so, we're still going to have to, take our time with this because we don't have complete information yet.

 

Matthew Harrison So, Andrew, one of the questions I've been thinking about here is, and you touched on it in some of the questions you were asking me, is how does the market handle a substantial increase in the number of infections, but maybe a lower proportion of those infections ending up with severe disease than we've seen in previous waves?

 

Andrew Sheets Yeah, thanks Matthew. So look, I think this distinction between, you know, any case of COVID that shows symptoms and a case of COVID that results in somebody being hospitalized, you know, that is a pretty big distinction. And again, it's quite possible to see headlines and get quite worried about headlines that you know this variant evades vaccines and kind of to think that, "oh, then vaccines are powerless to stop it" when you know, I think as your research has rightly highlighted, if the vaccines can still provide a powerful mitigant against the most severe cases against hospitalizations, and you can still avoid some of the most severe public health outcomes that really would force much bigger restrictions. And those are the types of things that would really slow economic activity and really disrupt the economy, in addition to obviously having a really tragic impact on human life. So I think that distinction is important.

 

Andrew Sheets We obviously, as you mentioned, it's early and we need to watch it in terms of just more cases, you know, evolving again, I think we have to see how public health officials react to that. How do consumers react to it? Does it impact consumer behavior around the holidays? And you know, we do think U.S. economic activity and European economic activity are pretty strong at the moment, so they have some cushion. But obviously it needs to be monitored.

 

Andrew Sheets I think the other economy we need to watch is China, which is operating with a zero COVID policy. So, a quite restrictive policy trying to prevent any COVID cases. You know, if the indications are that we are dealing with now two more contagious variants: the Delta variant, and the Omicron variant, you know, there's a question of, does that complicate any sort of zero COVID strategy when you are dealing with a more contagious virus? And that's another big economic story that we have to keep our eye on.

 

Matthew Harrison Andrew, that's great. Thanks for taking the time to chat today.

 

Andrew Sheets Matt, always great to talk to 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.

Dec 08, 2021
2022 European Equities Outlook: Volatility Inbound
00:03:20

With investors expected to deal with an increase in volatility in 2022, our outlook for European equities remains strong into next year.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I’m Graham Secker, Head of Morgan Stanley’s European and UK equity strategy team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I’ll be talking about the recent volatility in asset markets and how it impacts our 2022 outlook for European equities. It’s Tuesday, December the 7th at 4pm in London. 


In recent weeks we have been arguing that equity investors would likely face an increase in volatility over the coming year. However, we hadn't envisaged this manifesting itself quite so soon, or that markets would face a double challenge from a renewed covid-driven growth scare and a tighter US monetary policy shift weighing on sentiment at the same time. To make matters worse, calendar effects are magnifying these uncertainties, with investors wary of adding risk - or alternatively encouraged to de-risk further - as we approach year-end. 


In the very short-term market volatility may remain high, however absent a severe hit to growth from the new variant we think this will prove to be an attractive entry point over the medium term for two reasons. First, European equity valuations look increasingly appealing. We can find plenty of attractively valued stocks here in Europe with 28% of listed companies trading on a PE below 12. 


Second, some of our tactical indicators are now quite extreme, with the number of 'bears' in the AAII investor survey now up to its 90th percentile – an occurrence that has historically proved a very strong buy signal.


Post this drop in both equity valuations and investor sentiment we think that the worst of this equity correction is now behind us - absent a material profit disappointment that we just don’t see at this time. Such a scenario would likely require a more extensive and sustained hit to activity from the Omicron virus and/or a sharp deceleration in end demand that could signal that inflation is morphing into a more stagflationary environment. 


Neither do we see any growth implications from the apparent recent shift in Fed policy. Here we think the biggest implications for equity markets comes from a potential increase in real yields which traditionally occurs at the start of a new Fed tightening cycle. Such a move would fit with our bond strategists forecast for a significant rise in US real yields up to -30bps next year, an outcome that would likely cause substantial disruption within equity markets. Specifically, higher real yields should increase valuation sensitivity and push equity investors to skew portfolios away from some of the most popular and expensive stocks in the market and towards those offering better value. 


At the regional level such a shift should favor European stocks over US peers as valuations here have already normalized. Looking out over the next 12 months our index target for MSCI Europe suggests 13% price upside from here, which rises to over 16% when we add in the dividend yield too. Within the market we prefer the more value-oriented sectors given the prospect of higher bond yields, attractive valuations and greater scope for earnings upgrades given that current expectations look unduly low. In particular, we like Autos, Banks and Energy – all three have outperformed the market in 2021 and we see more upside next year too.


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.

 

 

Dec 08, 2021
Mike Wilson: Why Have Stocks Been So Weak?
00:03:36

The past few weeks have seen weak valuations across equity markets. While many look to the Omicron variant as the main culprit, the correction may have more to do with the recent Fed pivot.


----- 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, bring you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, December 6th at 2:30 p.m. in New York. So let's get after it.

 

While there's evidence the past few weeks have been rough for equity investors, there's a lot of debate around why stocks have been so weak. To us, it seemed like too much attention had been put on the new COVID variant, Omicron, as the primary culprit. Our focus has been much more on the Fed's more aggressive pivot on tapering asset purchases. Last Tuesday, Fed Chair Jay Powell told Congress that it was time to retire the word 'transient' when talking about inflation. This was a significant change for a Fed that had been arguing inflation would likely settle back down next year as supply chains adjusted to the increased demand. As a result, the Fed is now likely to reduce its asset purchase program - known as quantitative easing, or QE - twice as fast as it had previously told us. In short, we now expect the Fed to be completely done with its QE program by the end of March. That is quite a speedy exit in our view and is likely to leave a mark on asset prices. Hence, the sharp correction in stocks last week, especially the most expensive ones.

 

Importantly, this move by the Fed is very much in line with our mid-cycle transition narrative that regular listeners should recognize. From an investment standpoint, the most important thing one needs to know about the mid-cycle transition is that valuations typically come down. In S&P 500 terms, it's typically 20%. So far, we've seen valuations come down by only 10%, making this normalization process only about halfway done, at least at the index level. The good news is many individual stocks have gone through a derating of much greater than 20% already. The bad news is that while some of the most expensive stocks have been hit the hardest, they still look expensive when normalizing for the period of over-earning these companies enjoyed in 2021. Sectors we think look particularly vulnerable include consumer discretionary and technology stocks. Sectors that look cheap are health care and financials.

 

Another consideration for investors is the fact that this White House appears to be more focused on getting inflation under control, rather than keeping the stock market propped up. This might give the Fed cover to stay the course on its plans to withdraw policy accommodation more aggressively. In other words, investors should not be so confident the Fed will reverse course quickly if stocks continue to wobble into year end.

 

Finally, the new variant can't be completely ignored and does pose a risk to demand. However, we always expected another big wave of COVID this winter as the cold weather set in. In fact, the recent spike in cases in the US are almost exclusively the Delta variant. In other words, we would be seeing this spike with or without Omicron's arrival. This is one of the reasons we've been expecting demand to disappoint in the first quarter and another thing that markets will have to deal with as we go into next year.

 

Bottom line, expect markets to remain volatile into year-end as investors are forced to chase and de-risk depending on the price action. In short, moves up and down will be accentuated by asset managers trying to keep up with their benchmarks. In such an environment, we recommend investors continue to keep their risk lower than normal with a focus on large cap quality stocks trading at a reasonable valuation. We expect that over the next three to four months, markets will give us a much fatter pitch to swing at as the Fed completes its exit from QE and growth bottoms.

 

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.

Dec 06, 2021
Andrew Sheets: For the Fed, Are Tapering and Raising Rates the Same Thing?
00:03:09

One of our most controversial calls for 2022, that the Fed won’t hike interest rates next year, faces renewed scrutiny amidst high inflation, signals on tapering, and today's employment report.


----- 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, December 3rd at 2:00 p.m. in London.

 

We recently published our year ahead outlook for 2022 and right there on the cover, near the top, is one of Morgan Stanley Research's most controversial calls: that the U.S. Federal Reserve will not raise interest rates next year.

 

Over the last week, more than one investor has pointed to this report and asked if it still applies. After all, inflation has been high, a situation that tends to call for higher interest rates to cool the economy. And Federal Reserve officials have been increasingly vocal about the merits of slowing their bond buying, accelerating the so-called tapering, even more quickly than they originally intended. Seeing the economy is strong and in less need of that additional support.

 

If the Fed is going to slow down and then stop its bond buying more quickly, the argument goes, surely higher interest rates must be right around the corner. But there's an interesting phenomenon here. When you talk to most investors, they view both higher interest rates and fewer bond purchases as pretty similar things. Both actions, at their core, signal less central bank support for the economy and for markets.

 

But maybe, just maybe, central banks view the world a little differently. For them, buying any bond, even fewer of them, still represents additional support for the economy. But in contrast, increasing interest rates... well, that's different. That's not additional support, that's actively tightening monetary policy.

 

At the end of the day, this question is up to the central bankers. But if they do see a genuine distinction between these two actions - a difference that isn't necessarily as apparent to many investors - a faster taper may be able to coexist with a later first interest rate hike. That, at least, is how we see it at Morgan Stanley Research where our forecast is for exactly that - the Fed to accelerate the pace of its taper but not raise interest rates next year.

 

But there's one more wrinkle in this story. While we think the Federal Reserve will ultimately wait longer than most people expect to raise interest rates next year, there's little reason for them to make that clear now. Inflation is still high and probably won't start to fall for several months. Economic data has been strong and today's employment report showed yet another decline in the unemployment rate. We see little reason why the Fed would want to commit not to take action right now, even if we think that's what they ultimately might do.

 

Why does that matter? It will mean that in the near term, the Federal Reserve will appear to be taking support away from the economy and for markets. After extraordinary intervention to support markets and the economy, the central bank training wheels are coming off, so to speak, and this impact may be uneven. We think this creates the greatest challenge for highly valued growth stocks in the U.S. and emerging market assets and suggests that investors be patient before trying to buy both.

 

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.

Dec 03, 2021
2022 Asia Equities Outlook: Key Debates
00:04:39

Chief Asia and Emerging Markets Strategist Jonathan Garner highlights the key debates around his team’s outlook on the region’s growth, policy changes and more in the coming year.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jonathan Gardner, Chief Asia and Emerging Markets Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the 2022 outlook for Asia equities and some of the key debates for next year. It's Thursday, December the 2nd at 7:30am in Hong Kong.

 

Since we published our year ahead outlook in mid-November, we've had the opportunity to debate the contents with clients in a number of formats, including presentations at our 20th Annual Asia Summit. So today I'd like to share that feedback and focus on some key debates.

 

Our first debate is, why aren't we more bullish on Asia equities given our economics team's constructive view on 2022 global growth? The answer is that mapping GDP growth forecasts into company earnings growth forecasts is problematic since headline revenue growth is only one driver of earnings per share growth. Margins and leverage are also crucial, and even then, the sector breakdown of earnings growth in listed equities does not always match that of the economy as a whole. That said, broadly speaking, we are more constructive on Japan earnings growth than Emerging Markets and Asia earnings growth, given stronger relative gearing to the US, Europe and developed markets GDP growth, and the broad sector mix of export earnings and global cyclicals in Japan.

 

We are anticipating earnings growth to continue next year and beyond consistent with continued global economic expansion. We expect 13% earnings per share growth from Tokyo's Stock Price Index “TOPIX" - in Yen - but only 8% for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index - in dollar terms. But it's fair to say that whilst we’re in line with bottom-up consensus for TOPIX, we're around 500 basis points below consensus for emerging markets. And in aggregate, this has a lot to do with the macro headwinds of our house forecast of dollar strength for Emerging Markets, but also specific sectoral headwinds which we anticipate in areas like China Internet and Asia Semis and Tech hardware in Korea and Taiwan. Another key factor to consider is clearly what's in the price, and we think emerging markets, which are trading around 13x consensus forward P/E - or around the 60th percentile of the 5-year range - still have some downside to valuations over the next year as a whole, whilst we are comfortable with Japan valuations.

 

Our second debate was, why we're not enthusiastic about buying back China equities. Here, we think risk/reward has not yet tilted definitively to the positive, particularly for offshore China growth stocks. We think earnings estimates still need to come down significantly further and similarly to Asia and emerging markets overall, valuations are not particularly cheap - at around 13x consensus forward price to earnings multiple for MSCI China.

 

For sure, China's monetary policy is gradually changing to be more accommodative, and some measures have been taken to re-stimulate property sector demand. However, the Chinese economy has developed downward momentum over the summer and autumn and still faces significant downside risk this winter as a result of prior policy tightening and factors such as COVID Zero lockdowns on the consumer and the impact of regulatory reset on private sector capital spending.

 

Our proprietary indicator of Global Multinational Corporations' sentiment, vis-a-vis their Chinese operations, has just reported its biggest ever quarterly decline and is now at the second lowest since we began our regular quarterly survey.

 

The third debate was, why are we constructive on emerging markets energy? Our answer is that the energy sector and energy sensitive markets are typically later cycle performers, and early next year will mark the second anniversary of the short but intense COVID-driven recession, which at one point marked the first time ever that oil prices went negative. We've come a long way since then in terms of demand recovery, but more is likely still to come if our commodities team is right that Brent can trade over $90 a barrel in 2022. This is the payback for underinvestment in conventional energy supply in recent years, mainly due to ESG concerns. So, it's an example of where our house view on strong global growth in 2022 and 2023 does lead directly to an investment conclusion for a particular sector. And MSCI EM Energy is trading at book value versus 1.9x price to book for the index, and with a free cash flow yield of almost 9%.

 

Before I close, there is a lot of discussion around the new COVID 19 variant, Omicron, and whether it changes our views. At present, we're in early days on this variant and as such, it doesn't change our already cautious view on the outlook for Asia equities.

 

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.

Dec 02, 2021
Michael Zezas: New Restrictions in Light of Omicron?
00:03:40

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has investors concerned about potential new restrictions, but the onus lies most on state and local governments who, for now, are awaiting more information on infection rates and severity.


----- 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, December 1st at 11:00 a.m. in New York.

 

Not surprisingly, our client conversations this week have been all about Omicron, the new COVID 19 variant that our biotech team thinks may increase infection rates and reduce vaccine effectiveness. In particular, clients want to know if the new variant will lead to fresh government restrictions and crimp the U.S. economic outlook. While the federal government gets much of the attention here, we think the key to sizing up this variable lies in understanding how state and local governments will behave. These are the jurisdictions that have generally driven mask mandates, indoor dining restrictions and other activities. And while there's much to learn about Omicron, here our initial assessment is that the bar is quite high for states and locals to take action, and that should limit downside risk to the economy.

 

What drives our view? In short, ever since states began lifting restrictions in late spring of 2020, their behavior has mostly been influenced by hospital capacity. Of course, some states lifted restrictions faster than others, but in most cases where restrictions were tightened, rising COVID hospitalizations and lack of bed capacity were cited as the culprits. With the availability of vaccinations in the U.S. and the high vaccination rate among vulnerable populations, risks to hospital capacity have lessened. That's because while COVID can infect the vaccinated, they are far less likely to get sick in a way that lands them in the hospital.

 

So that means, when it comes to sizing up if Omicron will lead to government restrictions on economic activity, it's less about whether vaccines will prevent infection, but if they can limit hospitalizations. While there's still not a lot of information, and thus outlooks could easily change as data on the new variant is collected, our biotech research team's base case is that Omicron is not more virulent than the currently dominant Delta variant. Further, the U.S. government continues to express the view that vaccines will provide protection against severe disease. Taken together, this would suggest that as long as the U.S. can sustain its vaccine campaign, including the current push for boosters, the economy may only face manageable headwinds. For fixed income investors, that means Treasury yields should still trend higher. And for credit investors, particularly in COVID sensitive municipal bond sectors like airports and hospitals, we see fundamental risks as manageable.

 

Yet investors should probably focus intently on what would change this view, as this ‘goldilocks outcome’ is mostly in the price of credit and equity markets already. And here again, we say focus on news about Omicron's severity, which is expected within the next few weeks. If data shows it to drive both more infection and more severe sickness, then hospital capacity could be challenged, leading state and local governments to reluctantly reimpose some restrictions. And of course, consumers could react to this signal and change their own behavior - thinking twice about that next flight, for example.

 

Yet perspective is important here, and even this negative outcome is more likely an economic setback than a disaster, as our biotech team notes that pharmaceutical companies may be able to turn around new boosters to address the challenge within a few months. That in turn means there's likely to be opportunities in credit and equity markets if this riskier case is the one that plays out. We'll, of course, be tracking it all here and checking in with you as we learn more.

 

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.

Dec 01, 2021
Special Episode: COVID-19 - Omicron Variant Causes Concern
00:09:22

Last week’s news of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has raised questions about transmissibility, vaccine efficacy, and virus mortality. Where does this variant leave us in the fight against COVID-19 and how are markets reacting?


----- Transcript -----

Andrew Sheets Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, chief cross asset strategist for Morgan Stanley Research.


Matthew Harrison And I'm Matthew Harrison, Biotechnology Analyst


Andrew Sheets And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about a new COVID variant and its impact on markets. It's Tuesday, November 30th at 2p.m. in London.


Matthew Harrison And it's 9:00 a.m. in New York.


Andrew Sheets So Matt, first things first, you know, we've seen a pretty major development over the American Thanksgiving holiday. We saw a new COVID variant, the omicron variant, kind of come into the market's attention. Can you talk just a little bit about why this variant has gotten so much focus and what do we know about it?


Matthew Harrison Sure. I think there are probably three major factors that have driven the focus. The first thing is there was clear scientific concern because of the number of mutations in the variant. And specifically, there are over 50 mutations, 32 of which are in the spike protein region, which is where vaccines are targeted. And then a number in the receptor binding domain, which is where the antibodies typically tend to bind. So the antibodies that either vaccines or antibody therapies create. And what we know when we look at many of these mutations is they're present in other variants: gamma, delta, alpha, beta and we know that many of these mutations in a pair one or two have led to reduction in vaccine effectiveness. And so, when they're combined all together, from a scientific standpoint, people were very concerned about having all of those mutations together and what that would mean in terms of vaccine escape.


Andrew Sheets So Matt, this is obviously a challenging situation because this is a new variant. It's just been discovered. And yet, you know, a lot of people are trying to figure out what the longer-term implications could be. So, you know, when you look at this with the kind of a limited amount of information, you know, what are the key characteristics that you're going to be watching that that you think we should care about?


Matthew Harrison There are probably three things that I'm focused on and we can probably touch on in detail. So the first one is transmissibility, and the reason for that is if this variant overtakes Delta and becomes dominant globally, then we're going to care about the two other factors a lot more, which is vaccine escape and lethality. However, if it's not more transmissible than Delta and Delta remains the dominant variant, then this may be an issue in small pockets, but ultimately will fade and continue to be overtaken by Delta. And so that's why transmissibility is the primary focus. And so what do we know about transmissibility right now? We have a couple of pieces of information out of South Africa. The first is they have sequenced a number of recent COVID patients. And in those sequences, the vast majority or almost all of them have been Omicron. So that suggests that it is overtaking Delta. But again, sometimes sequence results can be biased because they're not a population sample and they're a selection of a certain subset of people. The second piece of information, which to me is more compelling, is I'm sure everybody's aware of the PCR tests. There's a certain kind of deletion here in this variant that that that you can pick up with a PCR test and so you can see the frequency of that deletion. And that that frequency has risen from about a background rate of about 5% in the last week and a half to about 50% of the PCR tests coming back suggestive of this variant in South Africa. And so that's a much bigger sample size than the sequencing sample size. And so that suggests at least in the small subset that you're seeing greater transmissibility compared to Delta. Now it's going to take time to confirm that. And now that we've seen cases globally in a lot of countries over the next week or two, everybody's going to be watching how quickly the Omicron cases rise compared to Delta to confirm whether or not it's more transmissible than Delta.


Andrew Sheets This question of vaccine evasion. There's there has been some increased concern about this new variant that it might be able to evade vaccines. Why do people think that? And you know, how soon might we know?


Matthew Harrison Why don't we start with the timeline, because that's the simpler part. The experiments to figure that out take about two weeks. And just so everybody has the background on this, you need to take the virus, you need to grow it up. And once you have a sample of it, then you take blood from people that have recovered from COVID and blood from people that have been vaccinated that are full of those antibodies. And you put them in the in the dish and you find out how much virus you kill. And that'll tell you how effective the serum from vaccinated or previously infected individuals are against the new variant. So that process typically takes about two weeks. So then why are people worried about vaccine evasion with this variant? Primarily because of the known mutations that it carries and the unknown mutations. And of the known mutations that it carries, it carries the same set of mutations as in beta, and the beta variant had significant vaccine evasion properties that never became dominant, but it did reduce vaccine effectiveness by about six-fold. And so, I think the concern is with those mutations, plus a range of other mutations known to have vaccine evasion properties, having them all together has really significantly increased concern about how much that may hurt the vaccine's ability to stop infection.


Andrew Sheets And, Matt, so you talked about the importance of transmissibility, you know, you talked about some of the reasons why the concerns are higher around vaccine evasion with this variant. And the last thing you talked about was the lethality of this variant. And again, you know, what are you looking for there? Is there anything that concerns you with the information that we know and when might we know more?


Matthew Harrison So this is the hardest question because as is typical, you get a lot of anecdotal reports about what's happening with recently infected patients, but it takes a while, on order of four to five weeks, to really understand if there is a significant difference in mortality or hospitalization. So we have very little information around those factors. You have seen in the capital region, in South Africa, where you've where you've seen these rising cases, a rise in hospitalizations, but we don't know if all those cases are Omicron cases or not. And we haven't seen mortality at all. But again, with recent infections, it usually takes four or five weeks to start to see the potential impact of those infections on mortality.


Matthew Harrison And Andrew, I think one other thing which is important to mention is while we're while we're talking about severity of disease and lethality, we have to remember that in addition to vaccines, we do have now other effective treatments, including antibody therapies and oral therapies. And while some antibody therapies are likely not to work against Omicron, at least two or three of them are. And so you have you will have some effective antibody therapies. And then the oral therapies, given their mechanisms of action, should not be impacted. So we will have oral therapies in terms of treatment. So hopefully, even if we do get a scenario where there is significant impact on vaccine efficacy, this will not be like going back to the beginning of the pandemic, where we didn't have other effective treatments available.


Matthew Harrison Andrew, unlike normal episodes, maybe it'll be my chance since the markets have been so volatile. How has this impacted your outlook on the markets in the near to medium term?


Matthew Harrison I know inflation and the inflation debate and the impact of central banks on inflation has been a sort of key debate that I've heard you guys reflecting on.


Andrew Sheets Yeah. So I think probably the thing I should say up front is at the moment, we don't think we have enough evidence around this variant to change our baseline economic forecast to change that optimistic view on growth. Now what it might change is some of the timing around it, and I think we saw a little bit of this with the Delta variant. Where, you know, that was a big development in 2021, you know, people didn't see that coming. And you know, if you step back and think about this year, the market was still good, yield still rose, there was a lot of market movement, very consistent with better economic growth if you take the year as a whole, even though you had this variant, but the variant did introduce some kind of twists and turns along the way. So you know, that's currently the way that we're thinking about this new omicron variant that it is not likely or we don't know enough yet to be confident that it would really change that economic outlook, especially because we think there are a lot of good reasons why growth could be solid, but it might introduce some near-term uncertainty. You know, the interesting thing about, as you mentioned, inflation is that it could affect inflation in both directions. It could cause inflation to be higher, for example, if it, you know, causes shutdowns in countries that are important for producing key goods. And you can't get the things that you want, and the price goes up. But it could also drive prices down. You know, on last Friday oil prices fell by over 10%. You know, that is a big part of inflation certainly as most people experience it. Gas prices will be lower based on what happened on Friday. So that can drive inflation down so it can cut both ways.


Matthew Harrison Andrew, it's been great talking to you. Thanks for your thoughts.


Andrew Sheets Matt, always a pleasure to talk to you.


Matthew Harrison 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.

Dec 01, 2021
Mike Wilson: Markets React to Omicron
00:03:01

With last week’s news of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, markets sold-off sharply on Friday, but beyond the headlines, there may be other underlying factors at play.


----- 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, November 29th at 1:00 p.m. in New York. So let's get after it.

 

Last week, the big news for markets was this new COVID variant named Omicron. While we don't yet know the characteristics of this variant with respect to its transmission and mortality rates, some nations are already acting with new restrictions on travel and other activities. These new restrictions is what markets were fearing the most on Friday, in our view.

 

I'm also confident that markets were already expecting some seasonal increases in cases as we enter the winter months. This is why I'm not so sure Friday's sharp sell-off in equity markets was as much about Omicron as it was just a market looking for an excuse to go lower. In fact, equity markets had already been weak heading into Thanksgiving Day - a period that is almost always positive for stocks. This was before Omicron was a real concern, so why would that be the case?

 

As we laid out in our year-ahead outlook, the combination of tightening financial conditions and decelerating growth is usually not bullish for stocks. When combined with one of the highest valuations on record, this is why we have a very unexciting 12-month price target for the S&P 500. Finally, as discussed on this podcast for the past 6 weeks, stocks typically do well from September to year end if they are already up until that point. However, we felt like that seasonal trade would be tougher after Thanksgiving, as the Fed began to taper its asset purchases and institutional investors moved to lock in profits rather than worrying about missing out on further upside. With retail a large buyer during Friday's sharp sell-off, it appears that the institutional investors were the ones selling. In short, it looks like that switch to locking in profits may have begun.

 

Today's bounce back also makes sense in the context of a market that understands Omicron is probably not going to lead to a significant lockdown. In fact, we're already hearing reassuring words from the authorities making those decisions.

 

The bottom line is that markets were already choppy, with many higher beta indices and stocks trending lower before this latest COVID variant. Breadth has also been weak, with erratic leadership. High dispersion between stocks is another market signal that suggests the rising tide may be going out. Our view remains consistent - the investment environment is no longer rich with opportunity, which means one must be more selective. In a world of supply shortages, we favor companies with high visibility on earnings due to superior pricing power or cost management. We also think it makes sense to be very attendant to valuation and not overpay for open ended growth stories with questionable profitability. From a sector standpoint, Healthcare, REITs and Financials all fit these characteristics.

 

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.

Nov 29, 2021
Michael Zezas: A Step Forward for Build Back Better
00:02:40

The Build Back Better Act took a key step towards becoming law last week, signaling implications for fiscal policy and taxation as the bill heads to the Senate.


----- 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, November 24th at 11:00 a.m. in New York.

 

Last week, the Build Back Better Act took a step toward becoming law when the House of Representatives passed the bill along party lines. While the act now still needs to win Senate approval, likely with some substantive changes, there are two lessons that we learned from the House's actions.

 

First, U.S. fiscal policy will continue to be expansionary in the near term. That's based on analysis from the Congressional Budget Office of the Build Back Better plan, adjusted for some key provisions that likely won't survive the Senate. When added to the analysis of the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, it shows the combined plans could add around $200B to the deficit over 10 years - close to our base case of about $260B. But more importantly, the analysis suggests most of this deficit increase is front loaded, with around $800B of deficits in the first 5 years - toward the high end of the base case range we flagged earlier this year. This is the number we think matters to the economy and markets, as the durability of the policies that will reduce this deficit beyond 5 years is less certain, as elections can lead to future policy changes. And this number also helps drive some key views, namely our economists' call for above average GDP next year and our rates teams' view that bond yields will continue to move higher.

 

Our second lesson is that the corporate minimum tax looks like it has legs. The provision, also called the Book Profits Tax, survived the house process largely unscathed. While Senate modifications are to be expected, we expect the provision will be enacted. That means investors will have to get smart on the sectoral impacts of this new, somewhat complex, corporate tax. Our base case is that this won't be a game changer for markets. Our equity strategy team calculates a 4% hit to S&P 500 earnings before accounting for any economic growth. And while some sectors, like financials, appear most likely to have a higher tax bill, our banks analyst team expects most of this new expense can be offset by tax credits. Still, this new tax is tricky and untested, so fresh risks can emerge as the bill goes through edits in the Senate. So, we'll be tracking it carefully into year end.

 

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.

Nov 24, 2021
Andrew Sheets: Twists and Turns In 2022
00:04:32

Our 500th episode! From all of us at Morgan Stanley, thanks to our listeners for all your support!


An overview of our expectations for the year ahead across inflation, policy, asset classes and more. As with 2021, we expect many twists and turns along the way.


----- Transcript -----

Welcome to the 500th episode of Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, and from all of us here at Morgan Stanley, thank you for your support. Today, as always, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Tuesday, November 23rd at 2:00 p.m. in London.

 

At Morgan Stanley Research. We've just completed our outlook for 2022. This is a large, collaborative effort where all of the economists and strategists in Morgan Stanley Research get together and debate, discuss and forecast what we think holds for the year ahead. This is an inherently uncertain practice, and we expect a lot of twists and turns along the way, but what follows is a bit of what we think the next year might hold.

 

So let's start with the global economy. My colleague Seth Carpenter and our Global Economics team are pretty optimistic. We think growth is strong in the U.S., the Euro area and China next year, with all three of those regions exceeding consensus expectations. A strong consumer, a restocking of low inventories and a strong capital expenditure cycle are all part of this strong, sustainable growth. And because we think consumers saved a lot of the stimulus from 2021, we're not forecasting a big drop off in growth as that stimulus fails to appear again in 2022.

 

While growth remains strong, we think inflation will actually moderate. We forecast developed market inflation to peak in the coming months and then actually decline throughout next year as supply chains normalize and commodity price gains slow.

 

Even though inflation is moderating, monetary policy is going to start to shift. Ultimately, we think moderating inflation and some improvement in labor force participation means that the Fed thinks it can wait a little bit longer to raise interest rates and doesn't ultimately raise rates until the start of 2023.

 

For markets, shifting central bank policy means that the training wheels are coming off, so to speak. After 20 months of unprecedented support from both governments and central banks, this extraordinary aid is now winding down. Asset classes will need to rise and fall or, for lack of a better word, pedal under their own power.

 

In some places, this should be fine. From a strategy perspective, we continue to believe that this is a surprisingly normal cycle, albeit one that's moving hotter and faster given the scale of the drawdown during the recession and then the scale of a subsequent response. As part of our cross-asset strategy framework, we run a cycle indicator that tries to quantify where we are in that economic cycle. We think markets are facing many normal mid-cycle conditions, not unlike 2004/2005. Better growth colliding with higher inflation, shifting central bank policy and more expensive valuations.

 

Overall, we think that those valuations and this stage of the economic cycle supports stocks over corporate bonds or government bonds. We think the case for stocks is stronger in Europe and Japan than in emerging markets or the US, as these former markets enjoy more reasonable valuations, more limited central bank tightening and less risk from legislation or higher taxes. Those same issues drive a below consensus forecast here at Morgan Stanley for the S&P 500. We think that benchmark index will be at 4400 by the end of next year, lower than current levels. How do we get there? Well, we think earnings are actually pretty good, but that the market assigns a lower valuation multiple of those earnings - closer to 18x or around the average of the last 5 years as monetary policy normalizes.

 

For interest rates and foreign exchange, my colleagues really see a year of two parts. As I mentioned before, we think that the Fed will ultimately wait until 2023 to make its first rate hike, but it might not be in any rush to signal that action right away, especially because inflation remains relatively high. As such, we remain positive on the U.S. dollar and think that U.S. interest rates will rise into the start of the year - two factors that mean we think investors should be patient before buying emerging market assets, which tend to do worse when both the U.S. dollar and yields are rising. We forecast the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield to be at 2.1% by the end of 2022 and think the Canadian dollar will appreciate against most currencies as the Bank of Canada moves to raise interest rates.

 

That's a summary of just a few of the things that we think lie ahead in 2022. As with 2021, we're sure they're going to be many twists and turns along the way, and we hope you keep listening to Thoughts on the Market for updates on how we see these changes and how they impact our market views.

 

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.

Nov 23, 2021
Mike Wilson: 2022 Equity Outlook Feedback and Debates
00:04:00