By an underwhelming margin, October’s headline number for US inflation came in below expectations of a 0.1% drop to 8%. But the reaction from investors during the second week of November to the 7.7% figure suggested that many believe the inflationary tide in the US has turned and peak interest rates will arrive sooner, and at a lower level, than previously feared.
Investors came into November anticipating a pivot towards Republicans in the US mid-term elections and fearing that October’s inflation data would set the stage for another 75 basis point rate hike by the US Federal Reserve after their December meeting. But the ‘red wave’ was blunted by a green breakwater of younger voters and price growth in the world’s largest economy last month slowed to 7.7% year-on-year.
In the US, November is – among other things – National Gratitude Month. For investors, however, it is already shaping up to be another month of twists, turns and developments that can cut both ways. Finding mercies, even small ones, in this environment is proving difficult.
Impending rate hikes from the European Central Bank and US Federal Reserve. The striking selloff experienced by Chinese assets. Mixed earnings reports. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine heading into its ninth month. That may be yesterday’s news, if flows to EPFR-tracked Equity and Bond Funds during the fourth week of October are any indication.
With rising prices and higher interest rates joining, for the moment, death and taxes on the list of life’s certainties, investors kept reducing risk and unshackling themselves from fixed income assets in mid-October. EPFR-tracked Bond Funds posted their ninth consecutive outflow, a run that has seen over $80 billion pulled out of this group, while redemptions from Alternative and Balanced Funds since the final week of August stand at $17 billion and $31 billion, respectively.
Risk reduction and defensive positioning remained high on most investors’ lists during the second week of October as the Nasdaq index it its lowest level since late 3Q20 and US 30-year mortgage rates tested the 8% level. With the UK’s bond market giving investors a reminder of what a collision between recession-fighting fiscal policy and inflation-fighting monetary policy looks like, missiles flying out of Russia and North Korea, the latest US core inflation doing nothing for hopes of restraint by the US Federal Reserve in early November and the third quarter earnings season on the horizon, investors had plenty of other reasons to tack towards safety.
In early October two of the major ratings agencies downgraded the outlook for British sovereign debt from stable to negative. For investors it was a familiar story. For much of 2022 stability has turned to instability, certainty to uncertainty and hope to fear across most asset classes. The result has been growing market volatility and a growing defensiveness on the part of those investors.
Investors, who were already struggling to digest the latest US interest rate hike, were confronted with more unappetizing fare during the fourth week of September. This included Italy’s marked shift away from centrist politicians, the sabotaging of pipelines connecting Europe with Russian natural gas fields, Hurricane Ian’s advance on Florida and a market-jolting budget from Britain’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The third week of September began with investors buying US equities on the dip and Ukraine’s army rolling back Russian invaders around the city of Kharkiv. It ended with Russia mobilizing the first of 300,000 reservists and short-term US interest rates at their highest level since 2008.
Devotees of buying on the dip were presented with several handsome opportunities during the second week of September as investors tried to decide which way key events and datapoints will cut.