Breaking insights on the economy, market volatility, policy changes and geopolitical events
IN ITS ONGOING FIGHT AGAINST INFLATION, the Federal Reserve (the Fed) on Wednesday hiked interest rates by .75% for the second month in a row — the largest two-month increase since the 1980s.1 This marked the fourth time the Fed has raised rates in 2022, after years of near-zero interest rates and low inflation.
In his remarks explaining the rate hike, “Chair Jerome Powell clearly stated the Fed will do what is necessary to break the back of inflation, and the markets applauded that commentary,” says Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. The S&P 500 rose by 1.8% on Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose .8% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index jumped 3.2%, boosted also by better-than-anticipated earnings reports from some tech companies.2
Following Wednesday’s Fed announcement, the Bureau of Economic Analysis on Thursday reported that U.S. GDP dropped by .9% in the second quarter, the second quarterly decrease in a row, surprising economists who had expected a slight increase.3 While two significant consecutive declines in GDP often signal a recession, “technically, we’re not there yet,” believes Hyzy. “But the probability is rising for a mild recession later this year or early next year,” he says.
At least initially, markets shrugged off the GDP news and talk of a potential recession, with the S&P 500 gaining another 1.2% on Thursday, and the Dow and the Nasdaq posting similar gains.4 In part, this could reflect that markets are concerned mainly with inflation and are already pricing in the impact the Fed’s higher rates and tighter money supply would have on GDP, Hyzy believes.
In his announcement, Powell signaled the possibility of another large increase at the Fed’s next meeting in September, saying that the decision will depend on the data we get between now and then. “We foresee rate hikes continuing to the end of the year and most likely into the beginning of next year,” Hyzy says. “If the Fed pauses these increases, it will be because its preferred measure of inflation, the core PCE price index, is coming down aggressively,” he adds. The core PCE (for “personal consumption expenditures”) excludes two items, food and energy, where rising prices have hit consumers hardest. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which includes food and energy, will need to drop before markets — and consumers — believe inflation has turned a corner, Hyzy believes.
Until a clearer picture emerges on inflation and the economy, investors should think defensively for the second half of the year, Hyzy suggests. That could mean lowering your exposure to high-growth stocks such as technology, and increasing proportionally to high-quality, dividend-producing companies in areas such as utilities and healthcare.
While rising rates may lower the value of bonds you own, their higher yields are making bond income attractive for the first time in years, he adds. An approach known as bond laddering, investing in bonds that mature at different times, could help you capture rates as they rise, to maximize your income.
For more ideas for the balance of the year, watch “Midyear outlook: Turning volatility into opportunity.” And tune in weekly to the CIO Market Update audiocast series.
THE LATEST INFLATION NUMBERS, announced this week, came in much higher than expected. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 9.1% from June 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s the largest such increase in more than 40 years.1 A 41.6% surge in energy prices helped drive the increase, followed by a 10.4% increase in food prices. Coming on the heels of May’s 8.6% year-over-year rise, the June news dampened hopes that the economy might be ready to turn the corner on inflation.
But the inflation news hasn’t been all bad. The BLS report showed core inflation (not counting energy and food) increasing by only 5.9% over June 2021, a slightly lower rate of growth than May’s 6%.2 And despite the June energy numbers, gas prices nationally have declined somewhat in recent weeks. Yet volatile energy prices could easily go higher again, and the sharp jump in the CPI virtually guarantees that the Federal Reserve (the Fed) will continue raising interest rates and tightening the money supply in hopes of bringing inflation under control.
“The most important question right now,” says Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank, “is how much corporate earnings could contract as the Fed continues its tightening policies.”
The Fed is likely to raise rates by another .75% at the end of July, with some analysts weighing the possibility of a full 1% hike — a move the Bank of Canada just made.3 What that might mean for the economy is uncertain. Consumer spending, while declining in the face of higher prices, is not as yet signaling a recession, believes Hyzy.
“We are in a ‘reset’ period, moving from maximum liquidity and low rates to minimum liquidity and higher rates,” Hyzy says. If inflation turns the corner soon, “we believe that corporate earnings will decline at most by 10%, after which a new cycle of economic growth could begin.” But if the Fed is forced to continue raising rates and tightening the money supply, the economy could tip towards recession, with a much steeper drop in earnings. “Markets are likely to remain volatile until the inflation, interest rate and liquidity picture becomes clearer through the second half of 2022,” Hyzy adds.
For the time being, we suggest a more defensive approach to investing, says Hyzy. “In our multi-asset portfolios we have lowered equities to neutral from slightly overweight by lowering exposure to small-cap stocks,” he notes. Investors may want to consider defensive stocks such as consumer staples and utilities and less emphasis on areas such as materials and consumer discretionary stock. Bonds remain important for diversification, and amid rising rates, “bond yields will become attractive again.”
Hyzy adds, “We believe that in the next six to nine months, long-term investors may see a very important buying opportunity,” with the ability to add securities at attractive prices at the onset of a new growth period.
For more CIO insights and strategies to consider, read “From the Great Separation to the Reset Period,” and “Fine-tune Your Investments for Rising Inflation — and Slower Growth.”
SO WHAT JUST HAPPENED? The Federal Reserve (the Fed) raised interest rates by .75% on Wednesday — the largest interest-rate hike since 1994.1 After years of near-zero rates, this was the third increase of 2022, following a .50% hike in May and a .25% hike in March, with more likely as the Fed works to stem increasingly stubborn inflation. “We expect a similar increase in July, along with tougher talk from the Fed about monetary tightening,” says Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank.
Wednesday’s increase came amid sharp market volatility, driven by last week’s news of 8.6% year-over-year inflation for May. “This has led to selling by investors who hoped for a sign that consumer prices had peaked,” Hyzy says. On Monday, the S&P 500 dropped into bear market territory, down more than 20% from its highs in January 2021.2 A recent Capital Market Outlook report from the Chief Investment Office outlines the possible path for inflation and the economy during the balance of 2022 and beyond.
Volatility, like rate increases, is likely to continue throughout 2022 as markets look for stability, Hyzy says. “Looking out at the landscape, we see some good news, some bad news and one ‘wild card’ we’ll be watching for in the second half of the year,” Hyzy says.
The good news. Despite the worrying May numbers regarding consumer prices, “We do see some signs that inflation may have peaked,” Hyzy says. “We’re seeing a slowdown in U.S. wage growth, a backup in inventories and some softening in global purchases, and a deceleration in money-supply growth, among other variables,” Hyzy says. If borne out, these trends could lead to a leveling out of prices.
The bad news. Even if inflation stabilizes, it will likely settle well above the Fed’s target of 2% inflation, Hyzy believes. “This means the Fed will still have to be hawkish about raising rates, though how fast and how far remains unclear,” he says. Rising rates in turn mean a higher risk of recession, he notes. Yet some “tailwinds” — a fading pandemic, manageable levels of consumer debt and the need for companies to rebuild depleted inventories — may prevent that from happening soon. “While we are likely to see slower GDP growth, at this point we still do not expect a recession in the next year to 18 months,” Hyzy says.
A wild card. As recent events have made clear, inflation and volatility are difficult to predict with certainty. “The possibility remains that inflation could slow by more than expected,” Hyzy says. This could allow the Fed to pause or ease up on future rate hikes, bringing the stability markets seek.
Diversification and rebalancing remain essential guidelines for navigating uncertainty. “We continue to favor high-quality, dividend-paying companies, and the U.S. versus non-U.S., as well as diversifying across small, mid- and large-cap stocks,” he says. And as volatility continues, patient investors sticking to long-term strategies may find opportunities to buy assets at attractive prices.
For more insights from Hyzy on inflation, the economy and current market conditions, tune in to the CIO’s weekly “Market Update” audiocast series.
STOCK AND BOND PRICES plummeted on Friday after the latest inflation figures were announced, reflecting a higher than expected 8.6% year-over-year increase,1 and they continued their decline on Monday morning.
Periods of volatility can be unnerving — and can even tempt investors to get out of the markets. “Don't panic when these situations cause so much anxiety,” says legendary long-term investor Jeremy Siegel, the best-selling author of Stocks for the Long Run. “Stay the course, diversify and be broad-based.”
In this video conversation with Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank, Siegel shares ideas on how to maintain perspective during times of heightened uncertainty and points to the steady long-term upward trend that equities have maintained over the past 200-plus years. The two also share thoughts on the so-called 60 / 40 asset allocation, the current business cycle and what Siegel finds most encouraging about today’s younger investors.
Watch the video to learn more and also read our article 7 keys to getting through a prolonged market downturn.
GIVEN THIS YEAR’S HEIGHTENED VOLATILITY, many investors are reaching out to their financial advisors to discuss rebalancing their portfolios. As part of that conversation, if you’re 72 or older (more about that age later), you may also want to factor in any cash needed to make your required minimum distributions (aka RMDs) for the year.
“As you rebalance your investments — selling some assets, buying others — to better align with current market conditions, consider how a sale of stock might help you meet your RMDs for the year,” suggests Mitchell Drossman, head of National Wealth Strategies in the Chief Investment Office (CIO) for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. And if you’re selling at a loss, speak with your tax professional about how you can use the loss to offset any capital gains.
The regulations controlling RMDs are complex. “Americans often struggle to adhere to a dizzying array of RMD rules, codified in 2019’s SECURE Act,” says Drossman. A new CIO Wealth Strategy Report, “IRAs: Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs),” could help you better understand these requirements and avoid potentially costly penalties. Among the questions covered in the report:
Currently, 72 is the age at which you must begin taking RMDs from tax-advantaged retirement accounts such as traditional IRAs and 401(k)s — but for the year in which you turn 72, you can wait until April 1 of the following year to take the distribution. Be sure to weigh the advantages of delaying against the cost of bunching more income (with potentially higher taxes) into the following year. After that first year, “generally, you must withdraw your RMDs by December 31,” notes Drossman. Whatever your age, don’t miss the deadline, he adds. “You could be subject to a penalty.”
You may be able to postpone taking RMDs a while longer if a bill recently passed by the House, now before the Senate, becomes law later this year. Among a host of provisions aimed at encouraging increased retirement savings for people of all ages, the bill (dubbed SECURE Act 2.0) would allow savers to wait until age 73 to begin taking RMDs.1 And by 2033, the age would rise to 75. Those extra years could give your assets more time to grow federally tax free. For more on what the bill may contain, read “The Winding Road to Retirement,” from Bank of America Institute.
There are two methods for calculating this figure. “The first, using the Uniform Table, applies unless your sole primary beneficiary is a spouse who is more than 10 years younger than you are,” Drossman says. In that case, you would use the Joint and Last Survivor Table, enabling you to take smaller RMDs. Given the complexities involved, it’s a good idea to consult your tax specialist and financial advisor before making any RMD decisions, Drossman advises.
For insights on how to use any losses you experience when selling assets to offset capital gains, read “Tax-Loss Harvesting and Personal Indexing: An Effective Portfolio Strategy During Volatile Market Environments.”
SLOWER GROWTH, RISING INTEREST RATES and ongoing market volatility in 2022 have raised concerns about a possible recession — defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research as “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and lasts more than a few months.” “Though we continue to believe economic expansion will remain intact, we’re closely monitoring several key risk factors,” says Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank.
Hyzy and others in the Chief Investment Office (CIO) are using a “recession indicator” they developed prior to the 2020 pandemic-related recession. The indicator (updated monthly) arrives at a single measure of recession risk by looking at four key economic factors:
The CIO team compares current data from those four areas with historical data to estimate the likelihood that a recession is imminent or underway. “Historically, recessions have started within a few months of, or contemporaneous with, the composite indicator surpassing a 50% threshold, which we classify as ‘extreme recession risk,’” says Ehiwario Efeyini, director and senior market strategy analyst, Chief Investment Office, Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. That hasn’t happened yet, in spite of all of the troubling headlines. The CIO believes that “data from recent months imply low recession risk at present, with no single factor in elevated or extreme territory.”
Despite recent volatility in equity markets, the unemployment rate has held steady, just above a 50-year low. And while inflation has dampened consumer confidence, spending remains healthy. Moreover, monetary policy still appears supportive. “We still view Federal Reserve (Fed) policy as highly accommodative at present and are doubtful that the recent yield curve inversion foreshadows a looming recession,” Efeyini notes. (The yield curve inverts when yields on longer-term debt drop below yields on short-term debt of the same credit quality.) In fact, he points out, when the Fed funds rate is measured against the 10-year yield, the curve remains steep. “This suggests that Fed policy would still have to tighten substantially from current levels in order to reach restrictive territory,” he says.
Among the factors we’re keeping an eye on, says Hyzy, is whether the Federal Reserve will succeed in its delicate balance of raising interest rates and tightening the money supply to counter inflation without going too far and stalling growth too much. “There have been very few soft landings in history,” notes Hyzy. “Even if we don’t tilt into recession, what may result, in my opinion, is a ‘growth recession,’ with the economy transitioning from a period of very high growth and excess spending — what some people might call a sugar high — to a period where the economy continues to grow but at a much slower rate.”
As the CIO team continues to monitor the situation, Hyzy advises clients to avoid making precipitous decisions. Concentrate instead, he suggests, on maintaining a diversified portfolio, rebalancing periodically and investing towards your long-term goals.
To learn more about the CIO’s recession indicator, read “Assessing Recession Risk: The Recession Indicator,” in Capital Market Outlook.
SO, WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Amid ongoing market volatility, the S&P 500 briefly fell into bear-market territory last Friday for the first time since the start of the global pandemic in early 2020. A bear market refers to a decline of 20% or more from peak levels.
The latest decline reflects deepening investor concern over Russia and Ukraine, pandemic-related shutdowns in China, inflation and more, says Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. “Energy and food prices are beginning to affect corporate margins and consumer sentiment,” he adds. Potential U.S. midterm election volatility and the possibility of a slowing housing market as mortgage rates rise contribute to concerns.
“As this period of uncertainty matures, markets will be searching for signs of stability to finally bottom out and create a new base,” Hyzy says. Possible scenarios range from a “soft landing” to a “growth recession” (where growth continues, although at a sharply reduced level) to actual recession. A new Chief Investment Office Investment Insights report, “Five Stages of the Reset Period,” details a process that could restore stability to markets in the second half of 2022.
“For one thing, markets will be looking for concrete signals that corporate earnings do not enter a long period of decline,” Hyzy says. That news, combined with an end to the shutdowns in China and restoration of order in Ukraine, could help restore investor confidence and maintain the long-term bull-market trend, he adds.
Investors are right to be “on guard” during these volatile times, Hyzy says. Yet it’s important to keep things in perspective. “History tells us that even short-term recessions, while disruptive, don’t necessarily spell the end of long-term bull markets,” he adds. Thus, investors should avoid sudden, precipitous changes in their portfolios.
“It’s our view that this latest cyclical bear-market period should eventually converge back into the secular bull-market trend,” he notes. In the coming months, as the markets work through current uncertainties, you might consider dollar-cost averaging — investing steadily over time — to help protect against volatility and increase your chances of adding assets to your portfolio at attractive prices. He adds, “We prefer high-quality investments across both stocks and bonds.” And, with interest rates rising, “We believe that some fixed income yields are likely to become attractive again later in the year.”
For regular market insights, tune in to the CIO’s “Market Update” audiocast series.
In the video above, he offers insights on the competing forces — inflation and slower growth — driving today’s “choppy, saw-tooth kind of markets.” He also provides useful historical perspective and answers key questions the Chief Investment Office (CIO) is hearing from investors.
SO, WHAT JUST HAPPENED? The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 1,063 points by the end of the day on Thursday and the S&P 500 was down 3.56%. Coming on the heels of a 900-point gain for the Dow on Wednesday, the declines underscored the sharp volatility defining today’s markets.1
“The economy and markets are being dominated by a clash of two competing forces — inflation and slower growth,” says Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer, Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. As a case in point, Wednesday’s gains were powered by the Federal Reserve’s (the Fed) announcement that it was raising interest rates by 50 basis points as a step toward curbing inflation. Yet the drop a day later reflected the market’s deepening concern that the Fed may actually still be behind the curve when it comes to controlling inflation.
“We believe these market swings will likely continue, dominated by news headlines, until we see clear signs that inflation has peaked,” Hyzy says. As it seeks to balance those competing forces, the Fed would likely act quickly by slowing the pace of rate increases, if inflation appears to be dropping too fast. Global uncertainty over the Russia-Ukraine war and extended Covid-19 shutdowns in China are adding to the volatility, he adds. A new Chief Investment Office (CIO) Viewpoint article, “Clash of Competing Forces,” offers a detailed analysis of the current situation and what may be ahead.
With volatility unlikely to abate soon, investors can look for ways to remove risk from their portfolios, Hyzy suggests. While the CIO’s opinion continues to be a slight overweight to stocks versus bonds, investors might consider a higher proportion of so-called defensive stocks (those that tend to perform better amid turbulence) such as health care and utilities, and a decrease in more vulnerable sectors such as technology, industrials, consumer discretionary and communication services, Hyzy says. “Investors might also consider incrementally lowering their exposure to European equities, given the uncertainties surrounding the Russia-Ukraine war.”
As interest rates — for years stuck near zero — continue to rise, bonds may be worth a closer look, he adds. “The yield for two-year bonds is almost double the current equity yield of the S&P 500,” Hyzy says. “For some investors, bonds are becoming attractive again.”
Yet beyond those specific ideas, “Diversification and a long-term perspective continue to be the top priorities,” Hyzy says. Investors should ensure they have a broad mix of assets within and across asset classes and rebalance their portfolios as necessary.
For more timely insights from the Chief Investment Office, tune in to the CIO’s “Market Update” audio cast series.
SEESAW PLUNGES AND REBOUNDS in recent days highlight one of the most challenging and unpredictable market environments in recent memory. “It’s well known that markets, especially for riskier assets such as stocks, don’t like uncertainty,” notes Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. “And rising inflation and interest rates, the Russia-Ukraine war, COVID-19 lockdowns in China and other factors have created very high uncertainty,” Hyzy says.
On top of those pressures came Thursday’s news that U.S. GDP shrank by 1.4% during the first quarter of 2022, the first such setback since early 2020.1 Yet even so, the economy remains resilient, Hyzy believes. “Job growth continues at a healthy clip and consumer spending remains vigorous.”
In such an unpredictable environment, “Even if near-term trends look treacherous, staying in the market is the most important thing,” Hyzy says. “This uncertainty, even in the face of sudden downdrafts, does not change the principles of asset allocation and the benefits of long‐term investing and diversification,” he notes in “Uncertainty at Its Highest,” a new Investment Insights report from the Chief Investment Office. Here, Hyzy offers insights and steps investors could consider.
“Choppy markets are likely to continue until signs emerge that inflation has peaked, which we expect may happen in the second half of the year,” Hyzy says. To counter inflation, the Federal Reserve (the Fed) has sharply reversed its accommodative policies of near-zero interest rates and is likely to raise rates multiple times in the months to come. Still, the economy risks stagflation (a combination of rising prices and a stagnating economy) if the Fed’s efforts are unsuccessful; and, while Hyzy believes recession is unlikely this year, that, too, remains a risk.
For those reasons, investors may want to strengthen their portfolios against two forces at work today: volatility and inflation. “This is a new market regime that may require some adjustments to your portfolio,” Hyzy notes.
Because volatility is inherently unpredictable, investors should ensure that their portfolios are well diversified, both within and across different asset classes, Hyzy says. “Market gyrations in the coming weeks could provide opportunities to become even more balanced in your portfolio.”
High-quality investments also tend to hold up better during periods of elevated volatility. “That means large, well-run companies with strong balance sheets, healthy cash flow and consistent dividend growth,” he adds.
To help protect your portfolio against inflation, you might consider industries that are able to pass along higher prices to their customers, Hyzy suggests. “We also continue to emphasize areas such as energy and U.S. equities relative to the rest of the world.” Investors may also want to consider the financial sector, which typically benefits when interest rates are rising.
Adding some real assets, such as commodities or real estate, could also be considered, since these assets tend to rise with inflation, Hyzy notes. And for bond investors, “We are beginning to witness some attractive yield levels.”
Any decisions should be made in the context of your personal, long-term investing goals, Hyzy notes, adding that buying or selling out of fear or in hopes of timing the market are never good strategies. Investors may also be wise to avoid obsessively following the daily ups and downs, Hyzy adds. “The best approach is to stay invested and let the latest market challenges work themselves out over time.”
For more insights, watch “The Big Shift: New Market Forces and Ways to Prepare” and tune in to the CIO’s “Market Update” audiocast series.
AMONG A HOST OF TAX CHANGES called for in the Administration’s March 28 fiscal year 2023 budget proposal, the “Billionaire Tax” captured the most headlines. But a variety of other proposed changes could affect the returns of a far broader group of tax payers.
“There’s no certainty that these new taxes, designed to generate $2.5 trillion over 10 years, will ever come to pass,” says Mitchell Drossman, head of National Wealth Strategies in the Chief Investment Office (CIO) for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. After all, the $1.6 trillion Build Back Better bill, with its own tax increases, stalled in Congress last December. “For now these are only budget proposals, not even legislative proposals,” he notes, and an evenly divided Congress approaching mid-term elections is unlikely to act soon. “Still, these proposals provide insight into the Administration’s tax-reform and deficit-reduction goals, and some could be incorporated into future compromise legislation,” Drossman says.
Below are some highlights and their implications. For a full rundown, see the CIO’s recent Tax Alert, “Income and Transfer Tax Proposals in Administration’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget.” “You may want to discuss these ideas with your tax professional and financial advisor as part of your long-term planning,” Drossman notes.
One key proposal would raise the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6% from the current 37% on taxable income over $450,000 for married couples and $400,000 for single taxpayers. This proposal would essentially restore the top rate prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and thus it may be likelier to ultimately be enacted, Drossman believes. It would raise an estimated $187 billion.
In addition, preferential capital gains and dividend rates (currently topping out at 20%) would be eliminated for married couples and single taxpayers with more than $1 million in taxable income. This measure, along with the proposed change below, would raise $174 billion.
The budget also proposes tightening many of the rules by which families pass down wealth to next generations. For one, transfers of appreciated property, whether through gifts or as part of an estate, would be taxable to the donor (or the deceased’s estate) at the time of the transfer. The proposal would also limit the duration of generation-skipping transfer exemptions (a popular means of handing wealth down through multiple generations) to no more than two generations.
If enacted, it would place a 20% minimum income tax on those with a net worth above $100 million, fully phasing in at $200 million, and take the unusual step of taxing unrealized gains. “Current tax law imposes a tax only on recognized gains, with very limited exceptions,” Drossman says, meaning an investor who buys a stock for $1,000 and sells it a decade later for $10,000 owes a one-time tax on the $9,000 gain at sale. Under the proposal, the wealthiest investors would pay on gains every year, whether the assets were sold or not.
The Administration estimates the new tax would affect just 0.01% of households and “reduce economic disparities among Americans and raise needed revenue.” But critics have pointed to the difficulty of calculating the market value of unsold assets and questioned the constitutionality of such a wealth tax. “In our view, it is highly unlikely the Billionaire Tax would become law,” Drossman says.
In the above video, Bremmer shares his views on whether sanctions are having their intended effect and discusses the prospects for a possible diplomatic resolution. He and Hyzy also look at the economic impact of a refugee crisis that’s growing by the day and explore the prospects for the European and Russian economies moving forward. Then Hyzy discusses the potential impacts of the conflict on global financial markets, as well as what positive signs investors could be watching for from here, with Michael Hartnett, Chief Investment Strategist, BofA Global Research.
“The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has accelerated certain trends — supply chain disruptions, repricing in the energy and broader commodity markets, and even how the Federal Reserve adjusts its approach to tamping down inflation,” says Hyzy. “It has also accelerated our view that inflation could be with us for some time.” With so much uncertainty in the markets, Hyzy emphasizes that diversification is increasingly important. “I would encourage you to review your asset allocation regularly and rebalance as necessary, keeping your risk tolerance, goals and timelines, as well as your liquidity needs, in mind,” he says.
For more insights on the Russia-Ukraine conflict from the Chief Investment Office, read the March 14 Capital Market Outlook. Catch up with Hyzy’s previous conversation with Ian Bremmer in the March 9 “Market Briefs” post on this page.
AS WIDELY EXPECTED, THE FEDERAL RESERVE (Fed) on Wednesday raised its federal funds rate by .25%, the first such increase since 2018,1 in an effort to help control inflation that’s been rising at its highest levels in decades. Yet that process is complicated by a variety of forces — ranging from the Russia-Ukraine conflict to ongoing supply chain disruptions stemming from the pandemic — that could stall the economy. “The Fed understands that the bigger job at hand is to bring down inflation but still keep job growth humming,” says Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank.
Higher rates are part of an overall process of monetary tightening, with the Fed pulling back from an extraordinary period when it kept interest rates near zero and pushed trillions of dollars into the economy through bond purchases, all aimed at keeping the economy moving through the global pandemic. With consumers facing rapidly escalating prices for everything from groceries to a tank of gas to appliances, and employers paying higher wages for workers, the higher rates ideally would begin to cool down inflation. (For more on inflation, your finances and steps to consider, listen to the recent Merrill podcast, “Inflation: How high, for how long?”)
Several more rate increases are expected throughout the year, as is a continuation of the Fed’s policy of transparency, telegraphing future increases in advance to help minimize market volatility, Hyzy says. Though the Russia-Ukraine war may complicate the Fed’s efforts to tame inflation in the short term, Hyzy believes the underlying fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. For equity investors, the ongoing uncertainties suggest a time to emphasize quality — large, U.S. companies with strong balance sheets. Investors should focus on diversifying their portfolios both within and across asset classes, Hyzy adds.
“THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT is having an impact on us all,” says Andy Sieg, president of Merrill Wealth Management, as he introduces our latest webcast. “On a human level, we’re watching with great empathy. Closer to home, we share concerns about the impact this crisis is having on oil prices, inflation, the economy and markets.”
For insights on how the conflict could affect the world order and global economy — and how the crisis might be resolved — Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank, turns to leading geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and GZERO Media and best-selling author of “Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism.”
Then BofA Global Research’s Savita Subramanian, head of U.S. Equity & Quantitative Strategy and ESG Research, and Ethan Harris, head of Global Economics, join Hyzy to share insights on the sectors most impacted by the conflict and how investors can respond.
Watch this timely webcast now, and then read “Time to Remain Calm and Balanced” from the Chief Investment Office.
WHILE FIRST AND FOREMOST A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine adds another major disruption to investment markets already buffeted by inflation, potential Federal Reserve (Fed) interest rate hikes and persistent pandemic concerns. “The terrible situation in Ukraine is likely to keep many investors on the sidelines until there is some clarity on the immediate future,” says Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer, Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. But a better approach may be staying invested and focused on your long-term goals, he adds.
“The S&P 500 has fallen into correction territory, with a loss of over 10% year-to-date, and the Nasdaq 100 Index reached bear market territory,” Hyzy says. However, markets rallied somewhat in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s invasion. Such severe disruptions do not signal the end of the current economic growth cycle, he believes. “Corporate balance sheets and individual savings remain healthy, and as the pandemic subsides, another major wave of innovations is just beginning.”
A new Chief Investment Office Investment Insights report, “Uncertainty at Its Highest Level, but the Repricing of Risk Is in Its Final Stages,” offers insights on how investors can manage through short-term volatility and what it may take to help calm the markets.
Further volatility is likely in the weeks to come — much depends on the fluid and hard-to-predict situation in Ukraine. The first big step on the path to steadier market conditions in 2022 will come when the military crisis, however it unfolds, stops escalating, Hyzy notes. “We also need to see a full reopening of the U.S. and European economies as pandemic restrictions ease,” he adds. This could spur other key improvements, such as stabilization of oil prices.
Another key to calming the markets is how the Fed addresses rising inflation. Will it maintain a “diligent but measured” approach to raising interest rates and tightening the money supply without choking off the recovery? “This may seem like a lot to ask,” Hyzy says. “But these catalysts can work together, creating a chain reaction.” If that happens, markets could “grind higher” for the rest of the year.
As events unfold, “investors should focus on diversifying their portfolios across and within asset classes,” Hyzy suggests. When rebalancing their portfolios, they may find opportunities to add stocks of well-established, profitable companies with solid balance sheets and attractive valuations.
Promising sectors may include energy, materials and financials, as well as large, well-established technology and industrial companies with substantial free cash flow. “More defensive sectors, such as healthcare, are likely to provide some growth and stability,” Hyzy notes. “We also believe areas such as travel, leisure and entertainment are attractive, given our view of a full reopening of the economy in the coming weeks and months.”
Finally, in periods of market uncertainty, it’s always a good idea to check in with your financial advisor. Schedule some time to talk about how these insights might align with your individual time lines, risk tolerance and liquidity needs, and discuss any concerns you might have about ongoing volatility, Hyzy adds.
For latest insights on this evolving situation, tune in to the CIO Market Update Audiocast Series.
RUSSIA’S SWEEPING ATTACK ON UKRAINE this week confirmed many observers’ fears over the escalating crisis and left the world wondering what will happen next. Political and diplomatic circles regrouped, and markets reacted to the heightened uncertainty. On the first day of the attack, oil prices spiked to over $100 per barrel1 and U.S. and global stock markets dropped.2
For those watching from afar, the economic news drives home how quickly global events can hit home in today’s world. Amid deep concern for those directly engulfed in the crisis, individual investors may wonder whether and what steps to take to protect their finances. At times like these, it’s especially important to keep the potential economic and market impacts in perspective, says Chris Hyzy, Chief Investment Officer for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank.
“History tells us that geopolitical risk is rarely a reason to change your long-term asset allocation strategy,” Hyzy says. For one thing, despite rising oil prices, the U.S. economy is far less dependent on Russian energy than are other regions, particularly Europe. The United States is a major energy producer in its own right, and the current economy should be strong enough to endure temporary volatility, he notes.
Moreover, for all of its size and military power, Russia’s ability to affect non-energy financial markets is limited. A recent Investment Insights report from the CIO, “Russia/Ukraine Market Update,” notes the Russian economy ranks 11th in the world and its nominal GDP of $1.7 trillion in 2021 was slightly smaller than that of the New York metropolitan area. All of which suggests a strategy of sticking to one’s long-term investment goals rather than buying or selling out of fear.
At the same time, it’s important to prepare for short-term volatility whose severity may be difficult or impossible to predict as the conflict progresses. Now may be a good time to review your portfolio to ensure proper balance, with a broad mix of investments across and within different asset classes. “Diversification — which people often talk about, but don’t always practice — is what’s needed most right now,” Hyzy says.
Current conditions generally favor value stocks — good companies whose stock may be undervalued — and investors may want to look at sectors such as defense or energy. Those with short investment time horizons — say, two years or less — may want to consider owning a higher proportion of high-quality U.S. companies, compared to non-U.S. and reducing their allocation to riskier assets, he says.
For investors with a time horizon of five years or more, current volatility may offer a chance to strategically add investments at attractive prices. “We suggest that long-term investors buy into this weakness and continue to do that over time, with the idea that the current profit cycle is alive and well,” Hyzy says. “Five years from now, that cycle is likely to be even higher, with returns that benefit somebody who invests right now.”
For more insights, tune in to the CIO Market Update Audiocast Series and read the Investment Insights report “Uncertainty at Its Highest Level, but the Repricing of Risk Is in Its Final Stages.”
IT’S TEMPTING TO PUT OFF thinking about next year’s tax returns until December — especially now that the Build Back Better (BBB) Act and its proposed tax changes are stalled in Congress. But there are still compelling reasons to consider your 2022 bill even as you focus on your 2021 returns. “In some ways, tax planning at the beginning of the year may be even more important than year-end planning,” says Mitchell Drossman, head of National Wealth Strategies in the Chief Investment Office (CIO) for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. A recent CIO Tax Alert, “Beginning of Year Tax Planning,” details some points to consider with your tax specialist. Here are just a few highlights.
Instead of tabulating what you earned after the fact, “assessing your income at the start of the year could help you make better-informed decisions,” Drossman notes. Say, for example, you expect a sizable pay raise or increase in investment income this year. That added income could move you to a higher tax bracket, and if you own a small business, it could phase out your ability to claim a qualified business income deduction (QBI). “Running tax projection scenarios at the beginning of each tax year, with periodic updates, can help you avoid surprises and make timely adjustments,” says Drossman. You could, for example, move more of your assets into tax-exempt investments early in the year if you expect additional income that could move you into a higher tax bracket.
While the Build Back Better Act, containing an array of potential tax increases for high net worth individuals, stalled in Congress in December, the administration is likely to push for revised legislation for Congress to consider going forward. This legislation would likely retain a variety of potential tax changes while scaling down some spending provisions, Drossman notes. One possibility: A BBB measure ending “back door” conversions of after-tax funds in an IRA or 401(k) into a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k), where earnings can grow tax-free. “While potential tax changes remain uncertain, taxpayers planning such Roth conversions may want to consider doing so early on to take advantage of current rules,” Drossman says.
If you anticipate that investment markets will perform well this year, you might consider funding your 401(k) or IRA early in 2022 rather than incrementally throughout the year. “In a rising market environment, your contributions could have more months to potentially grow and compound tax deferred,” Drossman says. One possible exception: If your 401(k) includes an employer match, “you should consider the implications of fully funding your account early in the year,” he cautions. “In some instances, when your contributions stop, so will the company’s match.”
For more insights on these and other tax strategies, be sure to speak with your tax specialist, who can help you make decisions that are suitable for your personal situation.
FOR BOND INVESTORS, RISING INTEREST RATES, global monetary policy and uncertainty over taxes create a shifting landscape for 2022, says Matthew Diczok, head of fixed income strategy, Chief Investment Office (CIO), Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. A Fixed Income Strategy report from the CIO, “Global Monetary Policy and U.S. Fiscal Policy (Build Back Better),” offers insights on what could be ahead for fixed income and how you can manage through the uncertainty.
To counter inflation, the Federal Reserve (Fed) is expected to raise rates multiple times this year, starting in March, and the Bank of England has already done so twice. Yet central banks in Europe and Japan have been reluctant to follow suit as their economies continue to recover from the pandemic. When interest rates rise, bond yields follow. Given the interconnected nature of the global economy, investors should expect bond yields to climb, but only so high. “It may be difficult for 10-year U.S. Treasury rates to go substantially above 3% without similar actions by other major central banks,” Diczok says.
Last year, “the expectation of higher taxes sparked record flows into municipal bond mutual funds and exchange traded funds,” since muni income is free from federal and, in many cases, state and local taxes, Diczok says. Yet the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, which would have increased taxes for many affluent Americans, stalled in the U.S. Senate last December. “A scaled-down version will likely be introduced this year, but passage remains uncertain.”
Based on these and other developments, Diczok and the CIO provide the following insights for bond investors:
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Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.
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