Invasion fears, inflation concerns weigh on investors
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Corporates | Kennett Square, PA
All eyes are on Ukraine as concerns over an all-out Russian invasion reach new highs, ratcheting up pressure on global bond and commodity markets. In the U.S., strong retail sales numbers reinforced persistent fears of record-high inflation as the Federal Reserve signals imminent rate hikes.
Geopolitical headlines roil energy markets
Invasion fears spooked energy markets in recent days, pushing Brent Crude to a fresh multi-year high of $96.93/Bbl, though prices were slightly moderated last week as investors weighed prospects of new crude supplies from Iran. Natural gas also rallied, topping $4.78/MMBtu, amid high global demand and the supply-cut threat from Russia.
Russia, the world’s second-largest producer of natural gas and third-largest producer of petroleum products, comprises a significant portion of Europe’s energy market. Any invasion would likely threaten regional and global supply, placing upward pressure on prices as pipelines and supply chains become disrupted. Friday evening, President Biden reaffirmed fears of an impending conflict, revealing he is now “convinced” Russia has decided to carry out a full-scale attack “in the coming days.” Those concerns were all but realized Monday when the Kremlin ordered Russian forces into Ukraine’s Donbas region after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would recognize the region's independence.
Markets are also closely monitoring news out of Iran, as the OPEC+ member appears close to accepting a deal on its nuclear program. A lift on sanctions would resume Iranian oil exports, injecting an additional supply of approximately 1.3 million Bbl/day into the global oil market.
FOMC minutes, Fed signaling reinforced by strong consumer spending
Retail sales saw a strong increase in January of +3.8%, surpassing expectations of +2.1% and December’s figure of -2.5%. Online shopping increased +14.5% in January alone, while furniture and motor vehicle sales were also up month-over-month. The report highlights that Americans remain willing to spend, even in the face of persistent, record inflation.
Despite the strong retail metrics, investors reviewed last week’s FOMC minutes closely for clues on what to expect from the Fed in the coming months. Inflation remains the primary point of discussion as Fed officials mentioned it 73 times during last Wednesday’s meeting. Members acknowledged that inflation has been stronger and more persistent than anticipated and affirmed that a “significant reduction in the size of the [Fed’s] balance sheet would likely be appropriate.” Markets continue to price in an end-of-year Fed Funds rate at 175-200bps, with overwhelming expectations that the first rate hike occurs in March.
Yields retreat slightly and USD strengthens as investors seek safety
As investors consider the Fed’s next move, US 10Y yields retreated from their two-year high to 1.87%, as a heightened risk-off sentiment spreads amongst global investors and bond prices increase given heightened geopolitical tensions and inflation concerns. The U.S. dollar also remained strong as DXY topped 96.14 amid the turmoil and a global flight to safe-haven currencies. Many corporates are evaluating the collective impact of short- and long-term interest rate volatility, USD performance relative to global exposure profiles, and variability in underlying business forecasts in order to manage and communicate financial risk in the current environment.
The week ahead
Markets are expected to remain on edge as investors continue to closely monitor the Russian-Ukraine situation, and whether a diplomatic resolution to the crisis can be achieved. No Fed officials are expected to speak during the short trading week. On the data side, manufacturing and services PMI will be released Tuesday, revised Q4 2021 GDP on Thursday, and personal spending data on Friday.
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