The second week of March was dominated by the crumbling fortunes of large US regional banks and European major Credit Suisse. Although this certainly dented investors’ risk appetite, many saw events as an opportunity – especially if major central banks dust off their playbooks from 2008-09 and 2020, opening lines of credit and secured lending facilities and cutting interest rates.
With the one-year anniversary of Russia’s attack on Ukraine looming, the latest US inflation data showing headline inflation down and core inflation up, the Bank of Japan weeks away from a change in leadership and Sino-US tensions rising, investors found it hard during the second week of February to sustain their earlier optimism.
Against a backdrop of market volatility, slowing economic growth in Europe and North America, gasoline prices and mortgage rates in the US firmly above $5 a gallon and 5%, respectively, continued fighting in Ukraine and ongoing Covid-related disruptions to China-based supply chains, investors pulled over $45 billion from EPFR-tracked Equity, Bond, Alternative and Balanced Funds during the third week of June.
Balanced Funds, also known as hybrid or multi-asset funds, are a class of funds that contain both a debt and equity within a single portfolio. These funds offer investors diversified exposure that can be adjusted over time — either on a discretionary basis or in response to predetermined markers — and are an important tool for target-date retirement planning.
Hopes that the impact of Covid’s Omicron variant will prove transitory, concern that it will not, and fears that inflation is here to stay whip-sawed global markets during the final days of November. Concerns about the latter issue were crystalized by recently reappointed US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s admission that price pressures could spur the Fed to accelerate the tapering of its asset purchases.
The fate of China’s Evergrande, the second-largest developer in China by sales, could have a knock-on effect on China’s real estate sector and the international markets, in what doomsayers have warned could well be another Lehman moment for financial markets.
The first quarter of 2021 saw the global reflation vs. inflation story develop. February brought with it a record number of flows into equity funds and as we move through March, our research team continues to compile EPFR-tracked fund flows and allocations data to ascertain whether global reflation will trigger higher-than-expected inflation.
Funds offering exposure to the most widely followed measure of US equity market volatility, the Chicago Board Options Exchange’s CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), are seeing a surge in flows as investors pencil in a much bumpier ride in 2021 than they’ve experienced since the 2008-12 post-financial crisis period.
It feels like a long time, but it was only three years ago when the VIX index, the benchmark for measuring market volatility, hit an all-time intraday low of 8.56. Although CBOE noted that it was a glitch, and November 27, 2017, ended with the VIX well above 9, it highlighted the degree to which volatility had gone AWOL.
Asset managers are responding to this demand. According to data from Informa Financial Intelligence’s EPFR, by mid-2Q19 there were 204 low-volatility funds globally with a total Asset under Management (AuM) of over US$130 billion.