Market Updates
17/02/2021
BlackRock Commentary: Fiscal boost is not a market risk – yet

Jean Boivin, Head of the BlackRock Investment Institute together with Elga Bartsch, Head of Macro Research, Vivek Paul, Senior Portfolio Strategist and Scott Thiel, Chief Fixed Income Strategist all part of the BlackRock Investment Institute, share their insights on global economy, markets and geopolitics. Their views are theirs alone and are not intended to be construed as investment advice.

The prospect of another large U.S. fiscal package has fed debates about potential economic overheating. We believe central banks for now have strong incentives to lean against any rapid rise in nominal yields even as inflation rises, supporting our tactically pro-risk stance. Yet rising debt levels may eventually pose risks to the low-rate regime. This is part of why we strategically underweight government debt.

Article Image 1

Sources: BlackRock Investment Institute and the International Monetary Fund, with data from Haver Analytics, February 2021. Notes: The orange bars show the discretionary fiscal boost following the GFC and Covid shocks. The GFC measure is captured by the change in the cyclically adjusted budget deficit in 2008 and 2009 calculated by the IMF. We use broker estimates of discretionary fiscal measures explicitly introduced in response to Covid for 2020-21. The yellow bars show the cumulative sum of the difference between actual U.S. GDP and where it would have been had it grown at its pre-shock trend rate prior to the Covid-19 shock and the GFC., based on the Refinitiv poll of economists on Jan. 22.

 

The policy revolution to cushion the Covid shock has driven a record surge in public debt. This is a huge fiscal impulse on its own – but even more so relative to the size and the nature of the shock. We assess that the ultimate cumulative economic loss – what we have long held matters most for financial markets – will be roughly a quarter of that seen after the global financial crisis (GFC). Yet the discretionary fiscal response today is about four times larger, we estimate. See the chart above. Not only is the policy response this time far more overwhelming, but a large part of economic activity will restart on its own once the pandemic is under control, in our view. This is a key difference with the GFC. The objective of the current policy response has been different: it is not to stimulate growth, but to provide a bridge to the post-Covid world. Policymakers, academics, taxpayers and markets have been surprisingly relaxed about the large increase in debt – also a stark contrast to the aftermath of the GFC, when the focus shifted to austerity.

Record-low debt servicing costs help explain more relaxed attitudes to high public debt levels. Public debt in the U.S. is set to reach a record 135% of GDP, according to IMF forecasts. This is twice as high as in the 1990s, but financing costs are only half what they were then. How long will the tolerance of high debt – and the low-yield regime – last? For now we see the new nominal theme in play: a more muted response in nominal government bond yields to rising inflation. Central banks have committed to look through above-target inflation for a while. They may find it politically fraught to raise rates, even if inflation starts to look more concerning. The scars from 2013’s “taper tantrum,” against a backdrop of even higher indebtedness, also create inertia. And if a tantrum were to occur, central banks would quickly be forced to lean against it, in our view. This is why we have conviction the new nominal regime will last for some time – and are tactically pro-risk.

We had stressed in 2019 the importance of clear guardrails around the joint monetary/fiscal policy action. Without them it would be politically challenging to put the fiscal genie back in the bottle and allow central banks to rein in inflation. Over time, this could challenge the demand for government bonds as safe and liquid assets. Investors today pay a premium for holding government bonds for these perceived benefits. We don’t expect central banks to raise rates any time soon. Yet government bonds’ perceived safety could eventually come into question if a narrative took hold that high debt levels and rising inflation make it more risky. Longer-term yields may then start rising as investors demand a greater term premium – the excess yield that compensates them for holding long- over short-term debt. Central banks would initially lean against any yield spikes, in our view, but their ability to sustain such policy would be limited. Issuance of low- or zero-coupon longer term debt – as governments lock in historically low rates – makes bond holders more vulnerable to losses. Example: A one percentage point rise in 30-year German bund yields would spark twice the price loss today than a decade ago, we estimate.

The bottom line: Recent events have strengthened our new nominal thesis: real yields have declined even amid the prospect of almost $3 trillion in additional U.S. fiscal support. This supports our pro-risk stance over a tactical horizon. Whether the low-rate regime lasts will depend not only on monetary policy but on the perceived safety of government bonds. Markets may eventually demand a higher premium for government bonds, even if central banks are more tolerant of higher inflation. This, and reduced ballast properties with yields near lower bounds, is why we strategically underweight the asset class.


Market Updates

Article Image 2

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of current or future results. Indexes are unmanaged It is not possible to  invest directly in an index. Sources: BlackRock Investment Institute, with data from Refinitiv Datastream, February 2021. Notes: The two ends of the bars show the lowest and highest returns over the last 12 months, and the dots represent returns compared with 12 months earlier. Emerging market (EM), high yield and global corporate investment grade (IG) returns are denominated in U.S. dollars, and the rest in local currencies. Indexes or prices used are: spot gold, Datastream 10-year benchmark government bond (U.S. , German and Italy), MSCI USA Index, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Broad Corporate Index, MSCI Emerging Markets Index, J.P. Morgan EMBI index, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global High Yield Index, the ICE U.S. Dollar Index (DXY), MSCI Europe Index and spot Brent crude.


Market backdrop

U.S. 10-year Treasury yields hit fresh 11-month highs above 1.2% as crude oil prices extended their rally and optimism was running high on the U.S. vaccine rollout and looming stimulus. Treasury yields have been climbing since September, but the magnitude has lagged that of the rise in inflation expectations during the period. Inflation-adjusted yields have been stable in negative territory – in line with our new nominal theme. U.S. stocks reached new record highs as global equities saw record weekly inflows.

Week Ahead

  • February 16th: Germany’s ZEW Indicator of Economic Sentiment
  • February 17th: U.S. industrial production
  • February 18th: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey
  • February 19th: Composite purchasing managers’ index for Japan, the UK, euro area and U.S.

Sentiment data in the U.S. and Europe could shed light on the status of the activity restart amid tightened restrictions. The preliminary Philly Fed sentiment data will be key to watch for signs of a manufacturing boost following renewed fiscal policy support. We expect the vaccine-led economic restart to re-accelerate this year as pent-up demand is unleashed.


BlackRock's Key risks & Disclaimers:

This material is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. The opinions expressed are as of Feb 16th, 2021 and may change. The information and opinions are derived from proprietary and non-proprietary sources deemed by BlackRock to be reliable, are not necessarily all-inclusive and are not guaranteed as to accuracy. As such, no warranty of accuracy or reliability is given and no responsibility arising in any other way for errors and omissions (including responsibility to any person by reason of negligence) is accepted by BlackRock, its officers, employees or agents. This material may contain ’forward looking’ information that is not purely historical in nature. Such information may include, among other things, projections and forecasts. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader.

The information provided here is neither tax nor legal advice. Investors should speak to their tax professional for specific information regarding their tax situation. Investment involves risk including possible loss of principal. International investing involves risks, including risks related to foreign currency, limited liquidity, less government regulation, and the possibility of substantial volatility due to adverse political, economic or other developments. These risks are often heightened for investments in emerging/developing markets or smaller capital markets. 

Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorized and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL.


MeDirect Disclaimers:

This information has been accurately reproduced, as received from  BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited. No information has been omitted which would render the reproduced information inaccurate or misleading. This information is being distributed by MeDirect Bank (Malta) plc to its customers. The information contained in this document is for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice nor does it commit MeDirect Bank (Malta) plc to any obligation whatsoever. The information available in this document is not intended to be a suggestion, recommendation or solicitation to buy, hold or sell, any securities and is not guaranteed as to accuracy or completeness.

The financial instruments discussed in the document may not be suitable for all investors and investors must make their own informed decisions and seek their own advice regarding the appropriateness of investing in financial instruments or implementing strategies discussed herein.

If you invest in this product you may lose some or all of the money you invest. The value of your investment may go down as well as up. A commission or sales fee may be charged at the time of the initial purchase for an investment and may be deducted from the invested amount therefore lowering the size of your investment. Any income you get from this investment may go down as well as up. This product may be affected by changes in currency exchange rate movements thereby affecting your investment return therefrom. The performance figures quoted refer to the past and past performance is not a guarantee of future performance or a reliable guide to future performance. Any decision to invest in a mutual fund should always be based upon the details contained in the Prospectus and Key Investor Information Document (KIID), which may be obtained from MeDirect Bank (Malta) plc.

Why choose MeDirect?
We are a specialised bank, focused on providing market leading savings products, investment services and wealth management. With low and transparent fees, make the most of your wealth and open an account today.