Update on Impact of Russia/Ukraine Conflict on Financial Markets

QuintStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager and International Strategist

A past blog in March had commented on several scenarios of how the unrest in Ukraine could play out and the potential implications of those scenarios on financial assets.  Given the crash of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, an update seems appropriate.

We remain of the view that the conflict in Ukraine should have a limited impact but likely a longer timeframe to play out, potentially with risks to the downside.  Downside risks would materialize in the event of an overt Russian invasion or further separatist activity in other parts of Ukraine.

We mentioned 3 areas of potential impact: (1) fixed income, (2) commodity prices (particularly energy), and (3) emerging markets.  European equities could also be affected if tensions were to spiral and/or more serious economic sanctions were taken.

Fixed income (as measured by the Barclay’s Aggregate Total Return Index) has rallied nearly 2% since that time.  One factor in the continued rally might stem from risk aversion driven by geopolitical tensions.  However, fixed income has lagged the rally in riskier asset classes such as domestic and international equities.

Energy has staged a modest gain from March to July in spite of ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.  This modest impact comes in spite of not only Russian tension, but also ethnic tensions in Israel and Iraq, also a major oil producer.  Energy markets have been complacent about rising supply sources from elsewhere, including the United States, along with muted demand from many emerging markets and Europe.  Any increase in political tensions along with improved economic growth in the US and more energy-intensive emerging markets could presage an increase in energy prices.

Gold, another traditional safe harbor asset, has actually declined over -2% over this time period.

Emerging market equities have rallied strongly (over +12% during this time period), though Russian equities lagged this gain.  Select continental European equity markets such as Germany and France have been flat and lagged performance of other equity markets, suggesting a slight negative impact from uncertainty in Ukraine.

Barring a major spiraling in tensions, we would expect economic and market fundamentals to be the overwhelming drivers of asset performance rather than geopolitical tensions out of Ukraine.

 

Investment Insights Podcast – Unrest in Ukraine and Investment Implications

Stuart Quint, Investment Insights PodcastStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager and International Strategist

Stuart joins us this week to share some comments on the developing situation in Ukraine and its impact on investors.  Click the play button below to listen in to his podcast, or read a summarized version of his thoughts below.

Podcast recorded March 3, 2014:

Ukraine’s struggles are overwhelming. Political, economic, and now military challenges confront the country. Politically and militarily speaking, the U.S. and the European Union (EU) have few tools at this time and modest willpower to oppose Russian intentions in Ukraine. And given that the ruling government is merely a caretaker for the May elections, it seems unlikely there will be a bailout package offered by the International Money Fund (IMF) any time soon. Default on existing international and local obligations appears likely in the near term.

Russia is not without its own constraints, though, as the Russian economy is directly tied to Europe. Three out of every four dollars of foreign direct investment in Russia come from Europe.[1]  The EU also remains Russia’s most important trading partner with 55% of Russian exports destined for Europe.[2]

Let’s take a look at the potential scenarios: (1) Russian annexation of the Crimea, (2) negotiated settlement with later elections that would most likely bring about a grand coalition government, probably with leanings toward Moscow, and (3) military escalation (civil war, Russian forces occupy eastern Ukraine, either of which results in a smaller Ukraine or outright disintegration as a sovereign state).

So what investment implications might this have? (1) The near term is helpful for fixed income, with commodities benefiting from any disruption of supply (oil, gas) and flight to safety (gold), and (2) negative impact most of all for European (Russia supplies 30% of European gas supply[3]) and emerging markets (mainly Russia, but also other markets with the need to import capital could suffer from currency weakness and higher interest rates demanded by investors).

A negotiated settlement involving recognition of Russian claims in exchange for a roadmap to stabilize the rest of Ukraine would reverse many of these trends.  Indeed, a similar situation occurred when Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008, but the crisis in Ukraine has potentially more serious implications given its proximity to Western Europe and that it carries a large population of over 45 million people.[4]

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Quantitative Easing Ad Infinitum?

Amy Magnotta, CFA, Brinker Capital

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) launched an open-ended quantitative easing program yesterday. The Fed will purchase $40 billion of Agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) per month with no specified end date. The Fed will continue its Operation Twist program through December, which includes the purchase of $45 billion per month of longer-dated Treasuries.

The MBS purchases will continue indefinitely until the outlook for the labor market improves “substantially,” which is a different approach than previous easing programs. The Fed also used a communication tool, stating that short-term rates will remain zero-bound until at least mid-2015 (instead of late-2014).

The Fed did not express any concern with inflation, stating it will likely run at or below its 2% objective over the medium term. However, the market is not convinced and inflation expectations moved up significantly after the announcement.

U.S. 5-Year Breakeven Inflation Rate (Source: Bloomberg)U.S. 5-Year Breakeven Inflation Rate

Gold (white) and Silver (orange) Prices (Source: Bloomberg)

The equity markets reacted positively, with the S&P 500 Index gaining +1.6% on the day. An open-ended quantitative easing program may be even more supportive for equities. It is clear the Fed is not ready to stop easing until they see more meaningful and sustainable growth. They want to see more of an improvement in the housing and labor markets. Low rates are here to stay. While the Fed’s actions will increase the risk appetite of investors, we still need help from fiscal policy before year end.

The full FOMC statement can be found here and their updated economic projections here.