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.