2022 Year-End Recap
Post-pandemic inflation was the story for the global economy in
2022, as a combination of snarled supply chains and labor shortages were
exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sent energy prices
skyrocketing. Inflation reached a 40-year high in the US in the late spring,
but moderated somewhat in the second half thanks to falling energy prices,
fewer supply problems, and a slowly-but-steadily normalizing labor market.
If inflation was the fuel for the 2022 bear market, monetary policy was the match that lit the flame. At the start of the year, the Fed still had overnight interest rates pinned at zero, and Fed Fund Futures markets were pricing in just three 25bp rate hikes in 2022. Fast forward 12 months, and the Fed has enacted the equivalent of seventeen 25bp hikes, including four consecutive 75bp increases, pushing its policy rate floor to 4.25%. Central banks around the world have followed suit in the fight against global inflation, including the Bank of England, the ECB, and even the Bank of Japan. Looking ahead to 2023, markets are expecting a much more balanced monetary posture, with two small rate hikes expected from the Fed early in the year, and the potential for cuts on the horizon towards the end.
The US economy normalized somewhat in 2022, with growth
decelerating after a torrid +5.9% pace in 2021. GDP growth was mildly
negative in the first two quarters this year, but the US has avoided recession thus far, thanks largely to a resilient consumer. Over the course of the year, most gauges of manufacturing activity weakened, and housing decelerated sharply thanks to soaring mortgage rates. Looking forward, Albion’s expectation is that the Fed’s monetary tightening will ultimately cause the economy to enter recession at some point in 2023.
Driven by the Fed’s sharp pivot to inflation-fighting, US fixed income endured one of its worst years in history. Treasury yields rose by 200- 350bp as the curve became almost completely inverted, and IG credit spreads widened by more than 30bp. No sector of the bond market was spared the decline in prices, although the restoration of yield to decade-plus highs helps to brighten the outlook for fixed income investors going forward.
After reaching an all-time high on the first trading day of
2022, the S&P 500 spent most of the year in a bear market. Equity returns
were primarily driven by duration exposure, with long-dated growth sectors (especially technology) hit the hardest while dividend-rich sectors fared better. Energy was an upside outlier all year thanks to the dramatic rise in oil and gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. International stocks finished lower as well, with China giving investors a particularly turbulent ride in 2022 thanks to Beijing’s ever-evolving Covid and economic policies.
Albion’s “Four Pillars”
Economy & Earnings
US GDP rebounded to +2.6% in Q3 after falling
1H22, and corporate operating margins remain solid at ~12% on the S&P 500 Albion’s base case expectation is that the US economy will enter recession in 2023, putting downside pressure on earnings.
The S&P 500’s forward P/E of 17x is slightly above the long run average. More predictive metrics like CAPE, Tobin’s Q, and the Buffett Indicator (Mkt Cap / GDP) suggest that compound annual returns over the next decade are likely to be in the single digits. Most or all of this year’s P/E multiple compression has been driven by rates, rather than an expansion of the equity risk premium.
Rates have risen across the curve in 2022 in response to a shift in monetary policy. Fed Fund Futures are pricing in two additional 25bp hikes in 2023, with a “terminal” Fed Funds rate slightly below 5% for this cycle.
After reaching 40yr highs in spring of 2022, inflation has begun to moderate in recent months. Headline inflation eased over the summer on falling energy prices, and core inflation has followed suit in Q4. Goods inflation has fallen due to softening demand and excess inventory, while heavily lagged housing data is helping to keep services inflation elevated.