Goldilocks Is Dying
NEW YORK – How will the global economy and markets evolve over the next year? There are four scenarios that could follow the “mild stagflation” of the last few months.
The recovery in the first half of 2021 has given way recently to sharply slower growth and a surge of inflation well above the 2% target of central banks, owing to the effects of the Delta variant, supply bottlenecks in both goods and labor markets, and shortages of some commodities, intermediate inputs, final goods, and labor. Bond yields have fallen in the last few months and the recent equity-market correction has been modest so far, perhaps reflecting hopes that the mild stagflation will prove temporary.
For markets, this would represent a resumption of the “reflation trade” outlook from earlier this year, when it was hoped that stronger growth would support stronger earnings and even higher stock prices. In this rosy scenario, inflation would subside, keeping inflation expectations anchored around 2%, bond yields would gradually rise alongside real interest rates, and central banks would be in a position to taper quantitative easing without rocking stock or bond markets. In equities, there would be a rotation from US to foreign markets (Europe, Japan, and emerging markets) and from growth, technology, and defensive stocks to cyclical and value stocks.
The second scenario involves “overheating.” Here, growth would accelerate as the supply bottlenecks are cleared, but inflation would remain stubbornly higher, because its causes would turn out not to be temporary. With unspent savings and pent-up demand already high, the continuation of ultra-loose monetary and fiscal policies would boost aggregate demand even further. The resulting growth would be associated with persistent above-target inflation, disproving central banks’ belief that price increases are merely temporary.
The market response to such overheating would then depend on how central banks react. If policymakers remain behind the curve, stock markets may continue to rise for a while as real bond yields remain low. But the ensuing increase in inflation expectations would eventually boost nominal and even real bond yields as inflation risk premia would rise, forcing a correction in equities. Alternatively, if central banks become hawkish and start fighting inflation, real rates would rise, sending bond yields higher and, again, forcing a bigger correction in equities.
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