Real Assets Like Gold Are Poised To Benefit From Fed Tightening Cycle

Judging by the stormy volatility we’ve seen in financial markets so far in 2022, you’d think the Federal Reserve was getting ready to hike rates. In all seriousness, it now appears that liftoff will happen as soon as March, after which the Fed will reportedly start unwinding its $9 trillion balance sheet.

None of this should come as a surprise to most of you. Investors, in fact, have already begun teeing things up for a new tightening cycle as well as sticky inflation. 2021 was a record year for U.S.-listed ETFs, attracting over $900 billion in net flows, and the chart below, courtesy of CLSA, shows where investors were allocating capital in the final two weeks of the year. As expected, technology saw the heaviest outflows, as the sector tends to be highly capital-intensive and has among the most elevated valuations.

Investors Bracing for Sticky Inflation

It also makes sense for financials to attract some of the biggest inflows in anticipation of higher rates. However, some may initially scratch their heads to find real estate in the number one spot. Don’t higher rates increase borrowing costs and decrease property values?

Although that’s generally true, real estate investment trusts (REITs) have historically done well in periods of not just rising rates but also higher inflation, both of which are typically associated with economic growth. (Sure enough, the U.S. economy grew 5.7% in 2021, its best showing since 1984.)

This, in turn, implies greater occupancy rates. Property owners have also demonstrated strong pricing power and, as we all know, aren’t shy about increasing rents.

Staring Down $31 Trillion in Central Bank Assets

I believe real estate’s key appeal right now is that it’s a real asset, the same as commodities, metals, gold and other materials, which also saw positive flows in the last two weeks of 2021. You may not know this, but the U.S. is shockingly financialized, with financial assets at roughly six times the size of the economy.

U.S. Financials Assets Roughly Six Times the Size of the Economy

The size of the Fed’s balance sheet, as I said, has ballooned to an unheard-of $9 trillion, and if you include the assets of the central banks of the European Union (EU), China and Japan, you’re looking at a combined $31 trillion as of the end of 2021.

Balance Sheets of Four Largest Central Banks Top a Combined $31 Trillion

Taking all of this into account, I think it’s only prudent to have some exposure to real assets, which have inherent value outside of the traditional financial system. That’s especially the case now on the eve of rate hikes.