Asset Class Implications of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Russia has invaded Ukraine. Our Franklin Templeton Investment Solutions team reflects on the human tragedy that is occurring as they also parse the data to understand the resulting economic and market implications. If the conflict remains protracted, it may produce a “low growth, high inflation” environment, in which case nimble management and keen attention to policy responses will be required.
- What happened? Russia invaded Ukraine, Western sanctions are escalated and geopolitical uncertainty increases.
- Macro Implications: Lower demand as energy prices increase, and higher inflation expectations. Both pose challenges for policymakers as interest rate tightening cycles appear imminent.
- Multi-Asset Implications: Geopolitical outcomes have varied over history. The risk is that we move into a higher inflation/lower growth environment, which can be challenging for risk assets.
On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine and shelled military installations across the country after weeks of diplomatic and military escalation. Our initial thoughts are to reflect on the human tragedy and suffering that is unfolding. The human toll is not lost on us as we analyze the economic and market ramifications of this conflict.
The invasion follows a precedent—Russia invaded the Georgian province of Ossetia in 2008 and, in 2014, annexed the (formerly Ukrainian) Crimean Peninsula. This is consistent with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions to reverse Russia’s waning power.
In response, Western countries imposed sanctions on affiliates of the Russia government. Also, troops were moved to forward positions as military tension escalated. Importantly, policymakers have been reluctant to directly target any additional Russian energy companies or bar Russia from the SWIFT payment system.
At this point, there are a lot of unknowns, including the scope and duration of the military campaign; Putin’s ultimate ambitions in Ukraine and Eastern Europe; the range and severity of Western sanctions; and the implications for geopolitical alliances. All these issues will have economic and financial implications.
Russia represents a small portion of global gross domestic product (2%) and capital markets (0.2%) but is a large commodity producer. Russia is responsible for 17% of global natural gas production, 12% of oil production, and is a major exporter of agricultural commodities (48% of global fertilizer exports), industrial, and precious metals.1 Notably, it’s responsible for 41% of Europe’s natural gas imports.2 Sanctions and supply related disruptions, including suspended certification of the Nordstream 2 pipeline connecting Russia and Germany, has driven commodity prices higher.
A supply driven rise in commodity prices has two key macro implications. First, demand is weakened as real spending power diminishes for households and businesses. Second, short-term inflation expectations are correlated with energy prices and may be pressured higher. The combination of weaker demand and elevated inflation expectations pose a problem for policymakers, as the policy environment was already tenuous before the increased geopolitical tension.
It remains unclear how policymakers will respond to this shock. The Federal Reserve’s initial comments suggest it’s staying the course of quantitative tightening and rate hikes this year. But the immediate and second/third-order impacts of the conflict remain undetermined. This suggests greater risk of a policy error and sustained volatility across major markets, given the uncertainty overhang.
Given the amount of uncertainty, we find it important to have a roadmap to navigate our portfolio asset allocation. Our analysis suggests that certain asset classes perform well in particular economic environments due to their characteristics and economic rationale (and calibrated with their historical behavior). As we gain more clarity on the evolving situation, our roadmap can help guide asset allocation decisions. As outlined earlier, if the conflict remains protracted, it may produce a “low growth, high inflation” environment, as highlighted in the bottom-right quadrant below, while a brief conflict may have a negligible impact.
More broadly, there is potential for this event to tighten financial conditions across many markets. That would be consistent with several previous geopolitical shocks, e.g., the 1973 Yom Kippur War and OPEC embargo; 1979 Iran-Iraq War; 1990 Gulf War; 9/11 and ensuing wars in Afghanistan/Iraq. However, in other instances, like the more recent Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, financial markets were barely impacted. Geopolitical events can have very different outcomes.
From a regional and sectoral perspective, commodity inflation is transferring income from commodity importers to exporters—for example, benefiting Canada’s economy at Japan’s expense. Firms in the energy and materials sectors may benefit versus consumer sectors. Europe’s economy and markets will likely be hit worst from the conflict, given its proximity and trade relations.
As we navigate these volatile events, we are increasingly looking to be nimble, and prudent, in making asset allocation tradeoffs over the coming months.
What Are the Risks?
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1. Sources: Federal Service of State Statistics, US Food & Agriculture Organization, US Department of Energy, as of 2020.
2. Source: European Central Bank, as of 2019.