Making sense of the markets this week: December 24, 2023

So, given that context, we’re pretty proud of how these predictions held up.

Inflation will continue to dominate the news

“People who are unemployed feel the unemployment rate: but everyone feels the inflation rate.

“Nothing gets people’s attention faster than paying higher prices for housing, gas and groceries. That’s what makes it such a tempting news story to keep reporting on. It also makes it almost impossible for politicians and policy makers to ignore.

“Until the inflation rate comes down, to at least 4% (it’s currently 6.8%), I don’t see most investment commentators talking about much else.”

Making sense of the markets this week: January 1, 2023

Grade: A

OK, admittedly, I started with a layup. Given how important inflation and interest rates are to the pricing of assets in almost every market, it was a high-probability bet that this would dominate markets in 2023. That said, it’s undeniable that the rapid pace of interest-rate rises took up most of the oxygen in the room this year. Over the last few months inflation has been coming down to the 3% to 4% level. And, as predicted, we’re finally seeing some other stories emerge. This week, for example, the Bank of Canada (BoC) announced a headline inflation rate of 3.1% and it failed to lead the news anywhere I looked (despite being slightly higher than predicted).

The Russian invasion remains predictably unpredictable

“None of the experts I read about a year ago predicted Russia would invade its neighbours and send geopolitical shockwaves reaching every corner of the planet.

“None of the experts I read about 10 months ago predicted the Ukrainian military response would be able to stand up to the Russian war machine for more than a few days.

“At some point maybe it would be best to admit that the experts really have no idea where this conflict is headed. Despite the tragic loss of life and catastrophic disruption of society, it seems to me that there is little evidence that either side will back down as we enter 2023. 

“If—and this appears the more likely situation—the war drags on or escalates, it becomes difficult to quantify the damage inflicted on economies, like Germany’s, which are so dependent on Russia’s energy. 

“Sure, demand destruction and the Green Revolution are coming… eventually… and at substantial cost. Even scarier is the unpredictable nature of the response to food shortages in desperate countries around the world. Generally speaking, food riots aren’t good for business (or humanity).”

Making sense of the markets this week: January 1, 2023

Grade: B+

It’s not fun predicting that war will be awful. The tragedy taking place in Ukraine continues to be a struggle for all parties involved, and I don’t think we’re much closer to a long-term peace than we were at this time last year. The war has definitely contributed to high food costs around the world and continues to be quite disruptive within specific industries.

That said, much of Europe adapted to new energy supply chains more quickly than originally anticipated. A new market equilibrium appears to have been established, but there is no question that the war continues to be a worldwide drain on resources and, more importantly, an absolute tragedy.

The much-talked-about recession will continue to be talked about

“At this point, I feel like we might forecast a recession forever.

“Whether a recession will ever actually arrive or not is another story. 

“With inflation in the U.S. falling to an annualized rate of 3.7% over the last three months, I’d argue we’re not only past peak inflation, but are actually well on our way to some sort of ‘new normal.’ With a substantial lag between when monetary policy is announced, and when its full effects are felt, we might not need a recession to lower inflation despite all of the headlines.

“Of course, I continue to refer to the fact that whether we see two quarters of -0.1%, and -0.1% GDP shrinkage, or a quarter of -0.3% growth followed by a quarter of 0.2% growth, the distinction of ‘recession or not’ is irrelevant. The first scenario is a technical recession by most definitions. The second scenario is just a bad quarter followed by a less bad quarter. Whether we have a recession or not really isn’t that important in the long term.

“Have the asset markets (such as stock or property markets) in which I’ve invested my money already anticipated the bad stuff coming by ‘pricing it in’?

“Almost assuredly.

“Remember that the stock market and the economy are not the same thing. Professional investors look past current events—they’re aware of the recency bias. They foresaw some rough waters ahead throughout 2022, but that doesn’t mean 2023 will also be so bleak.”

Making sense of the markets this week: January 1, 2023

Grade: A+

Given the gross domestic product (GDP) situation Canada announced two weeks ago, we’re comfortable saying we knocked this one out of the park. Considering how many experts were predicting a recession at the end of 2022 and calling for falling markets, the theory that markets had priced in a pretty rough ride was the correct one.

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