Russia-Ukraine War: Investment Implications for Asset Allocators
The Russia-Ukraine war has highlighted the importance of portfolio diversification. Amid rising stagflation fears, the ballast offered by bonds has diminished. It may be time to consider increasing exposure to alternatives such as real assets.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought devastation and a humanitarian crisis that is escalating rapidly. How long this war persists and the nature of its ending is very unclear. And that uncertainty has been reflected in heightened financial market volatility as investors try to navigate the short-term ramifications of war and sanctions while contemplating the longer-term implications for investment portfolio allocations.
Financial market attention is firmly focused on the war’s growing impact and establishing what that means across asset classes. No corner of the market is unaffected. We have seen a classic risk-off response from investors, with equities selling off and government bonds regaining some of the recent inflation-driven losses. Meanwhile, the commodities complex has experienced some remarkable price action, reflecting concern around short- and medium-term supply dynamics.
The fast-evolving market conditions partly stem from a reassessment of interest rate expectations. As recently as the middle of February, markets were pricing in 175 basis points of US Federal Reserve rate hikes in 2022 against a backdrop of sustained high inflation. The consensus view now projects a more modest Fed response. Indeed, the market revising down its expectations to about 100bps of tightening suggest a belief that the Fed may choose to tolerate uncomfortably high inflation rather than risk damaging growth. Given this backdrop, the spectre of stagflation (economic stagnation and elevated inflation) looms large in the market’s mind.
How Concerned Should Investors Be?
Uncertainty overshadows every war until a resolution is achieved. But it’s worth noting how markets have reacted over the long term to previous US-involved conflicts. As Figure 1 illustrates, there was a wide range of returns for the US S&P 500 index in the 10-year period after war broke out – going back to World War II. A significant factor in the scale of each recovery was the economic and market backdrop at the time. For example, the 10 years after the start of the Afghan War encompassed the implosion of the dot-com bubble and the Global Financial Crisis, whereas the Vietnam War 45 years earlier came against a backdrop of the roaring Nifty Fifty – this resulted in very different return profiles. So rather than focusing purely on the nature of the war, investors should keep front of mind the health of the market and economy beforehand, and consider what scope governments and central banks have to provide supportive policy measures.
Figure 1: 10 Years of S&P 500 Total Returns Following Outbreak of US-involved Wars
The Asset Allocation Challenge
Ahead of the invasion, the world was emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. The robust economic backdrop and decades-high inflation meant that the efficacy of bonds as portfolio ballast was starting to come under scrutiny. Historically, falling bond yields would cushion balanced portfolios when equity markets dropped, but as yield levels have slumped since the global financial crisis, their diversifying qualities have become more limited. As inflation remains high and erodes the value of fixed income assets, the potential for lower yields to offset equity declines going forward seems historically low.
We have been telling clients that a prudent approach to the changed environment includes looking for alternative diversifying assets:
‘Safe Haven’ Currencies (US dollar, Japan yen, Swiss franc)
Long Duration US Treasuries
Crucially, it is important that investors don’t overly rely on data and assumptions that shaped the last two decades. Financial markets are in a different place today and regular stress-testing of portfolios with ‘White Swan’ events is recommended.
Inflation-Hedging Real Assets
Investors seeking to protect against a sustained move higher in inflation should look to real assets, which have historically performed well in such an environment, with higher beta and correlation to inflation than traditional assets (Figure 2).
The pick-up in inflation had already seen commodities and natural resources perform strongly and Russia’s invasion has stoked prices even higher.
The sector has been recovering and adjusting its business models to the new reality of the post-pandemic work environment and increased shift to e-commerce.
These may have already experienced much of the increase in inflation expectations. Shifting exposure to shorter-duration securities would be a way to mitigate interest rate volatility and better align with future inflation moves without giving up too much yield at current levels.
If inflation overshoots at sustained higher levels, gold may play a more significant role due to the negative effect inflation can have on broad equity and fixed income exposures.
Figure 2: Not All Real Assets Protect Equally
A Role for Emerging Market Assets
Clearly there are investment implications with regard to Russian assets in the current environment, given widespread sanctions and subsequent index changes. And for the wider emerging markets complex there are other considerations, including rising US interest rates that are traditionally a sensitive issue for EM assets. On the equity front, more selectivity between regions and individual countries is warranted. For example, we believe Chinese equities continue to justify consideration, not least because they have historically been positively exposed to US rates, and are trading around average valuations.
In the EM debt space, a similar situation applies with the local currency bonds most impacted (beyond Russia) being those with a close proximity to the war zone – Hungarian and Romanian currencies have been particularly hard hit. But as with equities we think Chinese Government Bonds can offer diversification and total return. High commodity prices will benefit some countries more than others, while the undervaluation of EM currencies, on an aggregate basis, offers a potential tailwind.
Uncertainty to Remain
War is not only about what happens on the battlefield. We have seen a remarkable degree of Western financial sanctions (an economic war) imposed on Russia and their full effects will take time to emerge. Whether the war is short-lived or not, it is difficult to envisage a quick return to the pre-war geopolitical landscape. It may be that a likely outcome is that Russia holds onto some Ukraine territory, but the trajectory of this war has been surprising in many respects.
For investors, a new normal of higher market volatility seems likely. Other implications could include sustained high inflation being allowed by central banks to run hot for longer, potentially leading to stagflation and raising the importance of inflation hedges such as real assets. The disruption experienced in some supply chains will likely remain for some time as the war impacts trade routes. While oil prices should subside as production gets ramped up in the US and elsewhere, food price inflation could linger longer given the importance of Russia and Ukraine food and fertilizer production.
The information provided does not constitute investment advice as such term is defined under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (2014/65/EU) or applicable Swiss regulation and it should not be relied on as such. It should not be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell any investment. It does not take into account any investor's or potential investor’s particular investment objectives, strategies, tax status, risk appetite or investment horizon. If you require investment advice you should consult your tax and financial or other professional advisor. All material has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. There is no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the information and State Street shall have no liability for decisions based on such information.
The views expressed in this material are the views of Altaf Kassam State Street Global Advisors through the period ended 3 February 2022 and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This document contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected.
The trademarks and service marks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners. Third party data providers make no warranties or representations of any kind relating to the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of the data and have no liability for damages of any kind relating to the use of such data.
Investing involves risk including the risk of loss of principal.
The whole or any part of this work may not be reproduced, copied or transmitted or any of its contents disclosed to third parties without SSGA's express written consent.
All the index performance results referred to are provided exclusively for comparison purposes only. It should not be assumed that they represent the performance of any particular investment.
Equity securities may fluctuate in value in response to the activities of individual companies and general market and economic conditions.
Bonds generally present less short-term risk and volatility than stocks, but contain interest rate risk (as interest rates raise, bond prices usually fall); issuer default risk; issuer credit risk; liquidity risk; and inflation risk. These effects are usually pronounced for longer-term securities. Any fixed income security sold or redeemed prior to maturity may be subject to a substantial gain or loss.
Investing in high yield fixed income securities, otherwise known as "junk bonds", is considered speculative and involves greater risk of loss of principal and interest than investing in investment grade fixed income securities. These Lower-quality debt securities involve greater risk of default or price changes due to potential changes in the credit quality of the issuer.
Increase in real interest rates can cause the price of inflation-protected debt securities to decrease. Interest payments on inflation-protected debt securities can be unpredictable.
There are risks associated with investing in Real Assets and the Real Assets sector, including real estate, precious metals and natural resources. Investments can be significantly affected by events relating to these industries.
Investing in foreign domiciled securities may involve risk of capital loss from unfavorable fluctuation in currency values, withholding taxes, from differences in generally accepted accounting principles or from economic or political instability in other nations. Investments in emerging or developing markets may be more volatile and less liquid than investing in developed markets and may involve exposure to economic structures that are generally less diverse and mature and to political systems which have less stability than those of more developed countries.
ETFs trade like stocks, are subject to investment risk, fluctuate in market value and may trade at prices above or below the ETFs net asset value. Brokerage commissions and ETF expenses will reduce returns.
Standard & Poor's®, S&P® and SPDR® are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC (S&P); Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC (Dow Jones); and these trademarks have been licensed for use by S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC (SPDJI) and sublicensed for certain purposes by State Street Corporation. State Street Corporation's financial products are not sponsored, endorsed, sold or promoted by SPDJI, Dow Jones, S&P, their respective affiliates and third party licensors and none of such parties make any representation regarding the advisability of investing in such product(s) nor do they have any liability in relation thereto, including for any errors, omissions, or interruptions of any index.
Distributor: State Street Global Advisors Funds Distributors, LLC, member FINRA, SIPC, an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of State Street Corporation. References to State Street may include State Street Corporation and its affiliates. Certain State Street affiliates provide services and receive fees from the SPDR ETFs. ALPS Distributors, Inc., member FINRA, is the distributor for DIA, MDY and SPY, all unit investment trusts. ALPS Portfolio Solutions Distributor, Inc., member FINRA, is the distributor for Select Sector SPDRs. ALPS Distributors, Inc. and ALPS Portfolio Solutions Distributor, Inc. are not affiliated with State Street Global Advisors Funds Distributors, LLC.
THIS SITE IS INTENDED FOR QUALIFIED INVESTORS ONLY.
No Offer/Local Restrictions
Nothing contained in or on the Site should be construed as a solicitation of an offer to buy or offer, or recommendation, to acquire or dispose of any security, commodity, investment or to engage in any other transaction. SSGA Intermediary Business offers a number of products and services designed specifically for various categories of investors. Not all products will be available to all investors. The information provided on the Site is not intended for distribution to, or use by, any person or entity in any jurisdiction or country where such distribution or use would be contrary to law or regulation.
All persons and entities accessing the Site do so on their own initiative and are responsible for compliance with applicable local laws and regulations. The Site is not directed to any person in any jurisdiction where the publication or availability of the Site is prohibited, by reason of that person's nationality, residence or otherwise. Persons under these restrictions must not access the Site.
Information for Non-U.S. Investors:
The products and services described on this web site are intended to be made available only to persons in the United States or as otherwise qualified and permissible under local law. The information on this web site is only for such persons. Nothing on this web site shall be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell a security to any person in any jurisdiction where such offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction.
Before investing, consider the funds' investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. To obtain a prospectus or summary prospectus which contains this and other information, call 1-866-787-2257, download a prospectus or summary prospectusnow, or talk to your financial advisor. Read it carefully before investing.
Not FDIC Insured * No Bank Guarantee * May Lose Value