The Four Big Market Risks of Summer 2014

risk rischio

As Russ Koesterich of Blackrock points out, there are at least four big market risks (or “black swans”) that may give us some problems during Summer, let’s see them together

(original publication date: 05-23-14)

This is not so far from our forecasts made in January (apart from the Ukraine issue which, back then, wasn’t a real issue yet).

What Blackrock seems to believe is that these are the main potential black swans for the financial markets:

  1. Ukraine. There’s no way of knowing how events in Ukraine will play out, but what’s clear is that for now, the market is paying scant attention. Even during last week’s sell-off, market volatility, as measured by the VIX index, never got above 14. An escalation in Ukraine-related violence and more sanctions against Russia don’t appear to be priced into financial markets and would both likely lead to increased selling. 
  2. Europe. With many of Europe’s former problem children enjoying all-time low bond yields, it seems a strange time to worry about Europe. However, while bond yields have dropped, risks remain.  Sovereign debt levels continue to climb; growth, while improving, remains anemic; and the currency zone is flirting with deflation. Outside of the economic risks, there are growing political risks. The European parliamentary elections may illustrate just how much damage has been inflicted on the region’s main political parties. For example, while economic conditions in Greece have improved – from abysmal to merely poor – the political situation has not. The government is teetering, with a razor thin two-seat majority.
  1. China. My base case scenario is a modest deceleration in the Chinese economy. So far, while the country’s economic data has been weak, it has conformed to that scenario. That said, the Chinese government is attempting a difficult balancing act: slow down the real estate market and credit expansion without cratering growth. A sharp and unexpected drop in growth would not only pose a risk to China, but with China as the world’s second largest economy, it would pose a risk to the global economy as well.
  1. U.S. Bond Market. Why worry about interest rates with bond yields at six-month lows? Because, as everyone experienced last May, with rates at these levels, bond prices can reverse violently and abruptly. I would focus on two near-term and interrelated risks related to the bond market: a change in Federal Reserve (Fed) language and aggressive selling of bond funds by retail investors. Year-to-date, investors have been piling into bond bunds. However, even a subtle shift in the Fed’s tone could quickly change that pattern. The risk of retail outflows is heightened by the fact that many recent bond buyers are desperately seeking yield rather than committing to the asset class. A turn in rates could produce a quick turn in flows. (You can read more about the potential impact of the end of easy money in a new BlackRock Investment Institute paper I co-wrote, The Disappearing Act.)
We think that a commentary on the four topics are necessary here.1) If the Ukraine crisis got worse, we may actually see a big capital outflow from every country military involved.  At the moment, we’re only talking about Ukraine and Russia, but what if the US decided to make the big step ?

2) Europe is absolutely the biggest risk among the four now, a boom of anti-euro parties at the next european elections will cause a sell-off in the Eurozone. On the other hand, seeing a pro-euro party winning the elections easily would make Europe move from being a black swan to a white swan, which would make european bond yield go down, and down, and down…
3) Yes, China is a problem, but it will always be. Having at least 4 financial bubbles ready to burst at any time, we really think that the next world crisis will come from there. The only problem is that we don’t know when: it could be this Summer, or the next one, or next Winter, or whenever it will happen.
4) Does US bond market really represent a risk for financial markets ? Interest rates will rise when the Fed will tighten its policy, and this is not going to happen this Summer.
It may happen in Autumn when QE will be over, or, more likely, somewhere around 2015-2016 when interest rates will rise.

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