On Wednesday, the 16th of March, the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time since 2018. The Fed’s move to tighten monetary policy with a quarter-percentage-point increase, is the first of many rate hikes needed to contain inflationary pressure. Investors now expect the federal funds rate to rise to 2% by the end of 2022. While a strong economy and low unemployment will support consumer confidence for now, the Fed will need to be careful as it navigates higher commodity prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Even with Wednesday's actions, inflation is expected to remain above the Fed's 2% target through 2024, and more aggressive action may be needed if wage inflation takes hold.
Rate increases work to slow inflation by curbing demand for big-ticket items like houses, autos, and capital goods. As monthly payments for these items rise, demand slows which crimps economic growth.
On Thursday, The Bank of England (BoE) raised interest rates to 0.5% and nearly half its policymakers wanted an even bigger increase. David Bailey, the BoE Governor, said the bank was embarking on a long series of rate hikes and said there would have to be a trade-off between strong inflation and weakening growth as households see their incomes squeezed.
Thursday's move marked the first back-to-back increases in the Bank Rate since 2004. After the BoE's announcement, investors priced in the Bank Rate hitting 1.5% by year-end. The BoE said consumer price inflation should peak at around 7.25% in April, which would be the highest rate since the early 1990s. The BoE also announced that it would also start to unwind its £895 billion, quantitative easing programme by allowing the government bonds it holds to mature.
The post pandemic economic recovery has been exceptionally strong, and it has exposed the frailties of globally extended supply chains. The onset of war and the spike in energy prices has further pressured input costs. While belated central bank actions are welcome, they are unlikely to impact near term inflationary trends, which have worsened in recent weeks.
Half our global fixed income and corporate bond exposures are to shorter duration bonds. These holdings have helped limit the impact of rising rates on our portfolios. In equities, we have increased our allocation to US equities as higher interest rates favour safe-haven currencies such as the US dollar. We have no emerging market exposure which has helped protect portfolios from the direct impact of Russian sanctions. We have pro-actively increased our allocation to global infrastructure, which is an asset class that has done well when interest rates are rising. While rising rates and increased equity market volatility have jarred investor confidence, we feel our actions have enhanced the resilience of our client’s portfolios.