Fed hikes aggressively to regain price stability, even at risk of recession
Whereas the Fed’s July rate hike had merely brought borrowing costs back to 2018 levels, its latest 75bp increase pushed the fed-funds rate to its highest level in 15 years.
Nonetheless, real rates remain historically low, suggesting that the Fed may still have a long way to go. Amid growing concern that hawkish policy will lead to a “hard landing,” the Treasury yield curve has inverted, a pattern that often is interpreted as a harbinger of recession, and the stock market has resumed its 2022 slide.
Low risk portfolios: Well suited to current economic headwinds
With respect to inflation, low volatility portfolios typically overweight sectors, specifically staples, health care, and utilities, that have performed comparatively well during past periods of high reported inflation.
With respect to recession risk, the top chart shows that, over a near century-long history, a hypothetical minimum variance portfolio generates strong active returns when equity multiples contract. The bottom chart explicitly maps the pattern to the business cycle, showing that the low vol portfolio produces significantly higher returns than the cap-weighted market during recessions, with nearly full upside capture in other periods.
Looking forward, we see timely appeal in low vol equities, given the combination of stubbornly high inflation, the Fed’s apparent resolve to regain price stability and maintain its credibility, and U.S. valuation multiples that remain historically elevated despite the recent selloff.
Low Risk Portfolio Active Returns and Change in CAPE (3Y rolling)
Low Risk Portfolio and Market Returns (1933-Jul 2022)
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