Russia invades: markets tumble, oil surges

Views as of Feb. 25, 2022

By Chhad Aul, Chief Investment Officer and Head of Multi-Asset Solutions, SLGI Asset Management Inc.

The S&P 500 hit a record high on Jan. 3.  Since then, it has fallen steadily, as investors reacted to the possibility that the U.S. Federal Reserve would soon raise interest rates. By mid-February, the S&P 500 was down 10.2% and the tech-heavy NASDAQ 17.6%. At the same time, the market largely ignored the Russia/Ukraine conflict. But over the last three weeks, as it became clear that a negotiated settlement could not be reached, the market began to price in a worst-case scenario. And early on Feb. 24, with Russia launching a full-scale invasion of its neighbour, the S&P was off 12.8%, leaving it deep in correction territory. 

While markets started to recover later in the day, major indexes fell sharply around the world. The Russian market was not immune, suffering an historic collapse, while the ruble fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar.

At the same time, the bond market priced in the invasion’s potential to damage the global economy, with the yield on bellwether U.S. ten-year treasuries falling to 1.9%. Gold, a hedge in times of crisis, climbed 3%. And benchmark oil breached the US$100-a-barrel mark on supply concerns. Oil could surge even higher and threaten the global economy, if Moscow withholds energy supplies to Europe, which imports 40% of its natural gas from Russia . And the immediate threat to Ukraine’s natural gas supply network, caused prices to spike 20% across Europe.  

The invasion also puts central banks, that were poised to raise interest rates, in a difficult position. For one, the Fed, which was expected to rise rates to combat inflation running at 7.5%, may have to reconsider the pace of those increases. This, while inflation shows little sign of abating. 

Our view

  • Markets were already going through a period of weakness due to concerns around inflation and the pace of central bank tightening.  And we had already seen a correction, particularly in the higher-valued segments of the market. 
  • The move higher in oil prices, which breached U$100 a barrel, further added to the inflation question, complicating the question around future interest rate increases.
  • However, we believe central banks may still move ahead with rate hikes. But they may proceed at a slower pace, or with a more dovish tone due to these geopolitical risks. 

Positioning within the Sun Life Granite Series of Funds

  • We still remain broadly neutral in terms of our outlook on market risk. 
  • In recent weeks, as the yield on U.S.10-year Treasuries rose above 2%, we deployed some of our overweight in cash to bonds. Historically, bonds have acted as a potential hedge as geopolitical risks increase.
  • However, we believe much of the geopolitical risk may already be priced into the markets.
  • We will be looking for opportunities to use a tactical approach in the current uncertain environment.

Exposure to Russia 

  • We do not have a material exposure to Russia within the Sun Life Granite series of Funds.
  • Sun Life Granite portfolios continue to be broadly diversified across asset classes, sectors, regions, investment styles and managers. 

The importance of investor behaviour 

Investor behaviour is important, particularly in times of market volatility. During downturns, there is often regret. There may be an instinct to cut losses. Fear is a powerful emotion that feeds on itself. However, in times like these times we can rely on history. Long-term studies show that, when investors attempt these timing decisions, their returns generally suffer. They have to be right twice: on the sell and on the buy. And it’s hard to get both right. We also know that following a market decline, we typically see a period of recovery. It could happen suddenly, or it could take a few years. But we know that investors that remain calm may benefit from the eventual recovery. 

Important Information
This commentary was first published in the United States by MFS and is distributed in Canada by SLGI Asset Management Inc., with permission. MFS or MFS Investment Management refers to MFS Investment Management Canada Limited and MFS Institutional Advisors, Inc. The MFS® logo is a trademark of The Massachusetts Financial Services Company and is used with permission.
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The views expressed in this commentary are those of the authors and are subject to change at any time. Views expressed regarding a particular company, security, industry or market sector should not be considered an indication of trading intent of any mutual funds managed by SLGI Asset Management Inc. or sub-advised by MFS. These views are not to be considered as investment advice nor should they be considered a recommendation to buy or sell.

Information presented has been compiled from sources believed to be reliable, but no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made with respect to its timeliness or accuracy. This commentary may contain forward-looking statements about the economy and/or markets; their future performance, strategies or prospects. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance, are speculative in nature and cannot be relied upon.

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