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Hold on to your hats: Central banks abandon forward policy guidance, injecting market dispersion and uncertainty

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Central Banks Abandon Forward Guidance, Leaving Investors to Navigate Uncertain Markets Alone

Central banks around the world are moving away from the forward policy guidance that has been in place for the past two decades, injecting more uncertainty into the market and potentially leading to a surge in active portfolio trading. This shift comes as central banks seek to prevent excessive risk-taking and maintain a level of unpredictability in the global economic regime. The abandonment of forward guidance means that investors will have to navigate a more unpredictable market and adjust their strategies accordingly.

The Federal Reserve, under the leadership of Jerome Powell, stopped providing formal signals on the long-term path of interest rates last year. At the time, it was assumed that this decision was due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and energy price spikes. However, recent pronouncements from central banks worldwide suggest that this change in approach may be permanent.

The decision to abandon forward guidance is not solely due to a lack of visibility. It appears to be a deliberate attempt to keep markets guessing and prevent excessive risk-taking. This shift brings back memories of the 1990s when central banks had the freedom to surprise markets and change direction as needed.

The impact of this change in approach is already being felt in the market. Treasury bond volatility gauges are 50% above historic averages, and UK money markets have gone from pricing in 6% peak Bank of England rates to anticipating cuts of up to 100 basis points to 4.25% in 2024.

This new environment poses challenges for investors who are trying to manage their portfolios in the coming years. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, emphasized in their annual outlook that the macro environment will remain uncertain for the foreseeable future. They stated that “dispersion is back,” meaning that there will be a greater variation in investment views due to the uncertainty surrounding central banks’ actions.

BlackRock pointed out that U.S. equity analysts’ corporate earnings estimates have become more dispersed in the past three years compared to the previous 25 years. They also highlighted how different portfolio rebalancing strategies have performed differently in the past four years. These findings demonstrate the need for investors to adopt more differentiated views and avoid simple blanket positions.

To navigate this uncertain landscape, BlackRock suggests focusing on geographical variations and subsectors that may move in different directions. They are underweight fixed income but favor investment grade credit in Europe rather than the United States. They also prefer bank stocks in Europe, specifically in less competitive markets like Italy, Spain, and Ireland. Additionally, they are overweighting technology stocks and those related to the artificial intelligence theme.

While active fund managers may benefit from this increased volatility, it remains to be seen how long it will last. The unpredictability of markets means that they can quickly shift, making it challenging to predict future trends. Investors are being warned to remain cautious and not to expect a quick resolution to the challenges posed by inflation.

The message from central banks is clear: investors will have to navigate these uncertain times on their own. The abandonment of forward guidance means that markets are likely to remain volatile, and investors will need to adapt their strategies accordingly.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Reuters.

More detail via Kitco.com here… ( Image via Kitco.com )

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