This blog will serve as follow up to our previously released Q4 Investment Themes and is intended to provide an update on what we are seeing as well as our current outlook. 

Here are the top three things we are covering in this week’s blog:

  1. The market rebounded strongly during the fourth quarter and finished 2021 up nearly 27%.
  2. With CPI beginning to show signs of a near term peak, we could see a rotation away out of commodities and other inflation linked equities.
  3. As a result, we will be closely watching for signals of transitions in the market environment and shifting our portfolios in accordance.

The Market

After sustaining losses in Q3, the market rebounded in a big way during the final quarter of 2021. On the back of strong earnings and a continuously improving employment picture, the market pushed through fears of rising interest rates in route back to all-time highs in October. However, the strong momentum faded in late November with the announcement of the new COVID variant and fears of another round of lockdowns. But as investors have witnessed countless times over the past several years, the narrative driven dip brought a surge of buying that led the market back to previous highs.

With a strong rally into the close, the S&P 500 finished 2021 up nearly 27%[1].

Despite a volatile first half, the Nasdaq closed the year up over 21%[2].

After a leading the pack for much of Q1 and Q2, the more industrial Dow Jones finished up just under 19% on the year.

Following many quarters of consistent gains, commodities came down slightly during Q4 to close -1.74%. While it was a very strong year for the commodity index, signals of a near term peak in inflation will likely make it much harder for the gains to continue[4].

World equities glided higher throughout 2021 and finished up over 20%. In stark contrast, emerging markets diverged significantly and struggled to recover from renewed COVID disruptions. While 2021 proved to be a weak year for emerging markets, the lagging recovery could lead to softer YoY comparisons in 2022. Thus, emerging markets may be in a better place to outperform while the rest of the world faces extremely difficult comps[5].

Following a strong close to 2020, Gold and Silver underperformed for much of 2021. In the face of rising interest rates and a surge of attention in cryptocurrencies, Gold finished the year down 3.51%. Despite a short squeeze in early February, Silver stair stepped lower throughout the year and ended down over 11%. In contrast, Copper maintained early gains as investors began to price the potential for increased future demand[6].

Macro Economic Process

Our process for model management is now expanded and based a few key areas and comes from research from multiple research groups.  One of the major shifts was incorporating more macro economic data into our decision making.  At a macro level, the economy is viewed through the lens of growth or decline and inflation or deflation.  The research we receive from Hedgeye maps where we are currently and then where we are heading to probabilistically based on the data coming in. This is how we get the various quad outlooks that we refer to in our material.

The Quads – The quads are all about mapping the economic environment we are currently in, as well as using predictive data to identify the probable outcome for future quarters based on an analysis of Economic Growth, Inflation and Government Policy.  The quads are broken down like this:

Quad 1 – Economic Growth Accelerating, Inflation Slowing

Quad 2 – Economic Growth Accelerating, Inflation Accelerating

Quad 3 – Economic Growth Slowing, Inflation Accelerating

Quad 4 – Economic Growth Slowing, Inflation Slowing

By understanding which Quad we are in, we can identify what asset classes have historically worked and which might struggle.

The Economy

Coming of the turmoil in 2020, YoY GDP accelerated steeply throughout 2021. While growth slowed slightly in Q3, our third-party research still expects GDP to remain well above pre-pandemic levels for at least the next four quarters[7].

Falling in line with estimates, YoY CPI continued to surge higher in the third quarter. However, with many of the leading indicators beginning to show signs of a near term peak, we expect inflation to come down in future quarters. This has already begun to manifest with the commodity index falling for the first quarter since 2020[8].

With CPI beginning to slow, inflation linked equities fell during the fourth quarter. This is a trend that we could see continue in future quarters are inflation is expected to come down further in 2022. Nonetheless, on a long-term basis inflation remains near all-time lows and a reversion back to historical averages could lead to a much larger rotation in commodities[9].

Even as COVID worries spiked investor fears, labor demand remained historically strong with both available workers and hires-to-openings dropping to multi decade lows[10].

Service consumption continues to accelerate far above normal expansion levels and now sits at an all-time high. It’s been historic economic data readings like this that have helped support the large gains seen in the equity markets[11].

While the market and economic data points to more gains during Q1, the YoY comps in Q2 will likely present some obstacles in the market. Looking back to 2021, many consumers received large stimulus checks and significant unemployment benefits. This year, there is not plan for additional stimulus and almost all extended unemployment benefits have been ceased. Thus, all the extra cash that was artificially stimulating the economy last year will no longer be in existence this time around. The resulting effect could very likely be an economic slowdown and consequential losses in the market[12].

Another area of concern is the possibility of the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates while the economy faces a slowdown. While some of these concerns have already been priced into the market, many fear another 2018-esque crash[13].

While the market performed well during Quad 2 , we are watching closely for a transition to Quad 4. Based on our analysis of the US possibly heading to Quad 4 (growth slowing and inflation decelerating), there are investment themes we have added to the portfolio that do well in a Quad 4 regime. Those are:

  1. Shift Away from Inflation Focused Equities & Commodities
  2. Real Estate, Tech, Financials, and Small Caps
  3. Emerging Markets

In Summary

  1. The market rebounded in Q4, but our research still expects to see some slowing in growth in the coming quarters.
  2. As most economic indicators show signs of a near term peak, we are expecting difficult YoY comps from 2021 to create a headwind in markets.
  3. With all of this in mind, we have begun shifting to the All Weather approach that was discussed in previous blog posts.

We hope you have enjoyed getting a deeper look into our investment research and look forward to providing this to you each quarter going forward.  Thank you from the entire Konvergent Team!

[1] Slide 4: Major Indexes Rebound
[2] Slide 4: Major Indexes Rebound
[3] Slide 4: Major Indexes Rebound
[4] Slide 6: Commodities Finish Lower
[5] Slide 7: Global Equities vs. Emerging Market Equities
[6] Slide 8: Precious Metal Slide Worsens
[7] Slide 11: Growth and Inflation
[8] Slide 11: Growth and Inflation
[9] Slide 12: Inflation Peaking?
[10] Slide 13: Labor Demand Remains Strong
[11] Slide 14: Service Strength
[12] Slide 15: Quad 4 Awaits
[13] Slide 15: Quad 4 Awaits