Why we stay pro-risk

We believe the path for further gains in risk assets has narrowed after an extended run higher, warranting a selective approach, but we reaffirm our tactical pro-risk stance.
Wei Li

Global Chief Investment Strategist

BlackRock Investment Institute

Elga Bartsch

Head of Macro Research

BlackRock Investment Institute

Jean Boivin
Head of
BlackRock Investment Institute
Vivek Paul
Senior Portfolio Strategist
BlackRock Investment Institute
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Markets have been jittery amid focus on China’s regulatory clampdown and the prospect of the Federal Reserve tapering its asset purchases. We believe the path for further gains in risk assets has narrowed after an extended run higher, warranting a selective approach, but we reaffirm our tactical pro-risk stance. In the context of very small client allocations to Chinese assets, we are dipping our toes in the asset class by shifting our view to a modest overweight.

The new nominal stands

U.S. policy rate path vs. past cycles

Forward looking estimates may not come to pass. Sources: BlackRock Investment Institute, Federal Reserve, with data from Refinitiv Datastream , September 2021. Notes: The red dots show the median federal funds rate expectations published by the Federal Open Market Committee, a committee within the Fed that sets the federal funds rate. The lines show past rate hiking cycles since 1999 and our estimates for the path of U.S. interest rates. The paths are shown relative to the point at which the first hike took place, which is indicated by quarter 0. The Fed median dot plot comes from the September 2021 Summary of Economic Projections (SEP). Since the SEP projections show only the end-of-year forecast for the federal funds rate we reflect the uncertainty by showing end-of-year dots rather than a continuous line. We believe the Fed will start its next hiking cycle in the first half of 2023.

The Fed has signalled it is gearing up to start tapering around the end of the year. It appears reluctant to admit its inflation mandate has been met, and this reinforces our new nominal theme – or a more muted response to higher inflation from central banks than in the past, a positive for risk assets. See the chart for past rate hike cycles and our estimate. Despite ongoing risks around the fallout from the regulatory clampdown, we are dipping a toe in Chinese equities by moving our tactical view from neutral at midyear to a modest overweight. This call is partly rooted in our expectation for incremental near-term easing via three policy levers – monetary, fiscal and regulatory – with growth slowdown likely having reached a level that policy makers cannot ignore. We see Q4 growth likely dropping to 3% range from Q1’s 18%. We believe the significant repricing – Chinese equities underperforming U.S. peers by more than 30 percentage points so far this year – and a rise in equity risk premia in Chinese equities are overdone, especially with a 6-12 month horizon. Investors are compensated for risk at current valuations in our view, but we favor a quality bias.

We believe that the very small index weights and client allocations effectively represent a large structural underweight to the world’s second-largest economy and that this could increase significantly before it became a bullish bet on China. Our strategic view already takes into account that China is unmistakably on a path toward greater state involvement with social and political objectives taking primacy over economic ones – leading to greater risks and the need for a new investment lens. But context is everything: Our allocations to Chinese assets remain orders of magnitude lower than those to developed market assets. Currently very small client allocations to Chinese assets would imply a view that China will become essentially un-investable despite its growing importance

We are also shifting our tactical stance on emerging market (EM) local-currency debt to a modest overweight. We do not see the Fed’s tapering leading to an EM tantrum given the higher real yields and improved external balances in EM. EM local-currency debt also offers attractive valuations and coupon income in a world starved for yield. We prefer EM local-currency debt because of its lower duration than EM dollar debt, in line with the significant underweight to U.S. Treasuries, and the steep local yield curves that bring attractive term premium. In addition, we believe much of the early tightening cycle in many EM economies is behind us, and this lends support to EM local-currency debt.

These two modest upgrades don’t mean that we have become more pro-risk tactically. In fact we see a narrowing path for risk assets to push higher, and there could be bouts of volatility along the way as markets are prone to over-reaction after an extended bull run in risk assets. Yet over a 6-12 months horizon we still see broadening restart and the new nominal supporting risk assets. We stay overweight on European equities as we see the region continuing to benefit from the broadening restart. We are still underweight U.S. Treasuries, as we see only a gradual rise in nominal yields even with the Fed poised to gear up to start tapering by the end of the year.

We prefer Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities over nominal bonds for portfolio duration exposure, especially after the recent pullback. We are underweight global investment grade credit as we see little room for further yield compression. Read our detailed views in our Q4 Global outlook update. Implementation of asset views will differ across investor types and geographies, depending on objectives, constraints and regulation

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Why we stay pro-risk