More muted forecasts
High inflation, central banks that must quickly raise key interest rates, COVID-19 lockdowns in China, the war in Ukraine and much lower economic growth expectations have plagued financial markets in 2022. Risk appetite has fallen as problems have mounted. We expect stabilisation soon, but the risk situation remains troublesome.
The problematic start to this year has created large-scale risk aversion, clearly moderating and in some cases dramatically reducing the prices of financial assets. As a result, general risk-taking among investors is now well below what it was at year-end 2021. Investors have at least partly adapted to the deteriorating conditions now prevailing.
Whether or not this is enough will largely be dependent on whether or not the prevailing negative forces culminate soon. Signals that inflation has peaked would be very welcome. This would reduce pressure on the fixed income market and central banks. A de-escalation of the Ukraine war as well as a Chinese society with less widespread COVID-19 lockdowns would also help decrease the pressure.
Valuations and stock market performance
Stock markets are undeniably in a negative trend, even though companies are showing record profits and can still charge solid prices for their goods and services. Looking ahead, we see obvious risks of declining economic growth rates, inventory build-up, continued logistics and component problems, cost inflation, rising wages and margins that are historically high with a clear risk of falling. Central banks are also expected to hike their key interest rates rapidly, which most often results in a recession. But on the other hand, all this is known and thus a relatively negative scenario may have been discounted.
The Stockholm stock exchange stands out, with a decline of more than 20 per cent at this writing. Stockholm is by far the weakest exchange in the Nordic region and one of the worst-performing exchanges in the world. Its weak relative performance is fully in line with what we previously warned of and is not surprising given the valuation bubble that inflated during the pandemic.
A number of risks have already materialised in 2022. Some of them are still present, and new ones may emerge. The main ones that have eroded risk appetite are the troublingly high level of inflation − which is putting pressure on central banks − China’s COVID-fighting strategy and the war in Ukraine. There are also clear risks to economic growth, since there have been significant adjustments to growth forecasts this year, and challenges may arise when central banks, especially the US Federal Reserve, try to shrink their balance sheets, a process that has led to high volatility in the past.
Finally, it is important to point out that all of the above negative risks have counterforces, which means they might fade away. They may also have been discounted too much in the capital market. This means that such risks will continue to affect risk appetite, but that their impact may be both positive and negative.
The need for renewable energy has not changed, and cybersecurity is evolving record-fast
This issue of Investment Outlook includes two theme articles. The first of these provides an in-depth look at Energy transition for security of supply, lower costs and the climate. Our second theme article closely examines Cybersecurity − a topic that has become increasingly important and that we cannot ignore.