Two important publications have been produced since our update on Monday. Firstly, we had the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Economic Outlook, which was predictably gloomy.
As part of our macroeconomic monitoring, we track the OECD’s Composite Leading Indicators on a monthly basis which gives us a broad-based indication of where each economy sits in the business cycle. As expected, we have seen a sharp slowdown in economic activity with the data for the UK looking particularly poor. The recent surprise unemployment numbers in the US has shown however, that it is currently extraordinarily difficult to measure or forecast the impact of the Coronavirus shutdown.
Secondly, we had the latest meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the group within the Federal Reserve who decide on US monetary policy. As we fully expected there were no surprises, however, Jerome Powell has erased all doubt around the short-term future of US interest rates. In the projections that accompany their statement, the consensus amongst the committee members is for rates to remain between zero and ¼ percent until the end of 2022.
So, the markets are faced with a dire warning of an historic 6% decline in world GDP, which is not a surprise to anyone, and conversely being told that central banks will be in accommodative mode for the foreseeable future.
Markets are reacting to the ambiguous outlook, reflecting the current macroeconomic uncertainty and unclear guidance on the next phase of combating the virus. Our own investment positioning, of being globally diversified and neutral on equities, reflects the risk of this rise in volatility.