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First quarter done: what’s next?

Published on 04-18-2023

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Risks and opportunities in the outlook


As central banks wrestle with how to respond to volatile economic data and banking turmoil, while also fighting inflation, Franklin Templeton’s economists provided their perspectives on what’s next for economic growth, interest rates, inflation and fixed income markets.

Our recent panel discussion included John Bellows, Portfolio Manager, Western Asset Management; Sonal Desai, Chief Investment Officer, Franklin Templeton Fixed Income; Michael Hasenstab, Chief Investment Officer, Templeton Global Macro; Gene Podkaminer, Director of Research, Franklin Templeton Investment Solutions; and Francis Scotland, Director of Research, Brandywine Global.

Below are my key takeaways from the discussion:

Outlook remains stable. Very little has changed in the forward outlook from last quarter to this quarter, despite the tumultuous feel of events. If anything, the case for fixed income has strengthened and plays an even more pivotal role in portfolios. The estimates of the top rates that the Federal Reserve (Fed) will target have come down a little but remain very similar to prior estimates.

Banking system risk. Confidence in the banking system remains a risk as the full ramifications of the turmoil are still unclear. The banking turmoil seems to have only impacted specific banks with management shortcomings and particular issues with their asset/liability mix. Until some time has passed, and we can assess how banks perform and how the public views and uses banking, we will not have a complete answer.

Inflation path still not clear. The path to getting inflation into the 2% target zone is still not clear, thus creating differing views of pending rate hikes and how long before a pivot. Some panelists see the stickiness of inflation persisting and see continued rate hikes in an attempt to reach the Fed’s inflation goal. These panelists see a top rate of roughly 5.25%, which would hold for the remainder of the year. This is slightly lower than the forecast from last quarter. As negative economic data become visible, the odds of rate hikes decline. One panelist thinks the Fed will discontinue rate increases now or very soon due to economic dislocation, which will cause inflation to drop.

The U.S. dollar will likely weaken. The U.S. dollar has had exceptional returns, but if focus returns to the fiscal deficit, current account deficit and relative growth differential, the U.S. dollar could weaken. It may not be a dramatic weakening but will almost certainly be volatile.

Strong growth in Asia. Asia, particularly China and Japan, look poised to show strong economic growth and opportunity. There is a divergence in growth opportunities between Asia and the rest of the world.  China’s reopening will create consumption-driven economic activity. This should cause a positive ripple effect across the region and the globe. Japan has particular strength in automation, which will be a competitive advantage as supply chains are restructured.

Geopolitical conflict remains a key risk. The continuing areas to watch are U.S./China and U.S./Russia relationships. There are also risks of an unanticipated (or “unknown unknown” risk) conflict, given the volatile economic and political conditions in many regions around the world.

The return of fixed income. In a welcome change from last year, fixed income is again exhibiting a negative correlation to other portfolio assets. Fixed income has finally more “income” and is providing some diversification from equities. All of the panelists are more positive on fixed income in general and increasing duration than in the previous quarter. The short end of the yield curve is more expensive, so our panelists are focused on broader exposure and are moving to neutral or longer duration. One panelist is focused on five-to-10-year bonds for the best opportunities. The focus remains on high-quality bonds in this environment.

Volatility creates opportunity. Often, markets initially overreact to economic events, which creates opportunities to invest. It is a difficult and important lesson to remember and was reinforced by several panelists. Volatility creates investment opportunities.

While it may be a rocky road, we believe it is important to develop a long-term outlook and construct a well-diversified portfolio to best capture opportunities. Diversified portfolios can help weather changing conditions and provide a range to take advantage of opportunities under many scenarios. A larger fixed income allocation can provide more income to portfolios and hedge some market risk from other asset classes.

Stephen Dover, CFA, is Franklin Templeton’s Chief Market Strategist and Head of the Franklin Templeton Investment Institute. Originally published in Stephen Dover’s LinkedIn Newsletter Global Market Perspectives. Follow Stephen Dover on LinkedIn where he posts his thoughts and comments as well as his Global Market Perspectives newsletter.


Content copyright © 2023 by Franklin Templeton. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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