Markets have returned to the 1970s. They have to cope with “Putinflation”, recession, rising interest rates and energy prices – as well as geopolitical and nuclear risk. Unfortunately, today’s traders do not even have the experience of the 1960s as a guide, having lived in a different world for 20 years.
Chemicals and the Economy
The market downturn couldn’t have come at a worse time for Apple. It was already facing major supply chain chaos in Q2. And now it has to face a major decline in the smartphone market itself. Inevitably this will lead to a brutal battle for market share as companies struggle to survive.
Europe’s plastic industry is at a critical turning point. Profitability is falling as the recession bites. But it cannot just cut back and hunker down. Instead, it has to take a lead in building major new recycling capacity as today’s markets and feedstocks start to disappear.
Central banks and investors believed stimulus programs had created a “New Paradigm” where asset prices would always increase. Now they are starting to realise that stimulus is irrelevant against the 3 Horsemen of the Apocalypse – China’s continuing battle with the pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and potential for famine as rising gas/fertilizer prices mean farmers can’t afford to grow their crops or feed their animals.
The seeming genius of many private equity funds in recent years has been based on this ability to borrow at cheap rates during the ‘up’ part of the business cycle. Now we are heading into the ‘down’ cycle. And the central banks have abandoned Bernanke Theory and are back to worrying about inflation. So today’s excess leverage means many over-leveraged companies will go bust.
Essentially, the problem is a timebomb which is set to explode next winter unless governments work together to increase arable planting, establish emergency stocks, and subsidize fertilizer costs whilst gas prices remain at today’s record levels.
Problems in the housing market aren’t just confined to the US, UK, Germany and China. The average house price/income ratio is now back to the highest level since records began. And the problem for homeowners is that potential buyers are already starting to disappear as mortgage rates rise – and affordability reduces.
Energy and financial markets are exacerbating the risks ahead. Oil prices at current levels – as the chart confirms, they now account for more than 3% of global GDP – have historically led to recession as the chart shows. The reason is that consumers have to cut back on their discretionary spending, which drives economic growth, in order to heat their homes and travel to work and school. Today’s high levels of natural gas prices add to this risk.
This is why we are facing a K-shaped recession. Companies and investors have a difficult time ahead. They not only have to navigate a potentially major downturn. But they also have to completely reposition their portfolios for the New Normal world that will follow.
These are difficult times, and there is no guarantee that they may not get worse. But they also remind us of the critical need to move beyond the Age of Oil, and develop more sustainable energy resources for the future.