Growing recessionary fears and reinforcement of central banks' hawkish policies saw investor sentiment wane in December, but major asset classes managed to end the final quarter of 2022 with positive returns. This was mostly driven by the market uplift in October and November upon softer inflation data, the gradual easing of China's zero-Covid policy, as well as the Chinese government's stimulus measures for the property sector. Commodities broadly gained over the quarter.
Global equities saw positive performance, with developed and emerging equities ending the quarter neck-to-neck with each other. Most developed markets saw equity rallies in the initial parts of the quarter but dipped in December following hawkish rhetoric by central banks and another upwards revision of the Fed's interest rate projections. Emerging markets recorded gains, mainly led by China's reopening and pledge to boost the country's economy.
Fixed income markets saw varying performance. Government bonds sold off after major central banks reiterated plans to tighten monetary policy. Yields were edged even higher with the Bank of Japan’s surprised decision to relieve its yield curve control policy. Riskier parts of the fixed income market, such as emerging market debt and corporate credit indices, generated meaningful gains over the quarter as credit spreads tightened amid improved risk sentiment.
The multi-asset portfolios produced positive absolute returns in the last quarter of 2022. In relative terms, they underperformed their respective benchmarks in Q4, but still outperformed for the full year.
Major asset classes rose over the quarter despite some correction in December. Within equities, BlackRock’s selective allocation in developed markets helped return. While emerging markets saw a rebound and supported portfolio performance, BlackRock’s cautious stance in the asset class detracted on a relative basis. It closed the underweight in emerging markets in December as China’s relaxation of zero-Covid policy provided a positive long-term catalyst.
Within fixed income, exposure to long-term treasuries hurt performance as the Fed maintained its hawkish rhetoric. While exposure to HY bonds was additive to total returns, BlackRock’s slight underweight over the quarter also detracted from returns. However, its overweight on investment grade bonds contributed positively to returns. Its allocation to TIPS also helped performance.
Within alternatives, BlackRock’s exposure to Gold also supported performance alongside global recessionary fears.
BlackRock is reoptimising its strategic allocation in response to market drifts and changes in its long-term expectations. In the equity sleeve, BlackRock is reducing its US exposure to align with the market index composition. In the fixed income sleeve, it increased its allocation in mortgage-backed securities. BlackRock is strategically trimming emerging market debt given its less attractive return expectation compared to other fixed income assets.
Tactically, BlackRock is remaining cautiously risk-on with a small overweight in equity. It believes further downside to risky assets may be limited given the already vicious re-pricing in 2022. Reduced inflationary pressure in the US and expectations for a shift in Fed policy has also created a positive backdrop for risky assets.
Tactically, BlackRock sees more opportunity in emerging markets on the back of China’s reopening and earnings data improvement, and it sees the USD further weakening. BlackRock is maintaining a small overweight in Pacific ex-Japan as valuation continues to improve. It’s taking a neutral position on the US and is shifting some allocation to minimum volatility, given weakening earnings data and heightened uncertainty surrounding a potential recession. With market volatility headed towards recent lows, it provides a good entry point for minimum volatility exposures.
After the dramatic shift in yield level in 2022 and a potential pause in interest rate hikes in 2023, BlackRock sees a higher return potential for fixed income assets. It is increasing its portfolio duration by adding US Treasury and longer duration IG bonds. Tactically, BlackRock is also increasing emerging market bonds, which would benefit from supporting policies in the region. These are funded by further trimming of cash proxies - ultrashort duration IG and floaters - as well as high yield as spread has narrowed. Overall its portfolio duration has increased by about 0.5 years. Such addition to duration also provides a cushion to portfolio performance in a hard-landing scenario.
Within alternatives, BlackRock is cutting its allocation in TIPS, as inflationary pressures continue to moderate. It is also increasing its allocation in GOLD, as it could benefit from a weakening dollar and provide diversification to the portfolio in case of a recession. BlackRock is also adding to property yield as it sees a potential rebound of the sector when interest rates start to stabilise.
The equity model recorded positive absolute returns over the quarter and slightly underperformed the benchmark but outperformed for the year despite negative absolute returns.
BlackRock’s relative overweight to developed markets - the US in particular - helped capture much of the equity rally prior to the dip in December, and was one of the top contributors to active returns. On the back of China's easing of Covid controls and stimulus packages for the economy, it had previously increased its allocation to emerging markets, and was overweight in China, which drove positive absolute returns for the portfolio. However, BlackRock remained slightly underweight on average in Q4, which detracted from active contribution to performance in the last quarter.
BlackRock is reoptimising the strategic allocation in response to market drifts and changes in its long-term expectations. It is reallocating its factor exposures back to country exposures, as it sees its country rotation signal package generating more alpha than a fixed factor sleeve. Overall, it’s reducing US exposure and adding to Australia and Korea exposures to align with the market index composition. BlackRock is also increasing its aggregated minimum volatility exposures as the threat of a potential recession persists.
Tactically, BlackRock is more optimistic about emerging markets on the back of China’s reopening and earnings data improvement, and it sees the USD further weakening. BlackRock is maintaining a small overweight in Pacific ex-Japan as valuation continues to improve. It is also taking a neutral position on the US amid weakening earnings data.
Source: BlackRock, Performance commentary as of 31 December 2022. Reoptimisation date is 8 February 2023. This information should not be relied upon as investment advice, research, or a recommendation by BlackRock regarding (i) the iShares Funds, (ii) the use or suitability of the model portfolios or (iii) any security in particular. Only an investor and their financial advisor know enough about their circumstances to make an investment decision.
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