General Investing Powered by BlackRock® | March 2023 Reoptimisation
Analysed and guided by BlackRock®
Market Overview and Impact
The risk rally at the start of 2023 has mostly stalled. Both equity and bond markets reversed their January gains as sentiment deteriorated upon the release of strong macro data and persistent inflation. A solid labour market and sticky inflation have reinforced the idea that central banks will have to continue to hike rates, prompting markets to reprice their expectations and investor sentiment to weaken.
Global equities generally ended the month down, with the exception of Europe and UK equities, which benefited from the retreat in energy prices. US equities, as represented by the S&P index, erased some of the January moves due to surging yields and softer Q4 earnings. Emerging equities underperformed developed peers as geopolitical risks and fears about rates staying elevated for longer cooled demand for riskier assets.
Broad fixed income markets also turned negative over the month as bond yields rose. Riskier parts of the fixed income markets, such as higher yielding credit, also realised losses as spreads widened amid the risk-off sentiment.
Conservative, Balanced, and Aggressive Model Portfolios
The multi-asset portfolios produced positive absolute returns year-to-date but underperformed their respective benchmarks. February saw relative outperformance, but posted negative returns on the back of market repricing central bank expectations and a negative shift in sentiment.
In the most recent month:
Within equities, BlackRock’s previous optimism on emerging markets detracted as riskier assets tumbled over the month. Exposure to Europe, however, served as an effective diversifier and was additive to active performance.
Within fixed income, BlackRock’s exposure to long-term treasuries was one of the most significant detractors to performance as bond yields were pushed higher. Allocation in emerging market debt also hurts returns. Its previous reduction in corporate credit, on the other hand, cushioned against the sell-off and contributed positively to active performance.
Stickier-than-expected US inflation could result in a more hawkish Federal Reserve (Fed) and higher terminal rate. The recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) in the US has increased the complexity of future Fed moves in addressing financial contagion risks and inflation risks. BlackRock now sees higher policy risk. While it will still be closely monitoring the upcoming releases on PCE (Personal Consumption Expenditures), CPI (Consumer Price Index), employment data, any spillover effects from SVB, and the subsequent reaction from the Fed, it decided to reduce active risk by trimming the portfolio duration and equity overweight, preferring instead to take a more cautious stance in the near term until it has more conviction on the direction of inflation and rates.
Within equities, BlackRock is staying neutral on the US as the market is vulnerable to a more aggressive Fed, and valuations are now less appealing. BlackRock is reducing the overweight in emerging markets. While it’s still positive on China’s reopening, a stronger USD caused by a more aggressive Fed could be a headwind to emerging market assets. BlackRock is also trimming Japan and UK allocations, as valuations have become less compelling. JPY depreciation and uncertainty over the Bank of Japan’s policy change make Japanese equities look unattractive to USD investors. BlackRock is modestly increasing its allocation to Europe, as fundamentals have improved. Lastly, BlackRock isadding to its Asia Pacific ex-Japan allocations, as valuations have improved, while Australian and Hong Kong equities could potentially benefit from China’s reopening and renewed stimulus measures.
Across fixed income, BlackRock is reducing portfolio duration to neutral by cutting exposure to long duration US treasuries. The weights are instead allocated to its cash proxies and short-duration US Treasuries.
Within the alternative sleeve, BlackRock is adding TIPS (Treasury-Inflation Protected Securities) back to its strategic weight as inflation appears to be stickier than previously thought. For diversification purposes, it is keeping allocations to Gold and REITs.
Very Aggressive Portfolio
The equity model performance is positive year-to-date, but has underperformed its benchmark. Global equities started the year on a positive note, but corrected in February as markets priced in expectations for further rate hikes.
In the most recent month, our allocation to developed markets, and the US in particular, detracted on a relative basis. Our previous optimism on emerging markets also detracted from performance. This was led by Chinese equities which sold off after a strong rally in prior months, underpinned by the easing of Covid restrictions late last year.
BlackRock is bringing the overweight in emerging markets ex-China to neutral, while keeping the overweight in China as it is still positive on the country’s reopening and potential stimulus. BlackRock is trimming its UK exposures as valuations have deteriorated. Similarly, it is keeping the underweight in Japan as valuations appear to be expensive, and JPY depreciation and uncertainty over the Bank of Japan’s policy may make Japan equities less attractive to USD investors. BlackRock is increasing its allocation in Europe, as fundamentals have improved while staying neutral on the US. Lastly, it is maintaining an overweight to Asia Pacific ex-Japan as Australian and Hong Kong equities could potentially benefit from China’s reopening and stimulus.
Source: BlackRock, Performance commentary as of 28 Feb 2023. Reoptimisation date is 21 March 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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