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Market Insights

Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Potential Market Impact

By
Tom Wald, CFA®, Chief Investment Officer, Transamerica Asset Management, Inc.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has cast a pall on global markets and forced investors to consider a level of geopolitical risk not seen in more than a generation. As Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken the unfortunate approach of seeking to expand his sphere of control through military force, a human tragedy is now in progress for the world to view and, as expected, this has evoked economic sanctions upon Russia from the United States and Western allies. While this situation is highly fluid and subject to change on short notice, we believe investors should take the following into account:

From a global macroeconomic standpoint, we view the overall scenario taking place as creating additional inflationary pressure. This is due to Russia’s status as the world’s third-largest producer of oil and second largest of natural gas. As Russia’s supply of oil and natural gas becomes constrained globally, either through diversion to its military or through incremental attempts from Western nations to move elsewhere, this will likely continue to further increase already rising worldwide energy prices.

At this point we do not see Russia’s military advance into Ukraine, nor the sanctions imposed on it by the U.S. and European nations, as being materially negative to U.S. economic growth. Despite the chaos being inflicted by Putin, we believe pent-up consumer demand likely to be unleashed in the U.S. as COVID-19 potentially moves from pandemic to endemic status can still drive approximately 3% gross domestic product growth in CY 2022, though this pace is likely to be back weighted into the second half of the year. We also see a strong probability corporate earnings growth in the US (S&P 500® net operating earnings growth) can reach double digits or higher in CY 2022 and CY 2023, setting up stocks for total returns commensurate with such earnings growth.

The initial sanctions being imposed on Russia by the U.S. and its allies have involved economic and financial criteria only.  These sanctions have included restricting business with Russia’s largest banks, prohibiting the ownership and exchange trading of Russian sovereign debt, and, most recently, the exclusion of certain large Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or SWIFT, the world’s most important messaging system and facilitator of payments and financial transactions within the international banking system. Despite the tough and aggressive nature of these financial sanctions, we view them as more punitive than preventative and unlikely to deter Putin from Russia’s cross-border aggression. 

While these U.S.-led sanctions are strict and aggressive from a financial perspective, they have to date not involved Russia’s large oil and gas exports. The likely reason for this is the current sanctions hold dual objectives — maximizing pain on Russia while minimizing any negative economic impacts on the U.S. and its allies. With U.S. inflation recently touching down at 7.5% (January consumer price index report) and Europe currently sourcing approximately 40% of its oil consumption from Russia, aiming sanctions directly at Russia’s energy exports is probably a bridge too far for the U.S. and Europe at this time.

A major wild card in the crisis now appears to be Ukraine’s initially stronger than expected military defense and national resistance. Combatting military aggression with economic sanctions unfortunately is not a strategy with a successful historical track record. Therefore, hopes of thwarting Russia’s advance into Ukraine will likely have to come from a higher toll of casualties and an extended time horizon of warfare inflicted by the Ukraine army and its citizens. Otherwise, the financial sanctions will probably only play a role in the post-war aftermath, perhaps somewhat dissuading Putin and Russia from further aggression and empire building, but unfortunately not changing the outcome in Ukraine.

Putin has escalated rhetoric to include the threat of nuclear weapons. On February 27, Putin announced he had put Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert, verbally going where no Russian leader had since the days of the Cuban missile crisis. This has led to speculation as to whether such language is a sign of frustration and perhaps a strategy to “escalate as a means to de-escalate,” or in a more drastic sense perhaps an indication of a dangerous dictator even more deranged than initially believed. While logic infers the former of these two scenarios, Putin’s words here should probably not be underestimated. 

There are several ongoing developments of varying uncertainty that could potentially change the tide of the evolving crisis either favorably or unfavorably. These include, in addition to Ukraine’s military defense and further comments from Putin reversing or confirming his recent nuclear rhetoric, potential cyberattacks launched by or inflicted upon Russia, widespread political disagreement to Putin or social unrest within Russia, or a shift in sanctioning strategy against Russia targeting energy-based production or exports. 

In the immediate days ahead, we expect to see more volatility in the U.S. and international equity and credit markets and a continuing move into safe-haven assets. This could result in temporarily declining U.S. Treasury bond yields though, we would caution such activity could prove short term in nature. 

Putin and Russia have inflicted a degree of aggression and human suffering evoking those of the World War II and Cold War eras. While much remains to play out, both in terms of military conflict and its geopolitical aftermath, investors should strongly consider the context of this crisis within the entire global economy and overall opportunities within the equity and credit markets, which we continue to view favorably in the year ahead.       

 

 

Investments are subject to market risk, including the loss of principal. Asset classes or investment strategies described may not be suitable for all investors.

Past performance does not guarantee future results. Indexes are unmanaged and an investor cannot invest directly in an index.

Equities are subject to market risk meaning that stock prices in general may decline over short or extended periods of time.

Fixed income investing is subject to credit rate risk, interest rate risk, and inflation risk. Credit risk is the risk that the issuer of a bond won’t meet their payments. Inflation risk is the risk that inflation could outpace a bond’s interest income. Interest rate risk is the risk that fluctuations in interest rates will affect the price of a bond. Investing in floating rate loans may be subject to greater volatility and increased risks.

Growth stocks typically are particularly sensitive to market movements and may involve larger price swings because their market prices tend to reflect future expectations. Growth stocks as a group may be out of favor and underperform the overall equity market for a long period of time, for example, while the market favors “value” stocks. Value investing carries the risk that the market will not recognize a security’s intrinsic value for a long time or that an undervalued stock is actually appropriately priced.

Investments in global/international markets involve risks not associated with U.S. markets, such as currency fluctuations, adverse social and political developments, and the relatively small size and lesser liquidity of some markets. These risks may be greater in emerging markets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused substantial market disruption and dislocation around the world including the U.S. Economies and financial markets throughout the world are increasingly interconnected. Economic, financial, or political events, trading and tariff arrangements, terrorism, technology and data interruptions, natural disasters, and other circumstances in one or more countries or regions could be highly disruptive to, and have profound impacts on, global economies or markets.

The information included in this document should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material contains general information only on investment matters; it should not be considered as a comprehensive statement on any matter and should not be relied upon as such. The information does not take into account any investor’s investment objectives, particular needs, or financial situation. The value of any investment may fluctuate. This information has been developed by Transamerica Asset Management, Inc. and may incorporate third-party data, text, images, and other content to be deemed reliable.

Comments and general market-related projections are based on information available at the time of writing and believed to be accurate; are for informational purposes only, are not intended as individual or specific advice, may not represent the opinions of the entire firm, and may not be relied upon for future investing. Investors are advised to consult with their investment professional about their specific financial needs and goals before making any investment decisions.

Transamerica Asset Management, Inc. is an SEC-registered investment adviser. The funds advised and sponsored by Transamerica Asset Management, Inc. include Transamerica Funds, Transamerica Series Trust and DeltaShares® exchange-traded funds. Transamerica Asset Management, Inc., is an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Aegon N.V., an international life insurance, pension, and asset management company. 1801 California Street, Denver, CO 80202, USA.