Inflation is likely to ease substantially in the coming months as base effects roll off and tighter credit conditions hit consumption and aggregate demand. Services inflation, rent rises and wage pressures however persist, meaning inflation could remain sticky and above central bank target ranges for some time. Financial conditions are therefore likely to remain tight as central banks keep a foot on the brake while managing pockets of stress via targeted liquidity support. Domestically, a large number of home borrowers will roll off ultra-low fixed rate home loans onto significantly higher mortgage rates in the coming months. This means there is more tightening to come for the Australian household sector irrespective of how much higher the RBA takes the cash rate.
Consumer confidence remains weak both here and in the US, and with the cash buffers built up during the pandemic largely eroded, signs that economic growth has begun to slow have emerged. US GDP came in well below expectations at +1.1% (annualised) for the first quarter.
The ongoing debate on raising the US debt ceiling, while closer to resolution at the time of writing, is not yet a done deal and represents additional left-tail risk to an already clouded outlook. Our base case is that this issue will be resolved, allowing the US government to meet its financial obligations. However, the combative nature of the current US political arena means a stalemate cannot be ruled out entirely. Failure to reach agreement would have severe ramifications across equity, bond and currency markets.
On a positive note, valuations are looking more appealing across a range of asset classes. Australian equity valuations are almost looking as attractive as they were during the peak stresses of the pandemic on a P/E basis. Tight financial conditions coupled with a weakening cyclical environment lead us to believe that the second half of 2023 continues to present some headwinds for risk assets notwithstanding the more attractive valuations we are seeing.
We remain cautious, and close to benchmark with a slight underweight in global equities. In the current environment, a focus on quality investments, liquidity, active portfolio management, diversification and risk control become even more critical for portfolio constructors. We continue to monitor developments regarding inflation, monetary policy and the global economy, and will adjust our portfolios, as necessary, to navigate through the challenges and opportunities ahead.
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