Market Update 1/31/22

Katerina Berezovsky

Anticipated interest rate hikes and geopolitical uncertainty reflect the turbulent week U.S. stocks experienced from Jan. 25 to Jan. 31.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell spoke at the first Federal Open Markets Committee Press Conference of 2022 on Jan. 26, saying that the Fed plans to increase rates as soon as March.

The Fed has already begun to wane on its bond-buyback program, which has been used to bolster cash circulation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and expects to halt asset purchases even further in March. This gradual reduction in the Fed’s $9 trillion asset portfolio along with the anticipated interest rate hikes aims to alleviate concerns of prolonged inflation.

“When reporters asked Powell if the Fed would consider raising rates at every meeting, which would mean more than four times this year, he didn’t say they wouldn’t, which indicates a flexibility to raise rates much more quickly (if necessary) than anyone was expecting,” CIO for Independent Advisor Alliance Chris Zaccarelli said, according to Reuters.

In response to Powell’s statement, yields rose to 1.87% on Wednesday from Tuesday’s 1.78%, settling at 1.78% by Monday’s close.

The stock market gave up initial gains on Wednesday following Powell’s statement, with the S&P 500 closing down 0.1%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 0.4% and the Nasdaq Composite Index up less than 0.1%.

Despite rallying on Jan. 28 and Jan. 31 up 6.6%, the technology-heavy Nasdaq finished the month with a loss of approximately 9%. This has been the Index’s worst January performance since 2008, when it dropped 9.9%. As investors anticipate rising rates, many look to avoid tech stocks, as they sport lofty valuations and are linked to growth expectations.

In addition to anxieties surrounding Federal Reserve interference, investors are troubled by geopolitical tensions, namely between Russia and Ukraine, as Russia is a leading supplier of many key commodities such as oil, natural gas, aluminum and wheat.

With Russia’s dominant position in oil production, investors worry that regional disruptions could push global oil prices higher. Additionally, concerns over OPEC and its Russia-led partners inability to meet production quotas remain prevalent as demand for oil swiftly rebounds.

According to the International Energy Agency, the two groups are collectively producing 250,000 barrels a day, which is only 60% of their promised monthly amount. These supply constraints are pressuring oil prices towards all-time highs, with Brent Crude closing the month at $91.21 per barrel.

Morgan Stanley lifted their price forecast for the summer quarter to $100 a barrel for Brent Crude.

“The oil market is heading for simultaneously low inventories, low spare capacity and still low investment,”  one Morgan Stanley analyst wrote.

Overall, January concluded with an underwhelming performance from most market sectors, except for energy. In the coming weeks, investors will likely be focused on gaining clarity over inflationary numbers and what tighter monetary policy means for equity valuations.