Vanguard's 2018 global economic and market outlook

21 December 2017 | Markets and economy

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Spinning globe

Strong market returns and low financial volatility underscore investors’ conviction that the current global environment of modest growth and tepid inflation is here to stay. We agree with this long-term economic prognosis but argue that the chances of a short-term cyclical rebound are underappreciated. So the risks lie in mistaking persistent trends for the 2018 cycle.

The most pronounced risk to the status quo resides in the United States, where an already tight labour market will grow tighter, driving the unemployment rate well below 4%. This, followed by a cyclical uptick in wages and inflation, should justify the Federal Reserve’s raising rates to at least 2% by the end of 2018. Expectations of additional rate hikes would inevitably follow, ending an era of extraordinary monetary support in the United States and possibly leading markets to price in more aggressive normalization plans elsewhere. None of this is status quo.

For 2018 and beyond, our investment outlook is one of higher risks and lower returns. Elevated valuations, low volatility, and secularly low bond yields are unlikely to be allies for robust financial market returns over the next five years. Downside risks are more elevated in the equity market than in the bond market, even with higher-than-expected inflation.

In our view, the solution to this challenge is not shiny new objects or aggressive tactical shifts. Rather, our market outlook underscores the need for investors to remain disciplined and globally diversified, armed with realistic return expectations and low-cost strategies.

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