Under pressure: Three-minute macro

This month, we note that the equity risk premium isn’t indicating a growth slowdown in the near future (despite our views to the contrary), while also cautioning that fewer people may be heading back to the office than we suspect many are hoping for. Finally, we look at how the Federal Reserve's aggressive policy trajectory might affect Asia.

Equity risk premium is still not pricing a growth slowdown

Price-to-earnings (P/E) multiples have contracted year to date as a result of weak price performance, yet earnings revisions have continued to move upward. While these positive earnings revisions don’t appear to corroborate the cautious qualitative forward guidance given by corporate issuers, the earnings yield on the S&P 500 Index has continued to rise. And with the forward P/E of the index retreating from 22.0x at its 2022 peak to 15.9x as of this writing, it’s easy to say that valuations have substantially cheapened—but we caution on getting too excited.

A look at the equity risk premium (the S&P 500 Index earnings yield less the U.S. 10-year U.S. Treasury) shows us that it’s clocking in at 3.18% and is still low. While market participants are busy trying to find the bottom in equities, we aren’t confident that the equity risk premium is fully compensating investors for the growth slowdown that we think the United States will experience this year; in fact, the earnings yield is likely to decline if earnings are revised downward. This last scenario is likely to be the case as profit margins erode, the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) tightens, and demand moderates. We have to ask ourselves: Is an earnings yield roughly below where it’s been over the past decade really compensating equity risk given the macro outlook over the next 6 to 18 months?

Equity risk premium doesn't see a slowdown

S&P 500 Index  P/E, yield and risk premium

Line chart of the S&P 500 earnings yield, forward P/E and equity risk premium. The risk premium is 2.96% as of June 14 2022.
Source: Macrobond, Manulife Investment Management, as of July 5, 2022. P/E refers to price to earnings.

The neutral rate of work from home

While work from home continues to dominate discussions in the workplace, we’ve continued to ask ourselves what the neutral rate of work from home in the postpandemic new normal is.

It’s estimated that only 50% of all U.S. workers hold jobs that actually allow them to work remotely. That makes about 66 million remote-capable workers, accounting for about 20% of the U.S. population.

Once we isolate the number of remote-capable workers, we look to a recent Gallup survey that followed 140,000 respondents through the pandemic to obtain insight into their working arrangements. The survey asked remote-capable respondents where they were working before the pandemic and where they anticipated working in 2022 and beyond. Comparing pre- and postpandemic results, exclusively remote work increased from 8% to 24%, hybrid was up from 32% to 53%, and fully on-site workers fell from 60% to 23%.

If you assume that the new class of hybrid worker commutes an average of 2.5 days per week, we could see a 35% reduction in total office visits on an annual basis for remote-capable workers compared with 2019. This means 35% fewer people commuting during rush hour, fewer people supporting businesses near the workplace, and a reduction in the consumption of goods and services essential for an in-office lifestyle. How working arrangements evolve will also affect where people live, as well as interstate migration and corporate travel. Furthermore, this data would suggest that approximately 15% of remote-capable workers that were working exclusively remote in 2022 will trend to their neutral rates of hybrid or on-site arrangements. But for those still waiting on more juice in the reopening trade, we caution that this represents only about 10 million people, less than 3% of Americans.

The future of work from home

Current and anticipated employee work locations for remote-capable jobs

Line chart of current and anticipated work locations for remote-capable workers. 53% expect to work hybrid in the future.
Source: "The Future of Hybrid Work: 5 Key Questions Answered With Data," Gallup, March 15, 2022.

How does a more aggressive Fed narrative transmit to Asia? 

The Fed delivered the biggest one-time increase to the Fed funds rate in 28 years on June 15, raising the policy rate by 75 basis points. It also signaled a more aggressive policy trajectory, resulting in significant tightening in global liquidity conditions, leaving global central banks scrambling. In Asia, this new narrative for the Fed is creating considerable pressure for central banks to accelerate their own tightening.

Broadly speaking, the downdraft of higher rates and the delayed peak inflation narrative will weigh on consumption and investment growth at a time when Asia’s recovery from the pandemic is still incomplete, and financial stability risks are increasing. The longer the disruption from higher rates and tighter liquidity goes on, the greater the risk of demand and supply shocks morphing into a liquidity/funding shock, further denting economic growth through a domestic credit or external funding stock. When an economy has built up significant domestic debt liabilities, slowing economic growth can hurt corporate earnings and their ability to service debt. In turn, this can lead to unemployment, reducing the ability of households to service their consumer and mortgage debt.

A sudden external funding squeeze is another potential liquidity risk for Asia. Balance of payment funding pressure can intensify when the U.S. dollar is too strong and when there are large capital outflows. Risk aversion can also result in tighter credit conditions when trying to raise external funding or roll over existing foreign currency liabilities.

By calculating Z-scores for each of these variables, we find that Hong Kong, China and South Korea are most exposed to domestic credit risk from slowing economic growth, while Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore are most vulnerable to external funding risks. The relative bright spots are Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. 

Liquidity risk profiles: Z scores across Asia

The higher the score, the worse the position

Scatter chart of Asia markets, plotting their Z scores for domestic credit risk and external funding risk.
Source: IIF, OECD, BIS, World Bank, Macrobond, Manulife Investment Management, as of March 31, 2022.

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Frances Donald

Frances Donald, 

Global Chief Economist and Strategist, Multi-Asset Solutions Team

Manulife Investment Management

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Erica Camilleri

Erica Camilleri, 

Global Macro Analyst, Multi-Asset Solutions Team

Manulife Investment Management

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