,In free fall: People walk past an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index yesterday. Asian shares fell across the board after Wall Street tumbled into a bear market, indicating that major US benchmarks and individual stocks have fallen 20% or more. — AP

INFLATION and economic data are screaming at investors to run for the hills. But what if the hills are hard to find?

Asset markets are cratering, risk appetite is evaporating, and volatility is spiking as the highest price rises in 40 years push up market-based borrowing costs and expected policy rates.

If inflation were the only challenge, investors’ options to hedge or diversify their portfolios might be more straightforward.

But growth is fragile, and the probability of recession in the next 12-18 months is rising by the day.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index plunged to the lowest last week since the index was launched in the 1970s.

The recession bells could not be ringing louder.

A big problem with this storm is the fact that no one in financial markets under the age of around 60 will have any experience of “stagflation”.

Most investors are flying blind.

Crucially, the old safe-haven plays investors would typically load up on are no longer options – bonds are getting crushed, the Japanese yen has plunged to its lowest since 1998, and dollar cash burns a 7% real hole in your pocket.

“It’s going to be a challenge until the market feels the end of the Federal Reserve (Fed) tightening is visible. And it’s safe to say the end is not in sight,” said Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management.

“We are in a difficult spot.”

Wall Street downside

That may be an understatement. The blunt truth is the re-pricing of the Fed’s interest rate outlook this year has been so extraordinary that virtually no asset class and financial market would emerge unscathed.

The United States rates futures markets now expect the Fed’s policy rate to peak at just under 4% around the middle next year. Barely two weeks ago, the expected “terminal rate” was below 3%.

Unsurprisingly, the typical portfolio weighted 60% to equities and 40% to bonds is having a terrible year.

According to analysts at Truist, a typical 60% to 40% US portfolio was down 15% this year as of last Friday.

Looking at data going back to 1926, that would be the fourth worst year on record, they say.

Depending on the construction and leverage, some equity-bond portfolios are nursing significantly greater losses this year.

The S&P 500 is down 20% so far this year and flirting with bear market territory.

Larry Adam, the chief investment officer of private client group at Raymond James, reckons the index could fall to 3,400 – another 10% to the downside – before long-term investors see a “compelling opportunity”.

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