The Situation in Ukraine: Why Stocks Are Vulnerable

Even after Friday’s selloff, stocks remain vulnerable to any escalation of violence in Ukraine given still widespread complacency among investors. Russ explains.

Back in March, investors weren’t particularly worried over events in Ukraine. But that wasn’t the case last week.

After inching higher for much of the week on signs of faster economic growth, decent earnings and a pickup in mergers and acquisition activity, markets gave up these gains on Friday as investors worried about mounting tensions in Ukraine.

The selloff, however, may not be over if the situation in Ukraine worsens. As I write in my new weekly commentary, even after Friday’s losses, stocks remain vulnerable to any escalation of violence in Ukraine. Easy monetary policy and benign credit conditions continue to suppress volatility, but the low VIX reading is also indicative of complacency by investors. The VIX at barely 14 suggests that most investors aren’t particularly worried about Ukraine, and there is little bad news discounted into the market.

While it’s impossible to know how events in Ukraine will unfold, what is clear is that the issue is unlikely to fade from the news anytime soon and any escalation in violence, particularly if it leads to more stringent sanctions, is likely to be met by more selling. I expect tensions to remain high and the issue to linger, although an outright invasion of Ukraine by Russia remains less likely.

So what does this mean for investors? I continue to believe that rather than abandon stocks and other risky assets, investors could look to overweight those parts of the market that offer some relative value. Think of this value stance as a “cushion” should events take a turn for the worse.

In fact, there is growing evidence that more investors are embracing value assets. While stocks have moved higher over the past two weeks, the thrust of the move has been driven by value, rather than the momentum names that dominated gains earlier in the year. Investors continue to sell growth funds and buy value funds.

Another data point supporting the rotation into value: last week, investors sold healthcare, one of the more expensive sectors, and bought energy, one of the cheapest sectors and one I particularly prefer. In short, for now, I would stick with a value bias, particularly within U.S. stocks, where valuations are the most stretched.

Sources: Bloomberg, BlackRock research

Russ Koesterich, CFA, is the Chief Investment Strategist for BlackRock and iShares Chief Global Investment Strategist. He is a regular contributor to The Blog and you can find more of his posts here.



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