The themes we highlighted in the Vanguard Economic and Market Outlook for 2023: Beating Back Inflation—persistent inflation, tight labour markets, rising policy interest rates—remain at midyear. Developed market economies have proved resilient. Labour markets have remained strong, leading to slower-than-expected disinflation. Wage pressures have moderated but remain persistent, especially in service industries. As a result, central banks have needed to raise monetary policy rates somewhat higher than we had anticipated.
We expect continued progress in the fight against inflation, with central banks having to keep interest rates in restrictive territory for longer. And with that, we anticipate some economic weakness in the months ahead.
The last mile to target inflation may take some time
There’s progress in the fight against inflation. But it’s too early to declare victory. Vanguard foresees developed market core inflation (which excludes food and energy prices) continuing to fall through the end of 2023 from recent generational highs. But we expect it will only be late 2024 or even 2025 before inflation falls back to central banks’ targets, which are mostly around 2%.
“We believe central banks have more work to do,” said Andrew Patterson, Vanguard senior international economist. “We’ve always said inflation wouldn’t come down magically, even as post-pandemic supply chain issues were resolved. The pandemic accelerated demographics-driven changes to labour markets. Strong demand for workers who can command higher pay than historical standards requires monetary policy that is clearly restrictive. The last leg of inflation reduction to central bank targets may be the most challenging.”
That last leg is also likely to vary by region, said Rhea Thomas, a Vanguard economist. “The initial catalysts for the surge in inflation were global in nature,” Thomas said. “The pace at which inflation travels that last mile to target will depend more heavily on local drivers: how restrictive policy tightening is in each country or region, and local demand, labour market, and housing dynamics.”
Thomas noted that central bankers in Australia, Canada, and now the United States have paused in what had been a relentless cycle of rate hikes. Hikes have since resumed in Australia and Canada, and the Federal Reserve policymakers have hinted they will resume lifting rates as well.
Inflation, policy elevate the risk of recession
In the United States, the recovery from the shortest recession in more than 150 years—a two-month downturn in early 2020—has endured one of the most aggressive interest rate-hiking cycles in Federal Reserve history. Recent growth has been stable at about 2%, annualised. We still assign a high probability to a recession, though the odds have risen that it could be delayed from 2023 to 2024.
In our initial outlook for 2023, we described a weakening of the labour market (along with slowing growth) as a necessary condition for falling rates of inflation. The labour market has had its own idea, remaining resilient even as disinflation has continued. Unemployment remains below 4%, where it stood when the Federal Reserve started its current rate-hiking cycle. We continue to expect some softening.
Given the long and variable lags between monetary policy shifts and discernible changes in economic activity, Federal Reserve policymakers could decide that the 500 basis points (5 percentage points) of interest rate hikes they’ve enacted since March 2022 in the U.S are enough to knock inflation down to their 2% target. But we view at least one more rate increase as probable.
In Australia, monetary policy rates continue to climb amid sticky inflation. Our 2023 growth forecast of 1%–1.5%, year-over-year, is little changed from the start of the year. But tepid first-quarter growth and our expectation for subdued consumption in the coming quarters skew risks to the downside. We place a 40% probability on recession in the next 12 months—below that of many developed markets but still significant.
An unemployment rate that has flirted with near-50-year lows is likely to rise in the second half of the year, to 4% at year-end, and further, to 4.75%, in 2024 as financial conditions tighten. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) will be attuned to unit labour costs, which have risen as productivity growth has been subdued. An increase in productivity will be required for wage growth to remain consistent with the RBA’s inflation target.
Despite some mixed signals recently, we believe inflation has peaked; our forecast for its pace at year-end, 4.5%, is unchanged. Still, recent higher-than-expected inflation readings suggest higher interest rates will be required to dampen demand. We foresee inflation falling to the high end of the central bank’s 2%–3% target range only in late 2024 or 2025.
A historically aggressive effort to slow the Australian economy—and thereby quell inflation—almost certainly will continue. The RBA raised its cash rate target a dozen times between May 2022 and June 2023. We foresee two more rate hikes, taking the rate target to 4.6% by year-end, higher by 25 basis points (0.25 percentage point) than our view at the start of the year amid signs of sticky inflation.
Slow but sure progress on inflation
Notes: We use year-over-year changes the core consumer price index (CPI) for all locations except Australia, where we use trimmed mean CPI. Year-end 2023 figures are Vanguard forecasts.
Sources: Vanguard calculations, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Statistics Canada, Eurostat, the U.K. Office for National Statistics, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics accessed through Macrobond on June 15, 2023.
Vanguard’s forecasts for year-end 2023
*Inflation forecasts are for core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, except for Australia, where we measure headline inflation, which includes food and energy.
**Our forecast for the United States year-end monetary policy rate reflects the low end of the Federal Reserve's federal funds target range.
Notes: Figures related to economic growth, inflation, monetary policy, and unemployment rate are Vanguard forecasts for the end of2023. Growth and inflation are comparisons with the end of the preceding year; monetary policy and unemployment rate are absolute levels.
Source: Vanguard, as of June 26, 2023.
Expected 10-year asset class returns
Equity markets around the world generally have rallied strongly—with the notable exception of China, the dominant emerging market by total value—since we issued Vanguard Economic and Market Outlook for 2023: Beating Back Inflation. For most investors around the world, the gains have reduced the expected returns of global equities excluding local markets.
Bond markets worldwide also generally have recorded solid gains—if only in nominal, not inflation-adjusted terms—since late 2022. Relative to our initial forecast, expected returns generally declined slightly.
Bucking the global trend of strong equity and solid bond performance, markets in the United Kingdom struggled in the first half of 2023. Falling equity valuations and rising bond yields boosted our expectations for 10-year annualised returns in British pounds. Widening interest rate differentials between the U.K. and the United States improved the outlook for global equities and bonds excluding British issues.
Our forecasts are derived from a May 31, 2023, running of the Vanguard Capital Markets Model®. Figures are based on a 2-point range around the 50th percentile of the distribution of return outcomes for equities and a 1-point range around the 50th percentile for fixed income.
Following are our 10-year annualised return forecasts. Forecasts are from the perspective of local investors in local currencies.
- Australian stocks: 4.3% to 6.3%
- ex Australian stocks: 5.0% to 7.0%
- Australian bonds: 3.4% to 4.4%
- ex Australian bonds: 3.6% to 4.6% when hedged in Australian dollars.
About the Vanguard Capital Markets Model
IMPORTANT:The projections and other information generated by the Vanguard Capital Markets Model regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results. VCMM results will vary with each use and over time
The VCMM projections are based on a statistical analysis of historical data. Future returns may behave differently from the historical patterns captured in the VCMM. More important, the VCMM may be underestimating extreme negative scenarios unobserved in the historical period on which the model estimation is based.
The Vanguard Capital Markets Model® is a proprietary financial simulation tool developed and maintained by Vanguard’s Investment Strategy Group. The model forecasts distributions of future returns for a wide array of broad asset classes. Those asset classes include U.S. and international equity markets, several maturities of the U.S. Treasury and corporate fixed income markets, international fixed income markets, U.S. money markets, commodities, and certain alternative investment strategies. The theoretical and empirical foundation for the Vanguard Capital Markets Model is that the returns of various asset classes reflect the compensation investors require for bearing different types of systematic risk (beta). At the core of the model are estimates of the dynamic statistical relationship between risk factors and asset returns, obtained from statistical analysis based on available monthly financial and economic data. Using a system of estimated equations, the model then applies a Monte Carlo simulation method to project the estimated interrelationships among risk factors and asset classes as well as uncertainty and randomness over time. The model generates a large set of simulated outcomes for each asset class over several time horizons. Forecasts are obtained by computing measures of central tendency in these simulations. Results produced by the tool will vary with each use and over time.
The primary value of the VCMM is in its application to analysing potential client portfolios. VCMM asset-class forecasts—comprising distributions of expected returns, volatilities, and correlations—are key to the evaluation of potential downside risks, various risk–return trade-offs, and the diversification benefits of various asset classes. Although central tendencies are generated in any return distribution, Vanguard stresses that focusing on the full range of potential outcomes for the assets considered, such as the data presented in this paper, is the most effective way to use VCMM output.
The VCMM seeks to represent the uncertainty in the forecast by generating a wide range of potential outcomes. It is important to recognise that the VCMM does not impose “normality” on the return distributions, but rather is influenced by the so-called fat tails and skewness in the empirical distribution of modeled asset-class returns. Within the range of outcomes, individual experiences can be quite different, underscoring the varied nature of potential future paths. Indeed, this is a key reason why we approach asset-return outlooks in a distributional framework.
Indexes used in Vanguard Capital Markets Model simulations
The long-term returns of our hypothetical portfolios are based on data for the appropriate market indexes as of December 31, 2021; December 31, 2022; and May 31, 2023. We chose these benchmarks to provide the most complete history possible, and we apportioned the global allocations to align with Vanguard’s guidance in constructing diversified portfolios. Asset classes and their representative forecast indexes are as follows:
Australian equities: MSCI Australia Index.
Global ex-Australia equities: MSCI All Country World ex-Australia Index.
Australian bonds: Bloomberg Australian Aggregate Bond Index.
Global ex-Australia bonds: Bloomberg Global Aggregate ex-AUS Bond Index.
This article contains certain 'forward looking' statements. Forward looking statements, opinions and estimates provided in this article are based on assumptions and contingencies which are subject to change without notice, as are statements about market and industry trends, which are based on interpretations of current market conditions. Forward-looking statements including projections, indications or guidance on future earnings or financial position and estimates are provided as a general guide only and should not be relied upon as an indication or guarantee of future performance. There can be no assurance that actual outcomes will not differ materially from these statements. To the full extent permitted by law, Vanguard Investments Australia Ltd (ABN 72 072 881 086 AFSL 227263) and its directors, officers, employees, advisers, agents and intermediaries disclaim any obligation or undertaking to release any updates or revisions to the information to reflect any change in expectations or assumptions.