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The global supply chain crisis could fuel a severe dose of stagflation

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How will the global economy and markets evolve over the next year? There are four scenarios that could follow the “mild stagflation” of the last few months.

The recovery in the first half of 2021 has given way recently to sharply slower growth and a surge of inflation well above the 2% target of central banks, owing to the effects of the Delta variant, supply bottlenecks in both goods and labour markets, and shortages of some commodities, intermediate inputs, final goods, and labour. Bond yields have fallen in the last few months and the recent equity-market correction has been modest so far, perhaps reflecting hopes that the mild stagflation will prove temporary.

The four scenarios depend on whether growth accelerates or decelerates, and on whether inflation remains persistently higher or slows down. Wall Street analysts and most policymakers anticipate a “Goldilocks” scenario of stronger growth alongside moderating inflation in line with central banks’ 2% target. According to this view, the recent stagflationary episode is driven largely by the impact of the Delta variant. Once it fades, so, too, will the supply bottlenecks, provided that new virulent variants do not emerge. Then growth would accelerate while inflation would fall.

For markets, this would represent a resumption of the “reflation trade” outlook from earlier this year, when it was hoped that stronger growth would support stronger earnings and even higher stock prices. In this rosy scenario, inflation would subside, keeping inflation expectations anchored about 2%, bond yields would gradually rise alongside real interest rates, and central banks would be in a position to taper quantitative easing without rocking stock or bond markets. In equities, there would be a rotation from US to foreign markets (Europe, Japan, and emerging markets) and from growth, technology, and defensive stocks to cyclical and value stocks.

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