A workman, suspend from wires, take down a UBS Group AG logo from their old offices at Broadgate circle in London. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

UBS Sees Two Fed Hikes, Asian Central Banks to Pause in 2019

(Bloomberg) -- UBS Global Wealth Management predicts the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates twice this year despite markets pricing in little chance of that happening.

An expanding U.S. economy and low recession risk may provide opportunities for the Fed to keep ratcheting up borrowing costs, said Min Lan Tan, head of the chief investment office for Asia Pacific in Singapore. Still, that’s unlikely to spur many Asian central banks to adopt a similar pace of tightening, after policy makers from Indonesia to India boosted rates last year to combat routs sparked by four Fed hikes, rising Treasury yields and a stronger dollar.

“Global inflation will remain low enough for policy tightening to remain gradual, so the Fed could hike twice,” Tan said at a conference Monday. “And in this context, actually, most of Asia policy tightening is done -- in fact, China is in easing mode.”

UBS Sees Two Fed Hikes, Asian Central Banks to Pause in 2019

UBS isn’t the only firm to say markets may be too aggressive in dismissing the likelihood of any hikes from the Fed this year. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. still see two increases, while Loomis Sayles & Co. says the U.S. central bank may tighten monetary policy once.

Although the median projection of Fed officials is for two quarter-point increases in 2019, fed fund futures currently don’t even price in one. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell signaled last week the U.S. central bank can be patient before adjusting rates again as it waits to see how global risks impact the domestic economy.

While monetary policy may have stabilized in Asia, UBS still sees “key uncertainties” brewing in the region -- regional elections and the U.S.-China trade war to name a few, Tan said.

“Our base case is that sufficient progress will be made to delay further tariff escalation, but substantive issues will remain,” she said.

Here are UBS’s investment views for 2019:

  • Unlikely China will massively depreciate the yuan, sell U.S. Treasuries or overtly punish U.S. companies operating there as the nation needs to maintain stability and attract foreign direct investment
  • Yuan will stay close to 7 per dollar if U.S.-China trade truce is sustained, or it may weaken beyond 7 if there’s any worsening relations
  • Overweight Asian equities, which are forecast to return 12 to 15 percent in 2019, with a preference for stocks in China, Singapore, Korea and Indonesia
  • Dollar strength will fade, providing a more supportive environment for Asian risk assets
  • Likes Asian high-yield credit, which is predicted to return 5 to 6 percent this year
  • Asian currencies may weaken in first quarter before ending 2019 where they are today
  • Short Korean won against the dollar to hedge against overweight position in Asia equities, slowing exports in the region
  • Best defense for Asian investors against potential market shocks this year is to reduce home bias and hold a diversified global portfolio

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