Bearded man in glasses faces forward with a confident gaze.
Markets and economy

Our 2023 economic and market outlook and you

5 minute read
January 31, 2023
Markets and economy
Market & economy insights
Fixed income
Market volatility
Vanguard values

As a Vanguard advisor, I have access to world-class expertise and thought leadership on the global markets—and I get to bring those insights to clients like you.

Every year our in-house economists collaborate to produce an in-depth economic and market outlook based on research their teams have conducted in each of their respective areas of expertise. Part of my job is to translate this comprehensive and wide-ranging forecast into practical takeaways for Vanguard investors. I help them make sense of the economic landscape and—more importantly—offer guidance to help them stay on track to reach their goals.

What lies ahead

We all know it's been a tough year for investors. We've been through monetary tightening and persistent inflation across global economies. We've seen an unprecedented period of volatility in the bond market, where such fluctuations are highly unusual. So what does the future look like and how do we move forward?

Our long-term return expectations for global equities and U.S. and international bonds have improved compared with what we were forecasting 12 months ago. There are some differences when you start to break down stock markets versus fixed income markets. We'll get into all that, and what it means for you, in more detail below.

We know that the markets are unpredictable—and that in times of extreme volatility, it can be tempting to abandon your long-term plan. But it's important not to let emotions get the better of you or push you to make a reactive decision that could put your hard-earned savings at risk.

Beating back inflation

For the last few years, we've seen an increase in inflation driven by an imbalance in supply and demand. While global supply chains are still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, households and businesses are driving demand, thanks to the economic stimuli they received. In other words, people are willing to pay more for products and services, which results in increased prices and elevated inflation.

Additionally, the war in Ukraine that started in February of 2022 has carried on, potentially leading to another surge in energy and food prices. Inflation has continued to trend higher across most economies, in many cases setting multidecade highs.

We expect consumer behavior to begin the process of normalizing and supply pressures to start stabilizing in the months ahead. We've seen central banks take action to combat the persistent and broad-based inflation through monetary tightening, and we expect that to continue in the months ahead. In our view, this will help bring down the rate of inflation. Consequently, we can also expect to see some volatility in asset prices. 

Get our in-depth insights into the economy, including challenges and opportunities in the global markets, in Vanguard Economic and Market Outlook for 2023: Beating Back Inflation.

Recession expectations

We believe that rapid monetary tightening aimed at bringing down inflation will ultimately succeed but at a cost: We predict a high likelihood of a global recession in 2023. Painful as they may be, recessions are a natural part of economic cycles—and economies can't thrive if inflation remains persistently high. 

When it comes to recession, I advise my clients not to focus too much on the technical term. That's because it's something of a backward-looking concept. When you're categorizing a recession, you're using previous data to make a determination.

For individual investors, that means you've already experienced at least part of the contributing factors to a recession by the time it gets officially "declared." There may still be a few bumps ahead, but chances are you're that much closer to the end of the tunnel and the turning point when we move into recovery. 

The forecast for fixed income

We've been through a unique time for fixed income investments. It's been many years since the Federal Reserve has raised rates in such significant amounts and in such a compressed time frame. That combination has had a 2-part impact on fixed income.

The painful part has been the inverse relationship with interest rates and bond prices that leads to existing bonds with lower coupons declining in market value to better reflect current yields. That's our experience today. But on the back end of that, we're moving from a decade-plus period of very low interest rates into a higher interest rate environment. Rate hikes can create short-term pricing volatility but can also result in much better bond yields moving forward.

Although the volatility is unexpected, staying patient and sticking with your plan is critical. This is especially true for preretirees and retirees, who could stand to benefit from greater income generation as part of their more conservative allocations.

Good times don't last forever, but neither do the bad times.

What's the outlook for equities?

Our longer-term global equity outlook is improving because of lower valuations amid higher interest rates. It's still important to temper your expectations for the future, even with the drop we've already experienced.

Although the stock market recovered swiftly in the second half of 2020 and 2021 after the early part of 2020, U.S. equities were more overvalued last year than at any other time since the dot-com bubble. The fact that we've had a pullback brings stock valuations into more realistic territory.

Our value framework suggests that stock valuations still don't reflect current economic realities, so it's important to proceed with caution. We could continue to see volatility for some time. But we foresee a better outlook for equities, global equities in particular, where our economists believe valuations look a little more reasonable.

These variations are one reason why I emphasize the importance of keeping your portfolio diversified. This could mean addressing underweighted and overweighted assets in your sub-allocations. 

What about the 60/40 portfolio?

I've been asked many times this past year whether the unique market conditions we've just seen suggest the death of the 60/40 portfolio. My perspective—and Vanguard's—is that one year of atypical markets should not cancel out decades' worth of smart planning. We stick to strategies that have consistently worked over the long term, which includes a long-term strategic asset allocation.


What does all this mean for you? 

Keep in mind that we can't control what happens in the economy—and we don't recommend making changes to your portfolio based on economic conditions. We encourage investors to consider their personal situation and whether anything significant has changed. For every investor, time horizon is a major consideration. So it's important to think about what stage of life you're in and whether your financial goals have changed.

For the younger investor or anyone in the accumulation phase of life, expected returns for the equity markets on average are still better than for the fixed income markets. From a long-term growth perspective, in terms of outpacing average inflation over an extended time frame, it makes sense for you to have exposure to the stock markets. If you're an accumulator, you have time to take on more risk since you likely won't be accessing most of your money for several years.

For those who are pre-retirees or retirees, this past year has been a great reminder to have a comprehensive plan for your retirement. That means not only maintaining your investment portfolio, but also making sure you have appropriate cash reserves for ongoing spending and emergencies. And always keep the big picture in mind—because we know that from time to time there are going to be one-off years like the one we've just experienced.

For those already in retirement, who are withdrawing from their portfolios, this change in interest rates should mean much better yields on their fixed income investments. If you can weather this period of rising interest rates, that will mean greater income generation in retirement, which will be a big help in covering your expenses.

Focus on the long term

The financial plans we design at Vanguard are built around the time frame for your individual goals, while taking the ups and downs of the markets into consideration. So, unless your goals or stage of life has shifted, staying the course is likely your best bet.

One analogy I like to share with my clients involves gardening. If you have a bush that keeps growing and growing over a long period of time, eventually it must be pruned back to enable additional growth. This is very much a year in which we're seeing the kind of trimming back that actually makes the future outlook a little better—both on the stock and bond sides. As long as you have an appropriate time horizon, you can be patient and stay the course.

It's also important to remember that "off" years are part of every investing journey. The last 3 years combined have given us extremely strong growth in the markets, and it was inevitable that things would eventually cool down.

The financial strategy we built for you was not only tailored to your goals and individual situation, it was also designed with this kind of periodic downturn in mind. The technology that powers Digital Advisor can plan far ahead, factoring in market ups and downs so that you don't need to react in the moment. If you've experienced a major life change that impacts your goals or investing timeline, you'll want to make sure your profile is updated to reflect this. But you should feel confident knowing that market fluctuations were accounted for when we constructed your portfolio and developed your financial strategy.

Get our in-depth insights into the economy, including challenges and opportunities in the global markets, in  Vanguard Economic and Market Outlook for 2023: Beating Back Inflation.

*For the U.S., GDP growth is defined as the year-over-year change in fourth-quarter gross domestic product. For all other countries/regions, it is defined as the annual change in total GDP in the forecast year compared with the previous year. 

†For the U.S., headline inflation is defined as year-over-year changes in this year’s fourth-quarter Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index compared with last year. For all other countries/regions, it is defined as the average annual change in headline Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation in the forecast year compared with the previous year. Consensus for the U.S. is based on Bloomberg ECFC consensus estimates.

‡China's policy rate is the one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) rate.

Notes: Forecasts, which may have been updated from earlier outlooks, are as of November 30, 2022. NAIRU stands for non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment. The neutral rate is the interest rate that would be neither expansionary nor contractionary when the economy is at full employment and stable inflation. This table displays our median neutral estimates with an effective range of 1 percentage point.

Source: Vanguard.

IMPORTANT: The projections and other information generated by the Vanguard Capital Markets Model® (VCMM) regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results. Distribution of return outcomes from the VCMM are derived from 10,000 simulations for each modeled asset class. Simulations are as of September 30, 2022. Results from the model may vary with each use and over time. For details, please see the important information below.

All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.

Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.

Past performance does not guarantee future results.

About the Vanguard Capital Markets Model:

IMPORTANT: The projections and other information generated by the VCMM 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 VCMM is a proprietary financial simulation tool developed and maintained by Vanguard 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 VCMM 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.

Vanguard’s advice services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc. (“VAI”), a registered investment advisor.

The services provided to clients will vary based upon the service selected, including management, fees, eligibility, and access to an advisor. Find VAI’s Form CRS and each program’s advisory brochure here for an overview of the program.

VAI is a subsidiary of The Vanguard Group, Inc., and an affiliate of Vanguard Marketing Corporation. Neither VAI nor its affiliates guarantee profits or protection from losses.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and Certified Financial Planner™ in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.

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