Larry Fink's Outlook: 10 Things We Learned

At a 2022 Outlook event, the influential BlackRock chief spoke about consumer behaviour, Covid-19, ESG and likely equity returns for 2022. Read our summary here. Editors 17 January, 2022 | 4:28AM Sunniva Kolostyak
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Larry Fink, BlackRock CEO

Asset manager BlackRock held a 2022 Outlook today. Here are some edited highlights of what its CEO, Larry Fink, said about a range of topics. Morningstar's Ollie Smith and Sunniva Kolostyak listened in:

Consumer Behaviour has Completely Changed

“We saw a vast change [in 2021]. Because of what we're witnessing now with the new variant, we're spending much less money on services. We're not commuting as much. We're not going to restaurants as much. And the pool of savings has built up dramatically, but when we spend it we're spending it much more on capital goods. Some of the fundamental reasons why we have supply chain problems is the demand side is just so much greater than it's ever been.”

Inflation is Not Transitory

Inflation is a big, a big issue going into 2022 because of this change in consumerism. And we see it in wages too. We have the largest quit rate in the United States we've ever had, which is a great statement of the confidence of the worker. People…quit because they have confidence they could find something better and easier. That in itself is now stimulating more wage inflation. So the question is: are we going to have more wage inflation, or more core inflation? That’s going to be a big issue politically.”

‘Sustainability Inflation’ is a Thing

“We are a big believer in the world moving faster and in a decarbonised way. But if we don't have proper government policies to navigate the demand side of energy versus its supply, we're going to have big imbalances. That’s what we experienced late last year, where there was so much pressure and supply mitigation of hydrocarbons, without any negation of demand. I believe this is going to be with us for some time. I could almost call it sustainability inflation. In 2022 this will be a backdrop that will lead to changes in the behaviour of central banks, especially the Federal Reserve.”

Equity Investors Shouldn't Expect Bumper Returns

“The S&P was up 27% last year. It would be very hard for me to see those type of outcomes [again].

There's no question some valuations are very extreme. And there's so much momentum in the equity markets. Our clients are aggressively investing in more and more privates, whether it's private debt, private equity, or real estate. So we are seeing real changes in investor behaviour worldwide. But it should create less fear of higher inflation. So that’s why I’m not fearful of equities. I am a big believer of owning equities in 2022. Likewise, I’m a big believer that you can find opportunities in fixed income even with rising rates. So I am not that worried about global capital markets. The pool of money sitting on the side-lines is enormous. That’s probably the biggest question I’m being asked: ‘where do I put my money?’ not ‘how do I protect my money?’”

Technology Boosts Resilience, But...

“I don't believe remote working can create culture. There is a great need for interconnectedness with your team and with your organization. Having the banter of a conversation about an economy, or having a political debate over dinner is far more expansive than doing it on a virtual call. We have to be mindful that human connectivity is the essence of so much of the culture of an organization. I truly believe culture is the number one difference between a bad company and a good company, or a good company and a great company.”

Young People are Struggling ... and Loneliness is Real

“I feel bad about the young people who have joined with our organizations and spent so little time in the office. I don’t know how they are going to grow out of their vertical. Virtually and independently, it is hard to move people to different parts of organizations (…) and bringing back the essence of an organization in person is going to be vital. There is so much evidence of growing mental health issues, loneliness is growing, despite how well everything is going in evidence by corporate profits. But it doesn’t mean it’s perfect, it doesn’t mean it’s lasting. It means we’re resilient, and I don’t think it’s lasting.”

The Private Sector Can't be the Environmental Police

“The issue around climate and climate risk is going to be the biggest change in capital markets. At the same time, politicians have two, four, six-year terms to effectuate a proper policy, and we’re talking 20-30 years. Therein lies the imbalance we’re facing. Right now, governments are asking the private sector to do more because they are incapable of doing as much as they would like to. The risk is, we cannot be the environmental police on behalf of governments, so there is a delicate balance there. We are all going to have to be astute in terms of navigating our portfolios, and some industries that are going to be left behind if they are not adapting. I believe the opportunity of finding those new technologies to rapidly create a decarbonized world is going to be fascinating and it’s going to create huge sums of profits for those who discover those firms and technologies.”

We Should Decarbonize Slowly

“Right now, we do not have enough technology to decarbonize in a fair, just way. If we want to decarbonize tomorrow, we probably could do it, but it would create hyperinflation, it would create more inequalities. We have to go from all these different granular shades as we move to green, and we’re going to create and find those technologies to accelerate this pathway. But all the money we manage is not ours. Our job is to inform and educate our clients – how should they be thinking about decarbonization in a world that needs hydrocarbons, and how do you manage that transition?”

Hydrocarbon Companies WILL Become Leaders

“Some of the best meetings I had in 2021 were with hydrocarbon companies. They are going to be the leader in the transition, and we are going to have some nascent new companies that are going to become leaders too. Just like what we may be seeing in EV, you had Tesla as the innovator but within that time you had GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota rapidly create an acceleration in this pathway.”

Stakeholder Capitalism is not Political

“There is no question in our evidence of research that the companies who focus the most on their stakeholders have more resilient, more durable long-term profitability. And let me just say one thing to everybody, stakeholder capitalism is not political. Stakeholder capitalism is the essence of what drives a company. It is a culture of an organization moving forward, building connectivity with their clients, their employees and their communities, and these are the companies that you want to invest in.”


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