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  • Michael Livian, CFA and Martin Fridson, CFA

The Israel-Hamas War: Short-Term Fluctuations vs. Long-Term Investment Strategy

Lion and Snake Fighting, symbolizing Israel and Hamas

The escalating confrontations between Hamas and Israel are causing understandable concern worldwide. A recent PBS/NPR survey revealed that 79% of Americans, cutting across political affiliations, are apprehensive about this conflict snowballing into a larger Middle East war. In fact, the Alpine Group, a renowned research firm, estimates that there's a 30% chance that the situation could intensify, with potential involvement from Iranian-backed groups or even a direct intervention from Iran (10% probability).

An enlightening article by the Ruchir Sharma, Chair of Rockefeller International, delved into 25 geopolitical crises since World War II. It's noteworthy that 16 of these crises were either rooted in the Middle East or arose from terror groups operating within the region. The common pattern observed was that while there was an instinctive selloff in the markets initially, recovery typically ensued in a relatively short span. This historical analysis underscores the resilience of financial markets in the face of geopolitical disruptions.

To understand the worst-case scenario’s repercussions, we can look back to the Yom Kippur War, which spanned from October 6 to October 25, 1973. During this period, significant economic upheavals occurred. Most notably, there was a dramatic surge in oil prices due to supply disruptions. This, in turn, led to inflationary pressures, prompting central banks, such as the US Federal Reserve, to hike interest rates. The economic aftershock was considerable: the S&P 500 index plummeted by 43% within a year.

Contrasting that to today, while there's undoubted unease about the current Middle East situation, the financial market's response has been more restrained. It's worth noting that the global landscape has evolved since the 1970s. For instance, the US is now much less reliant on foreign oil, and the influence of unions, which could demand inflation-linked wage hikes, has diminished.

Given the present geopolitical scenario and if an escalation were to occur, here's what might transpire in the short term:

  • Possible inflationary pressures: this could cause everyday goods and services to become pricier.

  • Potential further rise in interest rates: in response to inflation, the Federal Reserve might elevate rates, hinting at an economic slowdown or even a recession in 2024.

  • Fluctuations in stock values: riskier assets, like stocks and high-yield bonds, could face downward pressures.

  • Surge in prices of oil, gas, and gold: a disrupted oil supply could elevate prices, and gold, traditionally seen as a refuge during turbulence, might gain value.

  • Strengthening of certain currencies: oil-exporting countries, such as Norway, not embroiled in the conflict, might see their currency values ascend. During times of stress the US dollar also tends to appreciate.

However, here's the vital takeaway: while short-term market movements can be concerning, they often don't have lasting impacts on a diversified investment portfolio. The Yom Kippur War, despite its immediate effects, was followed by market recoveries. Making abrupt portfolio adjustments based on transient events might not be in one's best long-term interests.

In conclusion, it's imperative to be informed about the potential short-term ripples caused by global events. Yet, a long-term, steady investment strategy often proves to be the wisest.


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