Email us at to talk to a financial advisor today!

Email us at

Russia and Ukraine… One Year Later

By The Numbers

One year ago, the lives of millions of Ukrainians were uprooted, and many more lives around the world were indirectly impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  The human toll alone has been considerable.  As it stands today, 8,000 civilians, between 175,000 and 200,000 Russian soldiers, and between 40,000 and 60,000 Ukrainian military members have lost their lives in this crisis. More than 8 million Ukrainians have fled their country.  This is equivalent to the population of the Chicago Metropolitan Area being forced to flee their homes. The largest group of refugees are women and children.  A further 6,000 Ukrainian children have been taken to refugee camps and facilities in Russia, subject to Russian re-education.

The United States government has provided $68 billion in total economic support with $29.8 billion of that being direct military aid and the rest being humanitarian assistance and economic support. The White House is requesting an additional $37.7 billion in aid in the coming year. The U.S. has given more military aid than any other country; however, the European Union (EU) leads in financial support at $30.3 billion provided to Ukraine within the last year. On the Russian side, communist-led Venezuela, Sudan, Cuba, and Nicaragua have all pledged their allegiance to Russia. While the U.S. has not confirmed China giving direct military aid to Russia, Chinese authorities do not deny their willingness to support their communist ally.


Source: CSIS

In addition to the horrific human toll, the war has also caused a wide swath of economic damage, sending shock waves to financial markets, agricultural markets, energy markets, and world economies. The outcome of the war is still largely unknown as concerns continue to be raised about Russia’s potential use of tactical nuclear capabilities and the uncertain form of Chinese support for Russia. Russia recently suspended its participation in the last remaining nuclear arms deal with the U.S., the 2021 extension of the START treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks).  Russia can now begin expanding its nuclear weapons inventories.  One year ago, some speculated that Russia would swiftly overtake Ukrainian armed forces, but Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his army have proven their mettle in fighting off close to 320,000 Russian soldiers. While the results of this brutal fight are still hanging in the balance, we will now look back at how this conflict has disrupted global markets.

Agricultural Impact

Agriculture generally flies under the radar for many investors and consumers as a sufficient food supply is generally taken as a given, particularly in the developed West.  However, the invasion shed light on the tenuous nature of global food and commodity supply as the stomping of Russian boots on Ukrainian soil was felt from the sunflower fields in Ukraine to the amber waves of grain in the United States. Agricultural commodities such as wheat, sunflowers, corn, and soybeans all depend on the trifecta of fertilizers for plant growth: Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potash. While the United States is not significantly dependent on Russia for imports of these vital crop nutrients, Brazil and other agricultural-producing countries import a significant portion of their fertilizer needs from Russia and its allies in China and Belarus. The fertilizer pressure globally has sent fertilizer prices skyrocketing with energy, seed, and financing costs for farmers also following suit. Input prices increased 20-30% for U.S. farmers in just one year as Brazil and others scowered the global market for alternative sources of supply. Global fertilizer prices remain firm and/or continuing on an upward trend.

Source: Farmdoc Daily

On the flip side of rising fertilizer prices, agricultural commodity prices have generally offset these rising input costs with corn, soybeans, and wheat prices all hitting 8-year highs in the past year. A relatively favorable growing season for much of the corn belt meant strong net farm incomes across the United States. Prices for agricultural commodities however have begun to fall off recently as the world has begun to adjust grain and input risk premiums to discount expected war outcomes with the war at a seemingly painful stalemate.

Globally, Ukraine supplies the world with 30% of the world’s sunflower and its byproducts (oil and meal). It is also a significant producer of corn, wheat, barley, and rapeseed. The conflict has brought about many uncertainties about whether the fields in Ukraine will be turned into battlefields or if they can produce a crop, will there be open ports for them to take their harvest to for export to global markets. Speculation about the war’s impacts on agriculture production are ongoing; however, if the COVID pandemic and Russia-Ukrainian war have taught us anything, it’s that regardless of what is happening in the world and whether there is war or peace, people still need to eat.

Energy and Financial Markets

Investors have been riding a wave of economic turmoil throughout the last year as the Russian ruble tumbled early on against the US Dollar and then climbed the mountain upward as capital controls and petrodollars came in. The ruble began to sell off once again when US and EU energy sanctions threatened a stranglehold on Russia’s critically important energy and gas business. Crude oil has been volatile as a result of the war with the oil price peaking at $128 last March after the Russian invasion began. Importantly, Russia is Europe’s largest oil exporter and although sanctions have been placed on Russia from the West, Russia has been able to re-direct most of its oil sales to China, India, and Southeast Asia. Natural Gas has been subject to similar turmoil as Europe was one of the main customers of Russian natural gas through the Nord stream gas pipeline system. Europe imports 83% of its natural gas and the war has brought about additional sanctions on Russian gas imports impacting the price European consumers pay for heat and energy. Europe has been forced to find new import partners such as the U.S., Qatar, Nigeria, Norway, and Algeria to keep people’s homes heated and the lights on.


A stock market repricing for a looming recession or economic slowdown and the Federal Reserve’s ongoing fight against inflation have eaten up investors’ returns over the last year.  However, there are sectors of financial markets that have profited from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Aerospace and defense stocks are up 11% in past year according to a subindex of the S&P 500. Commodities and raw materials have also remained strong as both sellers of agricultural products and energy commodities benefitted from higher prices and the uncertainties about a region that produces 14% of the world’s energy (Russia) and is a leader in sunflower oil, corn, and wheat production (Ukraine). Price pressures and volatility will remain in global commodity markets until the conflict is resolved. Amundi, Europe’s largest asset manager, says the probability of a long, drawn out war is up to 30%.

Source: WSJ

Global investors have been adjusting their strategic asset allocations for these geopolitical uncertainties and attempting to benefit from strong commodities and defense stocks. The uncertainty surrounding how the U.S. will respond if Russia deploys tactic nukes has some speculating around domestic defense stocks.  Some also believe military spending may be in a secular uptrend as U.S. munitions and defense equipment inventories have been depleted and the White House begins saber rattling against the Chinese.  The military industrial complex will likely adopt Rahm Emanuel’s approach by “never letting a serious crisis go to waste” to push their military spending agendas.  For those looking to go long a secular defense spending spree the iShares U.S. Aerospace and Defense ETF (ITA) has a low expense ratio of 0.39% with concentrated exposure in defense companies such as Raytheon (21.4%), Lockheed Martin Corp (16.14%), and Boeing Co (7.42%) among others. ITA is not cheap; however, as it trades at 24 times projected 2023 net earnings with a dividend yield of 1.4%.   For more a narrow, internationally focused play, BAE systems (BAESY), has experienced strong growth over the past year as Europe’s leading defense contractor.  BAESY trades at a more modest 18 times trailing earnings and yields 3.0%.  Generally, the stock has benefitted from higher military spending which doesn’t seem like it will be tapering off anytime soon.

How the Russia-Ukrainian war will end is still highly uncertain; however, it is clear that sadly global markets will be actively repricing its extended effects long after the last solider leaves the battlefield.


Almighty Dollar

Current Status of US Dollar

What do George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin have in common? These three American icons found on the $1, $5, and $100 bills have been getting much stronger the past several months. The U.S. dollar is undergoing one of the longest periods of almost steady appreciation in several decades impacting domestic and foreign economies alike. The ICE U.S. Dollar Index, the most widely adopted currency index, measures the international value of the US dollar against other major fiat currencies with a weighting of Euro (58%), Japanese Yen (14%), British Pound (12%), Canadian Dollar (9%), Swedish Krona (4%), and Swiss Franc (4%). The buck’s value is currently up 22% since the start of 2022 with little end in sight.

Source: Wall Street Journal

The rise in the dollar’s value is unsurprising as record inflation in the United States has prompted the Federal Reserve to aggressively raise interest rates over the past several months. Just last week, the U.S. central bank decided on another .75 percentage point increase, the third consecutive rate hike. This pushed the implied Fed funds curve higher, with terminal Fed funds now expected to peak at 4.6% and remain above 4.0% through the end of next year. The yield curve inverted further with the 2-year versus 10-year treasury spread at 50 basis points (0.5%).  These changes in the risk-free U.S. treasury rates are driving the cost of capital higher for all risk assets and significantly impacting equity and currency markets. While the stock market has experienced significant losses, the dollar has been benefiting from increased capital flows due to rising treasury yields. The U.S. 10-year treasury note is at a multi-year high, yielding over 3.5%. Rising U.S. interest rates have foreign investors flocking to higher-yielding U.S. treasuries and pulling capital out of lower yielding, perhaps riskier currencies, bond and equity investments in other countries. This trend is particularly visible in energy dependent jurisdictions like the European Union, China and Japan.

Impact of the US Dollar on the Global Economy

Efforts to combat inflation through interest rate hikes have been counteracted by the strengthening dollar, fueling cheaper imports for the American people. However, the rest of the world has felt the brunt of this change. The economies being hit hardest by the punch of the U.S. dollar, are some of the U.S. largest trading partners: China, Japan, and Europe.

On September 26th, the British pound hit its lowest value ever against the U.S. dollar, sending U.K. bond yields soaring. Emerging economies have also declined in value relative to the dollar with currencies in Egypt, Hungary, and South Africa falling by 18%, 20%, and 9% respectively.

Not only are rising U.S. interest rates impacting these economies, but geopolitical concerns between Ukraine and Russia have Europe in an economic war of its own with Russia. Combined with surging inflation and the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war between Russia and Ukraine has Europe in an energy crisis, only furthering their currencies’ devaluation. Energy prices have skyrocketed while supply dwindles as Europe, particularly Germany, was very heavily dependent on natural gas imports from Russia for its global manufacturing base and winter heating. As European countries are forced to look to the U.S. and other markets for alternative oil and gas imports, the devalued Euro currency is only deepening the economic damage as most imports are traded in U.S. dollars.

Domestic companies with international operations are also being squeezed by the strong dollar. McDonald’s reported global revenue fell 3% this past summer while Microsoft stated that the changes in foreign currency values cut their revenues by close to 1% in the last quarter. According to a report by CBS news , companies comprising the S&P 500 receive 40% of their revenues from foreign countries. This has only added fuel to the downward spiral of the stock market as earnings expectations are lowered due to foreign currency translation losses and inevitable demand destruction. Domestic and foreign companies alike are pointing at the U.S. monetary policy as the root cause of the dramatic economic slowdown globally.

Investment Opportunities

In every market scenario there are winners and losers, and the current strength of the U.S. dollar is no different. While the U.S. stock market has entered a bear market with 20% declines across most major stock indices, treasuries and corporate bond yields have been on the rise in recent months as outstanding bond prices have declined in response to Fed interest rate hikes. Moody’s reports Aaa corporate bonds are currently yielding 4.65% which is up from 2.60% just a year ago while Baa bonds are currently yielding 5.78% on average, up from 3.26% a year ago.

Source: Bloomberg

The looming energy crisis in Europe has some adventuresome investors looking to clean energy options to capitalize on potential long-term secular growth. Even though the energy crisis is worse in Europe, the U.S. has still experienced stubbornly high oil, gas, and electricity prices over the past few years, contributing to the high inflation rate. Last month, we told you about the iShares Global Clean Energy ETF (ticker: ICLN) and the First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund (ticker: QCLN) with assets under management of $5.5 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively. Each ETF has demonstrated strong 10 year returns and the government has deepened its commitment to clean energy through the Inflation Reduction Act, meaning this strong performance is likely to persist in the future.

One way to make a contrarian play on the strength of the U.S. dollar waning, or mean reverting over time, would be to invest in a basket of emerging market currencies which for the most part are energy and resource rich.  We explored these alternatives on Research Affiliates Asset Allocation Interactive website seeking a fixed income alternative that is expected to pay a real yield (nominal yield less expected U.S. inflation of 4.0%) and an attractive Sharpe ratio (return per unit of risk).  Perhaps the best alternative was Emerging Market Cash asset class.  As of August 31, 2022, Research Affiliates expects EM Cash to generate a real return of 2.4% (real return in excess of U.S. dollar cash of 4.6%, ie. real loss of (2.2%) holding U.S. dollar) with volatility of 7.2%. This compares to a real return of (0.4%) with volatility of 3.8% for U.S. Treasury intermediate bonds.  Of note, Research Affiliates’ risk and return metrics for the EM Cash asset class were derived using a variety of information, including using the J.P. Morgan ELMI+ index as a representative example.  Servant Financial portfolio models generally include an allocation to the J.P. Morgan EM Local Currency Bond ETF (EMLC).  EMLC yields over 7% and is comprised of mostly investment grade (72%) sovereign debt obligations in local currencies.  The top 4 currencies represent 38% of its holdings – Indonesian Rupiah (10%), Chinese Renminbi (10%), Brazilian Real (9%), and Mexican Peso (9%).

As you might expect, the price of EMLC has been declining in line with the U.S. dollar strength this year.  We rebalanced the model portfolio last week and at much earlier juncture in 2022 where EMLC was among the list of buys both times.  Rebalancing is a prudent investment practice whereby investors buy more of their losing positions and sell winners to get back to overall targeted asset class allocations. Research Affiliates recommends modest allocations to EM Cash of 2% to 4% in conservative to aggressive risk models.


2022 is turning out to be one for the financial record books as inflation, geopolitical pressures, and the bear market has George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin being stretched in every direction in our wallets. Global recession concerns are rising as the Federal Reserve’s high conviction battle with inflation is affecting consumers and markets all over the world. As participants in a global economy, we need to remember the words of the man found on the $5 bill. “The money power preys on the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes.” -Abraham Lincoln.

The ubiquitous strength of the almighty dollar and resultant market mayhem suggest the Jerome Powell led Federal Reserve is currently playing the role of Lincoln’s “money power.”  The Fed is wielding economist Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” with brass knuckles as it tries to break the back of inflation.  The potential collateral damage of the Fed’s heavy-handed approach include the domestic and global economies, the credibility of the Fed, and the almighty dollar’s dominance as the sole global reserve currency.