Investors have become increasingly upbeat about the world’s path to recovery from the pandemic. Ironically, this optimism has fueled market trends that add uncertainty to the outlook.

Bond yields remain extremely low, but a shift may be beginning. Stock market valuations—particularly in the US—look relatively high. Mounting expectations of accelerated economic growth are tempered by distinct country-specific experiences and policies. Massive fiscal stimulus could resurrect inflation, yet investors have forgotten how to address this long-dormant risk.

How do you meet your growth targets with persistent low yields and elevated valuations?

We are likely to see a three-phased recovery, each presenting investment challenges given the opaque outlook.

In January, in Phase 1 of the pandemic recovery, COVID-19 vaccination programs gained momentum around the world, though some countries are far behind and many experienced new peak infection and mortality rates that began to retreat in February. These developments present a conundrum for investors seeking signs of economic improvement as governments struggle to balance reopening efforts against fears of a virus relapse.

In February, in Phase 2 we saw efforts to contain the pandemic begin to succeed at reducing the spread of coronavirus in the US, Europe and Asia. This raised hopes that economic activity could soon reopen—albeit at a “new normal” level—and consumers would unleash pent-up spending. By midyear, many companies will report strong recoveries in earnings growth, especially given the low level of comparable profits in 2020.

But the road to a sustainable recovery won’t be smooth. By 2022, after the initial sharp rebound, companies are unlikely to post such rapid growth. As the world begins to normalize during this third post-COVID phase, we’re likely to find that economic growth faces the same hurdles—and likely the same risks—that prevailed before the pandemic.