To some investors it will seem the old investor adage of ‘Sell in May and go away’ has once again proven correct, especially when the US S&P500 fell within touching distance of that bear market threshold of -20% last week. However, what makes this particular market correction different to others experienced since the pandemic is that it has disproportionally affected those risk assets considered safe havens when economic growth prospects faltered – namely US tech mega caps and other tech names quoted on the NASDAQ.
The last week of April was like being on a roller coaster. We had rather hoped that the ride was almost over, but in fact it’s only been getting wilder. For the past five weeks, the asset markets have been displaying greater volatility. These charts area way of demonstrating the phenomena we term asset market “noise and loudness.”
Equity markets have been range-bound through the past few weeks, but it does not feel like it. Volatility is at its highest since the nasty period in March 2020, which always raises our perceptions of potential downside. But the volatility is not too surprising given the overall mix of news and economic data updates.
Surprisingly positive corporate sentiment data across Europe last week indicated that consumer demand may not be as significantly impacted by the war in Ukraine as markets had been pricing in. On the other hand, there are signs in the US and the UK that consumers are feeling rather more pressure on their household budgets from rising energy and housing prices than anticipated.
The annual rate of inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI) was reported at 7% in the UK, 8.5% in the US and even Germany recorded 7.3%. These are heights not seen for 40 years and were unsurprisingly front and centre of this week’s news flow. While equity market investments have historically demonstrated their inflation-hedging characteristics, the fact that investors appeared to shrug off these new peaks may well point to the belief that this is about as high as inflation is likely to get.
In aggregate, global markets have managed a decent enough bounce since the onset of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, the awfulness of the news from the area has ceased to impact markets greatly. We have returned to worrying about the resurgence of COVID-19 in China, along with its impacts on the global supply chain and on overall global growth, and worrying about the US Federal Reserve (Fed) and its plans for tightening US monetary policy.
While UK consumers braced themselves for a surge in their cost of living – as the UK’s energy price cap resets and rises a staggering 54% – investors experienced a quieter week, which once again saw gains in equity markets, while bond market valuations suffered from rising yields.
Budget announcements are inherently political affairs. Even so, Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement was a particularly political broadcast. The Chancellor talked up the 5p per litre cut to fuel duty with the fervour of a vegetable market stallholder (By contrast, Germany just slashed a litre of petrol by 30 cents), as he did with the rise in the National Insurance Contributions threshold. Reminding MPs of his avowed fiscal responsibility, he noted the fuel tax cut would last for only one year.
Last time we reminded portfolio investors of the importance of making sure that long-term investment decision-making is not overly influenced by short-term market fluctuations. At Vizion Wealth, we aim to ensure portfolios remain positioned appropriately, and are fine-tuned when medium-term changes in the economic and market outlook either necessitate adjustments or indeed present new opportunities.
For the last few weeks, we have regularly had to caveat our commentary with the phrase “as we write”. The chart below shows how much the German DAX benchmark equity index (which tracks the top 40 German companies) has on average moved every 30 minutes over the past year:
During the course of last week, the impacts of the war on global financial assets changed in nature. Over the past weeks, we wrote that minor sanctions were a help for asset prices even if the sanctions did not match the level of outrage. Starting last Sunday, the European Union (EU), US and UK imposed new sanctions almost every day. Perhaps inevitably, this has resulted in equity market weakness.
As this week’s title suggests, for some of us it invokes memories of the cold war era of the West vs the USSR in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It is even more remarkable then, that at the time of writing, stock markets have rallied back to roughly where they stood this time last week. The same cannot be said about Russian asset prices, which have roughly halved since last autumn as the chart below illustrates. Perhaps this indicates who markets believe will ultimately pay for Putin’s megalomania.
Given the devastating news today, we would like to express our utmost concern for the people of Ukraine and of course, our thoughts and wishes are with them. It is our duty as advisers to comment on the economic and financial impact of geopolitical news, but we do so with the utmost respect for the broader context and the devastating impact the current situation is having on people’s lives.
Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine reached a new level this week after Russia’s president Putin officially recognised the two self-proclaimed separatist ‘republics’ in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Most importantly, he ordered official troops to move in for what he declared to be ‘peacekeeping operations’. This has triggered the West to announce a stepping up of sanctions. Meanwhile Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Putin had merely "legalised" troops already present in the republics.
Stock markets around the world continued their volatile trading pattern over the past week, although compared with January, trending slightly up rather than down. Bond markets, on the other hand, continued to retreat as yields continued to rise. This type of market action has now become characteristic for capital markets this year, as they experience their very own climate change, now that the coronavirus appears to have lost its lethal impact on the majority of the population.
We made the case last month that we disagree with the market maxim that “How January goes, so goes the year”, at least for 2022. After a disappointing January for investors, February made a promising start, only to revert to last month’s wild down and up trading pattern towards the end of the week. This was despite the week not having been dominated by the US Federal Reserve (Fed) or Russian manoeuvres (admittedly Boris Johnson was still big news – but only in the UK).
The unnerving start to the year escalated this week, with many lay observers attributing market volatility to the rising possibility of war between Russia and Ukraine. But as outlined in the video market update we posted on Tuesday, while political tensions are not helping markets (nor energy prices), the heart of the market rout lays with the re-emerging determination of central banks to fight inflation through monetary tightening. Markets are concerned central bankers, namely the US Federal Reserve (Fed) have veered from downplaying the inflation threat to overreacting, particularly now, when the economic temperature is coming back down on its...
It has been an all-action year so far. Global equity markets have been in a downward trend since the end of 2021, led by US stocks. America’s mega-cap tech companies that were so loved throughout the pandemic have taken the biggest hit – with the tech-heavy Nasdaq falling nearly 10% in January.
The scandals seem to keep coming for Boris Johnson, with several Tory MPs openly calling for his resignation. Betting markets now have the Prime Minister odds-on to resign this year, and discussion is rife about the government’s future. But capital markets took no notice. Indeed, UK assets outperformed on the week, with both the FTSE 100 and the value of sterling finishing higher.
Although 2021 did not close with another ‘Santa rally’, December – and the year as a whole – generated some pleasing returns for diversified investment portfolios. Compared to 2020 (another strong year in performance terms), equity investors fared considerably better than bond investors. Overall, and across asset classes, investors have experienced a notably better pandemic than so many other aspects of society.