by Ken Baksh
Ken has over 35 years of investment management experience, working for two major City institutions between 1976 and 2002.
Since then he has been engaged as a self-employed investment consultant. He has worked with investment trusts, unit trusts, pension funds, charities, Life Fund,hedge fund and private clients. Individual asset managed have included direct equities and bonds pooled vehicles currencies, derivatives and commodities.
Projects undertaken in a number of areas including asset allocation, risk control, performance measurement, marketing, individual company research, legacy portfolios and portfolio construction. He has a BSc(Mathematics/Statistics) and is a Fellow Member of the UK Society of Investment Professionals.
Phone 07747 114 691
January 2018 Market Report
During December, major equity markets displayed an upward trend, assisted by well flagged Central Bank actions and statements, a quieter political mood, and the tail end of a generally upbeat third quarterly corporate reporting season. The European Central Bank continued to move, as expected, to a gradual tapering mode, amidst some very strong economic data releases while there was additional political “noise” from Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain. US market watchers negotiated the Federal Reserve (both rate increase and change in Chairman) as well as the last-minute passage of the Tax Reform Bill. In the Far East, Chinese authorities stepped up regulatory action (specifically the financial sector) while Japan recorded and another quarter of relatively strong GDP growth. Aggregate world hard economic data still showed steady expansion, excluding the UK, as confirmed by the IMF and the OECD with some forecasts of 2018 economic growth in the 3.5% to 4% area. Fluctuating currencies are playing an increasing role in asset allocation decisions, the near 14% move in the USD/Euro over the year being a good example. An American investor into Germany has seen a currency adjusted annual return of approximately 25%, some 20% higher than the other way around!
Global Equities rose over December, the FTSE ALL World Index climbing by 1.94% in dollar terms. The UK broad and narrow indices outperformed over the month while underperforming the World, in sterling terms, over the full year. Emerging markets had a relatively strong December thus completing a full year return of nearly 35% in dollar terms. In sterling adjusted terms Germany and Japan led the year-to date returns, amongst the major markets, followed by the USA, although the tech-heavy NASDAQ, Asia ex-Japan, and Emerging Markets all showed yearly gains of between 25% and 35% in local currencies. The VIX index ended the year at 10.26, a fall of around 25% over the full year.
Sector volatility during the month was high, mining outperforming utilities by about 15%. Over the full year, mining shares (the best performing major sector) have outperformed utilities (the worst) by approximately 40%. Within the overall UK fund universe over 2017, smaller caps outperformed larger stocks, and the difference between active and passive performance was much smaller than that experienced in 2016.Within the broad UK All company sector, investment trusts outperformed unit trusts by about 3.5% over the full year. The average IA mixed investment pooled fund (40%-85% shares) delivered a total return of about 10% in 2017.
Gilt prices showed marginal gains over the month, the ten-year yield finishing the month at 1.23%. Over the full year gilts showed a price decline of about 1%, thus delivering a total return of about zero. Other ten-year yield movements were mixed, American, Japanese and German ten-year yields ended December at 2.43%,0.05% and 0.43% respectively. UK corporate bonds rose slightly in price terms over the month and outperformed gilts over the full year. Amongst the more speculative grades, there were mixed trends, with emerging market bonds, in local currency terms, having a better month and US high yield hardly moving. Convertible bonds dropped slightly during the month but rose about 6% since the beginning of the year and I expect this outperformance over gilts to continue. See my recommendations in preference shares, convertibles, corporate bonds, floating rate bonds etc. A list of my top thirty income ideas (all yielding over 5%) from over 10 different asset classes is available.
Amongst the major currencies, the Japanese Yen was the major December feature falling 1.2% in trade weighted terms. On the other side of the coin, the Euro rose 0.57%. The Euro strength at least partially reflected growing economic optimism and a gradual resolution to the German political stalemate. These volatile FX moves have played an increasing role in asset class allocations and this look set to continue. In sterling terms, Japanese and Continental European equities markedly outperformed USA and the UK.
Another mixed month for commodities. Oil showed a further bounce, the most recent OPEC agreement being broadly in line with expectations and some supply issues e.g North Sea and Libya. There were mixed trends amongst the precious metals, while the copper price rose by 7.8% during the month and over 31% over the full year. Over the twelve-month period, palladium rose by over 57% in price terms, while iron ore dropped about 7%. Recent mining conferences have focussed on both the China effect in reducing supply, and the growing requirements of the emerging EV (electric vehicle) markets. See my recent note on how to play the mining and oil sectors into 2018 while also enjoying an above average dividend yield (paid quarterly).
Over the coming months, I expect Central Bank statements and political events e.g. German coalition formation, Catalonian election follow-up, Italian election campaigning, Brexit,Korea, Iran, USA, and the major corporate reporting season (both figures and forward looking statements) to be the main forces driving major asset classes . US watchers will start preparing for the next interest rate hike, under the new Fed Chairman Powell as well as fleshing out the winners and losers from the recent Tax Reform Bill, and watching the machinations ahead of the latest funding deadline (19th January). In Japan, Shinzo Abe is likely to push for changes in the Constitution and reinforce the easier monetary and fiscal economic policy stance following his resounding election victory. Hard economic data (as opposed to sentiment surveys) will shows that the UK economic growth will be slower in 2017 compared to 2016 and downgrades to 2018 have recently been made by many organizations. Anecdotal evidence from retailors usually released early January will give some clues as to consumer trends. BREXIT discussions enter a new phase with discussions on the timing and nature of the new “Trade Deal”, as well as transitional arrangements being a major focus.
On a valuation basis, most, but not all, conventional government fixed interest products continue to appear expensive against current economic forecasts and supply factors, and renewed bond price declines and further relative underperformance versus equities should be expected, in my view. Equities appear more valued, apart from some PE metrics, (especially in the US), although not in bubble territory, but there are wide variations, and opportunities, in both broad asset classes. Equity investors will be looking to see if superior earnings growth can compensate for higher interest rates in several areas. Corporate results from US, Europe and Japan were, on aggregate, up to expectations at the third quarter 2017 stage, although EY noted that the number of UK profits warning were about 10% higher than the previous year at the nine-month stage, mostly in the home improvement, motor and other retail areas. Outside pure valuation measures, sentiment indicators and the VIX index are still relatively low though showing more day to day variation. Growing cyber-currency attention also demonstrates investor skittishness, search for new assets.
In terms of current recommendations,
Continue to overweight equities relative to core government bonds, especially within Continental Europe and Japan. However, the equity selection should be very focussed. Certain equity valuations are rather high, especially on a PE basis (see quarterly). A combination of sharper than expected interest rate increases with corporate earnings shocks would not be conducive to strong equity returns.
- I have moved UK equities from underweight to a more neutral position following the market 2017 underperformance and valuations of certain of the major global stocks. Within the UK equity space, I suggest moving the balance of small/large cap stocks now back to neutral following both the outperformance of the former and the volatility in the currency (part post-election, part BREXIT). Ongoing Brexit debate, political stalemate could cause more sterling wobbles, which in turn could affect sector/size choices. I would expect to see more profits warnings e.g WPP #WPP, Provident Financial #PFG, Dixons Carphone #DX, Carillion #CLLN, Paragon #PAG, Next #NXT, Centrica #CNA etc and cautious statements as we move through into the results season.
- Within UK sectors, some of the higher yielding defensive plays e.g. Pharma, telco’s and utilities have attractions relative to certain cyclicals. Oil and gas majors may be worth topping up after recent weakness and balance sheet improvements and have lagged the recovery in the spot price. Concentrate on the major diversified although there are currently some very attractive equity and fixed interest ideas in the mid/small cap area.
- Continental European equities preferred to those of USA, for reasons of valuation, and Central bank policy. This strategy, in sterling adjusted terms worked very well through 2017 (DAX outperforming the S&P by about 8%) and I expect to continue. Improving economic data adds to my enthusiasm for selected European names, although European investors may be advised to focus more on domestic, rather than export related themes. Look at underlying exposure of your funds carefully. Remember that certain European and Japanese companies provide US exposure, without paying US prices. I have recently written on Japan, and I would continue to overweight this market, especially in hedged form, despite the large 2017 outperformance. recently.
- Alternative fixed interest vehicles, which continue to perform relatively well against conventional government bonds, have attractions e.g. floating rate funds, preference shares, convertibles, for balanced, cautious accounts and energy/ emerging/speculative grade for higher risk. These remain my favoured plays within the fixed interest space.
- UK bank preference shares still look particularly attractive, and could be considered as alternatives to the ordinary shares in some cases. Prices have shown good capital growth since the beginning of the year as well as offering annual yields more than 5%, but are still recommended for more cautious investors with a desire for regular annual income. Recent results and the November “stress test” results show that generally UK balance sheets are generally in good shape, and I see negligible risk of default on preference share dividends for the recommended stocks.
- Alternative income, private equity and renewable funds have exhibited their defensive characteristics during recent equity market wobbles and are still recommended as part of a balanced portfolio. Reference could be made to the renewable funds (see my recent solar and wind power recommendations). Selected infrastructure funds are also recommended for purchase after the recent weakness (see note).
- Any new commitments to the commercial property sector should be more focussed on direct equities and investment trusts than unit trusts (see my recent note comparing open ended and closed ended funds), thus exploiting the discount and double discount features respectively. However, in general I would not overweight the sector, as along with residential property, I expect further price stagnation especially in London offices. The outlook for some specialist sub sectors and property outside London/South-East, however, is currently more favourable. Investors should also consider some continental European property plays. See my recent note on this sector.
- I suggest a selective approach to emerging equities and bonds, especially where significant dollar loan exposure and or potential geo-political uncertainties are present e.g. Brazil, Venezuela, South Africa. Although the overall valuation for emerging market equities is relatively modest, there are large differences between individual countries.
Full fourth quarterly report will be available in January and suggested portfolio strategy/individual recommendations are available. Ideas for a ten stock FTSE portfolio, model pooled fund portfolios (cautious, balanced adventurous, income), 30 stock income lists, hedging ideas and a list of shorter term low risk/ high risk ideas can also be purchased, as well as bespoke portfolio construction/restructuring. I expect more clients to consider switching some final salary pots to SIPP over coming quarters, as transfer values start to slip (partially in line with rising gilt yields) and can work with you providing bespoke portfolios according to client needs.
Good luck with performance! Ken Baksh 01/01/2018
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