October 2018 Market Report
During the month to September 30th, 2018, major equity markets again displayed a mixed trend, rising by 1.19% overall and the VIX index fell. There continued to be an abundance of market moving news over what is traditionally a quieter month, at macro-economic, corporate and political levels.
The European Central Bank appeared to become more certain of removing QE over coming quarters, with more hawkish policy statements, but delaying any interest rate increase until 2019, while economic news seems to have been more upbeat than in recent months, particularly in Germany. Political events were not in short supply, and in Turkey for example, continued to affect bond and currency markets while Italian bonds and the anniversary of the Greek rescue package also attracted headlines. US market watchers continued to grapple with ongoing tariff discussions, Federal Budget, Turkish stand-off, NAFTA follow up and North Korean meeting uncertainty as well as Trump’s growing domestic issues, ominously becoming higher profile, before the important November midterm elections. US economic data and corporate results so far have generally been above expectation and the official interest rate was increased again in September to a range of 2%-2.25%. In the Far East, China flexed its muscles in response to Trump’s trade and other demands while relaxing some bank reserve requirements. Japanese second quarter GDP growth appeared higher than expected and Shinzo Abe consolidated his political position, both perceived as market friendly, and the ten-year bond continues to trade near the recent yield high. The UK reported mixed economic data with satisfactory developments on the government borrowing side, inflation higher than expected, but poor relative GDP figures and deteriorating property sentiment, both residential and commercial. Recent retail data shows mixed trends, some “weather related”. Market attention, both domestic and international is clearly focussed on ongoing BREXIT developments and their strong influence on politics.
Aggregate world hard economic data continues to show steady expansion, excluding the UK, as confirmed by the IMF and the OECD with some forecasts of 2018 economic growth in the 3.3% to 3.6% area, a little lower than January forecasts. Fluctuating currencies continued to play an important part in asset allocation decisions, the stronger US dollar again being the major recent feature recently, although lagging the yen year to date. Emerging market currencies have had a particularly volatile period. Government Bond holders saw small price moves over the month. Of note was the continuing rise in the Japanese Government Bond Yield, albeit from a low level. Oil was again about the only major commodity to show a price gain in September.
At the end of the nine -month period, “mixed investment” unit trusts show a very small positive price performance, with technology and most overseas equity regions showing above average performance, and bonds, Asia excl-Japan and Emerging markets in negative territory. Source: Morningstar
Global Equities displayed a mixed performance over the month of September, the FTSE ALL World Index gaining 1.19% in dollar terms and showing a small positive return since the beginning of the year. The UK broad and narrow market indices lagged other major markets over the month in local terms and have underperformed in both local and sterling adjusted values from the end of 2017 by 4.4% and 9.3% respectively. Europe ex-UK also declined while USA and Japan outperformed. The NASDAQ index, driven by technology companies, remains by far the best asset class year to date. In sterling adjusted terms, America, helped to a large degree by the tech sector, has jumped to the top of the leader board year to date, with Japan following. The VIX index fell 5.22 % over the month, and at the current level of 12.54 is up about 22% from the year end.
Sector volatility remained high during the month, influenced by both global factors e.g. commodity prices, tariffs, as well as corporate activity. Banking stocks fell significantly while oil and gas gained 1.8%. Over the nine-month period, pharmaceuticals are outpacing the worse performing major sector, telecommunications by around 40%.
Gilt prices fell over the month and are now down 3.55% year to date in capital terms, the 10-year UK yield standing at 1.46% currently. Other ten-year yield closed the month at US 3.06% Japan, 0.09% and Germany 0.46% respectively. UK corporate bonds fell, ending August on a yield of approximately 2.74%. Amongst the more speculative grades, emerging market bonds continued to fall in capital terms. Floating rate bond prices outperformed gilts over the month and both of my recommended funds are showing significant capital and total return outperformance of conventional gilts year to date. I continue to strongly recommend this asset class. The monthly dip in the convertible fund may provide a buying opportunity, with a stable running yield near 5% 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, a slightly weaker Yen was the monthly feature largely on political and economic developments. Sterling showed just small moves against the major currencies over the month. Currency adjusted, the FTSE World Equity Index is now outperforming the FTSE 100 by over around 9.3% since the end of 2017.
A generally weak month for commodities with the notable exception of oil, largely on supply issues. Over the year so far, oil, wheat and uranium (renegotiation of longer-term contracts) have shown the greatest gains.
Over the coming months, geo-political events and Central Bank actions/statements will be accompanied by the onset of the third quarter corporate reporting season, resulting in an abundance of stock moving events. With medium term expectation of rising bond yields, equity valuations and fund flow (both institutional and Central bank) dynamics will also be increasingly important areas of interest/concern.
US watchers will continue to speculate on the timing and number of interest rate hikes 2018/2019 and longer-term debt dynamics, as well as fleshing out the winners and losers from any tariff developments (steel, aluminium, EU, China,NAFTA)-a moving target! Third quarter figures (and accompanying statements) will be subject to even greater analysis after the buoyant first half year, and the growing list of headwinds. Additional discussions pertaining to North Korea, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and Trump’s own position could precipitate volatility in equities, commodities and currencies, especially with the November mid-term elections edging closer. In Japan market sentiment may be calmer after recent political and economic events although international events e.g exchange rates and tariff developments will affect equity direction. European investment mood will be tested by economic figures, EU Budget discussions, Italian bond spreads, Turkish and Spanish politics, and reaction to the migrant discussions. It must also be remembered that the QE bond buying is being wound down over coming months. Hard economic data and various sentiment/residential property indicators will continue to show that UK economic growth will be slower in 2018 compared to 2017, and further down grades may appear as anecdotal third quarter trends are closely analysed. Brexit discussion has moved to a new level, discussions, and several target EU/ BREXIT dates and the Conservative Party Conference, starting today, will inevitably lead to speculation of all sorts. The current perceptions of either a move to a “softer” European exit, or a “no deal” will undoubtedly lead to pressure from many sides. Political tensions stay at elevated levels both within and across the major parties and considerable uncertainties still face individual companies and sectors. Industry, whether through trade organizations, international pressure e.g Japan, or directly e.g. Bae, BMW,Toyota, Honda, Ryanair is becoming increasingly impatient, and vocal, and many London based financial companies are already “voting with their feet”.
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 the medium term, in my view. See my recent ‘iceberg’ illustration for an estimate of bond sensitivity, particularly acute for longer maturities. Price declines are eroding any small income returns leading to negative total returns in many cases. On the supply point there are increasing estimates of US bond issuance against a background of diminished QE and overseas buying. European bond purchases are also winding down.
Equities appear more reasonably valued, apart from some PE metrics, (especially in the US), 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. Helped in no small part by tax cuts, US companies have been showing earnings growth more than 20% so far this year, although the current quarter is widely expected to be the peak comparison period, and ‘misses’ are being severely punished e.g. Facebook and Twitter. Corporate results from US, Europe and Japan have, on aggregate, been up to expectations over the current period.
Outside pure valuation measures, sentiment indicators and the VIX index are showing significant day to day variation, after the complacency of last year. The current level of 13.54 appears rather low in the context of potential banana skins.
In terms of current recommendations,
Continue to overweight equities relative to core government bonds, especially within Continental Europe and Japan. However, an increased weighting in absolute return and other vehicles may be warranted as equity returns will become increasingly lower and more volatile and holding greater than usual cash balances may also be appropriate. Among major equity markets, the USA is one of the few areas where the ten-year bond yields more than the benchmark equity index. The equity selection should be very focussed. Certain equity valuations are rather high, especially on a PE basis (see quarterly), although not in “bubble” territory. A combination of sharper than expected interest rate increases with corporate earnings shocks would not be conducive to strong equity returns. Ongoing and fluid tariff discussions could additionally unsettle selected countries, sectors and individual stocks Harley Davidson, German car producers, American and Brazilian soy producers etc.
- UK warrants a neutral allocation after the strong relative bounce over the quarter on the back of stronger oil price, sterling weakness and corporate activity. Ongoing Brexit debate, political stalemate and economic uncertainty could cause more sterling wobbles, which in turn could affect sector/size choices. I would expect to see more profits warnings (Countryside,Foxtons,H&M,BHS,Homebase- latest casualties) and extra due diligence in stock/fund selection is strongly advised.
- Within UK sectors, some of the higher yielding defensive plays e.g. Pharma, telco’s and utilities have attractions relative to certain cyclicals and many financials are showing confidence by dividend hikes and buy-backs etc. Over recent months, value stocks have been staging a long overdue recovery compared to growth stocks. Oil and gas majors may be worth holding despite the outperformance to date. Remember that the larger cap names such as Royal Dutch and BP will be better placed than some of the purer exploration plays in the event of a softer oil price. Mining stocks remain a strong hold, in my view (see my recent note for favoured large cap pooled play). Corporate activity, already apparent in the engineering (GKN), property (Hammerson), pharmaceutical (Glaxo, Shire?), packaging (Smurfit), retail (Sainsbury/Asda), leisure (Whitbread),media (Sky),mining (Randgold) is likely to increase in my view, although the Government has recently been expressing concern about overseas take-overs in certain strategic areas.
- Continental European equities continue to be preferred to those of USA, for reasons of valuation, and Central bank policy, although political developments in Italy, Spain and Turkey should be monitored closely. 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, despite the large 2017 and 2018 to date outperformance. Smaller cap/ domestic focussed funds may outperform broader index averages e.g. JP Morgan Japanese Smaller Companies and Legg Mason.
- 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. See recent note
- UK bank preference shares still look particularly attractive and could be considered as alternatives to the ordinary shares in some cases. If anything, recent sector “news” has highlighted the attractions of the sector.
- 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. Many of these are already providing superior total returns to both gilts and equities so far this year. Reference could be made to the renewable funds (see my recent solar and wind power recommendations). Results from Greencoat on February 26nd and Bluefield Solar (last week) reinforce my optimism for the sector. I will be writing on Bluefield shortly. Selected infrastructure funds are also recommended for purchase after the recent Corbyn/Carillion inspired weakness (see note). The take-over of JLIF during the month highlights the value in the sector!
- 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 as well as having liquidity and trading advantages. However, in general I would not overweight the sector, as along with residential property, I expect further price stagnation especially in London offices and retail developments e.g. (Hammerson, Intu). The outlook for some specialist sub sectors e.g. health, logistics, student, multi-let etc and property outside London/South-East, however, is currently more favourable. Investors should also consider some continental European property See my recent company note.
- I suggest a very selective approach to emerging equities and would continue to avoid bonds. Although the overall valuation for emerging market equities is relatively modest, there are large differences between individual countries. A mixture of high growth/high valuation e.g. India, Vietnam and value e.g. Russia could yield rewards and there are signs of funds moving back to South Africa on political change. Turkish assets seem likely to remain highly volatile in the short term and much of South America is either in a crisis mode g. Venezuela or entering an uncertain election process e.g. Brazil. As highlighted in the quarterly, Chinese index weightings are expected to increase quite significantly over coming years and Saudi Arabia, is just being allowed into certain indices.
Full fourth quarter report will shortly be available to clients/subscribers 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. Feel free to contact regarding any investment project.
Good luck with performance! Ken Baksh 01/10/2018
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
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